What I Learned from Superman; with Superman Returns Headed at Us Faster Than a Speeding Bullet, Advocate Arts and Entertainment Editor and Lifelong Comics Fan Alonso Duralde Looks at Superheroes and Their Appeal to Gays and Lesbians

By Duralde, Alonso | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), May 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

What I Learned from Superman; with Superman Returns Headed at Us Faster Than a Speeding Bullet, Advocate Arts and Entertainment Editor and Lifelong Comics Fan Alonso Duralde Looks at Superheroes and Their Appeal to Gays and Lesbians


Duralde, Alonso, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


My oldest sister was a crappy college student. Don't get me wrong; she's one of the smartest people I know. But her university years were spent doing lots and lots of, shall we say, unassigned reading. Lucky for me, she has great taste in junky pop culture, so as a child, I was exposed to some of the best the '70s had to offer. Namely, comic books.

There was the darkly funny horror series PLOP! which took Grand Guignol and punched it up with gruesome twist endings that Rod Serling and O. Henry would have chuckled over ruefully. And romance comics, featuring girls in miniskirts and white lipstick who longed for the perfect man, despite all obstacles. (Usually he was rich and she was poor or vice versa, or he was getting over the drug addiction he'd picked up in Vietnam and didn't want to tell her why he always avoided hospitals. You know how these things happen.)

Best of all were the Superman and Batman comics she bought, particularly because, in the early '70s, DC and Marvel were having price wars. One of DC's responses was to put out mammoth 100-page comics for just 50 cents. Naturally, you couldn't fill a book that big with new stuff, so DC would pad the books with stories from the vaults, vintage adventures from the '40s and '50s. Those 100-page specials, combined with hardcover Superman and Batman anthologies that featured everything from their origin stories in the '30s up to their "contemporary" '70s incarnations, made me fall in love with superheroes. When Christopher Reeve starred in 1978's Superman, it blew my little kid mind; so, naturally--so what if almost 30 years have passed--I'm really excited about Superman Returns.

But as I look back on my early affection for superheroes, my addiction to comics doesn't necessarily scan with the rest of my childhood. As with the kid in Todd Haynes's Dottie Gets Spanked, most of my cultural tastes tended to lean toward the feminine. I was addicted to reruns of I Married Joan and old Ingrid Bergman flicks on the afternoon movie. I was the only boy in my sixth-grade class to read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. Nothing could make me change the channel faster than an old Rat Patrol or Daktari episode popping up in the middle of my afternoon of TV. So why was I drawn to these heroic tales of adventure and derring-do?

I have three theories:

"1. Like most gay kids, superheroes have to keep their "difference" a secret.

Even before I could mentally process that (a) I was gay and (b) I needed to keep that hidden from everyone around me, I could totally relate to the idea of having something about you that sets you apart and must be concealed. There were consequences, after all--whenever a pre-women's lib Lois Lane would hector Superman about marriage, he would constantly remind her that he could never be married, since criminals would try to hurt or kidnap his wife in order to keep the Man of Steel in check. Of course, why being known as "Superman's girlfriend, Lois Lane" didn't make her a constant target of the bad guys was never discussed, but Superman's efforts to avoid intimacy, much less matrimony, with Ms. Lane probably rang true with a lot of young gay readers back in the Eisenhower era.

Chris Ohnesorge, drummer and vocalist with the San Francisco-based band the Ex-Boyfriends, discovered comics as a kid through the 1970s Wonder Woman TV show. He's tangibly devoted to the Amazon princess, with two WW tattoos on his arm and a third on the way. The character's dual nature-ravishing, heroic Wonder Woman and her mousy alter ego, Diana Prince--continues to resonate. "To me, it was the idea that you could spin around and there would be a flash of light and you'd be this amazing person. Someone that everyone loved," observes Ohnesorge, 33. "You have this secret identity; you can't be who you really are, and you only can be that in these certain moments. And even at those times, you still have to maintain all this secrecy; you can't have a real relationship. …

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