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    HOLY HANDBAGS Batman!!!

    Gay superheroes come out of the comic closet

    Stephen McGinty

    Sunday Times
    27 Feb 2000

    WHAT would Lois Lane think? The American comic company that gave the world Superman and Batman is creating the first homosexual superheroes.
    In the past, caped crusaders fought for truth, justice and the American way. Now gay rights will be added to their muscle-bound repertoire. The 21st- century gender pioneers are called Apollo and Midnighter, a loving couple who cohabit in a giant spaceship.

    While Batman opted for a cold glass of milk, served by his butler Alfred, after saving the world, Apollo and Midnighter cuddle up in bed and watch episodes of Friends. In the comic, the characters are seen kissing and are billed in a mocked-up copy of Hello!, the celebrity magazine, as "the world's finest couple".

    Their sexuality will be revealed next month in a comic called The Authority, produced by a division of DC Comics. Along with Marvel, the company is the world's leading comic publisher and is responsible for Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

    Although The Authority is aimed at a more mature readership than traditional titles, its main readers will be teenage boys. "A gay superhero has never been done before. It is seen as one of the last taboos," says Mark Miller, the Scottish writer of The Authority's latest plotline. "The whole idea of a superhero is that he or she fights for the underdog, so I don't see why we shouldn't have superheroes who are gay.

    "The whole section 28 debate is teaching children intolerance, and I would like to redress that. The people they look up to can be gay or straight."

    In an attempt to avoid gay stereotypes, Miller and the comic's artist, Frank Quitely, also based in Glasgow, have ensured that both characters have no effeminate qualities. Apollo absorbs his power from the sun, which makes him superstrong, able to fly, and gives him heat vision. Midnighter cannot fly, but is also superstrong and wears a black leather mask and coat similar to Batman. Both, however, possess bulging physiques that would put Superman to shame.

    The pair belong to a team of a dozen superheroes who use their orbiting spaceship to watch over Earth and sort out problems facing the world. The first comic recording their adventures appeared 12 months ago, when Apollo and Midnighter were introduced. But next month, when Miller takes over the storyline, they fly out of the closet when they are seen kissing at a party on the spaceship.

    Later, in the same issue, the team flies into East Timor and Apollo throws the Indonesian president to the crowds. In the April issue, the team flies into Chechnya and forces the Russians to leave.

    Miller, who is married with a young daughter, says: "The idea is that it is low-key and in the background. They will be like any other superheroes, fighting crime and saving the world. It's just that, at the end of their adventures, they will go to bed, or kiss, or hug. We have gay people in soap operas and movies, so why not comics?"

    The introduction of the world's first gay superheroes was welcomed by Outrage!, the pressure group whose past

    protests have included picketing Michael Portillo, the shadow chancellor, and disturbing a sermon by George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury. David Allison, a spokesman, said Apollo and Midnighter could act as positive role models to children.

    "A gay superhero is a great idea - it will make a wonderful retort to the typical stereotype of the handbag-swinging poof," he said. "The heroes could provide teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality with a powerful image."

    A spokesman for Cardinal Thomas Winning, Archbishop of Glasgow, said he was appalled. "This sounds like an insidious attempt to present homosexual role models to adolescents. Adolescence is a challenging time, and this kind of activity is only likely to increase confusion and undermine basic Christian morality," the spokesman said. "This kind of material will only serve to increase the justified anxiety among parents over the whole issue of lifting section 28."

    Duncan McAlpine, owner of the comic-selling store Mighty World of Comicana, in central London, said he felt children would not be affected much by the homosexuality of the heroes. "Kids are streetwise from watching EastEnders. It's important for comics to represent everyday life."

    But how would the other superheroes react to having a gay couple in their midst? Mark Miller has given the subject careful consideration. "Batman would be tolerant. I mean he lives with two men - Robin and Alfred, the butler - and it's funny he never married."

    DC comics was unavailable for comment yesterday