web stats

CSBG Archive

Things That Turned Out Bad – Bruce Banner Has a Rough Visit to the Y

In this feature, I will spotlight plotlines by writers that probably weren’t a good idea at the time and have only become more problematic in retrospect. I’ll try to stick with stuff that’s more ill-conceived than flat-out offensive (like racist stereotypes of characters during the 1940s).

Today, we look at “A Very Personal Hell” from 1980’s Rampaging Hulk #23…

Lynn Graame, the editor of Rampaging Hulk (Marvel’s magazine counterpart to its Incredible Hulk comic book series), opened Rampaging Hulk #23 with a discussion about the science fiction film, The Thing, and she states:

The Thing is one of the most effective horror movies ever. The reason for its impact is that, aside from the vegetable menace, every other detail is quiet and ordinary and commonsensical. A Very Personal Hell, Jim Shooter’s Hulk story in this issue, uses this same kind of realistic detail to create verisimilitude. The emphasis is on relationships both between Banner and the Hulk and those with whom they come into contact. By the end of the story you are convinced that there really might be a creature as The Hulk – or that at least it isn’t utterly impossible!

And that clearly was Jim Shooter’s intent with the story – to show the Hulk in a “realistic horror” setting.

And do note that pretty much everyone in “A Very Personal Hell” is awful. There’s a domineering mother/grandmother, there’s an abusive boyfriend – Shooter’s tale is more or less telling us that, like Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote, “Hell is other people.”

That said, one of Shooter’s decisions for a “realistic horror” for Bruce Banner was problematic, as you can see for yourself…

While at the time, Shooter was very defensive about the story (stating in a later letters column that it was based on a combination of two real-life incidents – one that happened to a friend and one that happened to him, and that the story should only be offensive to rapists, and he was okay with offending rapists), over the years he has mellowed a bit on his view of the story, and I recall a recent interview on the topic where he conceded that perhaps the story was a mistake, but he still does not believe that it was offensive.

When he was creating his Valiant Universe, Shooter had a gay teen as the lead of his series, Harbinger, (although Shooter left the book before the character officially “came out”), and I surely do not believe that the above scene was born out of any anti-gay views on Shooter’s part – like I said, pretty much everyone in the story is a terrible person, so I don’t think he intended anything specific by having the two gay guys being rapists. I think it was simply an attempt to tell a “realistic” story (which, as Shooter mentioned, was rooted in a real-life incident) but the story was still a mistake when you take into consideration:

1. The execution of the story – way too much over-the-top stereotypical behavior – and the whole “too scared to turn into the Hulk” bit was pretty sketchy…

and, perhaps more importantly…

2. Marvel, at the time, had had, like, three gay characters ever appear in a comic book story (none of whom came off particularly well, like a lispy stool pigeon that Moon Knight got information from once and then called a “sissy”), so when you have basically no gay characters, to then have some of the first gay characters ever to appear in your comics appear as rapists? That’s a mistake.

To recap, the point of this feature is not to call Creator X a racist or Creator Y a homophobe or whatever. It’s just pointing out some mistakes they’ve made – it’s not a value judgment of the people involved, just pointing out where things turned out bad, hence the title.


Well I like this story. If this was she hulk or another girl getting raped it’d just be another female superhero comic. I like that the hulk got some of the same crap his female associates get.

Also, having the rapists be Dewey and Louie is perhaps a little much. I don’t think we’re in Duckburg anymore.

Are Dewey and Luellen the first inter-racial couple in a Marvel comic?

Iron Fist and Misty Knight were a little bit before this, but they may not have been the first.

Wasn’t the Rampaging Hulk in black and white? Is this a recent colour reprint? It does look like recent colouring.

They don’t seem all that stereotypical to me, aside from the way Dewey is standing when he first appears, and maybe the fact that they hang around the YMCA. It doesn’t really come across as an anti-Gay story to me.

Wasn’t the Rampaging Hulk in black and white?

It began as a black and white book, but by this point it was in color.

If he is in fact basing this story on an event that happened to him I don’t see how this could be considered stereotyping. A translation of one man’s personal experience is just that.

“Oh pith!”?


Yeah, Luke Cage’s “holy spit” was way more plausible-sounding fake cussing than “pith.”

I didn’t find the story to be anti-gay either. I’m always preaching to people I know who are openly homophobic that homosexuals are just like everybody else – they can be cool or they can be assholes. You judge them on their character, not their sexual orientation. In this story, the homosexuals are bad people (just like just about everybody else that makes an appearance). However, they’re bad because they’re rapists, not because they’re homosexuals. I know that I personally find rape to be a terrifying concept – irregardless of the gender or sexual orientation of the perpetrator(s).

Though considering the grief that homosexuals have taken over the years, I can understand how they would be sensitive to something like this – especially when they’re portrayal in the Marvel University wasn’t entirely balanced at the time. However, homosexuals can be dislikable “bad guys” just like anybody else.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

February 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Having heard about this open for years as an example of horrificaly offensive stuff, I’m also surprised at how mild most of it is. Yeah, they’re clearly bad guys, and no, the story doesn’t have Bruce reacting to them until they try raping him.

The “Oh, pith!” and “Sweetums” stuff does push into genuinely stereotypical territory for me, though, since it’s a little too far into “flamboyant = gay” for characters who are supposed to be tough-guy multiple rapists. Add tat to the fact that there aren’t many other gay characters, and the whole thing does come off rather badly.

As to the “it was personal experience” line, well, it wasn’t exactly. Shooter calls it a composite event to start with, and more importantly, when you publish it as part of a story involving an entirely fictional character like Banner, you’re depersonalizing the event a bit..meaning that you need to consider the context the reader will have for interpreting the event. A good writer understands that his mind and memories, let alone objective truth, are not transparently available on the page.

When was this comic published? In any historical examination, we need to put the phenomenon into the context of its time in order to understand it. Dates would be valuable information to include in any “MIstakes of a Past History” article.

I’m not seeing the ant-gay either. If this is consistent and maliciously pervasive in entertainment, I can see not wanting to have just. another. cliche. example.

I think it’s pretty obvious the scene is homophobic. First of all, the idea of a “gay rapist” who forces an innocent heterosexual into anal sex is an ages-old homophobic stereotype, playing into irrational fears of straight men, and it’s also way, way more prominent in fiction/legend than in real life. Maybe if Marvel had the sort of balance between “good”, “regular”, and “bad” gay characters Ed is talking about, this scene might’ve come across a bit less awful. But Marvel didn’t have such a variety back then; if gay people are depicted only as stereotypes (at best as the relatively harmless “sissy” stereotype, at worst as the aggressive rapist), then it’s pretty obvious there’s homophobia going on.

Secondly, this scene doesn’t even feel particularly realistic. Seems like Shooter is trying to depict something that is more like a prison rape than what really went down at the YMCA back then. He may have tried to cover himself by saying it’s based on real life, but unless he or his friend experienced something exactly like Bruce does here, the whole scene feels very much exaggerated.

It was 1980, J.L. And actually the title of the magazine had actually been just The Hulk! since issue 10 (and the switch to color).

Bruce "hot" Banner

February 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm

“psst! Dewey! Dig The Baby-face Dude!”

Oh God… ahahahahahaha ;)

The very notion that “gay rapists” sit around waiting for some ugly straight dude is horribly homophobic. It’s kind of the definition of homophobia; it mostly all comes from straight men who are really obsessed with the idea that gay dudes want to take them.

And while we’re at it, it’s pretty offensive to the YMCA, too.

It is anti-gay, for several reasons. The biggest red flag, as Brian correctly explained (and Tuomas elaborated on in the comments), is that 1980 was not a time when gay people were depicted much in any medium, and certainly not in comics. When any minority group is largely ignored — only to be rarely depicted in the basest, most stereotypical fashion — that’s bigotry. (Even if it was unconscious on Shooter’s part.)

To anyone who needs a little educating (I say that sincerely, not meant as snark): For the vast majority of the 20th century, the few times gay men were represented in pop culture, they were either nellie fops, crossdressers, or violent rapists/killers. (Lesbians were also seen rarely, and then as butch bullies and rapists.) I highly recommend the film (by two Oscar-winning documentarians) “The Celluloid Closet” for insights into the anti-gay propaganda coming out of Hollywood — which you can easily extrapolate to TV and comics.

i always wondered who actully wrote the story hearing so much about bruce almost being rapped at the y and also some how not turning into the hulk and smashing the would be rapists. and to finaly learn it was Jim shooter . and that he based it on realy events. though the trying to rape bruce risking the hulk waning pay back was wrong. not to mention making the rapists gay almost like jim was touching on the old sterotype of gays wanting to rape other men.

The other thing to bear in mind, and this is illustrated quite well in the book and documentary The Celluloid Closet, which is about gays and lesbians in cinema, throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s it was somewhat in vogue to have gay villains, particularly gay rapists (Midnight Express might be the worst offender). In fact, they have a montage of scenes like that in the film and I immediately remembered this sequence from The Hulk. I honestly think Shooter was doing no more than aping a current cultural trend, which makes him unoriginal as well as unenlightened.

And while Jim Shooter may have been happy to have out and proud characters with Valiant, he made sure that Northstar was kept thoroughly in the closet during Shooter’s reign at Marvel.

Where’s Shooter now?

Although this kind kind of “moral parsing” is, inherently, difficult, if not absurd (Cf. the Hitler vs. Stalin debates), I do find Shooter’s male on male rape scenario much less objectionable than the portrayal of Whitewash.

1. Context: Many of the objections to the attempted rape scene are contextual in nature, referencing the dearth of homosexual characters in comic books at the time, the “gay villain stereotype,” etc. The underlying assumption is that the attempted rape scene, if it had been depicted in a fictional universe containing a wide range of homosexual characters, would have been acceptable. This indicates that the scenario, in and of itself, is not inherently offensive. this is in contrast to the depiction of Whitewash, which, even stripped of context (Jim Crow, Steppin Fetchit, etc.), is inherently objectionable.

2. Reality: The reason for this disparity lies in the varying realism of the two incidents. Whitewash is an absurd racial caricature.
As drawn, he is barely human (although I would argue that he is less offensively drawn than Eisner’s Ebony White or Mexico’s Memen Penguin). Whitewash is utterly divorced from reality. The attempted rapists, in contrast, are much more “grounded” in reality. Indeed, allowing for differences in literary skiil, I am not sure how this scene differs from the Homosexual gang rape that Alan Moore depicts in Miracleman.

Did he also create Ken in X-O Manowar? Ken was a bit of a coniving character, but didn’t seem to suffer from any typical gay stereotypes. I could be remembering wrong.

Strange thing about that Hulk mag, I can remember buying that book off the rack and to be honest, the Gay rape scene aside, the story is pretty good, and also pretty adult, (in all the uses of the word). This was a few years before Alan Moore and things like Miracle Man and Watchmen and it was the first time I remember adult situations, (or situations I thought were adult, me being an 8th grader and all at the time), mixed with Superheroes.

The mag itself had a pretty cool Dominic Fortune story by Chaykin and another backup by Roger Stern dealing with where Banner gets new cloths when he changes back from being the Hulk. That was a fun story, and the artwork on the main story by John Buscema is nothing to sneeze at either. I’m not sure I would say seek it out, but if you ever come across it cheap in a back issue bins it might be worth having, if you can get past the gay rape scene. The worst thing about the whole “gay rape” scene is it ruins what otherwise might have been remembered as a pretty good “ahead of it’s time” superhero story.

This was great. it teaches us a lesson about execution. Good Read can’t wait for the next one.

One of the issues that gay culture had pre-WIll and Grace was that any time a gay character was introduced, they were a rapist, murderer, or murderer/rapist, or swishy but sexless figure of ridicule. This was particularly typical in the pre-AIDS era, of which this comic is typical.

If you review the landscape of the time, there was one out gay character on TV’s Soap existing among a landscape of gay-murderer of the week villains on crime shows and TV movies. That was it. This is why there were protests about the 1980 film Cruising. Even though it was a good film, the stereotyping of the sex club culture mixed with a pathologising portrayal of gays, made the movie unbearable for gay rights groups at the time.

So by today’s filter you may find the comic mildly insulting, or just poorly written. But as a document of the time in which it was created, it does come off as another ugly example of stereotyping in a world where, on the cusp of AIDS, gay rights were trying to push through, and issues like gay marriage were getting their first go around in the public forum. Sadly, GRIDS (gay-related immunodeficiency syndrome) reared its head, and the next gay serotype down the pike was as plague-carrying contagion. That the name of the disease was soon revised to AIDS to be non-gay specific is kind of amazing in retrospect.

How does it differ from MiracleMan? MiracleMan’s rape scene is not a gay rape. It is simply a rape among males borne of bullying and dominance, devoid of sexuality. The Hulk comic shows rape as the default expression of male to male sexuality, and that is where it becomes stereotyping and offensive.

I was a kid in the seventies and early eighties and I don’t remember any movies or TV shows dealing with Gay murderers and rapists (other than Deliverance, which I haven’t seen, I only heard about it). I’m not saying those shows didn’t exist, only that it couldn’t have been that prevalent in the culture if I never heard about it. When I saw Gay characters on TV, they were usually minor comic-relief characters, or they were dull noble characters who would appear briefly to give some lesson about tolerance.

The one ongoing Gay character on TV, Billy Crystal as Jodie Dallas on Soap, was only nominally Gay it seems. He spent most of the series falling in love with girls and being shocked that this could happen, even though it happened several times. A couple of years later, Tony Randall played a Gay guy on Love, Sidney (the first Gay character in a starring role), but NBC insisted on banning all references to his sexuality after the pilot. (They did manage to sneak in a few subtle references, but if you didn’t know about it already you probably wouldn’t have caught them.)

There’s no such thing as racism!!!!!!! I don’t see any in this comic anywhere and no one can prove it and I won’t even listen when they do!!!!!!!!!!

I’m gay, and I find the scene more laughable than offensive.

I can understand the straight male tremendous fear of anal penetration. At the same time, it’s so damned silly sometimes. You can go to a gay sauna, strip naked and turn around, and the chance that you’ll be raped is probably less than 0.0001%. You’ll probably be approached (if you’re attractive, that is), but if you just say no, people will just joke and leave you alone.

And that in a gay sauna.

Gays can be as nice or as rotten as any other person, but one thing I’ve noticed in my years of frequenting gay (and also straight) nightclubs and bars is that physical violence of any kind initiated by straight males is orders of magnitude more common than violence initiated by gay males. You just need a straight guy staring too long at the girl of another straight dude for a fight to start among them if alcohol is involved. I just don’t see this kind of stuff happening in gay clubs. Gays males are more likely to use words and social ostracizing if they want to hurt you or establish domination.

1. “Document of the time, it does come off as another ugly example of stereotyping”: That is exactly my point. The offensive nature of the scene is very context dependent. If one views it in isolation, it is difficult to call it anti-Homosexual. again, this is in contrast to, say, Memin Penguin or Whitewash, who are inherently offensive.

2.Non Homosexual male rape: This point is valid in so far as straight men do, in fact, rape one another (E.g., prison rape, etc).

A. However, would a typical reader appreciate this fine distinction? Would not a Homophobic reader simply assume that a group of males raping a boy are, in fact, homosexual?
B. Furthermore, how confident can we be in assuming that the male on male rapists in Miracleman are heterosexual? Perhaps the anti-homosexual slurs that they make as they rape Bates are simply the mouthings of self-loathing homosexuals, men who transfer their self-hatred to their victim?
c. How clever Moore is. When he has a man raping another man (Cf. Hyde and Griffin, Bates being gang raped in Miracleman) it is a straight man raping another straight man. Talk about having your cake and eating it.

Rape is sex turned into a weapon, but has little-to-nothing to do with sexual gratification. The sexual orientation of the rapist is irrelevant. The YMCA is a place where people who have no where else to go live, making them “safe,” easy prey, no different from a prison rape. I’m with Shooter, the only people who should be offended are rapists and who cares if THEY’RE offended?

And for the record, believing that something is a (im)moral choice may be incorrect or even a sign of ignorance, but it is an OPINION, not a PHOBIA. Just because someone thinks you’re a sinner does not mean they are afraid of you, it just means the two of you have different belief systems.

I definitely see this as homophobic, because I’m guessing that the “real life experiences” of Shooter and his friend were simple propositions, not attempted rapes. This feels to me like a dramatization of the way a straight guy might feel if he were propositioned at the YMCA — yeah, for sure, it could be a little weird. But to create a comic featuring gay stereotypes as the villains in an incredibly nightmarish, inappropriate scenario is a bridge too far. Even if you don’t see the situation depicted as homophobic, it plays DIRECTLY to homophobic stereotypes, and in the end that’s just as damaging.

“And for the record, believing that something is a (im)moral choice may be incorrect or even a sign of ignorance, but it is an OPINION, not a PHOBIA. Just because someone thinks you’re a sinner does not mean they are afraid of you, it just means the two of you have different belief systems.”

I agree with you.

But fear of gays is real. It’s just that not all anti-gay people are homophobes, and not all homophobes are consciously anti-gay either. It’s curious, but I’ve seem a few people who are very liberal and firm believers in gay rights but nonetheless display feelings of unease when they’re physically around gays. The opposite is also true, conservatives with the moral conviction that homosexuality is wrong, but with no fear.

And I see your point about rape. But the thing I dislike about the scene is that Shooter gave the rapists some slang and mannerisms associated with gays stereotypes, and then the unsuspecting reader may think all gays are rapists, particularly seeing how there were very few gays in comics at the time.

“And I see your point about rape. But the thing I dislike about the scene is that Shooter gave the rapists some slang and mannerisms associated with gays stereotypes, and then the unsuspecting reader may think all gays are rapists, particularly seeing how there were very few gays in comics at the time.”

I can see your point there. Shooter may have assumed that only a gay person would rape another man, which would be a show of understandable ignorance on his part. People who think of rape as being about sex would naturally assume orientation would come into play. Not intolerance necessarily, just ignorance.

Yes, I agree this story was mistake.

Especially if you consider that this was supposed to be a “realistic” look at horror with the Hulk.

To be fair, in the early 80’s was filled with horror stories in the media about the new “gay disease” and pedophiles. I recall a man living near my house when I was ten who was supposedly a child molester and I lived in fear of this man without ever really knowing if the stories were true. But i digress.

My point is that this story obviously plays off a homophobic fear. I would venture (though not state for certainty) that Shooter was afraid of this very thing. Whether or not he retains this view today I could not say but I hope not.

On another point, this makes me wonder: How cool would would a Max Hulk book be?

To me, the unfortunate mistake here is using rape, period, in a superhero story. I do not believe that using gay rapists in a story is a slight to all gay people unless it *specifically* makes it look like ALL gays are rapists, and that’s not the case here. And real world issues like rape simply don’t fit well in a comic like HULK- admit it, the first thing that comes to your head here is not “Whoa, Banner is getting raped!” but rather “Geez, Hulk is fighting rapists now? He’ll crush them in two seconds!” There are better genres to deal with this more maturely.

And if the whole point is that male rape makes gay men look bad, how come you use this story as an example and not the far more (in)famous one in MIRACLEMAN? (and don’t give me that “straight male rape” stuff- how many people saw that scene that way?) Who even remembers Rampaging Hulk today?

I remember “Rampaging Hulk,” Sijo. My older brother used to buy it. I recall it was magazine style and much less cartoony than the regular Hulk book, which I think made it fair game for more mature subject matter. I’m pretty sure the format was to make it exempt from the Comics Code.

“The very notion that “gay rapists” sit around waiting for some ugly straight dude is horribly homophobic.”

Yeah. They go for the hot ones, surely.

First, Shooter wrote the Rampaging Hulk story. Then, Bill Mantlo wrote a Howard the Duck story featuring a bad gay stereotype. I don’t know who the next gay character was in Marvel comics- as was pointed out earlier, Northstar stayed in the closet until the ’90s. While Shooter and company migh not have had a homophobic agenda, they didn’t include any positive portrayals of gay characters in their comics. To be fair, most media didn’t (and I don’t know if DC had any gay characters before the Extrano debacle), but here is a case in which a story containing a bad stereotype existed with no positive counterpoint.

How is this a mistake?

You claim that it was a mistake because there were no other gay people in Marvel comics. That is a rediculous claim to make in an arguement for this to be a mistake.

Like has been mentioned, this was a story based on personal experience, or a second hand experience, not an attempt to demonstrate to the world how all gay people are. If this was a story of a day in the life of gay people in America, then I can understand including rape as being a mistake. But what we have here is Bruce Banner experiencing a personal hell, with anal rape being an incredibly gutsy move to make in illustrating that point. Like is mentioned at the beginning of the article, this story needs to be considered in the context of when it was released, and for that I applaud Shooter for including such an uncomfortable topic.
The story would not have come across as realistic (which was clearly an attempt of Shooter) if it were two females who attempted to rape Banner. While female -> male sexual abuse does happen it rarely occurs witin the context of the female overpowering a male of equal age. Therefore, the use of males is necessary to portray this scene.

To condemn this story because it featured two gay men is the far more homophobic stance to take on the issue because it represents a fear of portraying gay people across the gammat of human personalities and insists for them to only be shown in a positive light. I have known a number of gay people over the cours eof my life, some have been good people, other have been a$$holes are and not worth a damn. To insists on an unrealistic portrayal of people completely misses the point of the scene.

Ultimately, the problems with this story (or at least the excerpt shown here) are:
1. The only gay characters shown are rapists, and thus an inference can be that all gays are (potentially) rapists
2. There is no comeuppance shown for the bad guys, and thus an inference can be made that male-on-male rape is acceptable (at least within some aspects of society, and in particular, it is acceptable behavior at the YMCA)

Thus, since the inferences likely lead to the belief that rape being acceptable and common in the gay community, I would say that, yes, the story fragment is homophobic in nature. But I also accept that how a story is read may differ from the intent when it was created, and that how a story is read may not match the beliefs of the creators, and that the meaning of a story can change when read outside its original temporal context. And thus the story likely appears worse today than it did at the time, due to more positive media portrayals since then, and I would judge Shooter based on the entirety of his work (and especially his more recent work) than on something he did 30 years ago.

Did the Comics Code even allow for openly gay characters at that time? Or for seemingly gay characters to be portrayed in anything other than a bad light? I know RH wasn’t subject to the Code, but Marvel may have had a company policy that kept even their non-Code books from straying to far.

@ Jim

Point 1) is a stance that I completely DISagree with. If Banner was a female and it was only one guy who was attempting to rape her, would you think that his portrayal represented all straight men? of course it wouldn’t it would represent THAT man who is straight. There needs to be a separation between works that attempt to represent an entire sub-section of a society, and those that are representing individuals. To blanket all characters featured in a story that are of a minority to represent the entire sub-section is a gross overstatement and it is that mentality that leads to the creation of stereotypes. There are works that represent a “day in the life” of certain peple, and it is those works which represent the sub-section. Not this.

Point 2) does not take into consideration the driving force of the narrative which is Banner’s experiences. And as you can see by his internal monologue he is attempting to refrain from retaliating. We also dont know if there is more to the story featuring these characters.
It is a standard view of the vast majority of members of society that rape is wrong and therefore it is not necessary for comic, or any story, to explicitly state this Fact. We, as members of the portrayed society, Know this, and therefore we feel for Banner and understand his pain, without being told “oh, by the way, you see how these two guys are trying to stick their ding-a-lings into his butty-hole,..well, that my dear readers, is a big no-no!”.

A few points..

I don’t but the whole its based on real experience so its not stereotypical. As a kid, my white friend’s father was disgustingly racist toward blacks, refusing to live in a neighborhood with blacks fearing that blacks were going to break into his home, blah blah blah, because when he was youngster a black man broke into his father’s store and robbed it. I don’t see how this is any different. Using one experience with one person and in any way using that to define or reflect upon another person of similar, race, religion etc, is the exact definition of a stereotyping!!!!! That Shooter fictionalized he characters doesn’t excuse it.

How could everyone forget a very mainstream questionable gay portrayal on TV – John Ritter badly pretending to be stereotypical gay man on Three’s Company in the late 1970’s.

I nominate the gay rape scene in Pulp Fiction as the most disgracefully exploitative instance of homophobia in recent entertainment memory. I guess because the victim was a criminal that was supposed to excuse it? This in a movie Where Tarantino himself throws the N-word around a half dozen times for really no reason….jackass. Sadly the scene lives on in pop culture as it introduced the T-Shirt ready phrase “Get medieval on X.

Copied from wikipedia, some Comics Code highlights:

“Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.”

Homosexuality is not mentioned, unless it’s in a section not reprinted in wikipedia.

As to the “true story” defense, I’ll say this: one day, in high school, my friend was jumped by several Hispanic guys. If I had a comic book company, I would not have the first Hispanic guys in my comic attack a white person. That’s not to say I would never have a Hispanic villain or henchmen or gang member. I would just not make every Hispanic person that appears in one of my comics depicted negatively. If your only depiction of someone belonging to a group (be it race, religion, political persuasion, sexuality, profession) is negative, you will be perceived as being against said group.


I think the code was likely grouping homosexuality under the “sexual abnormalities and sex perversions” labels. I’m fairly sure anything hetero-marital went there.

Having seen the entire story for the first time here (instead of just the oh pith panel) I dont think it was meant to be anti gay but anti rape but this is why (are you listening DC comics?)Rape and superheroes dont go well together

yeah, shooter really needs to handle his gay rape scenes in YMCA bathrooms more tactfully. if he had less stereotypical gay men try and rape the hulk, or if those dudes were raping a chick, then it would have been much better.

better luck with your next gay rape scene staring the hulk, jim shooter!

Clearly this was done in a time before the gays took over the comics industry. One can only hope that DIsney will help set things “straight” at Marvel.

Sure, it’s homophobic, but I’d put the emphasis on the “phobic”. I think this written from a place of fear born of ignorance, not hatred. If the goal here is to expose examples of cringe-worthy and belittling reliance on stereotypes, I assume that the Super Young Team will be next, right?

How many times will Brian bring this up? Hasn’t he beaten this to death in his column? It’s also in his book. Why doesn’t anyone ever bring up Deliverance, the movie, which features hillbillies in a gay rape scene? I think it’s going overboard beating this dead horse again and again and again …

In addition to the “real horror scenario” concept, part of this story may have been influenced by the infamous Al Pacino gay serial killer flick Cruising. It had similarly insensitive/negative portrayals of homosexuals, and is every bit as mortifying as this story.

Great article by the way, Brian. I was a pretty vehement detractor of the approach taken with the last one, and am happy to see the more in depth look displayed here. Good work, man.

I didn’t find the scene homophobic. There are two rapists trying to rape Bruce Banner. I don’t think there is any instance where it implies that homosexuality is bad.
Seems like a bad example of a mistake from the past.

Wow, I had never even heard of this story up to now. Great color art by John Buscema, though. It’s kinda weird how he was also working on the St. Francis biographic comic around this time. Big John could take on any project that was offered to him, regardless of subject matter.

The rape scene is highly surreal. The two men are clearly depicted as gay stereotypes both in the script, and to a slightly lesser degree, in the artwork. But with lines like “And I’ll tear your… (pause) head off” you can tell that Shooter was working through some heavy personal issues here. And as someone previously mentioned, it didn’t do the YMCA any favors, either.

Let’s count the ignorant gay stereotypes of the era present in this story:
1) Two guys sexually assaulting another guy
2) In the shower
3) At the YMCA (subject of the LGBT anthem by The Village People)
4) While throwing around “Baby”, “Sweetums”, “Cute cheeks” and “Oh pith!”

While this may not be a language that speaks “gay” to a modern audience, hip as we are to the intricacies of the human psyche, in the 80’s all these things were clear signs of homosexuality. Now if I’m John Q. Public, having only seen gays in that dirty Al Pacino movie, or only hearing about them in lewd jokes my buddies tell me at our straight bar, thumbing through this at my local newsstand, I’m seeing two things: queers and rape. One could even say Shooter may as well have titled the story “Hulk Gets Raped By Queers At The Y”.

So is it possible that the PERFECTLY STRAIGHT rapists just happened to be cruising for victims of any sex near the MEN’S SHOWERS at the single most stereotypical gay male pick up spot of that decade? Sure. And The Village People were all straight.


So Shooter’s POINT was that Bruce “wanted” it?

That’s why he didn’t get “angry” and turn into the Hulk?

Actually, MAYBE Shooter’s POINT was that Bruce is a TOP.


Anonymous: I think I’ve read things that were more bigoted, stupid, or hateful, but nothing that was any of those three combined with the added cringe-worthy element of being too chickenshit to post your own name, or even a screen name. Do you get that? Even the racists are embarrassed for you.

Brad said:
>If Banner was a female and it was only one guy who was attempting to rape her, would you think that his
>portrayal represented all straight men?

If that man was the only representation of a straight man in the comic and very nearly the only one you ever encountered as anything but a “Jack Tripper” clown, why yes, you might think it was intended to represent the general straight man and his behavior.

I know it’s hard to conceptualize that scenario, but hang out in an exclusively gay environment for a few weeks and listen to the stereotypes that sometimes get batted around about straight men and women. “Breeder: being a commonly used term. And this in a world where there is an overabundance of straight imagery whether it’s wanted or not, even in the totally-gay locations.

>There needs to be a separation between works that attempt to represent an entire sub-section of a society,
>and those that are representing individuals.

Agreed, but when underrepresented minorities are depicted, there needs to be balance.

A better scenario for comparison might be: “If Banner were a woman and both would-be rapists were black and used stereotypical black dialogue of the time, would this story be racist?” And I suppose a follow-up question would be “If it weren’t racist, where is the line? What would take it over the line into definitely racist territory?”

Because with the existing story, I can tell you ways that would make it more balanced and less homophobic, but I can’t tell you how to push it over the line into homophobic (since I think it’s already there); I could pump the dialog into parody levels where anyone short of Fred Phelps would say it was homophobic, but that would be parodic. But you disagree, so what salvages the story from the realm of homophobia for you?

>Point 2) does not take into consideration the driving force of the narrative which is Banner’s experiences.
>And as you can see by his internal monologue he is attempting to refrain from retaliating. We also dont know
>if there is more to the story featuring these characters. It is a standard view of the vast majority of members of >society that rape is wrong and therefore it is not necessary for comic, or any story, to explicitly state this Fact.

Except that it *is* (or *was*) expected that it be shown (not “explicitly stated”) to be wrong, by punishing those who engage in the anti-social behavior. (This is a superhero comic after all, Code or not.) By not giving the characters some form of comeuppance (I assume), the combinational behavior is branded as “acceptable” for those characters, and because they are the sole representatives of an underrepresented minority, that confusing status may (MAY!) be projected onto the entire minority.

If they were Arabs who brandished dynamite and knives and threatened to hijack a plane and crash it into a building (but didn’t actually do that in the comic story at hand), would it be sufficient that “everyone” “knows” that those actions are “wrong”? Would there be any need to actually show those characters to be wrong, or to show similar ethnicity characters not agreeing with such actions (done or not)?

What offends me most is the awful dialogue. Too painful to read. I mean, no one talks like that. Not in any era or place. Ever.

This story holds a fondness in my heart for being able to tell people about the issue and then they look at me incredulously, like I made it up and I have to go, “No, really, a near rape of Bruce Banner at the YMCA really happened in a Hulk story. I’m serious.”

*Cue the music Bill Bixby would hitchhike to*

Many people saying that that scene was homophobic because it portrays to homosexual men as rapists, which was a stereotype at the time. Others make the point that heterosexual men sometimes rape other heterosexual men, as in prison rape. My question is, is it firmly estabilished that the two men in that scene are gay, or just sexually predatory straight men? Not being familiar with 1970’s gay stereotypes, I can’t really tell the difference. Its not like there is a caption with an arrow pointing at them saying “they are gay!”. I think it was leff kind of ambiguous, like the rape scenes in Pulp Fiction or Deliverance. And if they aren’t gay, isn’t it kind of homophobic to assume that they were gay?

Why is everyone assuming they’re gay? Let’s look at what we know: they’re two kids who want to have fun by humiliating a weak looking stranger. Statistically they’re far more likely to be straight than gay. but what better way to scare and humiliate him than pretending to be gay? The only “gay” thing they do is stereotyped – stereotyped words and stereotyped shirt lifting. As Rene pointed out, real gay people don’t behave like that, but it’s exactly what a couple of sadistic straight kids might do just to see the other guy’s reaction. I’ve seen behavior like that first hand (not quite as mean, but the same kind of horsing around). Maybe I’ve been around the wrong people, but everything in the story suggests they’re not gay.

Again this column is rubbish… ‘look how bad we are by reading the absolute worst interpretation of a scene.’

Many people above have already brought up points as to why the two thugs may or may not be gay.

Bruce "hot" Banner

February 24, 2010 at 6:33 am

Ahahahaha! ;) I can’t stop laughing… the dialogue, the faces… Bruce looks like a scared girl! It’s so funny…

I came to know gay people who are decent and nice, and I came to know gay people who are malicious and boring.

The sexual orientation of a person don’t determines if “he” or “she” is good or evil.

“I nominate the gay rape scene in Pulp Fiction as the most disgracefully exploitative instance of homophobia in recent entertainment memory.”

The only quibble I have with this statement is that “Pulp Fiction,” being 16 years old, is no longer exactly recent. But that middle section, with Bruce Willis and the two criminals brutally raping prisoners in their own basement (while keeping some bizarre submissive “Gimp” in a cage), was one of the most revoltingly anti-gay things I’d ever seen. And that was 14 years after this “Hulk” story, which should tell you all something about how far our culture had yet to come in the mid-’90s. Relatively pro-gay landmarks in popular culture — Ellen DeGeneres coming out in real life and on her sitcom; “Will and Grace” — those things were still years away.

The commenters who are questioning if these guys in the “Hulk” story are gay are kind of missing the point. Let’s set aside the obvious stereotypes here (“Oh pith!” Really? Like thugs of any orientation talk like that? That’s clearly code for “nellie gay”). The point is: For decades, healthy gay male relationships — much less any romantic behavior like kissing or, god forbid, sex — were never depicted in films, on TV or in comics. Good grief, when Hollywood finally produced its first film about AIDS in the early ’90s, which won Tom Hank a friggin Oscar for playing a dying gay man, his character was married to Antonio Banderas, who was a minor character in the story; the most affection we see between them is one scene where they dance together. Can you possibly imagine a Hollywood romance about a young straight couple in love, and the one of them contracts a terminal illness, yet they’re never shown kissing in a romantic setting?

If the only portrayals of male-on-male sex you ever saw were scenes like Bruce Banner nearly getting raped in the Y (along with male-rape scenes in “Deliverance” or “Pulp Fiction”), well, that’s pretty clearly a negative and wildly distorted statement about gay male sex.

I think the idea was to put bruce in a situation where he would be expected to lash out but the fear and awefullness of the situation overpower him and stops him, and his angery only surfaces as anger at himself for letting it happen.

Given the life Bruce leads, most situations that could creat such feeling in normal people would not be realistic, such as a mugging, as he has been through much worse. this leads to Rape somehting that most people have a fear of and so it works well in the intend of the story. it is not there for shock value as in indentity crisis but for the narrative to work.

Rape is power and not sex, and it is clear these men enjoy his fear and their power and even the implied threat that they may not have the power is enough to back them off. they do use gay sling but the are not outragously gay, the use of the slang is there so you know they are after sex and not looking to put a beating on him. In Male rape stories in many media the protaganist take on gay slang or feminise the victim. other then Louey callin Dewey Baby at the end of the scence, all the slang is aimed Banner to humiliate and feminise him to show who has the power.

I do not think there is an anti gay message and if bruce was replace by Jen but all the dialouge kept the same it would work just was well as a rape story.

as for the Y, you do need a reason for Bruce to be nakled in a room with strangers and Hulk goes to the local pool would not fit in to the story, he needs to be in a hostel rather then a hotel.

Rebis: You make some interesing points. It just doesn’t register to me that one of the thugs saying “Oh pith!” immediately marks them as gay. Comic writers are notoriously bad at writing slang. Especially when trying to be “street”. If you look at gangsta rap culture, there are tons of examples involving tough, straight men making other men “their bitch”, which I guess originates from the feminization of victims in prison rapes. I see the portrayal above as more of a thug thing than a gay thing.

I think the point you make about the lack of portrayal of healthy gay relationships in comics is a seperate issue from the scene above. I don’t think that anyone would interprete that scene as an attempt to portray “gay sex”, but as an attempt to portray a prison rape. It would be like someone saying that the rape scene in Watchmen is indicative of how mainstream comics portray sex between men and women, just because mainstream comics never really showed sex of any kind between men and women up until that point.


In regards to Pulp Fiction, as someone pointed out above about Miracleman, that scene is all about power and bullying and abuse rather than sexuality. I think what Tarantino was aiming for was more violent shock value than anything else. I certainly had no idea the first time as to where that scene was leading, and I think a Deliverance-esque rape scene is far more startling than a standard torture scene. The Gimp character is a shocking image here, but there’s no context for it other than the “rape room” where Bruce Willis shanks both of the rapists. There are some murky undertones here with Ving Rhames being a black man raped by white slavers, but… again, I don’t think we’re getting too much into homophobic territory here, simply an evil so strong that it forces two arch-nemeseses-both of which are trying to kill each other prior to this point-to put aside their hate and join together just to survive. The rapist characters come across more as indictable forces of nature rather than anything else.

The Hulk actually was raped in Peter David’s Future Imperfect mini-series. It involved his future persona breaking his back, and while immobile, a woman who looked like his dead wife had sex with him against his will.

On the surface that could be worse than Shooter’s scene but it actually connected with the story and even Peter David’s worst enemies would admit was much better written.

I don’t believe Shooter meant anything–it was just a perfect storm of bad writing. “Pith.” Banner not changing (I’ve read more Hulk stories than I care to admit and this is the only time he’s too scared to change). Dewey believing he was Bruce Banner (wouldn’t every victim in the Marvel universe claim this if it worked?) It makes half the crap on Deviant Art look like gold.

On the other hand, I still don’t think Shooter’s stuff was half as dumb as “Dr. Light, Rapey McRapist.”

Why doesn’t anyone ever bring up Deliverance, the movie, which features hillbillies in a gay rape scene?

I think you’re looking for John Boorman Films Should Be Good! or James Dickey Novel Legends Revealed!

The lisping gay villain mentioned earlier appeared in the Marvel Spotlight/Moon Knight story in 1975 and was written by Doug Moench.

Actually, I think there were two undeclared gay characters appearing in Marvel comics before that as well:

1) Stan Lee has stated that Percival Pinkerton in Sgt. Fury was gay.

2) A villain called “Sweet William” in a 1970(1971?) Roy Thomas Avengers was, if not gay, rather stereotypical.

HULK no like butt rape…HULK gonna spring two more bucks to stay at motel 8…HULK all man..

This column seemed like a good idea, but seems in danger of turning into the equivalent of throwing chum to a bunch of sharks. Last time, many readers seemed to blithely conclude that almost 90 year old Stan Lee was secretly a racist — despite having broken ground with characters like Gabe Jones, Joe Roberston, and the Black Panther — because of racist comics he wrote seven decades ago as a teenager. Now Jim Shooter is a homophobe!

Maybe the next couple of columns should focus on comics published in the last five years, so at least the social context is more clear.

I’m not saying Shooter (and the artist) should be nominated for a GLAAD award. But women as rape victims is and, even in Comics Code days, was, prevalent in comics (or at least threatened with rape) — often casually and with a titillation factor. So to present the potential victim as a male (in a medium with a predominantly male readership) forces the reader to drop his slushy and take it seriously. A few years AFTER this, there was a TV movie (with Richard Crenna) about male rape that was, I believe, heralded at the time as progressive and socially important (and won some awards).

Replace Banner with a woman, saying the same lines (particularly those afterward in the alley) and it’s actually quite a powerful scene.

I don’t suppose Shooter sat around saying, “hmmm, how can I besmirch homosexuals today?” The Hulk (magazine) was published outside the Comics Code, and Shooter was presumably looking for a scene that would justify the lack of Code approval…a fresh spin that hadn’t been depicted in almost twenty years of Hulk stories.

And for those saying gay-rape at a YMCA is a unrealistic — um, it’s a comic. According to most comics, you can barely step outside your door without being besieged by a street gang. And you can be a six foot super hero with the power to smash planets…and an unarmed punk will still deliberately pick a fight with you. Super hero comics are all about contrived scenes to create conflict.

I’m not saying this was a sensitive depiction of homosexuality — but the villains were no worse than any of a zillion heterosexual thugs portrayed in comics before and since. And I think the scene was more about the crime than the criminals.

Was it Stephen King or Kurt Vonnegut who said “No great loss”?

I don’t see this as being homophobic at all.

This comic was actually the first time I was introduced to the concept of rape (via the letters column the following month) so it did get dialog started. I don’t see it as a ‘mistake’ either. Shooter went out to show rape in a different light and get people thinking, Sure, it’s awkward but you have to give him credit for trying to write about something relevant. Male on male rape scenes are commonly presented as comedic which prevents survivors from feeling confident about talking about it. While the Rampaging Hulk comic didn’t change the world, it’s a noble step in the right direction.

In any case, it’s miles better than what was later seen in Preacher (“It”s buggerin’ time!”).

“Strange thing about that Hulk mag, I can remember buying that book off the rack and to be honest, the Gay rape scene aside, the story is pretty good, and also pretty adult, (in all the uses of the word).”

I agree. It was probably the best issue in the entire run of “The Hulk!” magazine. However, that isn’t saying much, since the Hulk stories generally weren’t very good. The backups (Moon Knight and later Dominic Fortune) generally eclipsed the lead feature, sometimes by a wide margin.

That said, the scene as done might have been a mistake, but the Hulk story as a whole certainly wasn’t.

Belle Biv D'Avaux

February 24, 2010 at 1:05 pm

what if the real irony is that later on bruce banner went home tried putting a few things in his butt and he liked it and now goes cruising the YMCA all the time looking for sweetums to rock his world in the shower? maybe you’re all homophobic for not considering that, hmm?

By the way, with regards to mistakes of past history, it would be nice if the mistakes in the columns themselves could be corrected.

In your first column, the controversial story you attributed to Stan Lee was actually written by Otto Binder.

In this column, as mentioned in the comments above, the story appeared in “The Hulk!” magazine, “Rampaging” having been dropped from the title two years before.

The second error is minor, but that first one is pretty major. If you’re going pin something controversial onto someone, you ought to do it to the right person.

I’m of two minds about this. This is definitely a “mistake,” in that it’s poorly written. Beyond that, though, I don’t know. On the one hand, as one of very few representations of gay people at that time, it has the lingering stench of a VERY negative sterotype. On the other hand, this was still a time when they average heterosexual didn’t even really BELIEVE in gays unless they were hit on the head with it. Don’t believe me? Women were hot for both Liberace and Rock Hudson. Brett Somers once told me that the most common audience question she got asked on The Match Game was whether she and Charles Nelson Reilly were married. Is it damaging when the average comics reader probably didn’t know what to make of it? Oddly, this follows the reverse of the trend in the last edition of the column- I doubt that any of the gay people I know would see this as anything other than humorous and innocuous if it were published TODAY- but I know for a fact that they would have been offended to holy hell back then. And even ten or 15 years ago.

In your first column, the controversial story you attributed to Stan Lee was actually written by Otto Binder.

I’m going with Grand Comics Database (as well as The Comic Book Database), who both credit Lee. If you convince them that they’re wrong, I’ll gladly change it.

Chris Tolworthy wrote:
>Why is everyone assuming they’re gay? Let’s look at what we know: they’re two kids who
>want to have fun by humiliating a weak looking stranger. Statistically they’re far more likely
>to be straight than gay. but what better way to scare and humiliate him than pretending to
>be gay? The only “gay” thing they do is stereotyped – stereotyped words and stereotyped
>shirt lifting. As Rene pointed out, real gay people don’t behave like that, but it’s exactly what
>a couple of sadistic straight kids might do just to see the other guy’s reaction. I’ve seen
>behavior like that first hand (not quite as mean, but the same kind of horsing around).
>Maybe I’ve been around the wrong people, but everything in the story suggests they’re not gay.

Guess you’ve been around the wrong people, Chris. Because *nothing* in the story suggests they are not gay. That is: there is nothing to suggest that they are straight! You’re grasping at straws to try and prove a lack of homophobia.

Seriously, everything they do may be shorthand and stereotyped — lisping, “girlfriend”-class comments, shirt-lifting, hanging at the (sing it, boys!) Y-M-C-A, even an earring in the right ear (which was the “gay” ear in the 1980s) — but it’s all shorthand and stereotype for “gay”. What do you see in there that indicates they are “not gay” (straight).

If it walks like a duck, lisps like a duck, and shower-rapes like a duck… then it’s probably not a German Shepherd.

Yeah, the gay stereotypes are awful, but there’s another reason this sequence just doesn’t work: Bruce Banner is too scared to turn into the Hulk. He’s scared and yet calm? How is that even possible?

@ Chris Jones: Wow! You sure told me. Yes. Even the Racists are embarrassed for me. I’m not sure why though, considering homosexuals are not a race. Clearly you meant to say that even Homophobes are embarrassed for me. There, see? I fixed it for you. You’re welcome.

Yeah, I actually know that gay people aren’t a race. Sweet job not understanding jokes, though. Here’s a tip for you: If the peanut butter is white, smells weird and says “Elmer’s” on it, it’s NOT PEANUT BUTTER. I dunno, though, that seems like something somebody should have told you when you were 5.

Nataniel Costard

February 25, 2010 at 4:08 am

I`m really really sorry to point such a tiny little stupid thing out, bur it`s actually Sartre, not Sarte. I mean, the guy from “hell is other people”.


(By the way, I agree 100% with your post)

Thanks, Nathaniel!

I don’t like the scene and I’ve already said so. But do I think Jim Shooter is a homophobe? I don’t know. I don’t like to attach such labels to people without very good reason.

Shooter insisting that Northstar stay in the closet and that there were no overt gays in the Marvel Universe could be less a case of homophobia and more a case of Shooter considering homosexuality an “adult topic” (a view even more common in the 1980s than now), and trying to keep the MU “safe for the children,” or simply not having the balls to challenge mandates from the suits higher up in Marvel’s bureaucracy.

By the way, I’ve read a sort of “bible” Shooter wrote about the Legion of Super-Heroes, where he talks about all the characters, and Shooter considers the strong possibility that Element Lad is gay, and the way Shooter talks about the subject, it doesn’t look like Shooter hates gays or anything.

I think it’s a testiment to the posters of this site that we can have an ongoing discussion on this topic, where disagreement is rife, w/o a whole lot in the way of personal attacks going on. That being said, I feel compelled to bring up another point of disagreement that I can’t let go without some discussion.

I do not understand the posters who reference the possiblity that the portrayed rapists in the Hulk story could be heterosexual, or that the rape scene in Miracleman (which I haven’t seen) was male-on-male but heterosexual in nature. I thought the defining characteristic of homosexuality was engaging in sex acts with someone of the same sex/gender. As such, if a rape is male-on-male (or female-on-female for that matter), isn’t it by it’s very nature homosexual? Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but I just can’t see how someone can reference an instance of male-on-male rape and claim that it is perpetrated by heterosexuals. Yes, I know that rape is more about power than sexual gratification, but the fact remains that it constitutes sexual activity – otherwise, it’s just assault and not rape (as someone already mentioned, rape is sex used as a weapon). As such, I can’t buy the arguments that male-on-male rapists are heterosexual. They’re defined in this regard by the sexual acts they are committing, which are, in this case, homosexual. They may engage in heterosexual activities in most other setting or contexts, but in these instances I can’t see how you can come to any conclusion other than that they are homosexual (or at least bisexual), irregardless of their intent or their reasons behind engaging in such activity.

Does this mean that all homosexuals engage in sexual activity in this manner? Absolutely not. And I do think that is was wrong that this was one of the few protrayals of homoesexuals in Marvel at the time. However, I can’t imagine how male-on-male rape can be characterized as anything other than a homosexual activity. It’s certainly DEVIANT homosexual activity and not characteristic of typical homosexual activity anymore than male-on-female rape is typical heterosexual activity. But I think it’s a mistake to characterize it as being perpetrated by heterosexuals (as in the case of Miracleman), and then argue that it is somehow exempt from the same criticisms that are being discussed with this scene.

I disagree that superheroes and rape don’t go together. I think this story would have been better if Banner had actually turned into The Hulk and then proceeded to butt-fuck his would-be attackers to death. Stupid? Sure. Offensive? Yeah, probably. But can you imagine people’s reactions to it now?

“Dude, do you remember that Hulk rape story?”

“I remember them burning piles of Hulk comics in the street…”

“It was so weird. That bit where Hulk jumps up and down on their corpses while dancing the Y.M.C.A? What the fuck was that?”

“Didn’t they change the name of the book after that?”

“Yeah. To ‘The Incredible Ass-Rapist’. That’s when I stopped reading comics.”

“Too offensive?”

“Too expensive…”

Would it be easier to understand why this is offensive if there was a stereotypically Jewish character who cheated Bruce in a business deal and was shown to be extremely greedy?

@Adam – you mean like Shylock? time for mistakes of past history shakespeare edition!

@Ed: I understand the confusion you have, and I think that confusion comed from the way both the word “homosexual” and concepts of human sexuality have changed over the years. You’re coming at this from the point of view that words like homosexual and heterosexual describe a “behavior.” And, up until psychology and the gay rights movement began to influence concepts of sexuality (beginning in the 20th century), that was the standard. Prior to the 20th century, people weren’t “gay” or “straight” (or “bi” for that matter.) They were simply people who performed certain sex acts (and more often than not, those acts encompassed a range of bisexual behaviors depending on the culture and the period of time). That is why, for example, the British navy at one time had a problem with “buggery,” and male prostitution, but the sailors themselves were not necessarily considered “gay” in any fundamental way that we now define the word. They just happened to be men who had sex with other men.

Now that gay and straight are considered identities rather than just a set of individual behaviors, things have changed. Rape is not, generally speaking, considered an act of sex, but rather an act of violence and domination (and humiliation.) That is why it is possible for someone who is basically a heterosexual (ie, in the modern sense, attracted to the opposite sex) rape a victim without actually being considered “gay” (and identity which describes being only attracted to someone of the same sex.) Which isn’t to say that one can’t be both “gay” and a rapist- just that a man who rapes other men is not necessarily someone who is *attracted* to men.

That last post reminds me of a panel from Amazing Spider-Man# 156. The villain(the Mirage) is barging into weddings with his gang and robbing everyone, and one of the weddings is a Jewish ceremony. When the Mirage breaks in, the only dialogue from the wedding guests is one guy yelling “OY VEY!”

I was 6 years old when I read that. I didn’t know anything about Judaism, and when I saw that I burst out laughing because it came off as just plain…well, silly! I don’t think this happened in any other Marvel comic, though…

I don’t think Jim Shooter is any more or less homophobic than most people raised in a homophobic culture are (including gay people, like myself, who are raised in that culture). Which is to say: pretty homophobic indeed, but not happily or deliberately so, and embarrassed sometimes when it shows.

I actually did buy this book as a very consciously gay high schooler and read through the story without the rape scene even registering as a big deal until I read later, in the Advocate or something, that GLAAD was protesting it. At about the same time, they also protested John Byrne for saying that the way Bob Layton inked men’s lower lips made them look like sissies, if I recall correctly. Or he might have said fags. One or the other.

I just happened to be at a convention in Atlanta where Jim Shooter was a guest shortly after this, and asked him to sign my copy of that Hulk mag. He looked kind of surprised when I handed it to him, like that particular issue was one he wouldn’t have expected somebody to want signed. I don’t have it anymore. Mom probably threw it out.

@ Chris Jones: Thanks for the tip! I’m sorry to learn that some guy named Elmer tricked you into eating his paste when you were young, but at least you learned from the experience and are passing that knowledge on to others.

was no one bothered by the recent issue of “Pixie strikes back”? on page 4 there is a shot of a teen girl peeing. Am I the only on that thought showing a girl, who is obviously not supposed to be 18, with her skirt hiked up and ready to wipe? It just seemed a little Pedo to me…

sorry, I messed that up.
it should have read: Am I the only one that had a problem with showing a girl, who is obviously not supposed to be 18, with her skirt hiked up and ready to wipe? it just seemed a little Pedo to me…

Anyone who doubts that Dewey and Lewey are meant to be taken as gay need only re-read the first panel in which they appear. Dewey’s posture and the way he smokes his cigarette, blowing smoke rings, is clearly gay stereotypical. And he doesn’t even know Banner is coming yet, therefore he is not yet trying to “feminize” anyone other than himself.

Brian, I’m finding these columns interesting and thought-provoking, so please keep them coming. (But if you haven’t corrected it yet, the writer on the Young Allies story was Otto Binder, not Stan Lee.)

As for this episode’s topic, I was there when this issue come out. I was there when a subsequent issue letters column was mostly about the scene shown above, and I was there when various letters were written to fanzines about it. Whatever Shooter’s intentions, the story as it appeared was indeed a mistake, and offensive to a good many readers. It doesn’t take any great stretch of imagination to see that gay readers of the time may have particularly identified with the character of Bruce Banner, a character who had to hide his identity because if it was known, he would be persecuted. To see that character in particular in a story like this?

I think some of the commenters above simply do not comprehend the world as it existed then. It seems to me that a virtue of doing this sort of column is to remind us that the world has changed.

Oh, and for the Young Allies credit, my source is the recent Masterworks volume. I’ll try to contact the GCD to get them to change it, since I’m bugging you about it. :-)

To Brian and (almost) everyone on this thread: Just checking back in at CSBG after two very busy days of working. (Well, OK, I played hooky briefly, late this afternoon, to catch the new “Wallace and Gromit” short, which is Oscar-nominated and playing in cinemas right now. It was predictably awesome — and included a sweet little homage to the original “Batman” movie! You know, the late-’60s one.) … Anyway, I’d like to thank Brian for a great idea for a semi-regular feature, and I thank everyone else for discussing it with mostly open minds and respect for each other during the back-and-forth. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we all agreed on one thing: The tone of the comments threads here is a primary reason that we love Comics Should Be Good.

I still like this column though I don’t have a problem with this particular story.

It is sad and wrong that there were no positive portrayals of gay people in mainstream comics, but it doesn’t follow that any story that portrayed two evil gay characters is homophobic. If Jim Shooter made a habit of portraying evil gay people, but never any good ones then I’d feel differently, but as far as I’m aware this was a one-off.

Oh and yeah, these two were obviously intended to be gay. The kid in Miracleman obviously wasn’t, and I can’t remember Pulp Fiction well enough, but I don’t remember anything to suggest that the guy in that was gay either.

Well now it’s kind of a stupid story but back then it sure was offensive. And this whole “it really happened to someone” bit, whether or not true (and I have my doubts), doesn’t mean it would be good enough to make into a story. Heck, remember Debbie “Duck” in Starbrand, created and written by Jim Shooter? Jim said back then he knew a girl who said “quack” all the time … does that mean we really need an idiot like that in a story?

[…] #23 in which Bruce Banner is almost shower-raped at a Y by two sour-faced gay guys. As noted in Mistakes of a Past History #2, writer Jim Shooter was apparently going for “verisimilitude” with this story, but the […]

[…] #23 in which Bruce Banner is almost shower-raped at a Y by two sour-faced gay guys. As noted in Mistakes of a Past History #2, writer Jim Shooter was apparently going for “verisimilitude” with this story, but the […]

Just a suggestion to Mr Banner. If you’re not intending to partake in ‘action’ then you should avoid standing with your face to the wall in dark allies dressed in nothing but some pants…

jonathan johnson

December 9, 2011 at 7:59 am

I like this guy, Robt Seda-Schrieber

Sometimes rapists are gay. Finding offense in something like this is a sure sign that you’ve overdone the whole PC thing and need to tone it down a little.

Not finding offense in this is a sure sign you are part of the blind majority and have never taken the time to introspectively look for and at your own blind spots.

“It was based on truth,” even if accurate, isn’t an excuse. As someone pointed out upthread, if the first Jewish guy to appear in Marvel comics was a greedy banker who hates Christians, saying “Hey, I met someone like that!” wouldn’t make it any better. Or if the only black character to show up was a black woman who cheated on welfare and drove a fancy car (“No, there was a woman like that in my town, I swear it.”)
The point about stereotypes is not whether they exist but when they become the only (or main) face we see.

[…] that it feels like mentioning it is “rubbing my face in it.” This leads me, sort of, to this blog post, about a 1980s story in which Bruce Banner is spending the night at the YMCA and almost […]

How come Jim Shooter gets flack for this comic 30 years later and no one says anything to Chuck Dixon about his ongoing career of overtly machismo characters calling other dudes sissies mixed with personal admissions in interviews that he does not like gays

I’m highly disturbed by people being offended over the rapists being “gay”.

Where does it say they are gay? Straight men rape straight men a lot. It’s horrible. And it’s ignored due to the sense of entitlement. The story tells a story. Everything else is being added by the personal hates and loves of the readers.

And the readers are especially touchy about things that may or may not exist.

“Not finding offense in this is a sure sign you are part of the blind majority and have never taken the time to introspectively look for and at your own blind spots.”

Nice. Anyone else you want to ironically generalize?

Marvel, at the time, had had, like, three gay characters ever appear in a comic book story

I remember reading somewhere that Machinesmith (everyone remembers him, yes?) was originally designed as being gay, but being created in the 60’s, naturally implications were all that they could get away with. Has he come out yet?

re: Drax. Could it have been Epic Illustrated #7? There was an interview (and a lot of great art) Archie Goodwin conducted with Barry Windsor-Smith. Among other things he mentioned was a character he drew in a couple of issues of Daredevil (I’m thinking #51-52; I know for sure about 52, since I own the original) named Starr Saxon.

He would become Machinesmith later, but in these stories he was a very flamboyant villain. BWS said he thought the character was clearly supposed to be gay. BWS was still in his Jack Kirby-influenced stage of his career, but his storytelling was really starting to break out on it’s own at that point. Well recommended.

I reject the notion that any negative portrayal of a homosexual it pure racism- regardless when it was created (this of course it not to say that it does happen). Was the movie “Deliverance” gay-bashing? The characters in this scene are sexual predators- period. Jim wrote a scary scene- period, unless you think being raped isn’t scary.

Calling this scene gay-bashing is like calling a movie like “In the Heat of the Night” reverse racism.

Plain and simple, at the time it was a-okay to portray gays as monsters. That’s what’s happening here, “based on a true story” or not. I’m really glad things have changed, as a gay comic book geek.

And call me touchy if you want to, call me whatever you want. I reject it. I remember when crap like this was considered okay to print. And it was in movies, tv shows, books, everywhere. I stand by my assessment, and there’s no way to know if it was intentional or not. It was part of it’s time, but I won’t participate in whitewashing it.

As a man who has had a couple of gay men try to force themselves upon him, I don’t think that aspect of the story is unrealistic. I think the way of reading which says “I’m going to take these characters as representative of their entire group” is problematic here.

As for the rest of the story, I applaud the attempt at drama, and I think part of readers’ discomfort with the story could be that they expected superheroics and got drama instead.

As a gay man, I find Shooter’s story to be INCREDIBLY offensive. It “works” by trading on the fears that many heterosexual people have about gay people. One, that we’re all interested in sex. Two, that we all want to get our hands on any heterosexual man we can. Three, that we’re predatory and looking to rape people. If Shooter were trying to accurately portray a sequence involving gay men, there are places he could have visited, and people he could have spoken to-even back then. I don’t care if he didn’t “intend” that sequence to come across homophobic. Intent is not magic. No one knows whether Shooter is telling the truth or lying. But we can see the words and images on the page. Those words and images paint gay men as effeminate, predatory rapists. At a time when gay people were hardly mainstream, and certainly never in comics (to any significant degree) to show two gay men in such a horrible light would only serve to confirm fears and suspicions held by many people. Heck, including that scene was a reference to something in Shooters’ life. That gives me the impression that it was a fear (or concern) he had. For all his intentions, to portray gay people like that is horrendously stereotypical and massively offensive.

This is as wrong-headed as any of the socially-backward, awkwardly-written crap that came from an ignorant age. That doesn’t excuse it, either.

I get where people are coming from with the negative portrayal of gay men, and portrayals like this in the media probably contributed to that culturally ingrained fear that hetero men have regarding gay men hitting on them. Gay rights have slowly become less stigmatized, but what hasn’t become less stigmatized is the rape of men. Men who have been the victims of rape are far less likely than women to report the rape, out of fear that it will make them look weak. I think knowing that one of the strongest people in the Marvel universe went through a similar event would be helpful to the male victims of rape, and as awful as it that they made these predators gay, it’s still an important discussion.

There was another gay guy in Marvel Comics around then, Steve Rogers’ childhood pal Arnie, who lived with a guy named Michael. Good work from JM DeMatteis.

“This is as wrong-headed as any of the socially-backward, awkwardly-written crap that came from an ignorant age. That doesn’t excuse it, either.”

It’s still an ignorant age, Chris. Every generation thinks they are the most enlightened when any forward movement is just baby-steps.
Give it time. Someone in the future will surely refer to this era as ignorant. Look at the news. Are we truly more enlightened?

“When he was creating his Valiant Universe, Shooter had a gay teen as the lead of his series, Harbinger, (although Shooter left the book before the character officially “came out”)”

Huh? Sting was clearly not gay. Neither was Zeppelin, who took over the team after Shooter. The only gay character I can think of in the Valiant Universe is Ken, who is hardly a “positive” role model.

Huh? Sting was clearly not gay. Neither was Zeppelin, who took over the team after Shooter. The only gay character I can think of in the Valiant Universe is Ken, who is hardly a “positive” role model.

Sting was intended by Shooter to be gay. Here‘s the old Comic Book Legends Revealed on the topic.

Interesting! Though contrary to the claim above, Sting never “came out.” So, if Shooter *intended* for Sting to be gay, but there was no indication of this in the stories (with clear indications to the contrary), and then got himself fired from his own company before making that revelation, can we still say that Sting was gay? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, I am now straining to imagine Harbinger as an Eddie Murphy vehicle.

That’s like condemning a guy who tried but failed to save someone from under a bus. “Sorry, you were too late, so your intent doesn’t count.”

Intent is highly relevant when discussing the character of a person, whether the person got the opportunity to act upon his intent or not.

Leave a Comment



Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives