Christopher James Priest
Production by Warner Bros. Animation
Warner Bros., 2000
Many of you may recall the television series Static Shock, the hit WB Kids cartoon that was based on the eponymous Milestone comic. Static (Virgil Hawkins) had a best friend named Richie Foley who in later seasons discovered he had latent abilities as a technopath and became Static's crime-fighting partner, Gear. What makes this 10 kinds of awesome is that for those of us who knew the history of the comic, something very special was happening. In the comics, Richie Foley was in fact Richard Stone, one of Virgil's best friends in high school and a gay teen. With FCC regulations the way they are, gay characters are not allowed on a kid's cartoon show.
But for us LGBTQ comic book fans and others in the know, we knew what creator Dwayne McDuffie and others were trying to accomplish. They could've just as easily have adapted another of Static's friends or created a brand new character for the show. It should also be noted that Dwayne McDuffie, Bruce Timm and co. have consistently been inclusive and brought the win on POC, feminist and other social justice issues with their other series, Batman, Batman Beyond, Superman and Justice League. McDuffie even confirmed on his website that the cartoon version of Richie Foley WAS indeed a gay character and a gay superhero at that.
Static will always be a milestone in not only comics but cartoons as well because not only were we given a superhero of color but a gay superhero as well.
Unfortunately where ever there’s attempts at progress, there’s usually derailers. The homophobia aimed at Gear is no exception. Sadly there are bigots and fools who will do everything in their power to shut down any advancement of marginalized people, usually with weak arguments that I plan to dismantle right now:
If Gear was gay, then why didn’t the creators out him on the show?
The reason why they didn't out Richie in the series is because they couldn't less they lose their Y7 rating (which is the most adult rating a children's cartoon can get here in the states). That's right, here in the states YOU CAN'T BE GAY ON A KIDS SHOW. They would've lost that rating and there would've been no Static Shock.
You’re reading too much into the subtext and seeing what you want to see.
This wasn't a retcon seeing as the character predates the cartoon. Most of us knew about Richie when the cartoon premiered. McDuffie only confirmed to those who didn't know the comic. But for comic fans, we knew the score. But hey if you think you know more than the creators, and the fans who actually know the character’s history in both the comics and the cartoon, then by all means please continue.
But Gear isn’t a visible gay. And because he isn’t visible, he isn’t an authentic gay and therefore he doesn’t count.
And what exactly is being a visible and “authentic” gay? When one is visibly engaged in sexual activity with someone of the same gender?
I for one am gay whether I’m rollerblading in the park, working on my novel, brushing my teeth, doing freelance gigs as a photographer, or on a movie date with a cute guy. Whether or not it’s visible to others doesn’t negate who I am, nor does it make me any less authentic.
Furthermore this is a fallacious argument because the FCC WILL NOT allow gay characters to be included in cartoons or children's programming. So it's not like McDuffie and the creators had a choice in the matter. That's like arguing there were no gays in the U.S. military during the time of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell because none were visible. You either be invisible or you get canceled.
This argument is also problematic (to put it mildly) because it establishes the presumption that heterosexual is the default orientation unless otherwise stated.
And THAT'S the reality we live in. The only way to exist in a children's cartoon or for that matter real life society is by being AN INVISIBLE GAY.
Gear IS the authentic gay because for those of us who live in the real world, we understand that the only way for him to exist in a cartoon is by being invisible.
Because being visible gets you fired from your job. Being visible means you get met with violence. Being visible gets you killed. Don't believe me then go ask Duanna Johnson, Emille Griffith or Matthew Shepard what being visible gets you. Being visible gets you kicked out of your house. Being visible led to my friend's ex boyfriend committing suicide because his parents couldn't accept that he was gay. Being visible means you get rebuked and attacked or denigrated because in large part to avatars of straight privilege, queer minstrels like Northstar and Rawhide Kid. Being visible in this society catches you unholy hell especially if you aspire to be more than society's punchline.
And for those of us who knew then and know now, we understand because it's a struggle too many of us have faced. But we salute Richie just the same because we know if he ever came out on that show, his father, who flipped his shit for his son being best friends with a black kid, would damn sure lose it for having a gay son. So we support Richie because we know the struggle. And we applaud Richie because he became an ass-kicking superhero and didn't allow himself to be boxed in. He did what he had to do and became a hero to many of us. Not only did he become an awesome superhero but he achieved a Milestone (pun intended) in better representation of LGBTQs and proving that heroes aren’t defined by their gender, ethnicity, or orientation but by the content of their character.
And if that doesn’t have you geared up, then I don’t know what will.
Editors' Note - Thanks for reading! Just one more Milestone Color Commentary piece left! Check back Monday for our look at the awesome two volume set Milestone Forever. - PKA
When he's not out saving the world and/or taking it over, Neo-Prodigy moonlights as a published author and a freelance digital artist. He can regularly be found analyzing the portrayal of minorities in comics and media on his blog, The Chronicle and at Ars Marginal.
All images and characters TM and © 2000 DC Comics and Warner Bros. Review © 2011 Dennis R. Upkins.
Prism Comics promotes the works of the LGBT community in comics. It does not implicitly endorse any other material or products associated with those works. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s).