Ask me what the single most dangerous weapon in storytelling is and I’ll say the retcon with very little consideration. The retcon doesn’t just change the story going forward; it also affects every story leading up to the change. That hero you’ve cheered on all these years? He’s actually a monster that’s been playing you all this whole time. The heroine who inspired you as a kid? Skrull this whole time. The retcon isn’t character growth, it’s character rewriting without rebooting the continuity to do it. Use it carefully and wisely.
And let’s be honest, Tim being bisexual is a retcon. This was not something writers had in mind, nor did the creators. Whatever comes in happened after the fact by other writers. Regardless of your opinion of the recent change in Tim this is a retcon. Even if you saw it coming for years it was years after the character was created. For a clearer understanding of what’s going on I considered following yesterday’s example and showing two videos from either side of the debate. Then Sasha Wood decided to be awesome again.
In a recent episode of Casually Comics Sasha went over the history of Tim Drake in general before looking at all sides and perspectives of the debate. From LGBT+ folks for and against it (yes, that happens because being forced into a group doesn’t lock you into a Borg hivemind) to homophobes and just people who only care about the story Sasha frames all the points of view without bias but still with her signature wit and wig. So if you want a proper view of where all parties are coming from watching the following video. If you want a totally bias opinion, read my thoughts afterwards because of course I have thoughts. This is my favorite keeper of the Robin mantle here.
Catch more episodes of Casually Comics on Sasha’s YouTube channel.
I literally could not have framed the discussion any better or more unbiased, and I try to use “literally” correctly.
First off here are the opinions I don’t care about. I don’t care what the homophobes think. Gay people exist so I have nothing against gay people existing when they’re written correctly. The problem is so often they’re not, at least when it comes to superheroes. Batman doesn’t have storylines about how straight and white he is. It’s barely a subplot but no story surrounds his sexual preference, but when a character is retconned gay (for example Iceman over at Marvel) that becomes part of the story. The sitcom Ellen was always about Ellen DeGeneres’s character finding love so when said character decided she was gay who she failed at relationships with just changed genders. Superhero stories are about fighting crime and rescuing people while wrestling with their own convictions and limitations. I don’t care who the character is sleeping with because they are fictional and I won’t be sleeping with them. Just give me a good story.
I also don’t care about fanshippers or slashfic. First off…when has a gay character ever been shipped in a straight relationship? Plenty of straight characters get shipped gay but not the other way around. Straight or gay, these people also don’t believe in platonic relationships or that someone can care about someone else as close or closer than a sibling and still not want to romance or sleep with them. To the fanshipping community it’s all one big bisexual orgy whether the creators like it or not, and if you dare challenge their ship (despite some characters having numerous ships with other characters) they stop being harmless and become obnoxious. Imitating the villain in Misery should NOT be your goal. The only thing worse is when they try to ship real life people and try to ruin their relationships. Look what happened to fans of the Rey/Kylo community who tried to break up Adam Driver’s marriage to put him with Daisy Ridley. The community as a whole is harmless but there are factions that need to get some serious professional help.
Finally, and this is not necessarily the same thing, I don’t care about people who will praise this change and not even read the comics because they don’t care about comics, being media snobs who look down on comics. (Same for those who denounce it unless that’s the reason they aren’t reading that particular comic. Not being a fan is not the same as dropping a title or publisher in protest regardless of what that protest may be. If you hate what was done to your favorite already-gay character and cancel you have the same right.) You don’t know the context, you don’t care if it makes sense to the story, you just want representation without looking to see if it’s token representation or even an accurate depiction or if it even happened. (The recent My Hero Academia discussion around a mistranslation comes to mind.) I care about the story and if there are people on the pro-representation side who actually read comics, especially superhero comics, then their opinion carries weight.
However, your here for my opinion. So I ask…is there a storybased reason for Tim to now be bisexual when he’s been written as straight all these years? Yes, he was written straight. I’ll get into the “queer coding” stuff in a moment. Every relationship he’s had has been with a woman. Stephanie Brown, Ariana Dzerchenko…he even was involved with Jubilee of the X-Men during their first meeting in DC Vs. Marvel, though by the time Jubilation Lee (her full name) forced Access to let them meet up again, Tim was involved with Ariana, and considering multiversal dating isn’t just the ultimate long-distance relationship but would have led to the end of the DC and Marvel universes it’s a good thing they ended things on positive terms. While a writer or two may have tried to make Tim gay for reasons that’s not how he was created to be nor is it what most writers did with him until Meghan Fitzmartin tossed in this retcon. It’s kind of odd because apparently in an interview she stated she liked Tim and Stephanie together and yet she had them break up off-panel to make this story. It tends to make one question her claims since I’ve seen so many writers, directors, and producers claim “oh, we totally love the character and want to do their story right”. And then we got movies like Jem.
Here’s the problem I have with the insistence on queer coding. If that’s actually what’s happening, fine, and apparently one writer actually was doing that because he wanted to join the fanshipping, which is a form of fanfiction (and from the way Sasha described how the story was actually put together that’s what this sound like…fanfic). The majority of writers however didn’t. The thing about queer coding is seeing it where it doesn’t exist. I’m not convinced Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy were being queer coded on the show. Harley is just messed up entirely and Ivy…well, given how she hated men in the DCAU I wouldn’t be surprised if she was either a lesbian or just plain asexual. Apparently there were folks out there wanting the same thing for Tim and the clone Superboy but I literally heard nothing about this until this whole retconned happened. It sounds like reading queer coding just because they want to see a hero they’re attracted to have a gay hook up to make it easier for them to fantasize about getting with them. If that’s your headcanon I don’t care. LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures is my headcanon but I assure you nobody tied to Star Wars will ever have Rowan Freemaker show up. Being in your headcanon doesn’t make it official canon, and that doesn’t just go for shipping this or that character. Throwing a temper tantrum to change it doesn’t make you look very good. It makes you look selfish.
Allow me to double down on that because I’ve decided I don’t care this week. If I’m going to get into this sociopolitical hornet nest this week (and hopefully we can get back to having fun tomorrow) I may as well be as honest as I am with my other reviews and commentaries. Sometimes those who read queer coding where it doesn’t exist are selfish, as in only their life experiences are being touched upon. They say Jubilee’s pals the X-Men were about racism, and then about coming out of the closet. What about those of us who are straight or didn’t grow up where their skin color mattered (because people outside of the US also read superhero comics, including countries not dominated by the peach-colored folks–at least that’s what my coloring pencil says my skin color is) who were ostracized for different reasons?
Example: I’m straight as most of the arrows in Green Arrow’s quiver (and that’s not a double entendre) and white as they come without leaning towards an albino or something. (Like I said, my coloring pencils call me peach.) I also have a temper, a wacky imagination, poor social skills, shy, and get lost in thought. I think about storytelling in ways different from everyone I know in my family and everyone I went to school with because I’m a creator with a strong interest in making comics. I was unique among my peers and even though I have friends I never really connected to anyone just right. That left me a target for bullies who liked to use psychological torture rather than beating me up. Being Caucasian and wanting to snuggle with girls (who sadly don’t share the interest) wasn’t enough and still isn’t today. I blend into the background, in case you’re wondering why “ShadowWing” is a part of my screenname beyond the origins in my about section. A crowd stands out more than I do. Do I not get too look at the X-Men and feel like an outsider that nobody wants to hang out with? I’m not outsider enough for you because I’m a heteronormative cracker? Here is my backside; kiss it sideways because I still don’t feel like part of the world. I just learned to stop caring when I realized I might be better off.
Meanwhile there’s a huge division in the Lord Of The Rings franchise as one supposed fan group is reading “queer coding” into the Middle Earth stories that JRR Tolkien never put into it, even hosting an entire online convention (really just a set of podcasts claiming to be a convention, which is one of the lamest things to come out of the lockdowns–just admit your a group of podcasts) while others are searching for anything in anime they can insist is pro-LGBT+…except for the actual gay characters, since they really want the famous, non-jokey characters people love in some bid to…actually I’m not sure what the end game is. For example I’m watching PlayFrame’s playthrough of Nier: Replicant, which includes a gay character and an intersex character among the hero’s party. I have no issues with this and they are great characters and companions for Nier.
So yes, I do believe this is an unnecessary retcon that only exists so DC can get their names in the mainstream papers and websites, just like with Batwoman (whom it took about three years before they actually did anything with), Alan Scott of Earth 2-52 (his son was gay before the reboot and I didn’t complain but Scott wasn’t), and Iceman (and fans would have accepted HIM as bisexual, while at least one commentator I follow is convinced we won’t see Tim dating women again). It wasn’t done for the story. It’s token representation for cheap promotion and the belief that alone will bring in readers…who still look down on comics and just want to play the “everything for meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” game. This doesn’t benefit Tim as a character, and it seems so many of these representational characters, race swaps, and retcons don’t know how to write superhero stories. They want to write gay romances and urban dramas, not people in spandex flying around punching each other. They could have made a new gay character–that whole Batman Incorporated thing isn’t the only time they’ve added to the Bat Family–and nobody would mind but those against gay characters. I’ve seen gay and bi people against the change because that’s not the character. It’s all marketing and checkboxes rather than story and caring about the characters.
Sorry, Tim Drake wasn’t bisexual until this storyline. It isn’t there but for the slashfics and those who want everything to be a bi orgy because they demand their headcanon be official, what the creators want be damned. They don’t care about characters, they just want to see themselves with a narrow view of what that means, and they’ll gladly see any opposition as hate of them rather than love of characters they don’t care about.