On Canon, Queerness, Hercules And Winning Nerd Fights
Hercules isn't just a Greek god, he's a character in the Marvel comics universe. A kind of goofy one, if you ask me, and that goofiness was leaned into heavily in the comic series The Incredible Hercules, which was more comedic in tone. The book was eventually canceled, but the latest iteration of Herc grabbed enough fans that Marvel is going to try and give him another solo title. As a Bronze Age reader I sort of roll my eyes at Hercules, but modern readers have really taken to him.
They've also taken to his sexuality. There's an alternate universe Hercules who has been in a sexual relationship with James Howlett, aka Wolverine. That's not the main universe Herc, and he wouldn't be the first straight main universe character to have a queer alt out there somewhere (see Colussus in Ultimate X-Men). His sexuality came up in a weekly Q&A session that Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso does with Comic Book Resources. Alonso's reply angered fans:
Also, a lot of fans have been curious if the character's sexuality -- it's been strongly suggested Hercules is bisexual, and in "X-Treme X-Men" an alternate Hercules was in a relationship with Wolverine -- will play a part in the series. Is there any insight you can provide at this point?
Alonso: Hercules and James Howlett's relationship in "X-Treme X-Men" took place in a unique alternate universe, similar to how Colossus was gay in the Ultimate Universe, but is straight in the 616. Same goes for Hercules here.
People got really mad about this. At first I was like, "Literally who gives a shit about Hercules' sexuality" and then I realized "Oh wow, there are so few queer characters in mainstream supehero comics that people need to cling to fucking HERCULES." That really put the paucity of gay/etc characters into stark, ugly perspective.
But then I thought more and I was confused by the outcry. After all, this is an interview. Real comic fans (real nerds in general) understand that it isn't about interviews or corporate statements: canon is determined by what is on the pages of a comic book. So it has been and so it always shall be, and so it is in all fandoms. What you see on the page/in the game/on the screen is what is canon. All else - tie-in novels, toys, creator interviews - is noise. Death of the author reigns supreme in the world of fandom, and especially in comics. Just ask Jim Shooter, who insists that an art miscommunication has forever rendered Hank Pym into a wife-beater when that was never what he, as the writer, intended. But whatever Shooter intended, it's on the page and it is canon. Forever (until a retcon or reboot. Them's the rules).
The same goes for Hercules. I don't give a shit what Axel Alonso has to say about the character's sexuality, I care about what is on the page. And bad news for Axel: Hercules isn't just bi in an alternate universe, he's bi in the main 616 universe and it is canon.
In the miniseries Hercules: Fall of an Avenger a lot of Herc's friends got together to commemorate him after they thought he died (this happened when Incredible Hercules was canceled). He got better, of course, but that doesn't matter - the mourning is canon, it happened in the 616 universe, and it includes this page:
That's a bunch of ladies who Hercules boinked reminiscing about their sexytimes with him, and opening the floor to anyone else who lain with the Olympian. And it is clear by his reaction that canonically queer character Northstar has also lain with Hercules. Yes, it's a joke but it's a joke whose punchline is official Marvel comics history.
It is right there. In the pages of a comic book. In canon. Until someone specifically retcons it in the pages of another comic book, at any rate... which they will never do. Just as, no matter what Alonso says in an interview, Hercules will never deliver a speech in which he identifies explicitly as straight. That's a fucking minefield that no writer or editor will want to approach. The Marvel policy for this new title will simply be to ignore this page and move forward showing Hercules only boning women. At least until the next creative team takes over and decides instead to pick up on this thread - which is how continuity in comics works all the time.
The reaction to Alonso's statement disappointed me - people exploded on Twitter and Tumblr and a comic site ran an editorial about boycotting Marvel - because this isn't how nerds win arguments. Nerds win arguments with canon. With the text. We don't wait for or demand proclamations from up high, from the owners and curators of the brand. We understand that the text stands on its own, outside of the changing winds of merch and the shifting tides of editorial control. Again, ask Jim Shooter - the page showed Hank Pym hitting Janet, and now Hank Pym is a wife-beater.
What should have happened? Everybody who didn't like what Alonso said should have printed out this page and mailed it to his office. They should have enclosed a nice note, explaining to him his mistake when it comes to official Marvel continuity. They should have maybe requested a No-Prize, even though this isn't really why you get a No-Prize*, but you know, just hammer home the point that he's wrong about continuity.
That's how nerds win nerd arguments. And aren't you guys supposed to be nerds? Axel Alonso is wrong - not just morally but quite clearly in terms of continuity. So instead of calling for his head or boycotting Marvel, PROVE HIM WRONG. And if Alonso is a real nerd, he will have to bow to the truth of canon. And if denies it he'll have been outed as a fake geek, and THEN you can call for his head.
Because that's how nerds win arguments.
* You get a No-Prize for explaining away continuity errors in the pages of Marvel Comics.