(Warning - mild SPOILERS for Avengers: Age of Ultron, and in particular its ending, lie below...)
There are a whole lot of ways in which last week's Supreme Court ruling, in which the court essentially legalized gay marriage across the entire United States, was awesome - but from a comic book fan's perspective, there's one in particular that stands out.
In the wake of the decision, there's been an increased focus on Marvel's depiction (or lack there-of) of LGBT characters - and Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige's recent response to that focus was both emphatic and fantastic to hear. Asked by /Film's Peter Sciretta when we'll finally see an LGBT character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Feige responded:
"The answer is, there is no reason why that can’t happen any time soon. You know, we pull the characters from the comics, for the most part, and they’ve been forging new ground for decades in the comics. They’ve been very progressive in the comics. And even more recently in a very important and progressive way. And we keep track of all of those things and are inspired by all of those things, so I’d love it to find an organic, meaningful and natural way for that to happen at some point in the not so distant future."
Or, in other words, we're likely to see a 'non-straight' Marvel superhero sooner rather than later...
Why Is That a Big Deal, Though?
Well, while Feige is absolutely right about Marvel comics having been pretty progressive for years, there's also another side to that story. Historically, y'see, comic books and superheroes haven't had the best track record when it comes to diversity. For much of the history of the medium, writers and artists have seemingly been encouraged to reflect a more traditional version of the world in which they were living than the one that was actually outside their doors.
As a result, the iconic comics of the '60s largely reflected the civil rights movement going on alongside them through carefully coded metaphor (Professor X as Martin Luther King vs. Magneto as Malcolm X, for instance, or The Falcon being granted entry to the Avengers as part of a quota system) rather than by actually including a representative number of non-white superheroes. Similarly, there have long been far more male heroes than female ones - and those women who did make it to the pages of mainstream comics were often placed in the role of the token 'girl.'
Over the years, though, progress has gradually found its way onto the comic book page, and there's a growing sense that the 'Big Two' - Marvel and DC - are genuinely starting to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to more equal representation. Whether it's the mainstream success of heroes like Kamala Khan and Miles Morales, or simply the fact that having a non-white Avenger (or, indeed, an African American Captain America, or female Thor) is no longer that big of a deal, things are quite obviously getting better.
So What's the Problem, Then?
Well, when it comes to LGBT heroes, progress is a little thinner on the ground. Take Marvel, for instance. In many ways the company has been a hugely progressive force when it comes to bringing non-straight characters to its pages, with The X-Men and Alpha Flight's Northstar coming out back in 1992, and marrying another man (on an X-Men cover, no less) in 2012.
In other ways, though, the obvious good intentions of the company haven't really translated into the same level of progress that's been seen in other areas. There are now a whole lot more gay superheroes, true - with the youthful, time-traveling version of the X-Men's Iceman the most recent to be revealed - but with a few exceptions (Keiron Gillen's excellent Young Avengers, or Brian K. Vaughan's widely beloved Runaways), you could easily read the vast bulk of Marvel's output without spotting a single non-straight hero.
Things are changing, though, and it's clear that they're heading in a more progressive and - crucially - more representative direction - but until now, there was little sign that Marvel Studios was set to follow suit. After all, the vast majority of the movie heroes we've seen thus far have already had their own romantic sub-plots - all of which have seen them paired with members of the opposite sex.
Which is, in one sense, absolutely fine and dandy. After all, much as in the real world, it's just as completely valid to be straight as it is to be gay, transgender or bi-sexual.
In another sense, though, it's an increasingly large problem, since in a movie universe centered around an ever-larger group of increasingly-diverse heroes, there's not a single non-straight guy or gal in a cape to be found. Which, unintentional as it surely is, sends a bad message - one that implies that there's something about being non-straight that isn't conducive to being a superhero.
Which Is Why Kevin Feige's Latest Comments Are So Important
Firstly, it's obviously great just to hear that we're soon set to see a greater range of representation in the MCU - but there's more to Feige's statement than that.
His argument that...
"They’ve been very progressive in the comics. And even more recently in a very important and progressive way. And we keep track of all of those things and are inspired by all of those things, so I’d love it to find an organic, meaningful and natural way for that to happen at some point in the not so distant future."
...seems to suggest that not only are the brains behind the MCU planning to bring an LGBT character to the screen - but that they're planning on doing it for the right reasons, too.
After all, no-one's asking for a token gay character - what's needed is exactly what Feige's talking about: the "organic, meaningful and natural" inclusion of truly representative characters.
The big question?
Who'll Those Characters Be?
Well, when it comes to already-established MCU characters, the options are actually pretty limited.
We already know that Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Hulk are all either straight - or bisexual - seeing as we've watched them be distinctly interested in members of the opposite sex. Similarly, I'm going to assume that The Vision is unlikely to be given much in the way of a gender preference either way.
Which leaves us with the newly introduced members of the team - and those heroes who haven't yet made their bow in the MCU.
Or, in other words, we're talking, in the first group:
The Scarlet Witch
And, if we're going beyond the New Avengers...
And in the second group:
All of whom are, in the comics, very much straight.
Now, it's entirely possible that Marvel will switch the gender preference of one of those heroes - and that we'll soon see one of the above become the Studio's first gay superhero...but I doubt it somewhat.
Instead, who wants to bet that we're going to see the introduction of a less famous comic book character, who then happens to turn out to be gay (without creating the controversy that'd inevitably come with, say, revealing the movie Doctor Strange or Falcon to be gay)?
An (Ultimate Marvel-inspired) version of Spider-Woman, perhaps?
What do you think, though?