May 11, 2019

Gay Byways of Disney Comics

They say that the golden age of comic books was during the 1930s and 1940s, when hundreds of superheroes filled the skies, but I think it was from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s, when my friends and I scoured the racks at Schneider's Drug Store, ignoring the DC and Marvel titles in search of Gold Key.

From Adam-12 to Dark Shadows: was there any tv series that didn't get the Gold Key treatment?

All of the Warner Brothers characters: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam.  

Child-friendly adventure series: Magnus Robot Fighter, Space Family Robinson, Korak Son of Tarzan.  

Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, and many other Disney titles, exploring obscure gay byways of the Disney universe:

1. The Beagle Boys  (1964): six masked petty thieves in orange turtleneck sweaters, with serial numbers instead of names, who lust after Uncle Scrooge's money bin in many comics, spun off into their own series, reduced to a trio, with relationship unspecified (are they a gang?  brothers? lovers?).  They are raising the Beagle Brats, a trio of preteen nephews.

Thus they cannily avoid any need to mention wives, girlfriends, or heterosexual desire of any sort, reveling in a world of men.

2. Huey, Dewey, and Louie Junior Woodchucks (1967).  Donald's nephews belong to a Boy Scout-like organization with an endless bureaucracy and a handbook containing infinite knowledge ("Using the Junior Woodchuck Handbook, we've just translated this ancient Parthian inscription."). 

Here they are off on their own, sometimes with Donald or Uncle Scrooge hanging around, sometimes not. Occasionally girls appear, as members of the rival club The Little Chickadees, but only as competitors, never as objects of preteen crushes.  This is a man's world.

3. Moby Duck (1967).  A whaler who talks like a pirate seems like an odd addition to the Disney universe, but it allowed for many adventures, as Moby is paired with Donald, Uncle Scrooge, or even Gyro Gearloose to transport precious cargo or search for treasure. 

Sometimes he has a first mate named Dimwitty.  Two men living together on that tiny ship?  What was a gay kid in the 1970s to imagine?

4. Super Goof (1965).  Goofy, the dopey sidekick in Mickey Mouse comics, becomes a wacky superhero upon eating a magic goober (peanut).  Plus he's a single dad, raising his genius nephew, the mortar board-wearing Gilbert. (A word of advice: never marry a relative of a Disney character.  The moment you have kids, you're doomed.) 

Plus sometimes Gilbert eats the magic goobers, too.  Generation gap antics ensue, with neither Goofy nor Gilbert crushing on girls.

See also: The Comic Book Jungle

May 9, 2019

"Boys in the Trees": My Favorite Movie of the Year

Boys in the Trees (2016) turned out to be my favorite movie of the year, but I would never have known from the trailer.  It's another one of those misleading trailers that makes a drama look like a comedy or a tearjerker look like a fantasy.

 In this case, it looks like supernatural horror will be released on Halloween and terrorize two boys on their walk home.  The movie is not about that at all.  It's about gay kids.

Halloween in Australia is in the spring, near the end of the school year, and Golden Boy Corey (Tobey Wallace) is going to be graduating.  He has been offered a scholarship to study photography at the University of New York, but he plans to stay home to be close to his friends, especially Janko (Justin Holborow).

On Halloween night, Corey and his pack go out, like they always do, to wear scary masks and brutalize the weaker kids.  During a break in the wilding, Corey walks through an abandoned skate park, and finds Jonah (Gulliver McGrath), a former friend who he abandoned for his clique of jerks.  Jonah is injured, bleeding, staring.

Does he need first aid?  Does he need an ambulance?  No, Jonah just wants one thing: "Walk me home," he demands, apparently a practice that they engaged in many times in the old days.  Corey agrees, for old time's sake, because he's worried about Jonah's injury, because he feels guilty.  Because he has no choice.

On the way home, Jonah forces Corey to act out ghost stories:
1. In a tunnel: A girl was murdered there, and doesn't realize that she's dead.

2. In an abandoned house: A boy abandoned his dreams, and years later they came back to haunt him.

3. In their school: Jonah himself discovered that most of the boys in class had turned into wolves.  "And for those who didn't change, those left behind,those that didn't develop the taste for blood, there was only one thing you could"

Suddenly the years melt away, and Corey and Jonah are friends again. They visit the Wishing Tree, where all of their childhood dreams are hanging from branches, and wonder why they ever gave up so much.

For some reason, Corey insists on taking a break from their walk home to have sex with his girlfriend.  When he returns, Jonah is missing.  Corey goes to his house, but there's no one there but an old man who won't speak.  Finally he finds him at a strange Dia de los Muertos festival, and chases him into the woods. 

Then Jonah tells one last ghost story, about a man you meet twice in your life.  The first time, you don't remember.  The second, you never forget.

Eventually they will have to finish the walk home.  Corey resists, knowing what he will find there (we viewers know, too, of course.  It's been obvious since Story #1).  Maybe he could change the ending? No, it's too late.  They share a hug before Jonah shows him where he lives.

Jonah is gay -- we know because the bullies refer to him as a "fag" (the director cut scenes that show him actually dating boys).  Due to the sex-with-girlfriend interlude, we're expected to think of Corey as straight, their friendship as platonic.  But with the hugs and almost-kisses of Jonah and then Janko, I'm sure that Corey is gay, the possibility of same-sex desire abandoned on that Wishing Tree as the "adult" world of heteronormative responsibility encroached.

Besides, there's a coda with Corey living his dream in New York, having a video chat with girlfriend-turned-gal pal, talking about a freelance photography gig, then putting on a hot gladiator costume to head down to Halloween in the Village, the second gayest festival of the year.  His apartment features a gigantic photo of Jonah.

The movie is beautifully produced, with stunning imagery and stunningly evocative dialogue.  Of course, many of Jonah's lines would never be spoken by a real person, but then, Jonah isn't actually a person, is he?

"They won't let us go forward."
"Then let's go back, where the dreams are true."

May 7, 2019

Tuca & Bertie: Female Empowerment among Birds

Reading the press -- "Creator Lisa Hanawalt is fighting back against the repressive boys' club of adult animation"; "She expects men to hate-watch her show" -- I expected the new animated series Tuca and Bertie to involve heavy-handed message stories, endless fights against sexual harassment, glass ceilings, income disparities, and women's freedoms of various sorts, "Me Too" writ large.

 But there is nothing in this show that even the most un-woke, objectifying, toxic masculinity-breathing alpha male would find discomforting. Indeed, only three episodes even deal with sexist objectification:
Bertie's boss at the bakery inappropriately touches her.
She recalls a childhood sexual assault
She tries to deal with the catcalls that women get all the time.

Another evokes the glass ceiling: Bertie's ideas at her other job are not taken seriously.  But it turns out that she's just not assertive enough.  When she speaks up, the boss is happy to offer her a promotion.

Maybe they think alpha males will object to the discussions of boobs and other lady parts.  But I thought they enjoyed that sort of thing?

Tuca and Bertie are a pair of active-passive bffs, a female buddy tradition dating back to Thelma and Louise and Laverne and Shirley, or farther,  to the ingenue-sassy sidekick of the 1930s screwball comedies.

Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) is an uninhibited, irresponsible free spirit toucan who bounces through life.  She has to learn to be more responsible.

Bertie (Ali Wong) is a needy, insecure, micromanaging, perfectionist song bird, saying things like "I really should be working on that big presentation."  She has to deal with her crushing anxieties.

The third major character is Bertie's live-in boyfriend, Speckle (Steven Yeun, top photo), who doesn't really have a lot to do except ask "Then what happened?" 

You may have noticed that they are all birds.  This world differs from Bojack Horseman's world, where animals are a distinct minority.  Here it's mostly anthropomorphic birds, with a few other animals and sentient plants thrown in.  Humans are so rare that when they appear, they seem like an oversight; some animator forgot.

I especially like the sentient plants, which are, as far as I know, unique in the world of animation. 

Sometimes inanimate objects are alive and sentient, too.  Bertie's boob plays hookey and comes back drunk.  The subways are giant worms.  A yeast infection is comprised of sentient insects. 

The surreal landscape is more interesting than plots, which we've seen a thousand times before:

Tuca goes on a date, but is so nervous that she ruins it.
She is injured but afraid to go to the doctor.
Bertie and Speckle decide to buy a house.

Beefcake:  None. These are birds.

Gay characters: The upstairs neighbor, the theatrical Dapper Dog, may be gay. 

There are lots of lesbian couples in the background.  Two become pivotal in an episode: Bertie's old swimming coach and her wife.

See also: Bojack Horseman

May 6, 2019

Two teenage boys are "Eaten by Lions" in this 2018 British comedy

In Eaten by Lions (2018), hunky teenage Omar (Antonio Aakeel) and his half-brother Pete (Jack Carroll) who has cerebral palsy and a penchant for shoplifting, are orphaned when their parents are...well, eaten by lions.

At first they live with their grandmother, and then with Pete's racist aunt and uncle (Kevin Eldon, Vicki Pepperdine).  They treat Pete nicely, but Omar is "eaten by lions," dismissed and ignored, forced to sleep in a a cupboard under the stairs, a la Harry Potter.

  But then the boys discover that they're not entirely orphaned -- Grandmum left them a cryptic note about Omar's biological father, living in Mecca.  So off they go on a road trip to find their new dad.

She didn't mean Mecca, the Muslim holy city.  She meant Mecca-by-the Sea, Blackpool, the sleazy, tacky, tawdry tourist trap.  Americans, think of Atlantic City or Coney Island.  Or Branson, Missouri.

Omar and Pete run into many colorful characters on the way, most played by recognizeable British actors.

Ray (Johnny Vegas) runs a tawdry bed and breakfast.

Jason Redshaw plays a drag queen named Tooty Fruity. Ok, that's homophobic.

Tom Binns plays a crazy fortune teller.

They finally discover that two brothers on holiday had sexy time with Omar's mother, so either could be his father:  the wealthy, conservative Malik (Nitin Ganawa), or Irfan (Asim Chaudry), who runs a tacky seaside souvenir shop.

Now it's Pete's turn to be "eaten by lions," dismissed and ignored by Omar's new family.

Both of the boys find love, or at least sex, with the horny daughters of their various encounters.  But there's still a strong gay subtext coming from their obvious chemistry.

Not a lot of beefcake. Jack Carroll,who is not very impressive in the physique department, gets most of the shirtless and nudity scenes, played for humorous effect.

Of course, Antonio Aasif is so handsome that he has to be careful covered up.  If he took his shirt off, no  one would pay any attention to the plot.  .

Antonio got his start on the teen soap Skins.  He played a gay teenager in Waiting for Garbo, and the best friend of a transitioning boy on Doctors.  He states: "To think we still live in a world where attitudes toward sex, gender, orientation, and identity can be so prejudiced is shocking."

May 5, 2019

"Roswell, New Mexico": At Least the Gay Guys Kiss

The poster of the new tv series Roswell, New Mexico shows a man and a woman in a heterosexual embrace, and the promo shows four hetero lip-locks!

I'd be noping out of the room, but I heard that there was a gay male relationship, as rare as hen's teeth on tv, so I stuck it out, watching one episode and fast-forwarding through the rest, looking for gay romance.

The story involves three alien children who survived the spaceship crash at Roswell in 1947, were in stasis pods until 1997, and then emerged in the shape of human 7-year olds.  They had various traumatic experiences in high school (2004-2008), revealed in flashback:

1. Max (Nathan Parsons) killed a man who was attacking his sister.  The trio buried the body, and kept the awful secret.

2. Isobel (Lily Cowles) started a romance with Rosa, then for no apparent reason killed her and two other girls.  The trio made it it look like a car accident.

3. Michael (Michael Vlamis) started a romance with Alex (Tyler Blackburn), but Alex's homophobic father Jesse caught them together and attacked.  Jesse was not only homophobic but alienophobic, involved with a top-secret government alien-hunting project.

After high school the trio apparently just sat around for 10 years, waiting for the plot to start up again.

It starts when their high school classmate Liz Ortega (Jeanine Mason), a failed biochemist and Rosa's sister, returns to town.  She learns the truth about the aliens, and starts sniffing around about Rosa's death.

She starts dating Kyle (Michael Trevino), her high school boyfriend, who is investigating aliens on his own.

At that moment, Wyatt (Dylan McTee), whose sister died in the "crash" with Rosa, decides to start killing people, either in revenge or to keep them quiet about a secret of his own.

Oh, you're wondering about the three aliens:

1. Max, now the town deputy sheriff, starts dating his coworker Jenna.

2. Isobel is now "happily married" to Noah (Karam Oberoi), who unbeknownst to her, is also a survivor of the spaceship crash.  He lived for many years in Isobel's body (why she was dating Rosa -- it was all entirely heterosexual!).  Then he took over a male body (top photo).  Nice choice!

3. Michael, now a drifter, reunites with Alex, who discovers the truth and breaks up with him for his own protection.  Not dissuaded, Michael starts a relationship with Maria.  Then Alex returns and wants to be "friends."


 Well, maybe they will end up together in the next season.  If there is one.  The reviewers are panning the series for being derivative, convoluted, and silly, and for skimming over the interesting parallels:
Homophobia and alienophobia.
The government tracking down both spaceship aliens and undocumented aliens.

Beefcake: Not a lot.  Occasionally a guy will rip his shirt off.

Heterosexism:  Between two and four scenes of men and women kissing or having sex with each other per episode.  But at least Michael and Alex get a scene together in most episodes, too.
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