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Blogger’s Note: This is a revision/amalgamation of two previous blog posts I made elseweb, entitled “#GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend” and “The Trouble With Agent 13” respectively. Expanded my thoughts on both after rewatching Civil War, and reading Ed Brubaker’s The Winter Soldier. For *ahem* “research.”

It’s been eight years since the first official MCU movie came out--Iron Man in 2008.

Do you guys realize how long ago that was? Obama was in the process of moving into the White House. Heath Ledger had just died, and the dark, gritty, realistic Christopher Nolan-verse Batman movies were the exception, not the norm. David Tennant was still playing The Doctor. Okay, eight years isn’t really an astronomically long time. BUT the MCU has churned out thirteen two-hour-plus episodes of their staggeringly successful franchise on a regular basis since it started. And we are still waiting for one--Just one!--canonically LGBT character.


It is Bisexual Awareness Week, and if you didn’t know this, I am not straight. I’m bisexual more or less, although a more apt description is “panromantic demisexual” (words which aren’t recognized even by my spellchecker, but I encourage you to Google them), and I’ll answer to both.

What you probably do know is I watch lots of superhero movies and read fewer but still lots of comic books. That doesn’t really set me apart. And I’d like to see more awesome action movies with characters that reflect my POV/orientation just a little bit. Which . . . also doesn’t set me apart, because I think everyone wants that. Who *wouldn’t* want to be a superhero, at least in a power fantasy kind of way? However, when you’re not a straight, white dude between the ages of 18 and 35, it’s a little trickier to split the difference.

I’m here to talk about Bucky Barnes.

Warning: Spoilers up to and including Civil War.

James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, aka “The Winter Soldier,” is halfway between Terminator-like emotionless, unstoppable killing machine; and precious, fragile cinnamon roll who must be protected at all costs. And damn, is Sebastian Stan a terrific actor, because he makes both modes work. Since The Winter Soldier movie came out, and more and more fans began to track how often Bucky winds up in the damsel-in-distress position for his BFF Steve Rogers to save, an increasingly vocal contingent of the fandom started creating fanart and fanfiction for their favorite not-really-canon romantic pairing. And God help me, I’m one of them. Not only does this franchise have way more movies to its name than any other film franchise except James Bond (they’ve got twenty-six, and they’ve been going since the 1960s), it includes a lot of characters. So when you start to notice the yawning hole where all the LGBT characters *could* be, you can’t be but so surprised when the Internet decides to create its own reality. That’s just how fandom works, and it’s not going change until more popular, mainstream properties start diversifying their work. Maybe not even then.

The subtext gets even louder in retrospect.
GIF via Tumblr.

But at this point, it’s all subtext, speculation, and thought experiments regarding what might be going through various characters’ minds based on the actors’ facial expressions and how they deliver their lines. Sebastian Stan in particular is a minor gay icon because of his prior filmography. Most of the fandom, myself included, were introduced to him in The Covenant, in which he plays a scenery-chewing evil warlock who’s heavily coded as gay. And there are television series like Kings and Political Animals where he plays gay and bisexual characters, and his sexuality is a significant part of the characters’ arcs in both cases. Plus, he’s one of those ridiculously charismatic actors who can generate chemistry with a concrete block, and so is Chris Evans, so that’s a factor in the Steve/Bucky ship somewhat.

Personally, I find it interesting that Bucky spends so much of his time locked in a box that he can see out of but can’t escape, being forced to act contrary to his actual values and identity, and the only one who can drag him back from that is Steve. I’m not saying you have to read his entire character arc as a metaphor for the closet, but you can. It sure adds an extra layer of symbolism to that moment in Civil War when Zemo starts to read the trigger words from the red book. That’s the first time Bucky fully understands what’s happening to him and fights back, and it’s powerful no matter how you interpret it. Also interesting that he chooses to go back in the cryo chamber at the end, because it would be unsafe for him and the people he cares about not to. At least for now.

But again: it’s speculation. It’s my own personal head-canon. Not actual, Marvel-sanctioned “official” canon. Fans can get very territorial about canon. There’s room for a lot of interpretation, because so many of the comic books have alternate timelines, people coming back from the dead and/or losing their memories, getting crossed over with other properties, etc., depending on who’s writing it at the time and what the studio wants them to do. That can change when new people come onto the project with their own ideas about how various storylines should go.

So when I talk about “canon” I’m talking about a loose collection of character traits and background details that only match up enough to support whatever theory you’re trying to prove. One of the biggest recurring arguments I’ve heard against making any of these characters LGBT, especially Steve Rogers, is that it wouldn’t be faithful to the comics.

Honestly, that’s tough to argue with. But then there’s the problem of Sharon Carter. Which . . . yeah, nobody wanted that, even the fans who don’t care about the Steve/Bucky ship at all. This was a terrible idea for so many reasons, even though technically Steve and Sharon dated in the comics. It’s just bad timing, both because Peggy just died (the one girl Steve did love from back in the 1940s, who is Sharon’s aunt, if you’re not keeping up), and because he barely knows her at this point. Hell, the audience barely knows her. And their “relationship” started with her spying on him for S.H.I.E.L.D. in the same movie where we found out it had been infiltrated by Hydra. Steve has a strong distaste for being manipulated and lied to (Lord help us all if he finds out about Coulson), and finding out what Sharon was up to was part of that.

Current mood: Pissed. And super-powered. Do not engage.
GIF via Tumblr.

She did say, "Whoa, whoa, you want us to kill Captain America? WTF, why?" and stood up to Evil Robert Redford and Rumlow on his behalf, but he doesn't know that. I could see him forgiving her eventually, and learning to trust her, which is where their interactions in Civil War could have ended. If Steve and Sharon eventually moved forward into something beyond friendship AFTER Civil War I might've bought it. But no. We had to jam an extremely awkward kiss in there for #Reasons.

I think Head Over Feels put it best in their (gif-heavy) reaction post: “Obviously, I couldn’t help but laugh at Sam and Bucky’s reaction smiles, but ughhhhh, the need to not only shoehorn in a hetero kiss but also to make sure the two dudes he’s often shipped with see it go down? WHY ARE PEOPLE SO THREATENED.” (Source.)

The other thing about “canon” is that I can’t disagree about it being a touch disingenuous to take a character who was explicitly one sexual orientation in the source material, then changing that character’s orientation in order to satisfy some arbitrary representation quota. That would understandably piss a lot of people off.

Have you heard of Arnie Roth? He was a minor character introduced to the comics in the 1980s and retconned into Steve’s backstory as his childhood best friend. They grew up together, went to school together, and when Steve would get beat up in Brooklyn’s back alleys, Arnie was the one to fight the bullies off and get Steve home safely. And once Steve took the super-soldier serum and became Captain America, they fought in WWII together.

Also Arnie was gay. Had a boyfriend named Michael and everything, who Cap helped rescue from an alien parasite one time. Basically, Movie!Bucky’s entire backstory is taken from a canonically LGBT character from the actual comics.

Still, there was another character named Bucky Barnes in the comics, who was Captain America’s sidekick and a much bigger character. Far as I can tell, this is what they kept from Comic!Bucky’s story in the movies:

Via Comparative Geeks

The Winter Soldier twist. That plot from Ed Brubaker’s run, and the name. Dassit. Everything else about Movie!Bucky’s characterization--his friendship and history with Steve, the fact that he fought in WWII, his memories of growing up in 1940s Brooklyn--ALL of that came either from Arnie Roth, or was invented by the filmmakers. I think it’s kinda cool the way they combined both characters, actually. It gives him more dimension. But if we’re claiming that changing a character’s sexuality when they move from book to screen is a bad thing, that door swings both ways. (Insert the obvious pun here.)

Which is to say nothing of all the other LGBT+ comic book characters who have shown up in various movies with their sexuality downplayed, rewritten, left ambiguous, or never mentioned at all. Like, say, Selina Kyle, Harley Quinn, Loki, Poison Ivy, Mystique, John Constantine, and more that I’m either forgetting or just haven’t seen yet. You might notice none of these characters are “heroes.” They’re villains or anti-heroes, the misfits and outcasts of their own universes, even if they do fight evil sometimes. The most sympathetic of these guys is probably Catwoman, and in the movies she’s almost always paired off with Batman. And let me just say right now: if the Wonder Woman movie doesn’t have a single lesbian, at all? You will be hearing from me again.

Deadpool’s an intriguing example because Ryan Reynolds (God bless him) has repeatedly, deliberately identified the character as pansexual, despite the movie’s plot revolving around a very safe and same-y Rescue the Fair Damsel / Revenge formula. There are some homoerotic jokes cracked, but they're played for laughs, or used to make the other characters in the scene uncomfortable. Also--and this is important--Deadpool's kind of a jerk. This movie was a hard R, and rightly so, because there's no other way they could've stayed true to the character otherwise. He's hyperviolent, sociopathic, snarky, and depraved. Deadpool's fun, but he's also the least ambiguous example we've got. That’s a problem.

There's a world of difference between giving the LGBT fanbase characters we understand to be morally reprehensible even if they're interesting; and giving us someone who is selfless, decent, generous-hearted, and always trying to do the right thing. We'll take whatever representation we can get, but positive representation would be best.

Which brings me back to Bucky. He started out in Captain America: The First Avenger as a fairly uncomplicated good guy, Steve’s best friend from before the super-soldier serum. He’s framed as an antagonist in The Winter Soldier, but it’s pretty clear early on that he’s an unwilling participant in all the missions Hydra keeps sending him on. By the time we get to Civil War, we know two things unquestionably: 1) Bucky remembers enough of who he is--and who he was forced to become--to feel shame and guilt and start working toward a normal life again, and 2) There is nothing Steve will not do for Bucky, including beating Tony Stark to a bloody pulp if it comes to that. (Spoiler: It comes to that.) Bucky's done some awful things, but he's firmly on the side of the good guys, and the audience understands that.

GIF via Tumblr.

I don’t expect any of the people in charge of these movies to make Steve/Bucky a thing, but I’ve noticed the hetero relationships we've gotten in the MCU haven't exactly gone well. Tony and Pepper are “on a break.” Peggy Carter married someone else in the intervening 70-odd years that Steve was frozen. Bruce Banner disappeared without so much as a goodbye to Natasha. I don't know what's going on with Thor and Jane, but Natalie Portman isn't signed on for Ragnarok, so I have my doubts for their longevity as well. It's ironic that the supposedly platonic friendship between Steve and Bucky has outlasted all the canon romantic pairings so far, don't you think? Not to mention overcoming a whole heap of obstacles like death, war, time, brainwashing, and the barriers set up around both Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D. to keep them apart.

So, what would it mean if we got an actual LGBT character in these movies? What would that change, really? At the end of the day, those of us clamoring about this sort of thing are just looking for options. It doesn’t have to be any specific character, regardless of what the fanart implies. Just give us SOMETHING. In the meantime, I (and my fellow LGBT fandom geeks) will continue to stick that orientation to whoever happens to my favorite, because I identify with them in some way. My hope is that we non-heteronormative types would have someone to look up to who’s explicitly classified as One Of Us instead of guessing or reinventing the canon. And maybe the rest of world will start to see us, and these characters, the way they already see the straight ones: as ordinary people trying to do some good. As broken, damaged, but still willing to get back up and fight the bad guys. As heroes.

Date: 2016-09-24 02:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
All of this! Plus, I know I'm in the minority here, but to me, Steve's interest in men is most blatant in his flirting with Sam at the beginning of Cap 2 (and in the following movies). I see Steve/Bucky more in terms of epic story that defies the ages, but Steve/Sam is everyday/casual and it resonates much more with me, as in "This is real life".

ETA: Also, I like them as OT3, but I can't imagine getting polyamory in a blockbuster movie before many years.
Edited Date: 2016-09-24 02:38 pm (UTC)

Date: 2016-09-25 01:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Cheers! :)

Honestly, I've seen a lot of "American Airlines" shippers out there as well. (Gah, such a better ship name! ) In fact, at least one person mentions that to me every time I get rolling about this, heh. So nah, I don't think you're necessarily in the minority. Although I admit I'm anxious for the day when Sam and Bucky are actually friends. It's coming.

Speaking of polyamory in a blockbuster movie though: Bridget Jones's Baby isn't a blockbuster, per se, but one of my Twitter followers said the plot Went There. I haven't seen it myself (don't really care about Bridget Jones at all) but it's worth finding out, probably.

Date: 2016-09-25 02:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Freebird is also used for the ship. American Airlines is such a fun name. I know I'm not alone shipping it, but the #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend hashtag was full of Steve/Bucky and Steve/Tony and had very little of Steve/Sam.

I didn't know that about Bridget Jones. I think I saw the first movie on TV way back, but this is not really my kind of movie, so I don't think even polyamory could motivate me to watch more of it. Still, it's nice to know.

Date: 2016-09-29 06:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I’m not saying you have to read his entire character arc as a metaphor for the closet, but you can.

HOLY CRAPOLI ON RAVIOLI. I never thought of it that way, but whoa.

Good point that pretty much all the hetero relationships have taken a break/faded off. (I still have issues with the random Bruce/Natasha, that was only slightly better than Steve/Sharon.) I did like Clint having a wife and family, though, even thought that was outta the blue.

What was Selina Kyle like in the comics? Sorry, I'm not that familiar with the backstory.

Date: 2016-10-14 02:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hey hey, late reply is late! I should log into this account more.

"I still have issues with the random Bruce/Natasha, that was only slightly better than Steve/Sharon."

It's SO random. Like someone said, "Hey, our only female Avenger needs a love interest. What about the one character who has interacted with her the least?" No, actually, they needed to give Bruce something to angst about so they had an excuse to send into space for Ragnarok, but either way, it's horribly sloppy.

As for Selina--well, she has one of the most inconsistent backstories of any comic book character ever. The DC verse is pretty variable; the difference is unlike Marvel, they have a lot of one-shot graphic novels that don't pay any attention to the preexisting canon. So there are many different versions of Selina. The only consistencies are she has something to do with cats, she's good at being sneaky, she respects and sometimes loves Batman, and she's usually bisexual. Sometimes her connection with cats is sort of magical, sometimes not. It just depends who's writing her at the time.
Edited Date: 2016-10-14 02:01 pm (UTC)

Date: 2016-10-16 04:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
No, actually, they needed to give Bruce something to angst about so they had an excuse to send into space for Ragnarok, but either way, it's horribly sloppy.

Oh, man, I didn't even consider that angle. Lazy writing, indeed.

Wow, sounds like everybody had their own vision for Catwoman/Selina. Kinda surprising there's that much variation, but guess that's what happens when you got so many cooks in the kitchen.

Date: 2016-10-16 03:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, man, I didn't even consider that angle. Lazy writing, indeed.
The thing is I think I notice is more now because I catch myself doing it? Going, "Crap. I need to get Character A to Plot Point X but I forgot to do the setup. Shoehorn in something, quick!" It happens, but it is noticeable when it does.

BTW, I did get your email for "Cave Draconem"--thank you! I do want to write a reply but just haven't dragged myself away from Supernatural long enough to do it yet. I will though, and I'm reading them! :)

Date: 2016-10-17 05:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The thing is I think I notice is more now because I catch myself doing it? Going, "Crap. I need to get Character A to Plot Point X but I forgot to do the setup. Shoehorn in something, quick!" It happens, but it is noticeable when it does.

Good point! It's hard to stay consistent, especially when inspiration strikes and takes you down a new path.

BTW, I did get your email for "Cave Draconem"--thank you! I do want to write a reply but just haven't dragged myself away from Supernatural long enough to do it yet. I will though, and I'm reading them! :)

Hee, take your time! I'm loving your tweetfests and LJ recaps. :D


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