Tuesday 3 September 2013

Why I will miss Bunker (and why Titans won't)

And thus Bunker begins his 19 issue
run of awesomeness and hugs.
Never say never in comics but I reckon an exit like that with Bunker walking away framed by a group shot of the remaining team members... yes, I think an exit like that stands for a while.

It certainly isn't just that he was gay, though a large amount of the character's appeal for me was that he was gay in a way not usually seen in superhero comics or many other “adventure” genres. Bunker's sexuality was, at one and the same time, absolutely vital to the character and completely incidental. It actually helped him a lot that his boyfriend was in a coma because it instantly cut off all the obvious, immediate ways to take a gay character: relationships were off limits. Yes, this could just as easily be read as cowardice on DC’s part in having an openly gay character and not writing him to display his gayness too openly and scare the horses (by which I mean groups like The Mothers Of America). However, I want to err on the side of optimism and believe that this was a conscious effort by Scott Lobdell to have a gay character with more to do in-story than have “the gay storylines”.

Instead Bunker's sexuality was used as one of a variety of character traits that inform his decisions. Take his reaction to Superboy's “name”. Bunker is aware, from Superboy's own mouth, that “Kon” is a Kryptonian derogatory for clones and when he hears Wonder Girl use it he expresses his discomfort. Lo and behold in the latest issue Cassie asks Superboy if she can call him Conner, in part one assumes because of Bunker's strong reaction combined with her own softening feelings.

Bunker is, obviously and famously, a construction of classically gay signifers; his costume is in two shades of purple, as are his powers (which may even be a conscious choice of his, there's never been anything to say his “bricks” are inherently that colour); his dress sense is at times very stereotypical as is his product-laden hair; and he is both very physical and demonstrative in his affections (he hugs both Red Robin and Solstice minutes after meeting them); as well as being very open about his feelings, in defiance of the classic male stereotype. If I had to think of other characters whose queerness was such a defining part of their personality yet not their main plot generator it would be a very short list. Ser Loras Tyrell, maybe (the TV version, his sexuality is much less explicit in the books).

Okay, so I said this post wasn't about Bunker as a queer character so I should probably end that lengthy digression and move on to the other reasons I think he was an important addition to the team.

You see, I can't help but feel the issue that gave him such a nice send-off (Teen Titans #23) also demonstrated why he was being written out: his usual plot functions are being subsumed by other characters. This is sad but indicative of one of the New 52's larger themes: returning the DCU to its more iconic formulations. Largely robbed of the Marv Wolfman Titans by editorial fiat Lobdell seems to be moving the team towards the next best formulation: Geoff Johns' mixture of the Young Justice mainstays and a couple of classic Titans.

So we have Bunker losing his innovative but intrusive place in relationships: his role as Superboy's conscience (“Y-You can't just steal money.”) is clearly a disruption now Conner's relationship with Cassie has been reinstated, her being a thief on her own quest towards respectability I admit opens up more (im)moral possibilities. His similar role as the heart of the team (becoming a team being, in fact, Bunker's idea in #3) is similarly redundant given that the classic heart of the Teen Titans, Beast Boy, just joined (though he did leave with Bunker). Red Robin is grooming Raven for team command so Bunker's place as the most trustworthy member of the team is being usurped.

This leaves Bunker what? A hazily defined friendship with Bart, is my best stab at answering that.

Ultimately Bunker was one of the New 52's greatest shots at originality and a shot they hit. With Bunker and Skitter off the team the Titans are now composed entirely of pre-Flashpoint characters (okay, Solstice barely counts but the point remains). Bunker especially gave the other characters new things to do. In his first issue Bunker's fresh and carefree attitude to the costumed life has an instant effect on Red Robin: they enter the actual adventure story of #3 gooning around in complete uncertainty and in open defiance of how Tim has been written for most of the last decade.

In many ways Lobdell achieved with Bunker in Teen Titans what Geoff Johns failed to do by injecting Cyborg into Justice League: a shake-up that updated the whole team by adding a little diversity.

I'll miss the fella.  

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