The Central Park Birdwatcher Worked At Marvel (And Put Dr. Strange In A Thong)
A few weeks (and several thousand news cycles) ago, a man named Chris Cooper went viral after he asked a white woman to put a leash on her dog in Central Park and she reacted by telling the cops "there's an African American man threatening life." Most news stories described Cooper as a "black birdwatcher" but, believe it or not, it's possible for someone to be more than two things at once. In Cooper's case, he's also 3) gay, and 4) a former Marvel Comics editor and writer.
Why should you care? Because he's not just any Marvel editor. He's the one who put Doctor Strange in a thong and made Captain America flaunt his "national treasures":
Yes, Cooper was behind a couple of issues of the Marvel Swimsuit Special series we've mentioned before and will no doubt bring up again, and you don't need to be very observant to figure out which ones. At first, Marvel's swimsuit specials were just a flimsy excuse to print pages and pages of mega-boobed '90s superheroines in spine-destroying poses while a lot of the dudes were relegated to the backgrounds or to gags.
But then Cooper became the main editor for the last two specials, and you could immediately tell there was a more ... egalitarian approach to them. Or, as his former colleague, Transmetropolitan writer Warren Ellis, described in his newsletter: "Anyone who beheld that book from a distance of twenty feet became, by genetic testing, 3% gayer."
And it's true. If the early issues had She-Hulk and Jean Grey (barely) wearing tiny bikinis ...
... the later ones had Colossus and Luke Cage rocking cut-off shorts.
A lot of the pin-ups in the early swimsuit issues barely qualified as "superhero art." Here are Spider-Man's wife and elderly aunt wearing the sexiest outfit each of them owns:
On the other hand, Cooper's issues had Peter Parker himself showing off the kind of abs you get by working as a newspaper photographer, apparently.
The contrast is even more obvious when we're talking about the same characters. Try to guess which of these two drawings of Cloak and Dagger was overseen by a gay editor:
Or look at Storm, who goes from posing by her lonesome to lusting after her man Forge.
Also noteworthy are the pages featuring Northstar, who became Marvel's first superhero to come out of the closet in a 1992 issue where Cooper was assistant editor. While Marvel got huge props from progressive groups for that move, Cooper says they tried to pull the issue before it was published, forbid the creators from talking to the press, and made sure later issues never acknowledged Northstar's predilection for dudes. In his first appearance in the swimsuit specials, he's pretty much just a prop in his sister's pin-up:
But once Cooper took over, he intentionally paired Northstar with a Hulk supporting character named Hector ... who happened to be one of the few other openly gay people living in the Marvel universe back then. The caption mentioned that they found a "secluded spot" near a temple to "engage in their favorite kind of worship."
Also in 1992, Cooper wrote a comic featuring Marvel's first lesbian hero, but the company didn't seem to mind that much, because dudes making out is gross while ladies making out is (in '90s parlance) hawt. A few years later, when Marvel got the license to publish Star Trek comics, Cooper used the opportunity to create the franchise's first openly gay character -- yes, this "utopian" future showed humans hooking up with all kinds of weird-ass aliens for 30 years before they allowed a single gay person to officially exist.
To be fair, the comic itself provides an explanation for why no one had mentioned homosexuality in Star Trek before: because no one cares. In the issues written by Cooper, a Starfleet cadet from one of the aforementioned weird-ass alien races throws a shit fit after finding out a fellow officer's dark secret, but when the secret turns out to be that he's gay, everyone else is like "... yes, and?"
In the late '90s, Cooper created a pioneering but short-lived gay superhero webcomic called Queer Nation (NSFW, and best viewed on Netscape 3.0). Today, he's a senior biomedical editor at Health Science Communications, which is a job that doesn't offer a lot of opportunities to write about muscular thong-wearing mutants and such. Cooper has said he's hoping to use his new notoriety to get back into comics and continue Queer Nation, though he might have to update the setting, since a key plot point was that "a crazy right-wing fascist has been elected president and is pandering to the religious right." Come on, that's even more far-fetched than the part about a comet that makes every lesbian on Earth disappear and come back with superpowers.
Top Photo: Marvel Comics