I don’t often write about comics here. But I had to bring up a couple skeins that caught my eye from the Marvel Universe. I’ve read all the issues of Runaways, out of a combination of following Brian Vaughn and following one-time guest stars Cloak & Dagger. One thing that struck me about it was how maturely it handled the sexuality of the teens. About a year or so into the series, one of the characters, Karolina Dean, turns out to be gay. She makes a pass at her teammate Nico Minoru, who seems to be straight but is fond of Karolina and also, lonely and confused. The pass doesn’t work out – but minutes later, a skrull crashlands on Earth and winds up sweeping Karolina off her feet. This skrull normally identifies as male, but for Karolina, he shapeshifts to be a girl, and … well, here I have to pull the old guy card and say comics never went this far when I was a kid.

I remember when Willow came out on Buffy: it was a bold move at the time, but Vaughn has definitely one-upped Whedon by introducing characters who are confused about their sexuality – and malleable in their gender.

Which takes me to Ultimate Spiderman. I picked up one of the issues of last year’s Clone Saga at Free Comic Book Day, and liked it enough to get the whole arc in trade paperback (collection #17). In that book, we find out that Peter Parker has been cloned. And one of his clones – the most successful one – is an exact replica of him, with the y chromosome taken out. That means you have a 16-year-old with the memories of Peter Parker, but she’s just been reborn (respawned?) as a girl, with the name Jessica Drew.

She’s also pretty hott, but that’s neither here nor there, or … anyway.

To be precise, we’re talking about the Spiderwoman in the Ultimate comics continuity, where Spiderman’s in high school again and Nick Fury’s black and the Fantastic Four say “like” in every single sentence. This Spiderwoman is fascinating, because she is the exact metaphor of a confused transgender youth. The media has picked up more and more stories about kids in high school or younger who basically just identify with the other gender, and start to live that way. In Spiderwoman’s case, she’s effectively a boy who was magically reborn as a girl. In the comics, we don’t see much of how she deals with it – the focus is on Peter Parker, and how he deals with it, while Jessica Drew mostly stays witty and collected. But she’d make a killer miniseries (or full series), along the vein of say, the ’80s Magik series.

If Fox News got wind of this, they’d scream to the rafters about introducing this stuff to kids. I’m not Fox News, so I think it’s pretty awesome. Who knew Marvel would tell stories this bold, in a clear, “no big deal” way?