Does it with either gal or man
Not restrained by gender
Unlike the author of Ender
Look out! Here comes queer Spider-Man!
Recently, Andrew Garfield made pseudo headlines by intimating that Mary Jane (or MJ) could be a dude for the next Spider-Man film and that Peter could be moving a few spots up on the Kinsey scale. As is to be expected, there were unhappy fanboys. And happy gays. And once more, the internet was at war. Ultimately, Garfield declared that, despite his wishes, there would be no queer Spidey, but people are still talking.
Ultimately, as a gay fanboy and someone who thinks about representation politics far more than the average Joe or Jane, I have mixed feelings about Garfield's ruminations. On one hand, I acknowledge that someone needs to intervene on comic book canon if we are to have anything slightly resembling diversity. Let's face facts:
On the other hand, Peter Parker is very straight. In fact, he may be the straightest of superheroes. Spider-Man was the super-hero comic most defined by romantic woes - possibly the first major superhero one to focus so intently on
In short, diversity is never as simple as "Just add queerness/lady parts/color." Being a minority often
Who cannot (without changing the character substantially)? I'd say, for starters, Captain America, Superman, and Thor, as far as gender and race goes...perhaps sexuality as well. [note of course, that there CAN be a variation on any of these characters...as long as the author is aware that they may be severely changing the mythos or some of the central character conceits]
Why? Well, for Cap, we need to consider that 1940s America would never choose a racial minority to be their icon, and that Rosie the Riveter occupied a very different spot from Uncle Sam. It'd be a white-washed history if we were to make the US government color-blind. Also...we'd lose something I always love: the irony that Cap is actually the embodiment of Hitler's Master Race.
Superman is a similar story. He's the beloved of Metropolis, of everyone. Quite frankly, were a woman or a person of color to have that much power, the sad reality is that there would be more suspicion. Lex Luthor would be the norm...not the exception. Is this an interesting story here? Definitely - one that interrogate certain attitudes on race and gender and the foundations of the Superman mythos. But it's not a classic Superman story - and one that might be tougher to sell as the major, mainstream representation of the character for the decade. [However, apparently Man of Steel ends on this note, so maybe this is a moot point.] Also, I would say Lois Lane is so key here that I'd be hesistant to make Clark anything but straight.
As for Thor...yeah, I suppose he should look very Norse. And still be a dude. I'll give some precedence to mythology. Of course, Asgard isn't only white in the movie, so again, maybe a moot point.
But that leaves us LOTS of characters. And major ones at that.
A common retort though would be that fans don't want movies tampering with the characters. Hawkeye is a white guy - to make him an Indian woman or a Chicano trans-man would make him not Hawkeye. He's Clint Barton. Fandom has not been overly quick to accept these types of changes - the lukewarm reception of the Latino Blue Beetle and the now-dead Asian Atom attest to that. In short, some may ask why do Hollywood and the PC police need to mess with things?
The reality is that Hollywood messes with things all the time (to the point that, all my prior exceptions are loose at best). Joker in Dark Knight no longer had an acid-changed face but wore makeup (and thus Batman's creation of Joker was lost). Jarvis is no longer a butler but a computer program. Rogue's big crush is Iceman, not Gambit. And so forth.
[Admittedly, part of this could point to an inherent racism/sexism/heterosexism/cisgenderism in certain areas of fandom, similar to that of the "Rue backlash" from The Hunger Games, that accept certain changes but short circuit at those of identity - particularly of major characters. But I don't want to push that argument just yet. I'll give those areas time to prove me wrong.]
[Also I should probably note that a lot of this problem stems from unconscious chauvinism - basically "write what you know." As one brave fangirl dressed as Batgirl pointed out at Comic Con in 2011 to many DC panelists, the comic world is a boy's club. Particularly, it's a straight white boy's club, despite our occasional Phil Jimenezes and Gail Simones.]
[Of course, writing this made me realize how the transgendered comic fans are still being incredibly ignored in superhero representation. So my apologies for being unable to think of any mainstream success stories on that front.]
In short, if a Justice League movie comes out of the upcoming Batman/Superman film, perhaps it should have a Wonder Woman who looks more like she came from a Mediterranean Island or a Flash who looks less like the typical Wally West/Barry Allen. But also, we need to not only ask "which character can be less straight/white/male/cisgendered," but also why this character should be so and what narrative potentials are possible. Garfield is making a start of this, and I applaud him for not taking comic history as canon, but his comments do not seem to fully consider both the reality and the narrative impact of making Peter queer. Comic characters' identities should shift for diversity, but this diversity should be more than just an accoutrement or a selling point. The diversity should be diversity, not a universalization of such diversity.