With a live-action adaptation of The Powerpuff Girls on the horizon, it’s no surprise that fans of the show are starting to fire up their blogging fingers, from costume commentary on Twitter to nostalgic reflections on previous adaptations. While we’re still learning about the scope, tone, and overall vibe of the remake, one thing we do have already is some preliminary casting. Chloe Bennet, Dove Cameron, and Yana Perrault will show up as Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup; Donald Faison will play their father, Professor Drake Utonium. Rounding out the cast, Nicholas Podany will play villain Jojo Mondel; and Robyn Lively will play mayoral assistant Sara Bellum.
A few iconic characters from the original show haven’t yet received live-action counterparts. Among them: HIM, the powerful, diabolical, dictionary-definition-of-queer-coded villain who shows up time and again to terrorize the Powerpuff Girls. (And to look great doing it.)
With the premiere of the “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” video, though, some fans think they’ve found their perfect HIM in Lil Nas X.
There’s a reason why the “Montero” video—and its star’s pointed, unapologetically queer twist on biblical tropes—resonates with fans. HIM’s villainy is presented through the subversion of expectations; he forces the viewer into a state of questioning. Each of the Powerpuff Girls represent a different kind of femininity, cheerfully and enthusiastically demonstrating that there’s no right way to be a girl. But HIM radiates a sinister, much more adult brand of femininity.
Writing on HIM, analyst and lecturer Dr. M.W. Bychowski notes that part of what makes HIM so scary is a refusal to perform the boundaries of masculine or femininity in any kind of discernible way. Instead, he blurs those lines with a sort of menacing glee. “This so-called confusion erupts from discord between high-toned male voice which echoes over itself, as though existing in a state of flux and multiplicity that will not settle into a univocal chord,” Bychowski says. “Likewise, his clothes signify beyond easily legible codes of gender…A mixture of a sexy Mrs. Claus, a dominatrix, and a ballerina, if Him is the devil, then he traces from the same genealogy of sugar, spice and everything nice (plus some secret ingredient) that the Girls do.”
By invoking the idea that gender is not binary but rather something to be subverted, toyed with, and dunked in a bubble bath, HIM creates a performance—and a character—that is simultaneously seductive and alarmist.
And fans—especially queer fans—took notice. “LGBT+ fans of the show for the most part seem to treat Him with something like affection…Every queer former fan seems to react to Him in the same way—awareness that how he’s portrayed is problematic, but also acceptance that Him is…. well, major goals,” Jamie Rodney wrote for St. Andrews Radio. This keeps in line with a long and illustrious tradition of queer-coded villains that queer fans later reclaimed with delight.
“Back in the not-so-distant past, one of the quickest tropes television and film makers used to mark a character as a villain was to saddle them with a bunch of cliché, homosexual stereotypes (because we’re all deviant villains, am I right?!),” teacher and artist Terra Necessary wrote for Pride.com. “But instead of learning how bad it is to be swishy and fabulous, all you got was a generation of gay kids with evil role models.”
There’s significant power in reclaiming queer-coded villains for the queer community. Yes, the queer kids of the 2020s are exposed to record numbers of LGBTQ+ characters presented as protagonists and positive characters, from She-Ra to Steven Universe. But previous generations worked with what we had. And for a lot of queer adults, that meant reclaiming villainy as queer. Queer kids were already outsiders. If the characters who seemed like us were going to be outsiders, too, then we might as well own it.
For a character like HIM, that meant latching onto the not-so-subtle places where the mainstream was subverted, and instead of letting it become scary, snatching it for ourselves. “HIM was defined by this forbidden contrast—his hyper-femme design versus the unavoidable fact that his name is a male pronoun,” said YA author and occasional HIM cosplayer Ryan La Sala. “HIM is visibly queer. Like, confrontationally fabulous. Some queer people never have a choice in how the world perceives them, and HIM showed me a person who was powerful in their queerness, not defeated by it.”
It’s already apparent that The Powerpuff Girls reboot will be darker, sexier, and more grown-up than its cartoon counterparts. So it’s no surprise that fans who grew up watching the original—and resonating with its villain–are hoping for a HIM casting that reflects the inherent queerness, subversion, and unapologetic boundary-blurring that the animated original got away with. If fans get their way, maybe that’ll be Lil Nas X reprising his “Montero” vibes. But at the very least, we’d better get somebody comfortable in heels.
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