Out And Proud1 of 12Diversity is a hot button issue for comic books in 2017, but the impetus to incorporate voices of more varied viewpoints and experiences into superhero stories stretches back much farther in comic book history.
This week, DC was lauded by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Entertainment Network (GLSEN) for incorporating queer characters and narratives into its stories.
While the story of queer and LGBT characters in comic books is still relatively recent - at least openly - many of the characters that have come to define the queer experience in comic books have roots much older than that.
In this list, we'll explore the characters that are most emblematic of the queer presence in comic books.
Loki2 of 12Being magical in nature has lent Loki the ability to take on many different forms and in those forms display many different forms of attraction. As Loki put it in Young Avengers, Asgardian culture doesn’t share human concepts of sexuality and sexual identity. Character regularly switch pronouns when referring to Loki based on his appearance and Odin calls him as his “child who is both [male and female]” indicating an acceptance of Loki’s bigender nature. Additionally, writer Al Ewing confirmed that “Loki is bi[sexual]” ahead of 2014’s Loki: Agents of Asgard. While Loki has been a longtime villain and codifying villains as queer is overtly problematic, the character’s recent hero turns have made him one of comic books' most popular and identifiable queer heroes.
Northstar3 of 12Jean-Paul Beaubier debuted in 1979 at a time when both the Comics Code Authority and Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter were opposed to openly-gay characters, according to author Shirrel Rhoades in 2008's A Complete History of American Comic Books. Creator John Byrne has explained that Northstar was written as gay from the get-go, "even if I would never be allowed to say it in so many words in the comics themselves."
Despite not uttering the words “I am gay” until 1992’s Alpha Flight #106, Northstar has long been accepted by X-Men fans and comic book fans at-large who picked up Byrne's nods as one of the first canonically gay superheroes since his inception. And Marvel changed their tune as time went on, opting to have Northstar marry his boyfriend Kyle Jinadu and publishing the first depiction of a same-sex wedding in mainstream comic books in 2012’s Astonishing X-Men #51. Northstar has been fairly inactive recently, but his impact on mainstream superhero comic books cannot be ignored.
Hulkling & Wiccan4 of 12If we had a list of great Marvel romances of the 21st century (hey, that not a bad idea!), Hulkling and Wiccan would surely be near the top. Enduring Civil Wars, Secret Invasions, Original Sins and every event in between, openly-gay writer Allan Heinberg created the pair in 2005’s Young Avengers #1 and reminded readers that Marvel’s “world outside your window” included more than just the definitions of love that had been portrayed to that point.
The two also enabled other writers to create more realistic portrayals of sexuality in their team books as evidenced by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers volume that also featured queer characters in Miss America, Prodigy, and Loki.
Coagula5 of 12There are very few out trans characters in superhero comic books, but when transwoman writer Rachel Pollack took over the reins on Doom Patrol from Grant Morrison, she aimed to shift the focus. In wanting to create a positive portrayal of a queer transexual woman, she created Kate Godwin a.k.a. Coagula, a superheroine with the ability to coagulate liquids and dissolve solids at will.
Initially rejected by the Justice League, Coagula found a home with the Doom Patrol and despite being killed in a previous volume, current Doom Patrol scribe Gerard Way has expressed interest in bringing the character back.
Iceman6 of 12In 2015’s All-New X-Men #40, the younger Bobby Drake was psychically outed as homosexual by Jean Grey, retroactively making the founding member of the X-Men Marvel’s highest profile queer mutant. While Jean Grey’s invasion of Bobby’s privacy was problematic because he did not choose to come out on his own, making one of Marvel’s oldest characters gay is notable in the way it reframes past and future stories. The controversy surrounding Iceman’s outing may have muddied the waters a bit on what is an important moment in Marvel history but it did allow readers and creators alike to participate in a dialogue about the realities of these situations in everyday life.
Harley Quinn7 of 12Harley Quinn’s queerness has always been a bit up in the air. Comic creators made her abusive relationship with the Joker the focus of many of her stories, but subtle references that something more romantic may be going on have always been made about her relationship with Poison Ivy. But in 2015, Harley Quinn writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti confirmed that Harley and Ivy were non-monogamous girlfriends, cementing Harley’s status as one of DC’s highest profile queer characters and taking her interactions with Power Girl and Wonder Woman from potential queer baiting to legitimate interest.
Constantine8 of 12Ol’ Hellblazer has been confirmed bisexual since Brian Azzarello’s “Ashes & Dust in the City of Angels,” treated the character’s queerness in a matter-of-fact way that has allowed other writers to explore exactly what that means for the wayward magician. Bisexual writer James Tynion IV’s recent ruminations on the character have reaffirmed Constantine’s fluid attraction and have helped expand the kinds of stories that queer superhero characters can be expected to be a part of.
Apollo & Midnighter9 of 12Originally created as analogues of Batman and Superman, Apollo and Midnighter were among the first openly-gay superheroes in comic books and were certainly the most visible gay superhero couple in the late 90s and early 00s. When the Wildstorm Universe was folded into the DCU proper, they maintained their sexualities but their relationship was either off or completely erased before Steve Orlando’s Midnighter affirmed that they dated but were broken up in the "New 52."
However, the success of that run led to a renewed interest in the characters, with the World’s Finest Couple getting together again in the "Rebirth" era with the Midnighter & Apollo title.
Batwoman10 of 12A military brat. A socialite. A caped crusader. A lesbian? Kate Kane’s military upbringing didn’t make it easy for her to embrace her sexuality but her struggle definitely informed her heroism. While different writers have had varying degrees of success with Batwoman, there was no doubt about her sexuality from the beginning and fans embraced the character immediately, first in Detective Comics and then in a critically-acclaimed solo title. Before the launch of the "New 52," her relationship with GCPD Detective Renee Montoya was up there with our last entry on our list as a paragon for well-written, nuanced queer relationships, and their visibility helped open up doors for many other characters moving forward.
DC originally balked at the idea of Kate Kane getting married during the "New 52" relaunch to her then-fiancee Maggie Sawyer based on Dan DiDio’s assertion that DC heroes “...put on a cape and cowl for a reason. They're committed to defending others — at the sacrifice of all their own personal instincts.” But with the return of a married Superman, Kate Kane is back at the center of Detective Comics - and her own solo-ongoing - and Renee Montoya back from her "New 52"-induced purgatory, the future looks promising for Batwoman.
Wonder Woman11 of 12Until recently, Wonder Woman’s status as a queer character was contentious. She was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist (and inventor of the lie detector test), who believed that society itself would be better off in the hands of women rather than men. Based on a combination of his partners, Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne, Diana Prince was born into Marston’s ideal vision and embodied his views on feminism. After Marston’s death, the two women continued his work, imbuing the character with a passion for social justice and maintaining the queer identity that is central to the character's earliest days.
Over the years, the subversive nature of Wonder Woman had been lost as more writers took her on adventures more fitting a superhero than a feminist icon and her sexuality was defined in more binary terms due to relationships with Steve Trevor, Batman, and Superman. But "Rebirth"'s former Wonder Woman writer Greg Rucka took a definitive stance saying, “the answer is obviously yes,” when asked about her sexuality, reaffirming that Wonder Woman has been and continues to be a queer character for all time.
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