Diversity— the principle on which any art form thrives. Every step of the way, there have been different groups of people—women, people of colour, the LGBTQ community— all of them have asked for their representation in media. The need for representing these groups in mainstream cinemas and literature lies in the fact that, only through representation will they be able to make their voices heard. And over the years, creators of comic books have heard the pleas for representation and made the dreams of their readers come true, We have seen Captain America, the quintessential American superhero, as a black man and female heroes who have more to give to the storyline that just be someone to be ogled at. We have seen various media outlets include characters that fall within the LGBTQ category, but very often they succumb to the stereotypes of flamboyant gay best friend or the butch lesbian. There is a need for intelligent content, that either focuses on the problems or real life experiences of a member of the community, or even one that shows a character as a person who is not defined by their sexuality.
Over the years, creative heads have been trying to be more inclusive with their works. Artists have started coming out in the open, or have begun writing in or creating important characters that belong to the community. Comic books have brought to the world fantastic superheroes that are homosexual. Late last year, Alysia Yeoh, Batgirl’s transgender friend, tied the knot with her girlfriend Jo; the mutant superhero Iceman came out and became the most prominent gay comic book character; Wiccan and Hulkling, a superpowered gay couple, joined a division of the Avengers and Wonder Woman officiated a lesbian wedding. Several other lead characters and supporting cast-members became openly queer. The growing representation of the community came as a result of the fans— the ones who felt kinship with the heroes of X-men who fought for acceptance in a world that hated them for being mutants, the ones who watched superheroes with chiseled features and bodies that had to be carved out of marble wondering if all of them had to be straight, and for the ones who needed characters that they could relate to, to enjoy the medium. Publishers also realised that by being diverse, they would be able to attract a wider audience, and soon there began to be a surge in the number of gay or lesbian heroes and sidekicks.
In Issue No. 600 of Marvel Comics’ “Uncanny X-Men,” the mutant Iceman has a conversation with his younger self and reveals that he is gay. Publishers introduced to the world, the female Thor, a lesbian Batwoman, a Mexican-American Blue Beetle and many more. Of course, there have been a few setbacks. In one of the issues last year, a villain who was impersonating the heroine was found to be a male, and Batgirl’s reaction to the same came across as transphobic. The creative team of Batgirl apologized and went on to change her dialogues in the reprints.
“Every character has to carry the weight of everyone’s expectations, because there just aren’t enough characters to represent a diverse range of desires and experiences,” wrote Andrew Wheeler, the editor in chief of Comics Alliance, a website that covers the comic book industry. “We need to get from some to enough. And really, we’ll know we’ve achieved success when Captain America can have a boyfriend, and Wonder Woman can have a girlfriend. For queer representation in superhero comics, that’s what success looks like.”
One of the first instances of representation of the community took place in 1963. Element Lad, one of the members of the Legion of Superheroes, was written as someone who had very little interest in girls, and had no qualms in breaking off a date to go save the day. The Comics Code forbade the writers from explicitly writing him as gay, but was given the freedom to leave room for the readers to draw their own conclusions. It was only in 1989 that the Comics Code was altered to allow the writers to show openly gay characters. As a result, new characters were written and several existing characters, such as Maggie Sawyer, a supporting character in the Superman books, came out.
2002 – Apollo and Midnighter are the first gay characters to be married in a mainstream comic book, The Authority #29.
2010 – Kevin Keller is introduced in Veronica #202 as the first openly gay character in Archie Comics; the issue is the first reprint in the company’s history. He marries his husband, Clay Walker, in Life With Archie: The Married Life #16, and it promptly sells out after objections from the “One Million Moms” group. The issue is reprinted as an exclusive for that year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
2011 – Kate Kane, as Batwoman, becomes the first lesbian character to headline her own title.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most groundbreaking gay superheroes to appear so far in the worlds of Marvel and DC Comics.
The Pied Piper
Pied Piper was one of the first characters from a mainstream comic to come out. It was way back in 1991, in The Flash issue #53, and it all went down extremely casual. Considering this was a time when there was next to no representation of the LGBTQ community on television or media. Hartley Rathaway (a.k.a The Pied Piper) first appeared in the comic in issue #106 in 1959. Born deaf, he receives hearing implants, which motivates him to learn more about sonic technology, to the extent that he becomes obsessive. Bored with his life, he turns to crime, and ends up constantly locking horns with Barry Allen, the second Flash. They played the cat and mouse game for almost three decade, until Allen passes away during Crisis on Infinite Earths. Piper reforms, and becomes an ally to Wally West, the third Flash. He comes a champion of the rights of the poor and underprivileged. During a conversation with Wally, he, very casually, informs his friend that he is gay. Piper remains the only Rogue to no longer be a villain, save for Magenta. In the reboot “New 52” we see Wally and Piper return, and they both continue to be good friends. Piper is also shown to be in a relationship with Detective David Singh.
Around fifty years ago, Katherine “Kate” Kane was first introduced as a love interest to Dark Knight. According to many, it came about as a result of an attempt by the publishers to divert the reader’s’ attention from media speculations about Batman being gay. An untimely demise of Wayne, paved way for the rise of Batwoman, and ironically enough, in 2006, she was revealed to be a “lipstick lesbian”. In Batwoman: Elegy, her seven series arc, we watch Kate grow from a teenage socialite to a West Point cadet to a cape-wearing crusader. Seeing the huge success, they decided to give her, her first solo. While DC was never happy with the direction the series was taking, writers Williams and Blackman were extremely confident about their story. The readers watched an epic romance bloom between her and Detective Maggie Sawyer. Ultimately, when Kate proposed to Maggie, DC put their foot down and had new authors take over, and the book tanked, forcing DC to pull the plug on the whole project in 2014. However, things seem to have changed in the past few years. In the latest animated movie, Batman: Bad Blood, we see Kate flirting with Renee Montoya. Even more than the fact that she is a lesbian, what makes the book stand out is the fact that her sexuality barely affects the story. Neither Batwoman’s ability as a hero, or Kate’s status as a socialite is affected by her sexuality. Even in the latest movie, we see instances where her suggests her to settle down, reinforcing the notion that Batwoman is a gay woman, but the story has very little do with it.
It would plain wrong to not include Northstar in an article about gay characters in comic books. Way back in 1992, Marvel Comics caught worldwide attention when they revealed that their Canadian superhero, Northstar, who was associated with Alpha Flight and the X-Men, was gay. In fact, when the character was conceived by John Byrne, he had been written as a gay man and this was back in 1979. However, back then, Marvel had a strict policy against homosexual characters in their work (Avengers’ Hercules was probably the only character to have worked his way through the clause). While there had been several clues, it was only after the policy was loosened up in the 90s that Northstar came out as gay in issue #106.
Soon after that issue, Northstar got his own series, where his sexuality was never brought up. The fact that he is Marvel’s first out gay hero earned him a spot on the X-men. Twenty years later, in June 2012, he wed his long-term partner in Astonishing X-men #51. The event made headlines as Marvel’s “Big Gay Wedding.” Gay marriage had just become legal in New York State, and it made perfect sense to the writers to get the two married off. The news was well received by its readers, because here was two gay mutants– in every sense of the word, outsiders– getting married and finding happiness.
He said, “YES!”
Rictor and Shatterstar
Unless you’re big into the X-Men, the chances that you have even heard these names are probably slim, but they are a pretty important couple, considering, their kiss was one of the firsts to be depicted in a mainstream comic, Julio Esteban Richter (a.k,a Rictor) is a computer genius with the ability to create earthquakes, while Shatterstar is a warrior from Mojoverse. The two characters came together in the X-Force series, and immediately struck a friendship. For years, writers dropped subtle hints about a possible relationship, without ever explicitly stating so. When Peter David got control over the series as a writer, he decided to have the two seal the deal. In X-Factor issue #45 that was published in August 2009, Shatterstar and Rictor kiss. In case you are wondering, they are still going strong.
Rictor and Shatterstar share their first kiss
For a long time, when a character came out, it happened organically. You had to read the comic and discover the truth– it was much like a big reveal. However, over time, publishers began releasing the information to the public beforehand, like they did with Batwoman and Alan Scott from the original Green Lantern. However, every so often you get a big surprise, unmarred by media. In Batgirl #19 (2013) it was revealed that Barbara Gordon’s (Batgirl) roommate Alysia Yeoh is a transwoman. In addtion, making a clear demarcation between gender identity and sexual orientation, it is revealed that Alysia is also bisexual. Of course, soon after the story was revealed, the information was plastered all over the social media. She went on to start dating her activist friend, Jo, and soon after a new creative team took over the series. The next year, Batgirl was once again all over the news, because of another transgender character, and this time, it was not good. In issue #37, when a bling-wearing, villain who impersonates Batgirl is exposed, we realise that the character is actually male. Many took offense at Batgirl’s reaction to the reveal. “If you pull the wig off of someone who you thought was a woman, it is 100 percent transmisogynistic to yell in shocked horror that they are a man,” said a blogger on Autostraddle.com. The creative team went on to post a public apology for the same. Since then, they seems to have gotten it together, because last year’s issue #45, made history by writing the first transgender wedding in a DC comic series. In the issue,Alysia ties the knot with Jo.
Renee Maria Montoya was originally created for Batman: The Animated Series that aired in 1192, but she made her debut in the comics much before the series was aired. For years, Montoya was just a background character at the Gotham City Police Department. Assigned to the Major Crimes Unit, she often came in close contact with Batman. It was only much later, in the book Gotham Central, that the character got some attention. In 2003, she is outed as a lesbian, causing her Catholic family to disown her. She falls down her a spiral of self-pity and alcoholism that gets her thrown out of the police force. She was re-introduced in the New 52 as an ex cop and an alcoholic, who is recruited by Victor Sage, in order to train her as his replacement as the superhero known as the Question. By the end of the series, Renee redeems herself and emerges a new superhero. She even has several encounters with her ex-lover, Batwoman. Renee evolves from a mere recurring character to someone with substance, over the years. We empathies with her as she struggles to gain acceptance, and watch her fall. When she finally manages to pick up the pieces, the readers are relieved, because her experiences are relatable to many who were rejected by the society.
Alan Scott (a.k.a Green Lantern) was first introduced in 1940. A railway engineer discovers a magic lantern, which he modifies into a ring that endows him with superpowers. He gets married (twice) and has children. He was probably as straight as they came. In 1960s, the character was rebooted as Hal Jordan, but Scott remained popular. He appears in the Justice Society of America team and even Earth 2. In Earth 2, his character was rebooted to a younger version, with a new sexual identity. The move was met with a lot of anger from conservative sections of society. A group called One Million Moms launched a campaign demanding that DC refrain from launching a gay superhero.
Instead of simply announcing his homosexuality, they decided to rewrite his history to show that he has always been gay. As per this storyline, Obsidian, his son who is also gay, will never be born, as the two marriages would be written out. The move to re-introduce him as a gay character was welcomed by many. Here was a man who is seen, as the pinnacle of bravery, is a media mogul and dynamic type-A personality, and he is gay. The writers believed that showing someone like him to be gay would act as a positive reinforcement to many who are still struggling to come into terms with their own sexuality.
Hulkling and Wiccan
In 2005, Marvel’s Young Avengers series was announced, and most weren’t sure how to take the news. In the series, Teddy Altman (a.k.a. Hulkling), a young blonde analogue for the Incredible Hulk and Billy Kaplan (a.k.a Asgardian), who at first seemed to be an analogue of Thor. In reality, Teddy could only mimic Hulk’s abilities, and Billy was really the son of the Scarlet Witch (after this revelation, he takes up the name Wiccan).
The creator/writer of the show, Allan Heinberg, dropped several hints that they two youngsters were more than just friends. They were outed as a couple in the final issue, #12, of the book. Though most readers already knew that about it, since Heinberg had revealed the same at the San Diego Comic-Con. It would be another five years before the readers saw the couple share a kiss. And, in the latest Young Avengers, the two are seen getting really cosy several times. They are one of the youngest gay couples to be portrayed in a comic series, and hopefully in a few several years, we will get to witness they get hitched.
Dr. Pamela Lillian Isley (a.k,a Poison Ivy) is of Batman’s oldest enemies is one of the members of his rogues gallery. She made her first appearance in issue #181 in 1966, and has claimed her spot as one of the most dangerous eco-terrorists. Dr. Lillian Rose, Ph.D, a promising botanist, is seduced by (Marc LeGrande) and ends up being poisoned by herbs. As fate would have it, she survives, and attains immunity to all natural toxins and diseases.
The DC maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earth had retconned the history of most characters. Poison Ivy;s origins were revised in Secret Origins #36, 1988, written by Neil Gaiman. The new version showed us Pamela Lillian Isley, a young girl born into a wealthy and emotionally distant family. She goes to pursue advanced botanical biochemistry under Dr. Jason Woodrue. Isley, a timid shy girl is seduced by her professor, who uses her for an experiment. The rest we know. She starts to hate all of humanity, and turns to plants for comfort. She, herself, becomes a plant-like human. Her hatred for humans increase when she realises that they can harm nature. Despite her hatred for everyone, Harley Quinn manages to worm her way through.
The first appearance of Poison Ivy, in Batman#181.
Harley Quinn had been created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm as Joker’s sidekick/ loyal girlfriend. She appeared first in The Animated Series and has continued to be a pivotal character in the comic. The relationship she has with “Mr. J” is abusive, and she often turns to Poison Ivy for a haven, and ultimately always returns to Joker. For years, readers were convinced that their relationship went a little further beyond that of a friendship. When Poison Ivy got Harley inoculated so that they could “play” the readers were convinced of a sexual relationship between the two. While Joker controls Harley, Poison Ivy nurtures her, and shows her what she is capable of.
Finally, in 2015, during a hashtag chat with DC Comics, writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner one fan went ahead and asked the question,“Are Harley and Ivy girlfriends? Please confirm this.” The official response that came soon after, read,“Yes, they are girlfriends without the jealousy of monogamy,” and readers across the world smiled in glee (Took them only a little over two decades!) Even in Harley’s own series that is a part of the AU canon, there have often been scenes that have teased the line between friendship and a full-blown romance. In issue #42 we also see the duo share a kiss.
Midnighter first made his appearance is Stormwatch Vol. 2 issue #$, back in 1998. He went on to become a part of several other series, and eventually got his own series. He is best known as member of the team, The Authority, and is considered as an analogue for Batman. He spends a lot of time on crime-solving adventures around the globe. In between all that, you also see him enjoy a normal domestic life– something that has often been cast aside as creators believe heroes don’t have time for a personal life. Midnighter is one of the first characters that we see enjoy his life.
His husband, Apollo, was created as an analogue for Superman. In the series, they date, get married, and even adopt a child. At one point, they even had their history rebooted. When Midnighters own series had to be wrapped up, many readers were upset. It was, after all, DC’s first solo series about its first openly gay superhero power couple. This year, DC decided to revive the duo and created a six-issue miniseries titled, Midnighter and Apollo. In the series, they are together and you watch Midnighter rescue Apollo, whose soul has been trapped in a hell dimension, following an attack. In the series, they seem more mature and sure of their relationship, and it is almost as if they became stronger as a couple, with time, much like in real life.