For all their faults, mainstream comics have made some great steps forward in the past few years. Spandex superheroes still dominate the market, but the people behind the masks are slowly becoming as diverse as the people reading each issue. There have been some great examples of genderqueer characters in the past, from Xavin in Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways, or Rebis in Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, but 2013 brought two trans* characters into the mainstream comics limelight, while continuing stories of existing LGBT characters and relationships. Indie and web comics have always been more inclusive than mainstream offerings, but I believe that eventually, even DC and Marvel’s series’ will be a more accurate representation of the real world’s gender and sexual diversity.
2012 showed promise for that, with the first gay wedding in comics— Northstar eloped with his long time, non-mutant boyfriend Kyle in Astonishing X-Men #51— as well as the re-imagining of the original Green Lantern Alan Scott as a monogamous gay man. Unfortunately, Scott’s character arc is part of DC’s parallel universe series Earth 2 (not considered canon in the regular universe), and involved immediately losing the man he loved when he received his powers. While Northstar and Kyle’s wedding was hugely reported, it felt like less of a publicity stunt to me than DC’s announcement about Alan Scott. This shows the importance of how these characters should come out— as integral parts of the story, not a quick way to get press. Despite the occasional misstep, there are still great examples of LGBT and genderqueer characters in modern comics.
Note: I’m referring to the characters using their preferred pronouns in their series.
Tong in FF
I dare anyone to read this page of FF #6 and not get choked up over Tong and her family. Easily one of the best coming out scenes ever— not just in comics— the preteen moloid sits her brothers down to explain that there is a girl, not a boy, inside her. It’s a candid, emotionally charged moment, and the rest of the FF reacts just as supportively as the other moloids to this news. What gave this revelation even more impact was that Marvel didn’t use it as a publicity stunt: writer Matt Fraction and artist Mike Allred worked it into the story without any fanfare, until of course, the issue came out and readers everywhere celebrated Tong’s confession. Tong continues to explore her feminine gender identity in subsequent issues, and though her role in the series is minor, this attention to detail from Fraction and Allred ensures her story continues to be told amidst all the superhero-ing of the FF team.
Kate Kane in Batwoman
After guest appearances in several series, Batwoman finally received her own ongoing series written by Greg Rucka, and later on, J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman. Dismissed from the military for being a lesbian, Kate Kane takes up the Bat-mantle and fights the more mystical villains of Gotham City. She may be hiding her vigilante side, but Kane is proud of her sexuality and does her best to balance crime-fighting with dating GCPD officer Maggie Sawyer. Although dating a vigilante is not the most relatable scenario for readers, the struggles Kane and Sawyer face in their relationship because of it are creating some very authentic interactions between them, and other women of interest that Kane encounters along the way. Although Williams and Blackman have left the book due to editorial differences, Kane remains an LGBT positive beacon in the DC Universe.
Alysia Yeoh in Batgirl
In DC’s New 52, Barbara Gordon is Batgirl again, a move that faced a lot of scrutiny after the character was paralyzed by the Joker 25 years ago. Writer Gail Simone handled Gordon’s return to the mask with the same tact and grace as the coming out of Gordon’s roommate Alysia Yeoh, in Batgirl #19. Not only did Simone write Yeoh as a transgender character, she differentiated between sex and gender by clarifying that Yeoh is bisexual. As many readers may be unfamiliar with gender identity, that distinction provides a better starting point for future discussions. DC announced the news the morning of the issue’s release, and although many outlets incorrectly reported it as the first transgender character in mainstream comics, it was still a great step towards inclusivity. Yeoh has become one of Batgirl’s closest friends in the series, and perhaps more importantly, Gordon’s connection to life beyond the mask.
Wiccan and Hulkling in Young Avengers
Young love may be inevitable in a team made up of super powered teens, but Hulking and Wiccan’s relationship reaches beyond puppy love. The two men have officially been involved since 2006— almost as long as their characters first appeared in comics— and though their relationship doesn’t impact their superheroing in the current run of Kieron Gillen’s Young Avengers, it is a central part of the book. The series deals with complex emotional situations between them with maturity and thoughtfulness, making Hulkling and Wiccan one of the best LGBT relationships in comics today. Spoiler alert: They’ve recently split in the series, but reconciliation seems inevitable. In related news, stop toying with my emotions Kieron Gillen!
Sir Ystin in Demon Knights
A character who is oft-overlooked, Sir Ystin (or the Shining Knight) was born female but identifies as male. This version of Ystin came about in 2005 with Grant Morrison and Simone Bianchi’s reinterpretation of the existing cis male character, Sir Justin, but he remained a regular part of the Demon Knights series written by Robert Venditti — until its untimely cancellation this past August. Ystin’s companions in the series respect his gender identity by using male pronouns, and only rarely is it ever referenced beyond that — besides the occasional confusion from the medieval populace or jabs from villains in the series. Sir Ystin is dedicated to the pursuit and safekeeping of the Holy Grail, in-between cracking wise in Welsh to the confusion of his companions.
That’s just a shortlist of characters you can find in modern comics, with many more examples (e.g., John Constantine, Sarah Rainmaker, Bunker and Karma, to name a few), scattered throughout the Marvel and DC Universe— and beyond. Let’s not forget the buzz Kevin Keller made when he arrived in Riverdale, or the constantly evolving relationships in the Buffy comic. Mainstream comics still has a long way to go when it comes to representation but it’s nice to see more characters treated with respect when coming out, and staying out longer than it takes the press release to drop off the front page.
Thoughts? Comments? Let me know below or on Twitter at @fred42.