June was LGBT Pride Month and this year the event was especially historic with the Supreme Court repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. Comic books are rarely on the cutting edge of cultural attitudes, but for whatever reason, they have embraced the LGBT cause, frequently showcasing gay characters in lead and supporting roles and even depicting several gay marriages, before it even became legal in most of the United States. In fact, publishers seem obsessed with marrying their gay characters off, even though they’ve gone out of their way in recent years to dissolve heterosexual marriages (Superman/Lois Lane, Spider-Man/Mary Jane Watson).
Last year, I compiled a list of the top LGBT characters in comics. This year, I’m going to take a look at the state of LGBT characters in comics since then.
The highest profile LGBT character in comics is, without a doubt, Batwoman a.k.a. Kate Kane, the only gay hero that headlines her own comic. She recently revealed her identity to her lover Maggie Sawyer and proposed. The two set up shop in a new apartment which doubles as Kate’s crime fighting headquarters.
Not to be outdone, Marvel rushed its mutant hero Northstar to the alter to wed his non-super boyfriend Kyle. Northstar has the distinction of being the first openly gay hero in comics, so his wedding made mainstream headlines, even though it technically wasn’t comics’ first gay wedding. (More on that in a sec…) It is worth noting that his team, the Astonishing X-Men, also includes a lesbian hero, Karma. That’s two gay heroes on one team! That would have never happened just a few years ago, but it helps illustrate that being gay is becoming less of a novelty and is simply part of the norm.
Though not a super hero, other than Batwoman, the only other comic book character to headline his own comic is Archie’s Kevin Keller, a character so popular that his miniseries was switched to an ongoing title just a few issues in. In the future-set Life With Archie title, an adult Kevin not only serves out and proud in the military, but he wed his love doctor Clay Walker.
Also gaining mainstream media attention was DC’s decision to re-interpret Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott as a gay man. Of course, the media didn’t quite understand that there are numerous Green Lanterns in DC’s pantheon and that this wasn’t the same character that Ryan Reynolds portrayed in the big budget film a few short years ago. (Also, Alan Scott is just one of many characters that has been radically redesigned in his series Earth 2. Doctor Fate is now Indian and Hawkgirl is now Latina, among other changes.)
Alan was about to propose to his boyfriend Sam, when Sam and a train full of people were killed, proving to be a motivating factor in Alan’s debut as a super hero. There appears to be more to this story, which is still unfolding.
Another character who gained mainstream attention this year was supporting player Alysia Yeoh, the roommate of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, who revealed that she was transgender.
Not garnering widespread attention, was Sir Ystin, the Shining Knight who formed part of the team in the series Demon Knights. Ystin received the attention of lesbian teammate Exoristos, but was forced to reveal that she was not a lesbian, but rather a man and woman in one body… i.e. transgender. But since the book was set in mideival times, they didn’t have a word for or understanding of the concept. Unfortunately, the series has been cancelled, but it’s possible that the characters may resurface later.
Possibly the most beloved gay couple in comics returned this year, as Billy Kaplan/Wiccan and Teddy Altman/Hulkling appeared in a new Young Avengers book. The characters were the creation of television writer Allan Heinberg and Marvel gave him control over the characters, but after Heinberg was unable to commit to a monthly comic, Marvel granted Kieron Gillen control over the popular teen heroes. The pair live together with Billy’s parents and are basically considered to be engaged.
They aren’t Marvel’s only teen gay couple. Former child super hero Julie Power (formerly of the sibling team Power Pack) has begun dating Karolina Dean of The Runaways. Next to the Young Avengers, The Runaways are one of the most treasured teen teams in comics, despite not currently starring in their own series.
Over at DC, another gay teen is making a name for himself, Bunker, a member of the Teen Titans.
Of course, the very first gay wedding in comics was between Apollo and Midnighter, members of Stormwatch (formerly The Authority). Both heroes continue to star in this series, where they serve as a darker, more brutal take on Superman and Batman.
And in the futuristic series Legion of Super Heroes, longstanding members Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass are dating one another. Unfortunately, this series has been cancelled, but the Legion is one of DC’s most popular franchises, so they are sure to return in some capacity soon.
So while some LGBT characters like Batwoman continue to thrive, others are struggling to remain visible. Demon Knights and Legion of Super Heroes have both been cancelled, as was Voodoo, starring a bisexual lead character. One of the only new characters introduced in DC’s New 52 was Starling (left), a member of the Birds of Prey. The character proved popular with fans, but for some reason, has been written out of the book. (She’s not alone. Team members Katana and Poison Ivy have also been removed from the book, but unlike Starling, both of them are featured elsewhere in the DC lineup.)
Of the remaining characters I’ve mentioned, Alan Scott is a large part of the Earth 2 series, but most of the others are fairly minor supporting players. Northstar and Karma are easily lost in a sea of mutants in the X-Books. Alysia is a fairly minor character in Batgirl’s book.
So yes, there have been ups and downs for GLBT characters in comics, but the fact that there are so many, in prominent positions is a positive sign. And the fact that so many are either engaged or married actually shows progression on the part of comic publishers.
I know that gay marriage is a hot topic right now, but are these comic power couples moving too fast? If publishers don’t like the idea of Superman and Spider-Man being tethered to spouses, why are they is such a rush to shove their gay characters down the aisle? Especially in the case of teen couples like Wiccan and Hulkling, this seems to be too much too soon.
What do you think? Are you happy to see so many gay engagements and marriages in comics? Are there any dormant gay characters that you’d like to see return? Feel free to comment below!