All this month we’re hosting daily articles looking at LGBT comics culture in recognition of LGBT History Month. On Mondays we start each week with a history post charting the progress of LGBT representation; today we’ve made it all the way up to the 2000’s and looking at the last 20 years of LGBT comics history.
“Alternative Lifestyles” are the New Mainstream
The coming of the 21st century brought with it a sea change in LGBT rights and recognition across the world. Over the course of the next 20 years LGBT people in countries all over the world would begin to win freedoms, rights, and the protections necessary so that we could live as part of society properly. Pop culture would change to reflect this with LGBT characters, LGBT storylines, and LGBT themes becoming a normal part of cultural works – especially in the West.
While by no means has full equality been achieved, but by the end of this period in history the rights and lives of LGBT people would be greatly improved. Below are some resources that chart the changes in more detail.
- Stonewall History of LGBT Equality
- Demographics of Sexual Orientation in the UK
- LGBT Rights in Scotland
What did these changing attitudes mean for the comic book industry? Below are some examples of characters who came out of the comics closet in the 2000s.
Prominent LGBT Characters
DC continued their slow-and-steady introduction of LGBT themes and characters throughout this period. Characters such as Midnighter & Apollo have been written about extensively, Wonder Woman was established firmly has being bisexual (which considering she is from a world populated only be beautiful and immortal warrior women was still a *shock* to some readers…), Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy had their relationship confirmed on panel, and many other characters came out of the closest to little fanfare. These characters were written with their sexuality as a facet of their identity, not the focus of their story, and they are all the better for it. Here are some of the important inclusions in the list:
Obsidian is the son of original Green Lantern Alan Scot and the brother of the superhero Jade. His powers grant him elemental control over darkness and the dark nature of his powers have seen him be both a member of the Justice League as well as an enemy of the Justice Society. in 2004 it was revealed that Obsidian was gay and in a relationship with another gay character from the Manhunter comics. This led to along running story where Green Lantern (being from the 1920’s) could not accept his sons sexuality, and the acceptance between the two played out in the comics for years. Obsidian’s final appearance to date was in Brightest Day at the end of the Pre-Flashpoint era and he did not appear in the New 52 or DC Rebirth universes, however following on from Future State and moving in DC Infinite Frontier in 2021 Obsidian is set to make a come back.
On a personal note Obsidian is an important character to the author of this article. I was reading exclusively DC comics at the time and Obsidian is the first superhero character I can recall not only saying on panel that they were gay, but to be seen kissing his boyfriend. The right to see and be seen like that is still something that is fought for today.
Kate Kane is brought into the DC universe during the famous 52 event, and she made sporadic appearances after that until Bruce Wayne’s death in Final Crisis where she is given the staring role in Detective Comics – DC’s flagship title and then omics after which the company is named. She is Batman’s cousin (on his mother’s side) and military vet with a far more proactive approach to crimefighting that her more famous cousin. She was the first open lesbian character in be the lead in a comic book and she has appeared regularly throughout al version of the DC continuity since. She has become a breakout character in her own right over the years culminating in having her own TV series as part of the Arrowverse. Batwoman has had several high profile romances in the comics too, most notably with police officer-turned-vigilante Renee Montoya and also with Chief of Police Maggie Sawyer. A recent storyline in the DC Rebirth comics saw her and Batman go their separate ways after Batwoman’s willingness to use lethal force leads to the death of another character.
Alan Scott (Earth-2)
In the New 52 continuity the Alan Scott of Earth-2 also become the Green Lantern, though his was a very different version of Green Lantern and also a very different Alan Scott. On Earth-2 Scott was a gay media mogul who was about to propose to his boyfriend, Sam, when the luxury train they were on crashed. Sam died but Alan Scott was saved by an entity which allowed him to access the elemental powers of the Green Lantern to become defender of the Earth. He required a personal token to channel his powers through, one that would keep him connected to humanity – he used the engagement ring that he had bought for Sam and it became that universe’s version of the Green Lantern ring.
In DC Infinite Frontier, now that the timelines of several iterations of DC continuity have merged, the backstory of this version of Alan Scott has been melded in with the original Alan Scott and we have seen that in his youth that he did have a same-sex relationship but chose to bury it and remain closeted for his life and now will be seen coming to terms with that in the books.
Miguel Barragan is introduced in the New 52 version of Teen Titans where he is a Mexican teenage superhero with the power to create hard-light constructs using his mind. He is an openly gay and quite flamboyant character, though crucially this is not used as point of humour just an representation that natural ‘campness’ does not mean that you cannot be a brave or powerful hero. He has strong relationships with Robin and Superboy while on the team and it is hinted that he has potential to join the big leagues and become a member of the Justice League when he grows up. When the New 52 timeline collapsed Bunker did not appear in DC Rebirth until he was found trapped in secret laboratory by Red Hood. AS the timelines where merging for all characters at that point Bunker was beginning to remember his life in the New 52 as well as his current life as a hoodlum in Mexico. He joined up with Red Hood for a while during the Prince of Gotham stories and helped run Jason’s gambling empire while they both worked undercover to take down criminals.
“Boyfriend in a Coma”
One issue that does need to be noted however is that regardless of increasing mainstream acceptance and appeal of LGBT character at this time it was still more acceptable to have lesbian relationships on panel than it was to have male homosexual relationship depicted. Yes, DC had Apollo & Midnighter (more on them when we get to profiling Steve Orlando), but both Alan Scott and Bunker embodied the common trope of being confirmed as being in committed homosexual relationships but entirely off panel and with boyfriends who were permanently in disposed. That way the characters were allowed to say they were gay and talk about gay things, but the readers didn’t have to be subjected to uncomfortable things like men kissing while the ladies could be shown having actual sex.
In Alan Scott’s case his boyfriend is introduced, becomes his fiancé, and then is killed off not only in the same issue but practically on the same page. Scott mourns his lost love for the remainder of the run and therefore never purses another romantic attachment. When Sam is resurrected as an Air Elemental (long story) he has moved on beyond the physical realm so they continue to be in love but completely chaste. Bunker meanwhile is established as having a long-term boyfriend “back home” but who is also conveniently “in a coma” so as out and proud as Bunker is he never gets any action neither. Despite some clear on-panel chemistry between him and the New 52 Superboy…
Things in this regard did improve over time but even today you are far more likely to see lesbian and bisexual women being sexually active in media than you are gay or bisexual men.
Prominent LGBT Characters
Today, Marvel is seen as a very progressive publishing house with many LGBT characters in their books, however their journey to shake off the editorial restrictions of the past was a bumpy one. Here are some of the highlights of that journey.
Rawhide Kid / Freedom Ring
Marvel’s first attempts at having gay characters’ lead stories where somewhat less than stellar….
First off, there was the handling of Rawhide Kid. A star of comics going back to the genre books of the 50s, the Rawhide Kid was Marvel’s take on the Lone Ranger. Rebooted in 2003’s Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather it was revealed that the Rawhide Kid was gay, which could have been an interesting story to tell about homosexuality in the wild west era, but instead became a bawdy farce where the Rawhide Kids homosexuality itself was the source of the humour with innuendo and gay panic driving most of the plot.
Then in 2006 writer Robert Kirkman (of The Walking Dead fame) introduced that character Freedom Ring (Marvel Team-Up #20). Curtis Doyle is a young gay man who finds a ring made from a shard of a Cosmic Cube that allows the wearer to alter reality within a short radius around them. He uses the ring to give himself superpowers and to jump into the fray against major threats alongside established heroes such as Spider-Man and Captain America. According to the author, the story was intended as a cautionary tale of what happens when great power is used without the proper training and Curtis is killed off 5 issues later. However, Marvel had advertised the story as if it was going to be an ongoing arc and that Curtis was going to be a prominent gay character so to find him fulfilling the Bury Your Gays trope just 5 issues after introducing him was not received well as at the time of his death he represented 20% or Marvels entire LGBT character base. Furthermore his name was taken as being a poor quality sexual joke and the fact that he was also “penetrated to death” just added to the distaste.
While I’ve written of Wiccan & Hulkling already, the rest of the Young Avengers where also famously all somewhere on the LGBT spectrum:
- Loki is an Asguardian God and therefore doesn’t hold that the rules of sexuality apply to them, but they present genderfluid and pansexual
- Prodigy is bisexual (and currently has a partner in the A-Romantic hero Speed)
- Noh-Varr is Kree warrior who loves earthly disco music and is currently with Hercules
- America Chavez is a powerhouse from New Mexico and a lesbian
Special Mentions: LGBT Stories and the X-Men
Northstar & Kyle, and Rictor & Shatterstar
As written in previous articles, Alpha Flight and X-Men star Northstar had been outed in the comics in the early 90s, but it took him to 2009 to get a boyfriend whom he eventually married in 2012. in 2009 Rictor & Shatterstar – two members of X-Factor who had been written as being “very close friends” all through the 80’s and 90’s met back up after being separated for years, and when they did it was revealed that they were both bisexual (sort of… Shatterstar is complicated) and had secretly been together in the past but didn’t want to be separated again and started living as a couple.
Original X-Men member Bobby Drake, Iceman, came out in the pages of the comic in 2015. However his story is so note worth that it’s worth an article all of its own.
GLAAD Awards 2000-2020
Here are the lists of GLAAD award winners as found on Wikipedia since 2000: