It’s Pride Month, so let’s take a bit of a deep dive into the complicated history of queer comic book characters and the “Big Two” publishers, Marvel Comics and DC Comics.
I started reading comic books in the early 90s, with my very first comic book purchase being Avengers #345 (Part 5 of “Operation: Galactic Storm”). At 14 years old, I fell in love with Marvel Comics. I began collecting every team comic there was: Uncanny X-Men, Avengers West Coast, New Warriors, Fantastic Four, etc. Eventually, I branched off into DC Comics with Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes, and yes, even Young Heroes in Love. However, it wasn’t until I picked up an issue of Image’s Gen13 that I actually saw a superhero who was part of the LGBT community. Sarah Rainmaker was beautiful, gorgeous, and bisexual. And I was in awe.
As a burgeoning member of the LGBT community myself, I was ecstatic to find a hero who I saw a little semblance of myself in. However, it also made me wonder why there weren’t any queer characters in any of the Marvel or DC Comics I had been obsessed with? Yes, there was Northstar, a mutant member of Alpha Flight who had come out as gay, but Alpha Flight wasn’t an ongoing series in the early 90s. And, whenever it finally did come back, he wasn’t a part of the team.
I lived for the crumbs of queerness that would be sprinkled throughout the comics I collected. Mostly the “hints” that would occasionally pop up in the X-Men books which pointed toward Mystique and Destiny as more than friends. The same with Rictor and Shatterstar in X-Force. These tidbits of LGBT activity were pretty big compared to what was going on over at DC Comics, but small potatoes against what indie comic book publishers like Image and Antarctic Press were doing (hello, Strangers in Paradise).
It would be decades before we ever started seeing gay and lesbian characters in the pages of Marvel and DC on any type of regular basis. In fact, it’s only been within the past 10 years that we’ve seen a few queer heroes regularly appearing in the Big Two’s comic books. It’s almost like DC and Marvel finally realized that they’ve been overlooking a huge part of their audience for years. Readers who yearned to see heroes like themselves be represented in their favorite comics. It probably helped that more queer people began working behind the scenes as writers and artists, but it still leaves a lot to be desired to this day.
Northstar eventually joined the X-Men and married his boyfriend in 2012, but then just as quickly as he reappeared, he and Kyle disappeared into the abyss up until last year’s relaunch of X-Factor. Mystique and Destiny’s relationship is finally being acknowledged by Marvel, but only as a catalyst for an upcoming Inferno-type crossover storyline in which a grief-stricken Mystique seeks revenge against Charles Xavier and the mutants on Krakoa who refuse to resurrect Destiny. Still not sure how I feel about that one.
Just within the past couple of years, Marvel has had some major missteps when it comes to representing the queer community. Writer Matthew Rosenberg faced criticism and controversy by killing off Rahne Sinclair, aka Wolfsbane, in Uncanny X-Men #17. Her murder was depicted as a hate crime, mimicking the real life murders of transwomen. Her killers even tried to use a mutant panic defense, similar to the now denounced transgender panic murder defense. While Rosenberg issued an apology, he remained working at Marvel without consequence.
Additionally, former Marvel writer and artist Sina Grace detailed his homophobic experience with the Marvel editorial team while completing his successful run on the short-lived Iceman solo series. Grace talks about how he was suddenly pulled from a lucrative project with no reasonable explanation whatsoever and eventually dropped by the company altogether. He spoke about the straight white male arrogance that reportedly permeates through the office culture of Marvel Comics, something that I have also witnessed first-hand myself.
So, here we are in the year 2021. Queer characters have absolutely come a long way in the comic book industry, but there is still so much more to be done. There are no trans heroes represented in the mainstream comic book industry, though thankfully we at least have Nicole Maines’ Dreamer character on the Supergirl television series. The character is slated to make her comic book debut this month, with Maines writing the story.
And yes, it’s great that both Marvel and DC are releasing anthology Pride books for the month of June featuring all of it’s queer characters. However, it also begs the question; if they have so many LGBT characters, where are they the other 11 months out of the year?