Ever since Joss Whedon made me addicted to comics as a teenager, they have become an ingrained part of my life. As a gay man it’s obviously a bonus when comics introduce LGBT characters. With LGBT issues and sympathies having become more high profile and accepted in recent years, it means that anyone looking for LGBT themes in comics will no longer have to dig for subtext in dusty old issues of Batman.
Marvel comics have featured various LGBT characters since the 90s but, due to homophobic policies, they could not be shown in romantic situations. Within that, X-men has long been seen as a metaphorical response to themes surrounding sexuality, particularly in the relentless discrimination mutants face from others. The most prolific gay member of the X-men is arguably Northstar. As the first gay character introduced to the series, he has until recently only been gay in theory, with his sexuality largely confined to the imagination. That was until last year, when he dated and married a man in a massive wedding issue. Marvel well and truly exploded that taboo with confetti. On top of Northstar, villain of the series and shape-shifter Mystique is bisexual, having had a long term relationship with a female mutant.
Marvel launched the series Young Avengers in 2005 prominently featuring two gay teenagers from its inception, Hulking and Wiccan. Their relationship was subtly alluded to at first before they revealed their relationship at a press conference stating: “Why should Northstar have all the fun?” The series earned Marvel its first GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamtion) Award for Best Comic Book. The couple didn’t share their first on-panel kiss until 2011, shortly after Hulking proposed. If one thing can be taken from these two, gay love is all about monogamy, apparently, in a comic universe without Grindr…
Anyway, in a similarly teenage focused series, Runaways, Marvel featured a lesbian character, the alien Karoline. At first developing a crush on her straight team mate, she later encounters a shape-shifting male alien (but a different kind) named Xavin. It’s later revealed that they are in fact betrothed to be married. Initially unwilling to be involved in the marriage, Karoline only consents when she discovers that their marriage will broker peace between their home-worlds. Seemingly sacrificing her sexual fulfilment for the greater good, a sweeter note is struck between the two as Xavin loves Karoline so strongly that he takes on a female human form to please her, later gaining her love and affection.
DC comics have been just as willing of late to feature LGBT characters, although normally as background figures. Batman comics have featured several gay supporting characters, from the butch cop lesbian Renee Montaya, to the current Batwoman (the two having briefly dated). Batwoman later received her own series, making her the most high profile LGBT character in DC comics. After the DC universe underwent a reboot in 2011, Green Lantern was also revealed to be gay, bringing a new major icon to the DC queer roster, fighting to make the world a better place…
Just to hit upon one of my all-time favourites briefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s comic book continuation has seen Buffy experiment with a girl, eventually deciding that she is in fact straight. Last year they introduced Billy, a gay male who chooses to become a slayer (whereas usually only girls are chosen), training with his watcher/boyfriend to fight vampires. The continuation also obviously features fan-favourite Willow, who discovered her sexuality over the course of the initial series. She has recently received her own spin-off featuring her attempt to find her lover, a demon witch trapped in another dimension.
From quite dingy beginnings, confined to a homoerotic glance, a scant insinuation and suspect PVC costumes, sexuality has undeniably arisen as a valid and celebrated theme in comic books. LGBT characters have grown in importance, and I’m sure the future will bring a lot more. The world has changed, and everyone’s getting married, apparently.