LGBTQ representation in pop culture has never been better than it is now, but fans are always hungry for more. It wasn’t always this way, but over the years, Marvel, DC and other publishers have slowly taken the hint, and gradually the imbalance between heterosexual and non-heterosexual representation has been growing smaller and smaller. This ranges from being purposely written into new characters’ identities like Daken and American Chavez, to retroactively allowing old, established ones like Iceman and Catwoman to finally come out of the closet. But, seeing is believing, and comics and other media have been attracting criticism recently for trying to pass off throwaway comments and veiled references as true LGBTQ representation.
Seeing those characters in real relationships on page and screen is hugely important, whether it’s Northstar finally getting hitched to his boyfriend or Hulkling and Wiccan navigating the choppy waters of teenage romance together. But, for every canonical LGBTQ couple, there are far more unrequited ones that fans have been “shipping” for years. Whether they’re canonically straight or gay, some fans can’t help but read between the lines of tension or affection between two characters and see queer subtext. This list is a celebration of the most demanded (non-existent) LGBTQ couples in fandom.
16 THE FLASH AND CAPTAIN COLD (ARROWVERSE)
Little attention was ever paid to a possible romance between Flash and one of his greatest foes… until the CW’s Flash began airing. The Arrowverse (the fan-given name for the multiverse that CW’s roster of DC TV shows occupies) has had great fun reinterpreting and modernizing some of DC’s most old school villains, and Leonard Snart is no exception.
Though he still rocks his trademark fur-lined parka and shades, Wentworth Miller ain’t exactly your Granddaddy's Cappy Cold. Given the character’s evolution in the Arrowverse from snarky thief to snarky hero -- even giving Barry a major assist in the penultimate episode of Season Four of The Flash -- fans can’t seem to help reading into those crooked smiles he shoots at the scarlet speedster.
15 CAPTAIN AMERICA AND IRON MAN
Sometimes referred to as “Superhusbands,” you might assume that devotees of this Avengers ship would have been born out of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark’s monumental clash of opinion (and fists) during the Civil War event that rocked both the comics and MCU. You’d be wrong. Though the impassioned tension between the pair during the Civil War comic storyline and cinematic adaptation certainly bolstered the ship’s popularity, this is a pairing that fans have been fantasizing about for some time, and across various different worlds in the Marvel multiverse.
As one fan explains on tumblr, “There was a strong ship before even the first Iron Man film, in part because their relationship is so close and highly-charged in the comics; they may have other relationships that are similar but few that are so frequently visible.”
14 DEADPOOL AND CABLE
The Merc with the Mouth and the continuity-bending mutant have been a well-established and well-loved Marvel team-up since 2004. Spanning 50 issues across four years, their partnership in Cable & Deadpool -- one an irritating but lovable, unkillable mercenary and the other a stern, "man of action" with the weight of the future on his broad shoulders -- translated into ultimate bromance material for fans, and it didn’t take long before their odd couple dynamic started to be interpreted by some as something with romantic potential.
Though Cable is canonically heterosexual, Deadpool has been described as being pansexual (sexual or emotional attraction to others regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity) in 2013 by Deadpool writer Gerry Duggan, meaning the potential is there… even if it’s one-sided, which it so often is for poor Wade, anyway.
13 WOLVERINE AND CYCLOPS
Though the bitter rivalry between these two veteran mutants has existed in the comics for a very long time, it wasn’t until the first cinematic adaptation in 2000 that shipping attention started swaying towards the two, playing out their frustrations into unresolved sexual tension. If you wanted to wildly speculate, this could have something to do with the actors portraying them -- Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine has more than a few vertical inches on his comic book counterpart, while James Marsden’s cheekbones probably have an entire tumblr dedicated to them (and if not, we'll start one).
Many have pointed to director Bryan Singer’s own sexuality casting a “queer gaze” over the characters, supported by the pre-existing parallels in the source material you can draw between the outcasted mutants and marginalized groups in the real world.
12 CAPTAIN KIRK AND SPOCK (ABRAMSVERSE)
You know how it goes -- they start off hating each other, but gradually they learn to love one another. Sometimes referred to as “Space Husbands” or “Spork and Kock” by their couple’s fanbase, this fictional couple holds the lofty title of being the first ever “slashed” (same-sex pairing) couple in fan culture history, with the earliest works of fan fiction circulating around 1974. Fast-forward to the Internet age and J.J Abrams’ Star Trek cinematic reboots, and interest in the pairing has been reignited.
Amazingly, the romantic subtext was even baked into the film’s script, as the writers revealed at the Hero Complex Film Festival in 2011. “This first movie is just a love story between Spock and Kirk. It has all the beats of a romantic comedy where they meet, they don't get along, they totally hate each other, and then they get into a situation where they kind of need each other, and by the end, Spock walks onto the bridge and he's like, 'Let's f**k!'"
11 HAWKEYE & AGENT COULSON (MCU)
Considering how little time these two S.H.I.E.L.D agents spent together in the first Avengers movie (47 seconds, to be exact) you can be forgiven for having to really squint to see any romantic undercurrent between them. Believe it or not, though, Clint Barton and Phil Coulson are one of the most popular ships amongst Marvel fans. Though there are some Clint/Coulson fans who ground this fictional relationship in their small number of interactions in the comics, most point to the MCU versions of these characters as being the catalyst.
Marvel unknowingly fanned these flames of when they released a trading card tie-in featuring the two together. Still not convinced by this pairing? Here’s one fan’s poetic explanation: “Because they need each other [...] Phil is calm and quiet; he’s Clint’s port in a storm.”
10 NORTHSTAR AND ICEMAN
Bobby Drake’s coming out was a big deal for Marvel in 2015, partly because they made it a big deal, cryptically announcing that a classic character’s sexuality would be canonically changing before the big unveiling. After years of speculation from readers -- and Bobby himself -- no-one was shocked when that character was named as Iceman. The confusion over the narrative inconsistencies this caused also inadvertently echoes the journey of many LGBTQ folk who discover their true sexuality later in life.
Alpha-Flight’s Northstar has Bobby beat by a good two decades as the first openly gay Marvel character. His recent wedding after the historic Marriage Equality ruling in the US hasn’t stopped fans from creating alternate fantasy pairings for him, and top of that list is the X-Men’s chillest dude.
9 NIGHTWING AND RED HOOD
Queue the Dick jokes. While you won’t be seeing the classic and much-joked-about Bruce Wayne/Dick Grayson pairing on this list for obvious reasons, there’s nothing problematic about imagining Dick hooking up with Jason Todd. Sure, they’re both part of the Bat Family, but they’re strictly brothers in arms -- nowhere near the real, familial sense. Once an early alias of the Joker, Jason took over the Red Hood mantle after his shocking return from the grave during the Under The Hood storyline.
As with Dick Grayson’s graduation to Nightwing, Jason’s new monicker - coupled with his anti-hero status -- has proven popular with fans, as has the idea of the two ex-Robins coupling up. As the pair continue to butt heads in the comics, both physically and ideologically, it’s fun to imagine how these fights would end if their passions were a little more... carnal.
8 ARTEMIS & ZATANNA (YOUNG JUSTICE)
In the comics, these two characters would probably never dream of becoming romantically entangled. Zatanna serves on the JLA, whilst the current Artemis, known by her alias “Tigress,” is a member of the Injustice Society, and her original iteration was a sworn enemy of Zatanna’s father, Zatara, back in the Golden Age. That would sure make for some awkward first date conversation. The alternate teenage versions of them that appear in the animated series, Young Justice, have a different relationship -- both professional and personal.
In the episode, “Secrets,” the teammates head out for some R&R together on Halloween, only to wind up being taken prisoner by supervillain, Harm, wielding the sword of Beowulf (because… Halloween). Zatanna manages to break free and rescues her BFF. Though Zatanna is canonically linked to Robin/Nightwing and Artemis to Kid Flash, this hasn’t stopped fans wanting to see more than just friendship between the two.
7 SPIDER-MAN AND DEADPOOL
This fan-made pairing is the proud owner of what is probably the best couple name on this list: “Spideypool.” Peter Parker and Wade Wilson used to be practically strangers to one another, but over the years they’ve begun crossing paths more and more, culminating in their own team-up title in 2016. Spidey’s strong moral compass and ‘Pool’s total lack thereof sees them butting heads a lot, but in recent years their mutual love of being complete smart-alecs has made them more and more compatible -- and fans have certainly taken notice.
As previously mentioned, Deadpool’s canonical sexuality lends legitimate weight to any and all fan pairings, too. And if you’re worried about the problem of Peter Parker being a teenager, most fans of this ship get around this by imagining an aged-down Wade or an aged-up Peter.
6 PROFESSOR X AND MAGNETO (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS)
This pairing was not especially popular among fans until the 2011 film, X-Men: First Class was released. Full of vigorous ethical debate, bromance-y outings to strip clubs and an emotionally-charged climax, shipper’s imaginations went wild with speculation over their Charles Xavier and Erik Lenksherr’s close bond. This was no doubt inflected by seeing younger, prettier iterations of the characters played by James MacAvoy and Michael Fassbender (no offense to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen).
Fans also cite the fact that older Magneto has yet to have an on-screen romance, something McKellen (who is gay) joked about during an interview with Empire in 2006. "He hasn't been given a love life, which I think is a pity. It would be wonderful if the camera hovered over Magneto's bed, to discover him making love to Professor X."
5 SUPERGIRL AND CAT GRANT (ARROWVERSE)
Before the new Supergirl TV show premiered in 2015, this pairing of Superman’s cousin Kara-El and sultry Daily Planet journalist Cat Grant would have been unusual, to say the least. However, this small screen adaptation re-imagines a world within the Arrowverse where Kara and Cat are in closer proximity than ever before -- with a mere glass office wall of separation between them, in fact. As personal assistant to Cat -- the CEO of “CatCo Worldwide Media” -- Kara’s inherent optimism frequently clashes with Cat’s icy cynicism.
Cat’s initial skepticism of Supergirl didn’t help either, but fans of this pairing claim that their chemistry is the best in the show, and interpret their sparks of irritation with one another as potential sparks of romance instead. In fact, “SuperCat” has become the flagship couple in Supergirl fandom.
4 OSWALD COBBLEPOT AND EDWARD NYGMA (GOTHAM)
Very few (if any) fans would have been clamoring to see The Penguin and The Riddler romantically involved prior to the start of the TV show Gotham. But, in this pre-Batman, alternate version of Gotham City, all pre-existing perceptions of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery have been thrown out, and the relationship between young Oswald and young Edward transformed into a “will they, won’t they?” dynamic, which fans quickly warmed to. And it seems canonical, too, albeit currently one-sided, qualifying the ship as unrequited so far.
Penguin actor Robin Lord Taylor even confirmed the ship on Gotham’s YouTube channel. “Oswald is an incredibly damaged person, everyone he’s ever loved has been murdered so if anyone has true affection for him, I think he would be just as enamored with that, in this case it happened to be Edward Nygma. [...] Oswald is falling in love with Edward [...]”
3 MICHONNE AND ANDREA (THE WALKING DEAD)
Any The Walking Dead readers or viewers who have ever dipped their toe into its online fan communities will know it's a fandom almost as rabid as a Walker. “Shipping wars” can get real intense, and though the Rick/Daryl pairing is extremely popular, fans of Michonne/Andrea claim that their favorite queer fantasy couple has more canonical weight behind it, due to the strong, lesbian subtext of their friendship.
It’s something executive producer Robert Kirkman has teasingly addressed too, during an interview with TVLine in 2012. “There’s certainly not any indication of that thus far, but that remains to be seen. You never know.” But, Laurie Holden, who plays Andrea, has mixed feelings about the idea. “I don’t have a problem with it but I think it’s a cliché,” she told MSN Entertainment. A same-sex, mixed race romance on a hit TV show is a “cliche?” Hmm.
2 FINN AND POE DAMERON (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS)
After their fiery crash on Jakku, former Stormtrooper Finn assumed that was sadly the last he’d ever see of the dashing Resistance pilot who helped him escape the First Order. That was until Finn reached the Resistance Base, and who was there to greet him? Poe! The two spotted one another and -- though relative strangers -- ran straight into each other’s arms in a tight embrace… only to break apart. It was as if millions of Finn/Poe shippers suddenly cried out in joy, and were suddenly silenced.
After seven (and counting) films, you’d think we’d have gotten some kind of LGBTQ representation by now. This notable absence, along with the curiously instant bromance between Finn and Poe, is what this pairing was born from. Hope has been raised by Oscar Isaac, who plays Poe. “I was playing romance… I won’t say with which character,” he cheekily confessed on the Ellen Degeneres Show.
1 CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE WINTER SOLDIER (MCU)
When the powers that be at Marvel Studios decided to bring a fan-favorite Captain America character to the big screen in 2014, there’s no way they could have anticipated the direction fans would interpret the titular characters’ dynamic. Despite the childhood friends finding themselves on opposite sides, Steve Rogers’ unrelenting faith in Bucky Barnes repressed humanity struck a chord with fans, leading many to see more than friendship in their intense, exchanged gazes.
“Stucky” has become such a juggernaut of a ship, in fact, that it’s one of the few to have broken into mainstream consciousness. #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend trended on Twitter in 2016. Sebastian Stan, who plays Bucky, isn’t against the interpretation either. “I think it’s great. Movies are for people to relate to in whatever way they want,” he told GQ. “No one here is ever going to point a finger and say what’s right and wrong.”
Which couplings do you want to see become canonical? Let us know in the comments!