Superheroes and supervillains alike have to have a wide range of skills if they are to succeed at their respective ambitions. They must be tough fighters, shrewd planners, prodigious liars and, of course, masters of disguise. But disguising oneself isn’t always as easy as just putting on a mask and lowering your voice to comically deep levels. Sometimes, an extra level of identity protection is required, and what better way to throw someone off your trail than by changing your perceived gender as well as your appearance?
This may seem like an obvious solution to the eternal problem of evading your enemies, but rigidly enforced gender roles and the social repercussions of flouting those roles have prevented the idea of crossdressing from entering the minds of most comic book characters. Still, there are a few open-minded souls who are willing to forget about social convention (assuming they ever cared about it at all) and take advantage of the many possibilities that crossdressing can make available to them. Granted, the word “willing” might be a bit generous where some of these fine folks are concerned, but darn it if they didn’t suck up whatever misgivings they had and forged ahead anyway.
15. DOCTOR STRANGE
Magic makes everything easier — even crossdressing, as Doctor Strange so ably demonstrates in Defenders #9. As a result of Dormammu and Loki’s plotting, the Avengers and the Defenders are pitted against one another in a race to collect the broken fragments of a powerful artifact called the Evil Eye. One of the fragments lands in Indiana, and Black Panther and Mantis go to retrieve it on behalf of the Avengers.
Unbeknownst to them, they were beaten to the punch by Defenders member Doctor Strange, who uses his magic to make himself look like an ordinary woman waiting at a bus stop. Magic-sensitive Mantis sees through his ruse and literally throws him under the bus, but Strange still manages to get away with that piece of the Evil Eye.
Wade Wilson is widely known for being more free-spirited than most mercenaries, so if he feels like wearing a skirt, he’s darn well going to wear one and you’re darn well going to like it. Just one of the many times Deadpool has crossdressed occurs in the “Dead Presidents” storyline, in which S.H.I.E.L.D. is forced to recruit Deadpool to track down all of America’s dead presidents, who have been turned into power-hungry zombies (insert your own joke here).
He attempts to lure in John F. Kennedy by tricking him into thinking he is (the ghost of?) Marilyn Monroe, even donning a replica of her famous white dress. The distraction works quite well, with JFK still thinking Deadpool is Marilyn even after getting flashed, and Deadpool stabs him with a sword that banishes him back to his eternal slumber.
13. GREEN ARROW
In the Smallville episode “Fortune,” aka The Hangover: DC Edition, Clark, his fiancee Lois Lane, and their friends Chloe Sullivan and Oliver Queen (aka Green Arrow) get drunk on magic champagne from Zatanna and wake up the next morning with a lemur and no memory of what happened the night before.
It turns out that they may or may not have stolen money from a casino and, in an attempt to avoid the wrath of the casino owner Amos Fortune, Lois and Oliver grab the disguises nearest to hand: matching skimpy showgirl costumes. All goes well until Fortune recognizes Chloe and the punches start flying, but at least Oliver knows he can make a living as a different sort of queen should the whole crime-fighting millionaire thing not work out.
12. JIMMY OLSEN
No list of crossdressing comic book characters would be complete without Jimmy Olsen. Superman’s pal has become all but legendary for his willingness to don a skirt and heels in the name of justice (or whatever). In one story, he dresses in drag as part of a training exercise to help police cadets master the art of disguise — what exactly qualifies Olsen, a newspaper photographer, to be training police officers is not specified.
On another occasion, Olsen goes undercover as a club showgirl to recover some jewels stolen by the mobster who owns the club. The disguise works exceedingly well, as Olsen catches the attention of both the mobster and his friends. He must have really liked the dress he wore during his time as a dancer, too, because he’s still wearing it when he gets back to the Daily Planet to type up his article.
Occasionally, Marvel acknowledges the Eddas, the source material from which they adapted Thor and his family. On those occasions, things can get a little weird. The story told in Marvel Super-Heroes #15 is based on the poem Thrymskvitha, in which a sticky-fingered Frost Giant makes off with Mjolnir and will only give it back in exchange for the goddess Freya. Freya wants nothing to do with any of it, and Thor is compelled to dress as Freya himself to fool the giant into returning his hammer.
The plan works, if only barely, and the minute Thor gets his hammer back, he uses it to kill every Frost Giant in the area. But don’t worry — Marvel frames this story as a lie told by Loki, who, although he accompanies Thor to make sure all goes well, sadly does not also wear a dress here like he did in the original myth.
10. GREEN GOBLIN
In one scene in 2002’s Spider-Man, our titular hero hears a woman screaming inside a burning building. He storms right in to save her, as would any self-respecting superhero, but the only person he finds is his nemesis, the Green Goblin, who wastes no time in pitching Spidey across the crumbling room.
Gobby’s drag is somewhat slapdash, consisting of just a long pink shawl, but after all it did work, and it’s hard to argue with success. One would think Spider-Man’s spidey sense would have alerted him to the fact that the helpless old woman was really a man in a ridiculous armored suit, but perhaps he’s still so new to the web-slinging game that he hasn’t learned the imprudence of ignoring his supernatural intuition. We’re betting he won’t make that mistake again, though, so Green Goblin better up his game, and fast.
As the name implies, Trickster is always up for a playing a good prank or two, and in Blue Devil #19, that prank involved cat’s eye glasses, a big orange bow and making his fellow rogue Captain Cold look like a knucklehead.
While the supposedly reformed Captain Cold strolls through the park one day, he is approached by a woman who claims to have a special non-melting ice cream. Seeing dollar signs, Cold agrees to meet the woman (who gives her name as Trixie, because of course she does) at the building where the formula for the ice cream is kept. As soon as Captain Cold breaks in, however, “Trixie” ditches the wig and runs off, leaving Cold to be arrested for breaking and entering.
8. CAPTAIN AMERICA
In one of their early, pre-frozen-in-ice adventures, Captain America and Bucky have to track down a wealthy American financier who’s supposedly been kidnapped and taken to Europe by Nazis. But of course, the Nazis are well acquainted with Captain America (or at least with his fists), so our heroes will need to conceal their identities before heading out. Cap disguises himself as an old lady while a reluctant Bucky masquerades as the lady’s grandson.
Cap spends a good chunk of the comic knitting and scolding people, as any proper old lady should, until they get to England and Bucky discovers that the financier is an impostor. No word on what happened to the good Captain’s knitting projects, but knowing him, it was probably blankets for his fellow soldiers. He’s thoughtful like that.
7. LIGHTNING LASS
The Legion of Super-Heroes were all very sad when Lightning Lad (aka Garth Ranzz), one of their founding members, was killed in Adventure Comics #304. But they didn’t have to mourn long because, just four issues later, Lightning Lad seemingly comes back to life, ready to fight crime once again.
But once the initial joy wears off, the Legion begins to suspect that Lightning Lad is not who he says he is, and they’re right: Garth’s twin sister Ayla had stolen his corpse and disguised herself as him to get into the Legion. Just how tough is the Legion recruitment process if she felt that was the best way to get in? Nevertheless, the Legion is so impressed with Ayla that they allow her to stay with the team, this time as Lightning Lass.
In the first two episodes of the ’60s Batman TV series, the Riddler and his gang, including a moll who is subtly named Molly, plan to steal a jeweled mammoth stuffed with valuable postage stamps, as one does. To make sure the plot is successful, they must first eliminate the only two people who could possibly stand in their way: Batman and Robin.
The gang kidnaps Robin and takes a plaster cast of his face. After acquiring a spare Robin costume from parts unknown (did they make a plaster cast of that, too?), Molly disguises herself as Robin to gain Batman’s trust. Batman sees through the charade immediately but pretends he doesn’t, allowing Molly to infiltrate the Batcave and try to shoot him. When the murder attempt fails, Molly runs off, climbing to the top of the Batmobile’s nuclear power source, where she quickly falls to her death.
5. BRAINIAC 5
When a computer tells Brainiac 5 that his teammate Princess Projectra may be mentally unstable, the Legion of Super-Heroes concoct an elaborate plot to see how much gaslighting Projectra can take, because apparently psychiatric evaluations don’t exist in the 31st century. They convince Projectra that she has lost her illusion-casting powers and was never a member of the team. In her place is Prince Projectur, a man with her powers and her clothes. Projectra ultimately realizes she’s being tricked and rips away Projectur’s mask, revealing him to be Brainiac 5.
Admittedly, Brainy never actually pretends to be a woman, but that sure is Projectra’s outfit he’s wearing. Still, if we hadn’t known Prince Projectur’s outfit was originally a woman’s costume, we’d never have pegged this as an example of crossdressing, which goes to show that the line between men’s clothes and women’s clothes is as thin as a thread.
Much of Masque’s backstory, including his real name, are still unknown. What we do know is that he is a member (and occasionally the leader) of the Morlocks, a group of mutants who built a community for themselves in New York’s sewer system to escape the oppression they inevitably face. He acquired his codename as a result of his mutant ability to alter how other people look.
In the past, he was not able to use this power on himself, meaning he always appeared as a heavily scarred man. But in X-Treme X-Men #38, Masque appears as a blonde woman, demonstrating that his powers had evolved some since his last appearance. Despite the change, he still identifies as a man, making this another example of a villain willing to crossdress to get the job done.
3. THE JOKER
The Joker has worn dresses quite a few times across various media, but the most famous example is of course in The Dark Knight, when he wears a nurse’s uniform to get into the hospital he’s about to blow up. Once inside, he has a nice civil conversation with soon-to-be-former district attorney Harvey Dent, who is recovering from a Joker-orchestrated attack that left his girlfriend dead and half his face looking like burned hamburger.
Dent is not amused by The Joker or his wardrobe, but his attempted attack is thwarted by the restraints tying him to the bed. After inflicting a little brainwashing on the beleaguered DA, everyone’s favorite crossdressing clown convinces him to escape the hospital and go be a good little chaos agent.
2. RED TORNADO
Years before T.O. Morrow built the wind-based android we all know as Red Tornado, there was Abigail “Ma” Hunkel, a grocery store owner who decided to take the law into her own hands when the police failed to rescue her daughter from mobsters. She may not have superpowers, but that didn’t stop her from donning the tri-colored vestments and suspiciously pot-like mask of the male superhero Red Tornado whenever there was trouble brewing in New York City.
She was even made an honorary member of the Justice Society of America for her devotion to keeping others safe. She is now retired from the superhero business, and it’s a retirement well-earned: the magnificent Ma Hunkel made her debut all the way back in 1939, which makes her one of the first superheroes to employ crossdressing as a means of bringing criminals to justice.
Anything ]The Joker can do, Batman can do better, and that includes crossdressing. In Batman #266, Batman comes up with a plan to trick the wayward Catwoman into revealing herself: spread the word that a wealthy heiress at the Gotham Arms Hotel is in possession of some very valuable jewels. The only problem is that no such heiresses currently exists, so he decides to be one himself.
Dressing in what looks like a convincing Bea Arthur costume and adopting the suitably pompous name Bertha Carrington-Bridgewater, Batman spreads the news far and wide about the widowed heiress’ jewels. This gossip wends its way to Catwoman, who reacts just as Batman expected. She can’t resist such an easy and profitable target, and when she makes an attempt to steal from the venerable Mrs. Carrington-Bridgewater, Batman nabs her.
Which of these crossdressing moments was your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
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