Ever since the Comics Code Authority (C.C.A.) was established in 1954, comic book creators have been limited in their ability to depict LGBT characters as well as drug use and other controversial topics. In the '50s and '60s, it was illegal (in the United States) to be gay, so it was considered taboo and part of the counterculture. It wasn’t until the '70s and '80s that comic book creators began introducing characters that could be described as having gay ‘traits’ without outright declaring them as LGBT.
The C.C.A. required absolutely no mention of homosexuality until they lifted that ban in 1989, and as the country became more progressive in its understanding and acceptance of the LGBT community, creators continued to buck the system and introduce compelling characters that were relatable to more people. Here are 15 influential LGBT characters who appeared in comics before the code was finally abandoned.
15 JOHN CONSTANTINE
John Constantine is a cynical, witty and absolutely ruthless anti-hero who will do anything to ensure his own survival. He spends his life in the muck and mire of the DC/Vertigo world of sorcery, fantasy and most often—Hell. He has gone toe-to-hoof with the First of the Fallen (who is basically the Devil) and many other horrific creatures on his path of self-preservation and the defense of mankind from the arcane and supernatural.
While he is depicted in most of the series as being involved with women, he is, in fact, bisexual and has referenced relationships with men throughout the original Vertigo run, although this depiction carried over in 2015's "Constantine The Hellblazer" #1 by Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV (art by Riley Rossmo). In an early issue story-arc, Constantine goes to the defense of several homosexuals who are being preyed upon and ends up taking a severe beating for his effort. While he tended to use his partners for some type of personal gain, he remains an important LGBT character in the Vertigo universe.
Northstar is probably the most well-known homosexual character to comic fans because he was the first openly-gay superhero. During the A.I.D.S. scare of the 1980s and early 1990s, comic book publishers began to focus attention on the controversial issue. In some cases, they portrayed it incorrectly by suggesting it could be contracted by being scratched by someone who had it, while in other cases, they put a lot of effort into the human aspect of the condition. In the case of Northstar, they embraced it with a character’s homosexuality.
Jean-Paul Beaubier is a Canadian speedster who originally was in the Canadian superhero team, Alpha Flight. In a major story-arc that involved Jean-Paul discovering an abandoned baby girl who had been born with A.I.D.S., he adopted and named the girl Joanne who died a few weeks later. At around the same time, in "Alpha Flight" #106 by Scott Lobdell with pencils by Mark Pacella, another superhero, Major Maple Leaf, goes into a fit of rage and depression over the death of his son who died as a result of H.I.V. The two share a mournful embrace over the loss of their loved ones and it was at that time that Northstar felt comfortable enough to announce to the world, “I am gay.”
13 HOODED JUSTICE
Hooded Justice isn’t a comic book character that many people are aware of since he appeared in just under two-dozen books. You may remember seeing him briefly in the "Watchmen" film, but if you know the comic series of the same name, then you also know how controversial and important those books were. They won the Hugo and Eisner Award in 1988 and have become an important work of fiction that has spread outside comic books and into the mainstream.
Hooded Justice played an important role in the series by intervening when the Comedian, Edward Blake, attempts to rape Silk Spectre shortly after a meeting of the Minutemen, the group that all three were members of at the time. Hooded Justice is so enraged that he begins to beat the Comedian until he mocks the hooded superhero by saying Justice is sexually aroused by beating people. This gets Hooded Justice off of him and ends the fight.
The identity of Hooded Justice is never fully explored, but in Hollis Mason’s book, Under the Hood, which is referenced throughout the comics, he exposes Hooded Justice as having approved of Hitler’s actions during World War II, which he considered odd because of Hitler’s attitude towards homosexuals, making him a hypocrite.
Gregorio De La Vega, who calls himself Extraño (meaning “strange” in Spanish), is probably the most offensive depiction of a gay character in comics. He is represented as being gay via a number of sexual innuendos and slang terms that resemble numerous stereotypes associated with homosexuality. Created by Steve Englehart and Joe Staton, “Extraño was every stereotype of a gay man you could think of. He wore extremely colorful and flamboyant clothing, had a lively and jovial personality, gave parental-type advice to his teammates and referred to himself as ‘Auntie’. Additionally, he was H.I.V.-positive at a time when such an affliction was often credited to the gay community.
Though the character is never openly gay, he was certainly written that way to get around the C.C.A.. He was introduced in 1988 and never fully caught on with the community. This was probably due in large part to the offensive and stereotypical depiction of a gay man, which brought about a lot of negative attention from both sides of the issue.
Mystique is one of the longest-standing comic book characters to have come out as bisexual. She had an extended, on-and-off relationship with Irene Adler (Destiny). The two met when she was hired to help decipher Destiny’s dreams, hoping to stop them from coming to pass. They eventually became lovers and their relationship was ongoing for decades until Destiny was killed. When their relationship began, the C.C.A. was still in force, so it could only be implied for years. The nature of their relationship was finally confirmed in the comics during “Uncanny X-Men” #265, by Chris Claremont and Bill Jaaska.
Mystique has also had numerous relationships with men, having given birth to two children. She is the mother to the X-Man Nightcrawler and also Graydon Creed (fathered by Sabretooth), who turned out to be human not possessing the mutant gene. Mystique herself ended up killing Creed after he joined a racist hate group espousing hatred against mutants. Her relationships with men appear to be more a means to an end, but her relationship with Destiny appears to have been genuine.
Midnighter is considered to be the greatest tactician in the history of the world and is a capable fighter with various superhuman capabilities that helped him when he formed a team alongside Apollo (more on him in a minute), Lamplight, Crow Jane, Amaze, Impetus and Stalker. The entire team save Midnighter and Apollo were killed on their first mission and the pair ended up in hiding for the next seven years. During that time, the two became lovers and have remained two of the most prominent homosexual characters in publication.
The couple are the first openly gay superhero power couple in comics and their recent foray into a duo series with “Midnighter and Apollo” #1, written by Steve Orlando and penciled by Fernando Blanco, debuted with the couple doing the same thing pretty much any couple does: they do the dishes together, have a nice chat, and get down and dirty right there in the kitchen. DC’s decision to maintain their sexuality openly is a celebrated event for proponents of LGBT rights because they don’t make a big deal out of it in any way. It’s simply a part of who these characters are and not what they are. They are superheroes and that’s what’s important.
Other than being in a relationship with fellow Stormwatcher Midnighter, Apollo is an extremely powerful superhero in his own rite. He has the powers of flight, healing, heat vision, invulnerability, super speed, super strength and a slew of others that make him something of a comparable character to Superman (He's even powered by the sun and loses his power whenever he depletes his limited supply of solar energy). Apollo began his professional life as a soldier, but was recruited into the same team as his future boyfriend by Henry Bendix, the former head of Stormwatch, who eventually betrayed them all.
Much of Apollo’s history is intertwined with that of Midnighter, as mentioned above, and his current depiction is pretty much right there with his boyfriend, so there isn’t much more to say. The super-powered duo continues to sell well for DC and there is no reason to suspect they might slow down anytime soon.
8 LIGHTNING LASS
The relationship between Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet was one most comic readers had to infer due to the C.C.A. When Shrinking Violet, or Vi, first joined the Legion of Super Heroes, she entered into a relationship with Duplicate Boy, which lasted for some time. Due to her being kidnapped and eventually rescued, she broke up with her boyfriend and became a stronger and more independent Vi. As for Lightning Lass, she ended up getting into a serious fight with her older brother who kidnapped her (something of an ongoing theme here). When she finally came out of that situation, she rejoined the Legion of Super Heroes.
It wasn’t long after this that Vi and Lightning Lass could be seen commiserating over their similar predicaments. The conversation that plays out in “Legion of Super Heroes” Vol. 2, #22, written by Tom Bierbaum and penciled by Keith Giffen, and plants the seed of their relationship. “I changed my whole life Ayla. What about you?” “Never mind,” she continues “Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe we don’t know each other that well.” Their relationship lasted for years, but was wiped out due to the “Zero Hour” event. When DC rebooted the series, their potential relationship is hinted at, but not confirmed.
Rictor is a mutant with the ability to create seismic vibrations who also happens to be bisexual. Besides getting into a relationship with his fellow member of X-Factor, Rahne, he had a relationship with his former partner in X-Force, Shatterstar. Shatterstar is a refugee from Mojoworld who joined the New Mutants, which ultimately became X-Force, and it's there that the two found one another.
Following the events of M-Day, Rictor attempted suicide over losing his powers, but was able to have them restored by the Scarlet Witch. He eventually reconnected with Shatterstar who has come to work with him at X-Factor Investigations where the two rekindled their romance and have been in a relationship since. Like many others on this list, Rictor was long believed to be bisexual, but the C.C.A. prevented Marvel from exploring it. When writer Peter David took over, he took the preexisting subtext and made it come out as plain as day, making Rictor one of the earliest bisexual characters in comics.
Unlike his boyfriend, Shatterstar isn’t bisexual. His relationships in the comics have indicated that the character has always been gay. This led to some conflict between the character's creator and the fan community who had accepted the character's sexuality. There was even a statement made in 2009 that Rob Liefeld, who created Shatterstar, didn’t like the sexuality of the character and wanted to change it, but confirmed to a fan this simply wasn’t going to happen.
This had to do with Liefeld creating Shatterstar and covered his first dozen appearances, so he stated as the creator that Shatterstar wasn’t gay. Liefeld didn’t carry the character for long and he has since been expanded upon by several other artists and writers, so it doesn’t look like his sexuality will ever change, which is a good thing since it seems that he and Rictor are doing fairly well together. Their relationship has continued to develop in the comics and has caused some conflict with Rahne after she returned with a baby in her belly in "X-Factor" #208, written by Peter David and penciled by Emanuela Lupacchino.
5 RENEE MONTOYA
Renee Montoya began her career as a detective in the G.C.P.D., but eventually became the new Question after Vic Sage died. She has since taken on that role and become a force to be reckoned with in Gotham City. Like the Dark Knight, Montoya has no problem fighting crime with just her wits and skills as she has no superpowers of her own. Montoya checks two boxes for minority representation in comics: she is both a prominent Latina woman and a lesbian. Throughout her tenure in DC Comics, she has consistently been maintained as being part of homosexual relationships.
She was outed in "Gotham Central" #6 (written by Greg Rucka with art by Michael Lark) when pictures of her and Daria Hernandez, her girlfriend, began to circulate. She admitted to having kept it a secret and eventually began a relationship with another woman who came out of the closet in the DC Universe, Batwoman. That went down in 2006, but the DC Animated Universe went ahead and put the two ladies together in “Batman: Bad Blood,” which came out in February 2016.
4 THE PIED PIPER
The Pied Piper began his career in the comics as a prominent member of the Flash’s rogues gallery, but has since reformed himself and moved away from being a bad guy. One thing he has never distanced himself from was being gay, and he is one of the most prominent characters featured on this list due to his so-called ‘coming out panel,’ which has been pictured above. This occurred in 1991 in “The Flash” Vol. 2 #53, written by William Messner-Loebs and drawn by José Marzan Jr., and it was a huge deal at the time.
1991 may not seem like that long ago, but back then, there simply weren’t any LGBT characters in mainstream comics. The best part about his coming out was the matter-of-fact way he simply mentions it to Barry Allen. The two are simply having a conversation when he mentions that he is the only supervillain he knows of who is gay. You can see the reaction on Barry’s face that he wasn’t expecting it, and neither was the vast majority of readers, which is why this particular coming out was so important to both comic book history as well as the ongoing movement for LGBT equal rights.
3 UNION JACK (BRIAN FALSWORTH)
Brian Falsworth has been a mainstay in comics since he first appeared in “The Invaders” #18, written by Roy Thomas and penciled by Gil Kane, all the way back in 1977, but it wasn’t until recently that the character was revealed as gay. In the mobile game “Marvel Avengers Academy,” which re-imagines the Avengers as teenagers, Black Widow points out that Brian Falsworth, a.k.a., Union Jack, is the only boy on campus who hasn’t yet his on her. He very candidly and simply replies, “I’m telling you I’m gay.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time this particular Union Jack has come out. In the comics, Brian was in a relationship with Roger Aubrey (Destroyer), which makes the pair to be the first gay characters in Marvel comics chronologically, if not directly. The pair fought against the Nazis during World War II, so that sets their relationship all the way back to the 1940s.
2 WONDER WOMAN
For years, fans have speculated over whether one of DC’s most iconic superheroes, Wonder Woman, was gay or not. It wasn’t until very recently that this was finally confirmed by writer Greg Rucka. Not only has it finally been established that she is queer, it has been canonically and retroactively made true, meaning the Amazon was always that way even if it wasn’t overtly obvious in the comics.
Everything was confirmed with Rucka’s “Wonder Woman: Year One,” where he revisited her origin story and retold it for the modern audience. The comic itself hasn’t outright said definitively that Dianna is queer (yet?), but it is alluded to. Now that Rucka has come out and confirmed it, it’s likely only a matter of time. "When you start to think about giving the concept of Themyscira its due," Rucka explained in an interview, "the answer is, ‘How can they not all be in same-sex relationships?’ Right? It makes no logical sense otherwise... But an Amazon doesn’t look at another Amazon and say, ‘You’re gay.’ They don’t. The concept doesn’t exist. Now, are we saying Diana has been in love and had relationships with other women? As Nicola [Scott] and I approach it, the answer is obviously yes."
Bobby Drake has been around the comic book scene since the early '60s when he debuted in the first issue of “Uncanny X-Men” as one of the founding members of Xavier’s team. Back then, there was no way to tackle the complicated issues surrounding a gay character, even in a book that was all about racial inequality in America. It took a long time before Iceman was able to come out as gay.
It all finally came to a head in “All-New X-Men” #40,written by Brian Michael Bendis and penciled by Mahmud A. Asrar, when Bobby and Jean Grey get to talking. At first, Bobby denies it, thinking he might be bisexual, but the powerful psychic can see straight into his mind and knows the truth even before he is able to come to terms and admit it himself. When he finally comes to the conclusion and realizes he is gay, he admits it to Jean and the rest is history.
Be sure to let us know in the comments which LGBT comics characters you feel should be on this list!