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Knowledge Waits: The History of Trans Characters at DC and Marvel Comics

by  in Comic News Comment
Knowledge Waits: The History of Trans Characters at DC and Marvel Comics

This is the latest in a feature where I just share some bit of comic book history that interests me. Here is a collection of all of the installments in the feature so far.

The other day, I had a TV Legends Revealed about a remarkable composer who transitioned during the early 1970s and continued her successful career doing music for television. Coupled with the news about Caitlyn Jenner, I thought it’d be interesting to look at how trans characters have been handled by DC and Marvel over the years. I chose “The Big Two,” specifically, because while there have certainly been a number of excellent independent comic works featuring trans characters over the years (Alison Bechdel, in particular, did some groundbreaking work with trans characters in Dykes to Watch Out For), I am a bit more interested in seeing how “mainstream” comics have handled trans characters over the years.

I’m going to avoid accidental gender-switched characters or body sharing stuff. No offense to fans of Wanda Langowski, but I’d like to keep this to characters who were assigned the wrong gender at birth and then chose to live their life as their true self, not people who were accidentally switched genders as part of a spell or whatever (now if they were switched in a spell that they themselves intentionally cast, that’d be a different thing, we are talking comics here, after all, a certain amount of fantasy is to be expected!).

I am fairly confident that William Marston did not have any trans ideas in mind when he invented the Wonder Woman villain Hypnota (in Wonder Woman #11, with artist HG Peter), but he also never specifically said anything to the contrary, so I guess it is worth mentioning them.

Note that there were two other Wonder Woman villains named Doctor Poison and Blue Snowmen who were women dressed up as men, but those two were a good deal clearer that it was just a disguise and nothing more (Doctor Poison was revealed to be Princess Maru and Princess Maru attacked AS Princess Maru later on before later using the Doctor Poison identity, as well, so I think it was so well established that it was just a woman using a disguise – same with Blue Snowman). But I thought it was worth mentioning them in case people were curious.

There were a few other woman disguised as men and the occasional man disguised as women characters, but I don’t think any of them gave the indication that they were anything other than utilitarian disguises (Madam Fatal and Red Tornado being the most prominent examples of this motif).

In the pages of the Defenders in 1984-85, Peter Gillis was doing some interesting work with the character of Cloud…

It began with Defenders #132, where Iceman flirts with his new teammate, Cloud…

In #134, Cloud, though, shows an interest in her female teammate, Moondragon…

She struggles with her feelings the following issue…

In #136, she solves her problems by turning into a man….

Iceman doesn’t handle it particularly well…

Cloud changes back and forth and Bobby has a particularly hard time when he’s consoling Cloud on her bed when she changes into a man. Bobby freaks out, and tells Cloud that he wants to help, he just can’t.

But eventually he remains friends with Cloud…

And as they come closer to learning Cloud’s origins later on and whether she actually DID “turn” into a guy or if she is perhaps two person merged into one…

Then, of course, her origins were revealed to be something COMPLETELY different as the series abruptly ended. In the end, I don’t really think Cloud counts as a trans character, but for a while there, it DID seem so, but it was sort of walked back. Either way, it was a fascinating angle for a mid-1980s Marvel superhero book, that is for sure.

Go to the next page as we get to the end of the 1980s…

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