Comic books have made fitful steps toward representing the full range of diversity in sexual orientation on their pages. The overwhelming majority of characters are heterosexual or assumed to be so. For many others, it was unspoken. The original standards of the Comics Code, adopted by the major comics publishers in 1954, specifically forbade even hinting at “illicit sex relations,” declared “sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden” and stipulated “Passion or romantic interest shall never be treated in such a way as to stimulate the lower and baser emotions.” The definition of “perversion” was left to Comics Code censors.
The Comics Code first loosened in the 1970s, allowing creators greater room to explore different facets of life, although initial efforts were done gingerly. Revisions to the Code in 1989 allowed comics to present LGBT characters without sanction. Before then, in 1987, DC introduced police lieutenant Maggie Sawyer in the Superman titles, who was a divorced mother. It was implied, but not directly stated, that Sawyer’s husband divorced her because she came out as a lesbian. Other characters, some long established, some new, were shown to be in same-sex relationships. But even with the Code’s ban being lifted, some characters live on the page without an open declaration of their orientation, which is still conveyed through hints and cues picked up by readers. Here are eight superheroes who have come out, and seven publishers refuse to admit are gay.
The speedster Northstar first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #120 (April 1979) as a member of the Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight. His sexuality was merely hinted at for years. An early storyline showing him to be ill, and intimating the cause was HIV, was reworked to have him be sick of a comic-booky ailment. He came out in Alpha Flight (Volume 1) #106 (March 1992), in a story that had him discover, and adopt, an abandoned infant who was HIV-positive.
After her death, Northstar held a press conference to announce he was gay, making him Marvel’s first public gay superhero. Northstar proposed to partner Kyle Jinadu in Astonishing X-Men (Volume 3) #50 (May 2012), and they were married in #51 (June 2012), right after same-sex marriages became legal in New York state. This was the first same-sex marriage in a Marvel comic.
Kathy Kane, the first Batwoman, was introduced in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956) as a romantic interest for Batman, largely to offset suspicion about homosexuality in Batman and Robin’s relationship. Batwoman was written out of the series in favor of Batgirl. In Detective Comics #485 (August-September 1979), Batwoman was stabbed to death by the League of Assassins.
In 2006, the modern Batwoman was introduced in issue #7 (June 2006) of 52: Kate Kane. She was a Gotham socialite who had a past relationship with Reneé Montoya, the Question. Furthermore, she was an Army officer who was booted out of the service under the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy on gay and lesbian soldiers. An encounter with Batman inspired Kane to become a crimefighter. Kane was revealed as the new Batwoman in 52 #11 (July 2006) and became DC’s first major gay superhero, leading Detective Comics before graduating to solo title Batwoman.
13. APOLLO AND MIDNIGHTER
Apollo and Midnighter first appeared in WildStorm’s Stormwatch (Volume 2) #4 (February 1998), both physically enhanced black-ops soldiers on the run from the original Stormwatch founder. Creator Warren Ellis describes Midnighter as “The Shadow by way of John Woo,” but the character is perceived as a Batman analogue. Likewise, Apollo is in the Superman mold.
The WildStorm Universe was folded into the DC Multiverse in 2006, allowing Apollo and Midnighter to interact with other DC heroes, albeit on their own parallel world. Their backstories were changed further with the New 52 in 2011. But Apollo and Midnighter, a couple as far back as November 1999, were married in The Authority #29 (July 2002) — a first in a mainstream comic — and adopted a teenage daughter. After a variety of adventures together and separately, the six-issue series Midnighter and Apollo was just recently published in 2016.
12. ANEKA AND AYO
Aneka and Ayo were prominently featured in Black Panther as two of the Dora Milaje, the coterie of female warriors chosen from each of Wakanda’s tribes to be the king’s bodyguards, and potential wives. But in the absence of King T’Challa, Aneka executed a tribal chieftain who preyed on women. Aneka was sentenced to death, and Ayo was denied when she pleaded for her life. So Ayo broke Aneka out of prison and they went on the run, serving as Wakanda’s protectors.
The 2016 prequel series Black Panther: World of Wakanda explored the beginnings of their love. The upcoming Black Panther film includes a scene with Ayo, played by Florence Kasumba, dancing with another Dora Milaje. Vanity Fair wrote about it, and soon appended an update; a Marvel rep told the magazine the moment “is not a romantic one” and World of Wakanda “was not used as a source.”
Deadpool, “the merc with a mouth,” has come out as pansexual, or at least some of his creators have said so. Co-creator Fabian Nicieza responded to a query on Twitter, “Deadpool is whatever sexual inclination his brain tells him he is in THAT moment. And then the moment passes.”
Deadpool’s characterization changed from grim assassin in his first appearance in The New Mutants #98 (February 1991), to goofy, mentally unstable antihero prone to breaking the fourth wall. Over the years, Deadpool has had several relationships, with characters as diverse as Rogue, Siryn, Psylocke, Satana, Dracula’s would-be bride Shiklah and even Death. But Deadpool also has been flirtatious with Thor, Spider-Man and other men and freely makes cracks indicating fleeting attraction to men. He also has had “impure” dreams about Cable, his partner in several adventures and the 2004 series Cable & Deadpool.
10. HULKLING AND WICCAN
The Young Avengers spun out of the wreckage wrought by the 2004-2005 “Avengers: Disassembled” crossover. The team is sorta-kinda Marvel’s answer to Young Justice, next-generation heroes with powers reminiscent of the Avengers. Wiccan, who was transformed by the Scarlet Witch, and Hulkling, who is a child of Skrull royalty and Mar-Vell of the Kree, showed interest in each other since Young Avengers #1 (April 2005).
Initially, writer Allan Heinberg conceived Wiccan as a shape-shifting female taking the form of a male to get close to Hulking as a way of showing a gay relationship, but editors allowed that it would be simpler to just write Wiccan as a gay male. Hulking and Wiccan had their first on-panel kiss in Young Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #9 (May 2012) after Hulking proposes.
9. GREEN LANTERN (ALAN SCOTT)
The original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, a founding member of the Justice Society of America, first appeared in the Golden Age of comics in All-American Comics #16 (July 1940). With the advent of Earth-One and Earth-Two in the Silver Age that introduced the Green Lantern Corps, Scott was assigned to Earth-Two and became an elder statesman in DC Universe. Scott also was the father of sister and brother twins Jade and Obsidian, who both had inborn superpowers. Obsidian was gay.
With the New 52 reboot, Scott was reintroduced as a much younger man — and no longer a father. Without Jade and Obsidian, Scott was reinvented as being gay and intending to propose to boyfriend Sam in Earth 2 #2 (August 2012) before the latter was killed in a train crash. This tragedy leads Scott to become Green Lantern in this continuity.
8. ELEMENT LAD
Element Lad, Jan Arrah of the Legion of Super-Heroes, first appeared in Adventure Comics #307 (April 1963). A moment in issue #326 (November 1964) in which he thinks “I’m … er … out of my element when it comes to romancing girls” inspired fan speculation that he was gay.
Element Lad was given a love interest, Science Police officer Shvaughn Erin. During the “Five Years Later” reboot in Legion of Super-Heroes (Volume 4) #31 (July 1992), Erin was revealed to have been born physically male but identified as female, and was using medication to transform her body to be able to romance Element Lad, whom she believed was straight. Erin changed back when she didn’t have access to the drug, but Element Lad declared it didn’t change anything about their relationship. That version of Erin was wiped away in subsequent reboots.
This may be a case of good intentions — let’s hope so — but certainly poor execution. Extraño first appeared in the 1987-1988 maxiseries Millennium and carried over to spinoff The New Guardians. Extraño was Gregorio de la Vega, a Peruvian sorcerer of the New Guardians, a multicultural group of beings assembled by one of the Guardians of the Universe to be their successors. Extraño, who had magic-based energy powers, might be thought of as a parody of Doctor Strange; “extraño” translates as “strange” in Spanish.
Although he wasn’t declared to be gay, he called himself “Auntie” and was a walking agglomeration of stereotypes. He also was the first HIV-positive superhero. Extraño fell into obscurity until he resurfaced in the 2016 DC Rebirth title Midnighter and Apollo, looking more sedate and now rejecting that name. Asked to battle Midnighter, he instead helps find the missing soul of Apollo.
6. GREEN ARROW (CONNOR HAWKE)
Connor Hawke, the son of original Green Arrow Oliver Queen, came along in 1994. He was born of a one-night stand between Sandra “Moonday” Hawke and Queen. Hawke grew up without Queen knowing of his existence but did learn about Queen’s exploits. Hawke and Queen met each other in an ashram, where Hawke had spent his childhood, but did not know they were father and son.
Hawke succeeded Queen as Green Arrow for a while, although their styles and personalities were very different. Hawke, having grown up as a monk, notably was shy and befuddled around women, who were attracted to his innocent demeanor. This led fans — and other characters in the series — to speculate that he was gay. Ostensibly to kill speculation, Hawke lost his virginity to Lady Ren in the ghost city of W’eng Chun, in Green Arrow (Volume 2) #112-113 (October-November 1996).
The mythology of the demigod Hercules includes sexual dalliances, and other activities, with both men and women. This has been fitfully reflected in Marvel comics. The first issue (May 2010) of the two-part Hercules: Fall of an Avenger implies that Northstar is on the roster of Hercules’s past lovers. The 2012 series X-Treme X-Men, set in alternate dimensions, had Hercules in a same-sex relationship with Wolverine.
With that, it came to some as a disappointment when then-editor in chief Axel Alonso said what happened in X-Treme X-Men stays there. “Hercules and James Howlett’s relationship in X-Treme X-Men took place in a unique alternate universe, similar to how Colossus was gay in the Ultimate Universe, but is straight in the 616. Same goes for Hercules here,” Alonso told CBR.com.
4. SHRINKING VIOLET AND LIGHTNING LASS
Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass are two long-time members of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Shrinking Violet, born Salu Digby, has Imskian parentage, which gives her the ability to shrink down to a molecular level. She first appeared in Action Comics (Volume 1) #276 (May 1961). Lightning Lass, born Ayla Ranzz, first appeared in Adventure Comics #308 (May 1963). She originally had the power to generate electricity, but for a time had anti-gravity powers.
Both women had been kidnapped separately: Lightning Lass by her brother, Shrinking Violet by protesters from Imsk, who replaced her on the Legion with a Durlan imposter. A while after both returned to the team, during the “Five Years Later” storyline, Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass developed a close bond. Their relationship was erased in subsequent reboots of the series.
Introduced in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May 1975), Storm of the X-Men has been a popular gay icon, but it’s been mostly conveyed through subtext. Storm underwent a huge change in demeanor after she defeated the Morlocks’ leader. Storm also grew close to Wolverine’s lover and rival Yukio, whose devil-may-care ways influenced her to loosen up. Starting in Uncanny X-Men #173 (October 1983), Storm sported a striking new look, shaving her long, flowing hair into a mohawk and sporting all-leather garb — what many fans took as a visual metaphor for change, and thus, in some way coming out.
Later, however, Marvel married Storm off to T’Challa, the Black Panther, in Black Panther (Volume 5) #18 (July 2006), a move that seemed odd when it happened and odd when the marriage was undone in Avengers vs X-Men #9 (October 2012). They are reconnecting in the current Panther series, seemingly closing the door on her attraction to women.
X-Men ally and, later team member Gambit first appeared in Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 (1990) and Uncanny X-Men #266 (August 1990). Gambit is often presented as a “ladies’ man,” but writer James Asmus, who was tapped to do a Gambit solo series in 2012, wanted to explore his past.
Asmus told Bleeding Cool, “It’s true that I was interested in revealing Gambit to be bisexual in our series,” but that “I never got past pitching the first part, though, as word came down we wouldn’t be redefining the character as such.” Asmus went on to say, “I have no idea how high or low on the totem pole that decision was made, or for what reasons.” However, he noted, “we never did anything to go against the idea he’s bisexual.”
1. WONDER WOMAN
There has always been a lesbian subtext to Wonder Woman, since her origin story in All-Star Comics #8 (October 1941), which introduced readers to Paradise Island — an all-female environment of warriors. That tale also introduced long-time love interest Steve Trevor, although over the years, he’s been killed off more than once and written out of the series for long stretches. And Wonder Woman has had other male partners, including Superman; they shared a title for 29 issues and an annual from 2013 to 2016.
But writer Greg Rucka put speculation to rest in a 2016 interview with Comicosity, in which he asked how “queer” is defined (“involving, although not necessarily exclusively, romantic and/or sexual interest toward persons of the same gender”) and then said Wonder Woman fits that definition. But, he added, Themiscyra is an environment where “it’s just not a word that’s active in their vocabulary.” Still, a rose by any other name…
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