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July 27, 2012

Evenings Out

Gay characters abound in mainstream comics

Last issue saw the review of two independent gay-themed comic books or graphic novels. However, the majority of people who read a comic book or graphic novel will not be reading an independent, no matter how worthy. Instead, they will be reading a superhero smash-’em-up from one of the “Big Two,” Marvel or DC, home of iconic characters like Spider-Man and Batman, both of which hit multiplexes this summer with new movies.

In mainstream comics, there have been slews of LGBT characters, but the fluid nature of continuity means that it is necessary to peek in every once in a while to check and see who is still there, who is still gay, and who has been retconned (retroactive continuity) into oblivion.

Last September, for instance, DC Comics relaunched their entire universe of characters and books in an initiative called “The New 52,” which combined the mainstream DC universe, their mature-reader Vertigo line of comics, and characters from Wildstorm Comics, an independent publisher sold to DC.

While much of the continuity of DC’s Batman, Green Lantern and Legion of Super Heroes lines of comic books remained intact, others, like the Superman family of titles, were almost completely rebooted, meaning a number of characters that existed prior to this event might not any more. The entire Justice Society of America, the first superhero team in the world, seemed to have disappeared, after having made their debut during World War II. This meant that Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern’s gay son Obsidian, also a superhero, no longer existed.

Alan Scott, along with other Justice Society members, are now in a book called Earth 2, which takes place in a parallel dimension where superheroes first arrived on the scene about 30 years ago, instead of seven, as is the status quo in the New 52. Alan Scott, as was announced last month through major news outlets like CNN, is also now a gay character. He is seen kissing his partner, who then dies in a train explosion, while Scott gains fantastic powers. His son Obsidian? Gone. Written out of existence.

The characters Midnighter and Apollo, analogues for Batman and Superman and first introduced in Wildstorm’s lauded The Authority, are now in the book Stormwatch. Their marriage in the old continuity is also gone, which now gives the writers an opportunity to show the beginnings of their relationship; both characters are still portrayed as being gay, and they are definitely a couple.

Batwoman, wealthy socialite Kate Kane, remains lesbian, although her ex-girlfriend Renee Montoya, formerly a police officer, later the vigilante known as the Question, seems to have been excised. Kane, however, is not flying solo. She is currently dating Gotham City Police Capt. Maggie Sawyer, who first came out about 20 years ago in the Superman books when she was working in Metropolis. Batwoman’s series also featured a character who could change from male to female at will, and shared a kiss with Batwoman when she was in a female body, before the readers knew the score.

Another Wildstorm import, Voodoo, has her own series, and is bisexual. Her book, however, is being canceled after the September issue for poor sales.

Still continuing after September is the series Teen Titans, which features a group of young superheroes including Superboy, Red Robin, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl. Among their ranks is Bunker, a young Latino with the ability to psionically create solid objects, mainly walls, bricks and gauntlets, of purple energy. He is gay, sometimes portrayed stereotypically but also as the team’s touchstone, a shoulder to cry on and the voice of reason.

The announcement that a major character (Alan Scott) would be revealed as gay came days after Marvel Comics announced the wedding of Alpha Flight and X-Men member Northstar to his longtime boyfriend, Kyle Jinadu, which occurred in issue 51 of Astonishing X-Men, still readily available at most comic shops. What’s Kyle’s power? He apparently has the mutant ability to deal with Northstar’s ego, as he is also his husband’s business manager.

Northstar’s creator, John Byrne, said that he was always intended to be gay, but it took about a decade for Marvel to strap on a pair and go through with it.

Another gay character or two that suffered from delayed gratification were Rictor and Shatterstar, two characters in the X-Factor title written by Peter David. When Shatterstar returned after being absent for years, he plants a liplock on Rictor like you wouldn’t believe, leading Shatterstar “creator” Rob Liefeld to go into an apoplectic fit online. Liefeld is a born-again, as well as lacking the ability to create particularly original characters or to draw them well.

Two “Young X-Men” are gay, Anole and Graymalkin. They are trainees in the X-Men, young mutants learning to use their powers. They are not used very much, Anole more than Graymalkin.

The X-men/New Mutants member Karma was revealed to be bisexual, but it is seldom mentioned.

Over in the Avengers side of the Marvel Universe, two of the Young Avengers are gay, the shapechanging Hulkling and the magic-using Wiccan. They are in a relationship, and the writers have done a commendable job of not only keeping them around, but also of portraying their loving commitment to each other.

In the earlier series Runaways, about a group of teens with special powers on the run, Skrull shape-changer Xavin is transgender, and usually takes female form to be with Karolina Dean, a lesbian teammate.

Marvel’s classic Western character Rawhide Kid was made gay for two adult-oriented miniseries, “Slap Leather” and “The Sensational Seven,” both of which played with genre tropes and were filled with humor. There was a lot of silliness, but Rawhide Kid was portrayed as perhaps the most capable gunslinger in the West, in great part as a way of getting revenge on his father, who denigrated him constantly for being a sissy.

In addition to Marvel and DC, probably the longest-lived comic company in the United States is Archie Comics, home to Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead. Two years ago, they introduced the character of Kevin Keller, the first openly gay teen in Riverdale High School. In Life with Archie: The Married Life, an imaginary series set in the future, Kevin gets married, but his own miniseries and series don’t deal with romance much.

Mind you, this is just the “mainstream” of the comic book universe. Off the beaten path, the roads are paved with quirky characters, many of whom are queer, but that is a discussion for another day.




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