Scarlet Witch can date an android, but Asgardian gods forbid we get some actual LGBTQ+ representation up in these comic book franchises.
2018 pride month is well underway, with some cities throwing some epic rainbow-themed pride bashes (Queens Pride was lit). Pride month is about more than waving our respective identity flags, though. It’s a time to reflect on the work that’s been done to enable inclusion and what still needs work. There’s still a lot that needs to change in the way of acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community, and much of that revolves around proper representation—and the comic book world is no exception.
Until 1989, any direct mention of homosexuality was banned from mainstream comics in the U.S., as determined by the Comics Code Authority (CCA)—that’s 20 years after Stonewall and the beginning of Pride. The only chance for creators to “include” characters on the spectrum was the age-old tale of subtext. Oh, sure. Subtext is totally the equivalent of actual representation! Who needs representation, anyway?
Honestly, not much has changed in the realm of comics and superheroes since the ban was lifted. Sure, there are a few LGBTQ+ superheroes, but they’re few and far between, and they’re usually not super mainstream characters. It’s been 49 years since Stonewall and 29 years since the CCA lifted the ban (I just did real, live actual math so you know this issue fires me up). Time’s up.
The list of LGBTQ+-Identifying characters in comic books that the general population would even recognize is slim to none. In DC, there’s Constantine, who identifies as bisexual but is rarely seen pursuing men, Wonder Woman’s relaunch in the Rebirth comics, and Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn’s poly relationship in DC’s Bombshells. Of those revelations, most of them would probably come as a shock to people who don’t follow each comic arc closely, because you’d never guess from the cinematic adaptations of these characters and for the most part, only certain comic series feature them.
Marvel’s relationship with LGBTQ+ characters is arguably even worse, which is saying something. Marvel’s 1978 to 1987 editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter, had a “no gays in the Marvel Universe” policy. #Classy. Unsurprisingly, he ruffled a lot of feathers with a handful of comic creators he pissed off, who all fled to DC. Shockingly, he was fired.
Following Shooter’s reign of terror, Marvel continued its homophobic course with a policy requiring comics featuring solo gay characters to have an “adults only” label. Really, two men holding is some hardcore NSFW stuff… Hide the children! Again, writers were forced to live in the world of subtext and general nods at LGBTQ+ themes and inclusion. The plot of X-Men and dealing with being “other” and ousted from society has long since been viewed as a metaphor for the LGBTQ+ community. But, the world would obviously end if a more tangible connection was made.
Despite the intention to create Northstar as an LGBTQ+ character since his introduction in 1979, it wasn’t until 1992 that his sexual identity was made official. Hulkling and Wiccan from the 2005 Young Avengers series are also in a gay relationship. Then we have Deadpool, delightfully pansexual Deadpool. However, Deadpool’s interest in men is usually used more for comic relief and flirtation than actual meaningful representation, as adorable as his infatuation with Spider-Man is.
The movies are even worse than the comic books in showing off his interest in men, as he was basically straightwashed with his relationship with Vanessa. In both films, his proclivity toward men wasn’t really addressed at all, despite him being noted as being attracted to “anything with a pulse” and the writers’ assurances that we would see a pan Deadpool in the sequel. Sure, we got a few one-off lines used for comic relief, but that’s it. Granted, he’s in a committed relationship, so there’s only so much that can be done, but it could have been handled in a better way. Warhead and Yukio were honestly much better done. Sorry, Deadpool.
DC TV shows have paved the way for representation at a much higher rate than other outlets, including actual comic books and their movie franchise. While it’s not perfect representation, it’s something.
Supergirl featured one of the best coming out stories I’ve ever seen on TV as a whole (spoilers for season two!). While it wasn’t Supergirl herself (sorry, SuperCorp shippers), Alex Danvers, Supergirl’s sister, had a really powerful coming out with a following lesbian relationship in which no one died. Nine times out of ten, any time an actual LGBTQ+ relationship is shown on TV, one of the characters tragically dies. *coughs* Clexa from The 100 *coughs.* With Alex, the coming out was tastefully done, the relationship was healthy and adorable, and the breakup was realistic and heartbreaking without someone dying.
Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow feature a bisexual Sara Lance who dates women more often than men which never happens. Earth X featured an absolutely delightful version of Captain Cold who has a boyfriend on his own Earth. This inclusion was really great because the actor Wentworth Miller is gay himself, and it was a cool way to show him some love and acceptance for a few episodes. Even Fox’s Gotham had a bisexual couple in Barbara and Tabitha, though, their relationship was less than healthy. We’ll give Fox a slight pass, as they’re villains and are generally bad and dysfunctional people on a good day, but if Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn can have a healthy relationship… Gotham could have done better.
This meager list is, of course, not the entirety of LGBTQ+ characters featured in comics and entertainment based on comics, but is a general compilation of the ones casual comic purveyors or fans who only watch the movies or TV shows would maybe recognize. What this lack of inclusion is essentially saying is that LGBTQ+ people can’t be heroes and that the general public couldn’t accept them as such which is just plain wrong.
Sure, homophobia is still alive and kicking at the ripe age of 2018, but acceptance has also grown exponentially. There will always be people who want to kick and scream over inclusion—just look at all of the insecure men whose masculinity was threatened by Rey being the main character in The Force Awakens (um, hello? Remember Leia? Saved Han and Luke a million times in the OG series? Eugh). People who throw a hissy fit when they’re not the center of attention for five seconds don’t deserve to be taken seriously. If it’s hard to bare one movie not featuring a lead who looks exactly like you, think of how hard it is for people who never see themselves in media at all.
It’s not a snowflake issue or an unreasonable request. Kids who never see themselves represented in media feel like they’re different, abnormal. There’s a reason depression and suicide rates are so high among the LGBTQ+ community, especially in adolescent years—these aren’t isolated issues. LGBTQ+ kids, kids of color, and everyone who doesn’t fit into the tiny box society deems “normal,” deserves to feel like they can be superheroes and really, I’ve never met a stronger group of people more worthy of the title.