BY RICHARD SUPLEE GEEK SPACE CORRESPONDENT History shall remember the last few hot, sticky months as The Summer Of Gay. From President Obama’s qualified endorsement of gay marriage to Chick-fil-A’s dick-ish disapproval, it seems like the news can’t go one week without mentioning gay rights. As such it seems like this is the perfect time to draw attention to the the surprisingly extensive network of unsung LGBT superheroes that save the planet on a daily basis but still can’t get married in 43 states. This is not a complete list. I limited it to unambiguously gay superheroes published by DC and Marvel because those are the most commonly known comic book publishers. I chose these heroes based on their connection to other popular heroes, their significance to the narrative infrastructure of the superhero universe, and because some of these are my personal favorites. But enough of my yackin’, let the gay begin!
Katherine ‘Kate’ Rebecca Kane is the latest woman to bear the title of Batwoman. Her father was in the military and she initially planned to follow in his footsteps. After being kicked out of the U.S. Military Academy, she decides to use her military training and physical ability to help clean up Gotham after a run-in with Batman. Instead of playing with Batman’s fancy toys she uses military grade equipment that her father has acquired for her.
HOW WE KNOW: As you might expect Kate was kicked out of the military due to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. A rumor was going around that Kate and another female cadet were dating and instead of denying it Kate decided to admit to it because it’s the honorable thing to do. Well, the brass at the academy thought otherwise.
WHEN WE FOUND OUT: The big reveal happened at the get-go. When the comic publisher announced they were debuting a new Batwoman in 2006 they made it clear that the character would identify as lesbian, a fact deemed newsworthy by CNN, USA Today, and the gay culture magazine Out, among others. The character’s first comic appearance even made it clear that Kate was Renee Montoya’s ex (more on her later).
BACK STORY: The new Batwoman costume was originally a redesign of Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl costume. DC originally wanted former Batgirl Barbara to become the new Batwoman but decided against it because she was operating as the heroic computer hacker Oracle ever since the Joker shot her in the spine in The Killing Joke. The publisher did not want to lose the diversity provided by a wheelchair bound hero and decided to take the opportunity to further open minds with a lesbian Batwoman.
REACTION: Even though Kate Kane replaces the avowedly heterosexual Batwoman of earlier iterations, fans have accepted the new, lesbian Batwoman. One reason is that the original Batwoman was a semi-obscure character created in 1956 as a love interest to Batman just to prove that Batman and Robin were not gay. Batwoman has also been gone from comics for over 25 years.
The Green Lantern, aka Alan Scott. was the original Golden Age Green Lantern who found a magic lantern during a train wreck that gave him his super powers such as making green energy constructs and shooting green laser beams. It wasn’t until DC’s New 52 reboot last year, which gave their characters all new origins, that Green Lantern was depicted as a homosexual.
WHEN WE FOUND OUT: In May of this year DC announced that one a major character not yet introduced in the New 52 will be revealed as gay and the character was later revealed to be Green Lantern.
HOW WE KNOW: This past June’s issue of Earth 2 focused on Alan Scott’s new origin. In it businessman Alan Scott meets his boyfriend Sam for a vacation and the two take a train. However the train crashes and Sam dies while a green flame protects Alan. Now channeling the power of the green flame as the Green Lantern he seeks revenge on whatever killed his fianceé.
BACK STORY: Earth 2’s writer James Robinson has a history with gay characters. The decision to change Green Lantern’s sexual orientation was prompted by Earth 2’s lack of diversity. Pre-New 52 Green Lantern had a homosexual son, the hero Obsidian.
REACTION: The social conservative protest group One Million Moms was outraged by the news insisting that making gay superheroes will brainwash kids into accepting gay people and, God forbid, possibly even becoming one. The media attention afforded the protest only served to increase sales. Thanks, One Million Moms!
The Question, aka Renee Montoya, a former Gotham City Police officer first introduced in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992. After years of dealing with the corruption of the GPD she later loses her job and becomes the partner of Charles Victor Szasz, aka Vic Sage, a detective-like superhero known as The Question. After Sage’s death Montoya takes up his identity.
WHEN WE FOUND OUT: It wasn’t until 12 years after her creation in 2004 that Renee was revealed as a lesbian.
HOW WE KNOW: Two Face, officer Montoya’s stalker, cruelly outed her to the police department by pinning a picture of her making out with a woman to the police station’s bulletin board.
BACK STORY: She was first created for the TV show Batman: The Animated Series before being written into the comics. However, strong writing from writers such as Ed Brubaker made her a fan favorite which led to DC promoting the character into a superhero that is not only lesbian but also a Dominican, a rarity in the lily-white world of superheroes.
REACTION: Renee’s uber-religious parents disowned their daughter, but her brother was more accepting. The cops of the Gotham Police Department for the most part don’t care and are more offended that she is an honest cop in a corrupt Gotham. Some fans were angry that the original Question had to die but aside from that almost everyone seems to agree that Renee has been an excellent successor to his legacy.
Bunker, aka Miguel Jose Barragan, is the latest character to come out. He is a member of the Teen Titans, a popular team of young heroes that has existed in one form or another as far back as 1964. It should be pointed out that the Titans have a young following due to the animated TV series earlier this decade. Bunker has the ability to create force fields with his mind which can be used to protect himself from bullets and super strength-fueled punches. Interestingly Miguel is also portrayed as a Christian and believes that God guided him to the Teen Titans.
WHEN WE FOUND OUT: A few months before the character debuted in the new Teen Titans comic earlier this year.
HOW WE KNOW: In issue 5 of the latest Teen Titans volume, Wonder Girl accused Bunker of hitting on her and he shot back that she isn’t his type because she is a she. It was a brief coming out that took up a mere single page of a comic and was not treated as that big of a deal. This is progress.
BACK STORY: Although there has been nothing really revealed about Bunker’s sexuality in interviews or other sources, it should be noted that current Teen Titans writer Scott Lobdell also wrote the coming out story of Marvel superhero Northstar.
REACTION: The rest of the Titans never saw it coming — upon learning, Wonder Girl complains that she has terrible “gaydar” — but they were all fine with it. However, some fans were outraged when the character was first announced. Not because of his sexuality, but because he was originally going to be called “The Wall,” which also happens to be the nickname of the fan favorite Amanda Waller, a mysterious CIA-style operative. When DC announced the character would instead be called Bunker and that he was gay fans rejoiced about the name change and didn’t seem to care about the gay thing. Even One Million Moms didn’t seem to notice.
Pied Piper, aka Hartley Rathaway, was originally an enemy the Flash who uses sonic devices to mind control rats and people. After the death of the Flash, the Pied Piper decides to go straight and leave behind the life of crime, using his gadgets and knowledge of sound waves for good and coming out of the closet in the process.
WHEN WE FOUND OUT: 1986, which is roughly 25 years after his creation,.
HOW WE KNOW: Not long after switching over from villain to hero Hartley reveals his sexuality to Wally West.
BACK STORY: Pied Piper was one of the earliest gay superheroes, beating Marvel’s Northstar by seven years. Because Hartley is a minor character, his coming out was greeted with little controversy.
REACTION: Like many minor characters in comics, Pied Piper has gained a small but loyal fanbase, partly because of his sexuality. Fans also love the scene where Hartley is about to die and he plays the Queen song “The Show Must Go On” to blow up an alien hell planet.
Northstar, aka Jean-Paul Beaubier, started out as a mutant member of the Canadian government sponsored superhero team Alpha Flight. He was also an Olympic skier although he was forced to give up his medals after his powers (a metaphor for sports doping?) were revealed. He later becomes a member of the X-Men and teacher at the Xavier Institute, a school for mutants to both get an education and learn to live with their abilities. In addition to being the first openly gay Marvel superhero he was also involve in the company’s first gay wedding when he married long time boyfriend, Kyle in Astonishing X-Men 51 last May.
WHEN WE FOUND OUT: Although the character was created in 1979 — and his writer John Byrne wanted to make the character gay when Alpha Flight received their own series in 1983 — Northstar was not allowed to be openly gay until 1994.
HOW WE KNOW: As one of the earliest gay superheroes, Northstar’s sexuality was deeply embedded in the narrative arcs. He rescues and adopts an infant girl infected with AIDs. After the baby finally succumbs to AIDS, Northstar decides to come out as gay in order to use his celebrity status to bring attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
BACK STORY: The writers decided to make Northstar homosexual to add a layer of diversity and complexity to the Alpha Flight team that was originally created just to fight the X-Men. However, Marvel Editor in Chief Jim Shooter did not allow gay superheroes back then so Byrne was forced to merely hint at the character’s sexuality. The comic book censor Comic Code Authority also had strict limitations on how gay characters could be depicted. All of which is ironic because the X-Men were originally created as a metaphor for the Civil Rights movement and was always open to diversity. Despite being openly gay, the character’s sexuality was rarely mentioned until 2005.As for the reaction of the other characters, the most interesting was Jean-Paul’s twin sister Aurora who has dissociative identity disorder. One of her personalities accepted her brother the other one rejected him. The young mutant student Anole also went to Northstar for advice about dealing with his own sexual identity. More on that later.The coming out of Northstar received mainstream media attention and the issue 106 of Alpha Flight sold out despite the title historically not selling a lot of issues. The issue is also the only comic in the “Gayaltic Hall of Fame”, an award celebrating gay characters and theme in science fiction and fantasy. The group One Million Moms sent letters to Marvel demanding they abort Northstar’s gay marriage earlier this year. To Marvel’s credit, these requests were politely ignored.
HULKLING & WICCAN
Hulkling (Theodore “Teddy” Altman) and and Wiccan (William “Billy” Kaplan) are members of the Young Avengers, a team of teenaged superheroes modeled after the Avengers. The grown up team did not approve of kids going putting themselves in danger fighting villains but they eventually earned the title Young Avengers from the Avengers. Two of the Young Avengers are gay: Hulkling, who has super strength and shape-shifting abilities and Wiccan, who has the ability to warp reality with his vaguely defined magic. The two are now engaged so the second gay marriage in Marvel comics is not long off.
WHEN WE FOUND OUT: Fans picked up on the relationship between Teddy and Billy in the first issue and the writer Allan Heinberg quickly confirmed this fact both in the letters column of the second issue and at San Diego Comic Con.
HOW WE KNOW: They came out during an interview with a Daily Bugle reporter. The other Young Avengers were fine with it and helpfully suggest that Billy should change his name from Asgardian (his original superhero name) to avoid the hurtful puns his name will inevitably invite.
BACK STORY: Heinberg originally pitched Hulkling as a girl who shapeshifts into a boy to help hide her identity. Heinberg thought that this was the closest he could get to portraying a homosexual couple in comics but he eventually decided to just go all out and make Hulkling a guy.
REACTION: Billy’s parents had long suspected their son was gay and assumed that was big secret he was going to reveal when he sat them down and said he had something he needed to tell them. The celebration of their son’s sexuality interrupted Billy’s plans of telling them he was a superhero. His dad even welcomed Teddy into family. The letter section at the end of Young Avengers featured both love and hate mail for the gay couple, but the majority fan response has been positive. The comic won a GLAAD Media award in 2006.
Karolina Dean is a member of the Runaways. Like the other members of the team, her parents were part of an organization of supervillians trying to raise a powerful demon which required child sacrifices. When the children found out about the sacrifices, they ran away and later discovered they had inherited super abilities from their parents. Karolina’s parents are aliens called Majesdanians, a species whose bodies are made up of fluid light that gives them the ability to store and unleash solar energy along with ability to fly and kill vampires, which comes in handy from time to time.
WHEN WE FOUND OUT: Karolina’s fondness for the fairer sex has been hinted at throughout Runaways Volume one and two until she came out in issue seven of the second volume.
HOW WE KNOW: The first direct reference to Karolina’s lesbianism comes when she tries to kiss her long time friend and team leader Nico. Nico rejects her advances and Karolina is then pursued by the transgender Xavin to whom her parents had arranged her to be married to before they moved to Earth.
BACK STORY: The Runaways series is about a group of teenagers dealing with teenaged problems along with their superpowers. As such Karolina’s feeling of isolation comes both from her status as the only alien amongst her friends as well as the only gay character.
REACTION: The target audience for Runaways was teenagers who were actually intrigued by the idea of a lesbian superhero. Part of it is that sexual identity is a common issue for teenagers to deal with so seeing it in other media certainly helps. Runaways was also popular with regular comic book fans who are, generally speaking, open-minded.
Xavin is a Super-Skrull in training, a member of the shapeshifting alien Skrull race that went through genetic alterations to gain the powers of the Fantastic Four. The best way to describe Xavin is as transgender. He was born male but has changed to female in order to pursue a relationship with Karolina and join the Runaways.
WHEN WE FOUND OUT: Xavin was introduced in 2005 in the same issue that Karolina’s sexuality was revealed. Xavin first appeared as a male Skrull who was betrothed to Karolina in an attempt to end war between their races.
HOW WE KNOW: Karolina refuses the arranged marriage saying that she is only interested in girls, so Xavin then shapeshifts into a human girl. Xavin later says “for us, changing our gender is no different than changing our hair color,” suggesting that many Skrulls are transgender.
BACK STORY: The gender and sexuality of a shapeshifter is very complicated. The argument could and has been made that Xavin is a male Skrull who is merely pretending to be female to be with Karolina. However, writers have made it clear that Xavin does make the effort to be a female and it is revealed that when she loses control of her shapeshifting she reverts to her female, showing that even subconsciously she considers herself a girl.
REACTION: Fans are torn over the gender of Xavin. While the hardcore Runaways fans who were first introduced to comics by this series seem accepting of Xavnin’s gender-switching, some old school fans don’t like it much, preferring the old days when Skrull men were men and Skrull women were women.
Anole, aka Victor Borkowski, was a student at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, a school run by the X-Men. As his name suggests, Anole has a reptilian appearance along with the abilities of chameleon such as camouflage, limb regeneration, wall crawling, and enhanced speed and agility.
WHEN WE FOUND OUT: Anole’s sexuality was hinted at since his creation in 2003.
HOW WE KNOW: Although he was created as a gay character it took four years before Anole’s sexuality was clearly acknowledged. In an issue of the New X-men, Anole loses his arm which later grows back bigger and stronger than before. Teammate and friend Rockslide suggests that Anole should chop off his other arm and calls him a “sissy” when Victor refuses. Due to his sexual orientation Anole takes serious offense to the insult and begins to savagely beat Rockslide, who is apparently the only student who did not pick up on Anole’s sexuality. The incident was the first time Anole was clearly delineated as gay.
BACK STORY: The editors fought with writers Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis over Anole’s coming out story. However, it was not because editors did not want another gay superhero, rather it was because they did not agree with the original storyline. The original New X-Men: Academy X plotline had Victor revealing he was gay and the other students bullying him for it. The story arc ended with Anole’s suicide and the formerly homophobic and mutant hater Elixir is horrified and tries to become a better human being. Editors felt that the storyline advanced the enlightenment of a straight character at the expense of a gay one and convinced the writers to change the story despite the issues already being partly drawn. The sexuality of Anole was then left unrevealed although many fans became aware of the aborted storyline through interviews. Already drawn comics were replaced with different dialogue that removed any references to Anole’s sexuality or suicide but does evolve Exilir’s character into a more tolerant person.
REACTION: Comic book fans like the way the portrayal of Anole has not been reduced to stereotype — for example, he can more than handle himself in a fight. In fact, he kicks ass. They also like that he doesn’t come off as preachy or rubbing their faces in it. In fact, many readers say they forget Victor is gay until it is brought up and when it is it somehow doesn’t feel like it came out of nowhere. The lion’s share of the credit for such refreshing subtlety goes to writer Christopher Yost.