Marvel Comics’ gay superheroes Rictor and Shatterstar finally kissing is an event that is still making headlines. So, in honor of homosexuality becoming more commonplace in the comic book medium, here are the 10 most important LGBT moments in comic book history.
NO LONGER JUST BATMAN’S BEARD
I might have been heavy on the gay boys and light on the lesbians on this list, but the #1 slot goes to none other than DC’s Batwoman, so I hope that makes up for it. Why #1? Because she’s an out character who wears the symbol of DC’s most popular hero, a cultural icon no less, and has headlined the book that DC Comics is named after (Detective Comics) for a year now. AND she’s proven to be a kick ass character to boot. All of this would have been unthinkable just a decade ago. DC had a Batwoman before; back in the 1950’s, to rebuff notions that Batman and Robin were a gay couple, Batwoman was introduced as a “girlfriend” to Batman. Introduced in 1956, Kathy Kane was as sexist as comics could get in the day. Her entire reason for super heroing was merely to get Batman to marry her, and instead of a utility belt, she had a “utility purse” with gadgets that looked like lipstick and compacts. After the whole “Batman and Robin are gay” paranoia ended in the early 60’s, editor Julius Schwartz retired Batwoman for good. Eventually, a new female version of Batman was introduced in the form of Batgirl, a character that everyone loved and stood the test of time. But in an effort to create some diversity (and sales) DC introduced a new version of Batwoman; this time Kate Kane wasn’t merely Batman’s “beard”, but an out lesbian. Gone was the utility purse; this Batwoman was an ex military chick who could kick anyone’s ass. Considering her comics origins, the irony is delicious. DC took out a press release in all the major newspapers to not only announce her existence to the world, but also the fact that this new heroine was a “lipstick lesbian”. A little over the top, but still better than Marvel’s Rawhide Kid debacle. Comics readers felt cynical about the whole affair, but in time, writer Greg Rucka made her a fan favorite by virtue of solid writng and great characterization. And thus, the arrival of Batwoman is the most important LGBT event in mainstream comics.
RICTOR AND SHATTERSTAR
Both members of Marvel’s X-Factor, heroes Rictor and Shatterstar are the gay super couple of the year. Although, despite what stories in the media might say, they are NOT the first gay super couple in comics (see the rest of this list). Both created to be members of Marvel’s X-Force back in the early 90’s, at some point writers began to imply that Rictor and Shatterstar were more than just friends. But for years, it was all between-the-lines innuendo. Finally last year, current X-Factor writer Peter David decided that it was the 21st Century, and it was way past time to stop being coy about their relationship. Rictor and Shatterstar were lovers, end of story. Except this is the age of Twitter, and it was NOT the end of the story, but the beginning. Shatterstar creator and all around douchebag Rob Liefield said “As the guy that created, designed and wrote his first dozen appearances, Shatterstar is not gay. Sorry. Can’t wait to someday undo this. Seems totally contrived. Shatterstar is akin to Maximus in Gladiator. He’s a warrior, a Spartan, and not a gay one” Note to Liefield: Read some history on the Spartans. Thanks. Peter David had this to say on Rob’s homophobic remarks about his creation now being gay: “I understand that some parents have the same reaction. They were responsible for their children’s appearances and, when informed of their sexual persuasion, firmly declare it’s impossible, they can’t be gay.”
GREEN LANTERN AND THE GAY BASHING
When Green Lantern’s gay teen friend Terry Berg got brutally gay bashed in the Fall 2002 issue, it got a lot of press and stirred a lot of controversy amongst the more traditional comic book fans. Even fans who were pro gay couldn’t help but feel as if the whole storyline was like a “very special episode” of an 80’s sitcom, where we are introduced to a controversial subject matter, and then said controversial subject matter and character disappear as if they never existed. Even if that’s true, no one can argue that writer Judd Winnick and DC Comics at least had their heart in the right place with this one. At the time, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner was working at a magazine and had a teenage assistant named Terry Berg, his very own Jimmy Olsen. Eventually, it was revealed that Terry was gay, and he eventually came out to GL. His own family not accepting of him, Terry became Kyle’s token gay friend and confidant, only to be gay bashed by thugs a few issues later, leaving him in a coma. Clearly, this entire storyline was meant to be an homage to the late Matthew Shepherd, as the Terry Berg character even looked like him. The whole storyline would send Kyle Rayner into a long “its all my fault, woe is me, I’m exiling myself to space” saga. At the end of this storyline, Terry wakes from his coma and finds that Kyle has left him a duplicate power ring, implying that he will soon become the Teen Lantern (or something like that). But directions changed over at the Green Lantern book, Hal Jordan was soon back and Kyle’s supporting cast was soon forgotten. It’s a damn shame too, because it would have been great to have a gay hero on the Teen Titans and now Terry Berg is nothing more than a footnote in DC history.I guess it was gonna be up to Marvel to make a gay teen hero and make it work….which they did in the form of the Young Avengers not soon afterwards.
THE YOUNG AVANGERS HULKLING AND WICCAN
When Young Avengers was announced back in 2005, readers scoffed at what appeared to be a Marvel version of DC’s Teen Titans, with teenage versions of Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and Iron Man. But the book ended up being one of the best Avengers titles in years, surprising everyone with its quality. And also surprising everyone was the revelation that Young Avengers Hulkling and Wiccan were in fact boyfriends. Their entire relationship was handled without press or fanfare, they were just two (superpowered) boys in love. While they no doubt lost a few readers because of the gay teen love, they no doubt gained a whole lot more who would be forever loyal. Gay writer Allan Heinberg made the characters gay simply so young gay readers would finally have someone to identify with on a super team, something he (and many young gay comics fans) never had growing up.
BATMAN AND ROBIN SECRET LOVE
It has been the subject of a million lame jokes for decades, but in the early 50’s it was anything but, and nearly brought about the demise of the American comic book medium. In 1953, some asshole trying to make a name for himself named Frederic Wertham wrote a book called Seduction of the Innocent, about how comics were destroying America’s youth. One famously cited example was that Batman and Robin were actually lovers. According to Wertham, Batman and Robin inhabited “a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.” They lived in “sumptuous quarters,” without wives or girlfriends, with only an effeminate British butler for company. They often shared living quarters, and lounged together in dressing gowns. Not to mention proclivities for costumes, dressing up, and fantasy role play; secretive behavior and double-lives; little interest in women; and of course depictions of Batman and Robin were frequently homoerotic, visually emphasizing Batman’s physique and Robins bare legs and short pants. Shit, this guy almost has ME convinced. DC was forced to butch up Bruce and Dick, in a manner of speaking, by giving Batman the steady girlfriend of Batwoman, a character literally created to make concerned mothers say “oh, see? He has a girlfriend.” She was the comic book equivalent of Katie Holmes (maybe that is why they cast her ass in Batman Begins?). Batwoman of course, is now famously a lesbian. Gotta love how things work out.
APOLLO AND MIDNIGHTER
In the late 90’s/early 2000’s, there was a lot of buzz around Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Universe, mostly due to the fact that Marvel and DC were both going through a pretty sucky period at the time. Among those Wildstorm titles was The Authority. The Authority in particular would get really interesting when writer Warren Ellis came on board and made the team a kind of militant, slightly twisted version of the Justice League. The Authority even came with its own versions of Superman and Batman in the forms of Apollo and Midnighter…. except this World’s Finest couple was actually a real couple. Warren Ellis and later writer Mark Millar treated the whole thing rather casually, and the fact that their two male teammates were gettin’ it on was never really an issue for the other members of the group. They even got married in front of the press in a lavish ceremony. Midnighter was popular enough to eventually even get his own series from writer Garth Ennis, and no one from DC went on Larry King’s show about it.
The 10 Comic books have been filled with lesbian innuendo for decades; from Wonder Woman tying up bad girls to Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy having pillow fights in their bra and panties in the Batman books. Young straight sexually frustrated males are the bread and butter of the comics industry after all. But when it comes to actual lesbian main characters in mainstream comics? You can count them on one hand. Renee Montoya is one of them. Introduced originally in the Batman animated series from the 90’s, Renee was introduced to comics shortly thereafter. A tough capable cop in the corrupt Gotham City Police Force, she went on to be the breakout star of the series Gotham Central. But you ain’t really anybody in the DC Universe ’til you start wearing a goofy outfit, and in 2007 DC gave Renee the stamp of approval and gave her the mask and fedora of longtime DC hero The Question. She’s currently kicking ass (along with her ex girlfriend Batwoman) in Detective Comics.
PHAT AND VIVISECTOR FROM X-STATIX
Rictor and Shatterstar may be getting all the gay mutant attention these days, but before these two were out and proud, Marvel mutants Phat and Vivesector were proudly announcing their queer status to the world back in ’03. Part of the team X-Statix, who were basically media whores, trying to promote a reality show they had. Phat was your typical white trash wannabe Eminem type (artist Mike Allred drew him as pretty much a cartoon dead ringer for Marshall Mathers). His power was, well…to get fat. Essentially, he was an even more trailer park version of classic X-men villain the Blob. Vivisector (Myles Alfred) was the intellectual, bookish nerd of the group. With the ability to turn into a feral werewolf type at will, he and the considerably less intellectual Phat clashed at first. Eventually, the two of them became friends, and decided to become a couple to boost the ratings of the X-Statix television show. Over the course of their publicity stunt, they both realized they really were gay and started a relationship. They broke it off when they realized that gay or not…neither of them was really attracted to the other. Both characters end up dead at the end of the series. But before you go crying “Homophobia!” the ENTIRE team dies at the end of the series. Equal opportunity dismemberment at work.
NORTHSTAR COMES OUT
The longest rumored-to-be-gay character in mainstream super hero comics was Alpha Flight’s Northstar. Created in 1979, it wasn’t until Alpha Flight issue 106 in 1992 that Canadian mutant Jean Paul Baubier finally came out of the closet and told everyone what they already knew. Sadly, all of this was in a pretty poorly written and drawn story about Northstar finding an AIDS baby in a trash dump. *rolls eyes* All of this got nationwide attention, of course, and although Alpha Flight (Northstar’s Superteam’s ongoing book) was canceled soon after Northstar’s outing, his career eventually bounced back after the whole frenzy had passed. He eventually found a slot on the true X-Men, where he remains to this day. As I write this I realize Northstar has had the same career path as Ellen DeGeneres. Think about it.
One step forward, two steps back. In 2002, Marvel decided to dig up one of their old 50’s Western heroes, probably just to keep the copyright. Thing is, nobody really cares about Western comics anymore. “So how do we make it interesting?” they must have thought “I know! Let’s make him a big flaming homo!” And with that, the Rawhide Kid (get it? get it? Raw Hide?? *sigh*) became the first gay lead character to get his own comic book from either Marvel or DC. The book was filled with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy style stereotypes, and an actual caption from the first issue which had the Kid thinking about the Lone Ranger along the lines of this: “I think that mask and the powder blue outfit are fantastic. I can certainly see why the Indian follows him around!” In the spirit of the Old West, please just shoot me now. Now, I don’t mind making fun of stereotypes (God knows they exist for a reason), but when they come entirely from the minds and mouths of a bunch of straight guys in an office in New York, it might as well be a bunch of white guys who think it’s ok for them to use the N word because they have black friends. In any event, this gave Marvel about five minutes of free publicity, even trotting out good old Stan Lee on to Larry King on CNN to talk about it – even though in all likelihood he didn’t even know there was a gay Rawhide Kid ’til sometime that morning.