LGBTQ representation skyrocketed in media everywhere in the past decade. Movies, television series, books, and even commercials now include queer characters. So, it is no wonder why big-name comic book companies Marvel and DC decided to join the inclusivity bandwagon. But, are they truly joining, or have they been LGBTQIA+ friendly since the eighties? Let’s look at the rise of LGBTQ superheroes in comic books and how rainbow representation continues to grow.
The fifties was a time of major censorship in America. The FCC created strict regulations on anything sex-related, to the point of having couples in separate beds during daytime shows for the sake of decency. Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community not only received persecution for being “out” at this time. The FCC deemed their relationships impure and too closely related to sex. The agency banned homosexual relationships from being displayed in media, including comic books.
The Comic Codes of 1954 included many disturbing excerpts, but the two that affected LGBTQ representation fell under the Marriage and sex clause, which reads:
Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.The Comic Codes of 1954
Claiming that homosexual relationships went against the sanctity of marriage, the FCC effectively rid the comic world of LGBTQ superheroes. Or, so they thought.
The First Gay Superhero
First debuting in 1983 in the Canadian comic series Alpha Flight, Northstar (Jean-Paul Beaubier) was a professional skier who developed mutant powers and joined the government-sponsored Alpha Flight team. Despite the many hints of his sexuality, the character did not openly come out as gay until 1992 in the comic Alpha Flight #106. In this edition, Northstar adopts a little girl who contracted HIV in the womb. She later dies. After her death, Northstar reveals he is homosexual, hoping to spread awareness about the fatal disease. After major backlash from parents, the creators canceled the series.
Almost ten years later in 2001, Marvel was the first comic book company to abandon the Comic Codes. They took a strong stance by picking up Northstar and adding him to the X-Men series. In his first reappearance, there was direct mention of his sexuality when the superhero trades insults with a homophobic villain. Marvel made their point very clear.
Soon after, other companies began dropping the Comic Codes. By 2011, only DC and Archie comics still stamped the front of their comics with the seal. Northstar was the first-ever openly LGBTQ superhero but he has many successors, including but not limited to Batwoman, Green Lantern, and Deadpool.
Superheroes Go Genderqueer
The influx of gay, lesbian and bisexual superheroes in the comic world was a huge step forward. But, did you know genderqueer superheroes existed before them?
DC’s Coagula (Kate Godwin) was the first-ever transgender superhero, appearing first in “The Laughing Game”; Doom Patrol 70. Kate was born Clark Godwin but in her teens realized she was a girl. She underwent hormone treatment and experienced major transphobia into her adulthood, which pushed her into prostitution. It was during one of these sexual encounters that she gained her mutant powers and joined the Doom Patrol.
There are also nonbinary superheroes, the first-ever being Marvel’s Cloud which first appears in Avengers: The Initiative #1. Cloud is a genderfluid alien who prefers a feminine appearance and uses they/them pronouns. Marvel released this character just over 15 years ago in April and since has added more nonbinary characters.
On The Screen
Despite these characters appearing in print, LGBTQ superheroes did not make the screens until 2018 with DC’s Dreamer (Nia Nal) in the Supergirl series. It would not be until 2021 when LGBTQ superheroes were in movies, such as Marvel’s lesbian superhero America Chavez who appeared in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Ms. America is also expected to get her own TV series.
While these are all more obscure characters, Marvel dropped a bombshell when they told their fans that their favorite shape-shifting god of chaos, Loki Laufeyson, is actually genderfluid. He still uses he/him for now, however, Marvel hinted they may use she/her or they/them in the future, when appropriate.
Comic companies seem excited for LGBTQ-inclusive characters on the screen and we can’t wait to see more.
What Can We Look Forward To?
Comic companies are on the right track to bringing in more LGBTQ characters and actors. In my opinion, these superheroes should have more screen time and be given their own movies and television series. As previously mentioned, Marvel teased that there may be a standalone TV show in the works about America Chavez, following her after the ending of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But we need more!
Due to restrictions on LGBTQ superheroes, they have not had the chance to gain as big of followings as other famous characters. That is why it is necessary to bring them out of the woodwork and into the light as the main characters. Homophobia and transphobia shut them away for so long, now is the time for LGBTQ superheroes to become our new obsession.
If you want to read more about what is going on in the comic world, read next our article about Female Authors in Comics and Graphic Novels.