These days, whenever a character comes out of the closet as LGBT in mainstream comics, before the comic ever even hits the stands there is usually some kind of press release announcing the new gay (or formerly straight and now newly gay) character to the masses. Usually this happens in mainstream publications like The New York Post or Entertainment Weekly, and often long before the actual issue comes out (no pun intended.) Of course, this robs that particular moment of the impact it could have had for the reader, unless they’re living in some kind of media-free bubble
In 2006, the new Batwoman (who debuted in the year long maxi-series 52) was revealed to be “a lipstick lesbian” in the pages of USA Today, of all things, weeks before her actual debut in the comics. Something similar happened this past year, when the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, was revealed to be gay months before the issue hit the racks, all via press release. While it is understandable in this day and age where comics sales are not quite what they used to be, to get as much publicity to sell your comic book as humanly possible… there is something to be said for the element of surprise when reading a story. I mean, how much better would it have been to find out that Green Lantern was gay by having him just plant a big ol’ wet one on Flash’s lips?
Once upon a time though, when a character came out as LGBT, it happened a wee bit more organically, and you probably didn’t know until you read the actual comic itself. Occasionally, this still happens, as witnessed by the recent reveal in Batgirl #19 that Barbara Gordon’s roommate Alyssia was transgender. While you may have found out this information online (and it is likely you did) that was only because the story had come out already. There was no pre-release hoopla associated with it. Bab’s roomie isn’t the only character in mainstream comics to come out of the closet on panel though; she’s had pretty decent company for the past couple of decades.
9.The Pied Piper
One of the earliest “coming out on panel” examples in mainstream comics was former Flash villain the Pied Piper, way back in 1991 in The Flash issue #53. When this happened, it was kind of a big deal; there were next to no LGBT characters in movies or television, much less in comics, which were still largely still perceived as children’s media. It was a pretty ballsy move on DC Comics’ part to let writer William Messner-Loebs throw that in there in such an off-hand way. The entire thing was done in such a casual manner, in fact, that I don’t remember much of a ruckus being made at all by conservative groups, or whatever the hell the equivalent of “One Million Moms” was back then. And this was at a time when comics sold way more than they do now.
The character of Hartley Rathaway, a.k.a. The Pied Piper, was one of the Silver Age Flash’s earliest villains, appearing first in The Flash #106 in May 1959. Using a flute that could emit mind control frequencies (or similar such nonsense), Pied Piper fought the Barry Allen version of the Flash for the better part of three decades. By the early 90’s, the Piper had reformed and become an ally of the third Flash, Wally West. During a casual conversation on a rooftop, yappin’ about the sexual preferences of villains Abra Kadabara and the Joker (I mean, who doesn’t wonder about the Joker sometimes) Piper dropped the gay-bomb on his buddy Wally, who pretended not to be freaked out. Being a wholesome Mid-Western boy from Blue Valley, Nebraska though, Wally was totally weirded out.
Wally would eventually get over it, though, and the two heroes remained good friends for the remainder of Wally’s time as the Flash. In fact, while Wally West has been presently consigned to comic book limbo as a result of the whole “New 52” reboot as DC, the Pied Piper is still around, still totally gay, and dating Barry Allen’s boss at the crime lab, Detective David Singh.
8.Lightning Lass and 7.Shrinking Violet
Lightning Lass, real name Ayla Ranzz, and Shrinking Violet, real name Salu Digby, were two long standing members of DC’s 30th-century super team the Legion of Super-Heroes, going back to the early sixties. Lightning Lass was the twin sister of founding Legionnaire Lightning Lad, and they both had the same electrical powers. Shrinking Violet, well…as the name suggests, she just shrank really small.
Throughout the next several decades of Legion continuity, the two appeared to be heterosexual, involved in one relationship or another, almost always with a male member of the team. Lightning Lass was mostly paired up with hero Timber Wolf, who was kind of a proto-Wolverine. Violet dated various male heroes too, but none seriously, almost as if she couldn’t really be bothered with boys much. But during all this time, the two had a close bond that seemed to supersede their relationships with their boyfriends. Legion fandom began to fill in the blanks. This, folks, is how slash fiction is born.
In 1990, DC Comics began a new Legion series, one which jumped ahead five years in time, and where we found all of the various members in very different places in their lives. None more different that Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet, who were now a same-sex couple. Ayla and Vi were now officially together, even though we only ever saw them embrace and hold each other, and could never quite see them kiss (this was still technically an all-ages title in the early ’90s remember.) Still, it was pretty explicit that they were together in the biblical sense. The funny thing is, during the five year gap, Violet, previously a very feminine character, went extremely butch, wearing masculine clothes and even got a short, cropped, manly haircut. She even sported a sexy scar along her face. She literally became the stereotype of the “militant lesbian.” Ayla more or less stayed femme; I guess one masculine lesbian was all they figured readers could handle back then.
Then in 1994, during DC’s Zero Hour crossover series, the Legion was rebooted back to being teenagers again, and Ayla and Violet were made hetero once more. In 2004, they were rebooted again, but each time these girls seemingly kept coming back straight. The last reboot, around 2007, wasn’t really a reboot at all; after two attempts at starting a whole new Legion continuity met with mixed results, writer Paul Levitz brought back the classic continuity (with some tweaks) from 1958-1994, and once again, Ayla and Violet were revealed to be a romantic couple. But man, what a long twisted road it took to get there. I’m a Legion fan, and it all barely makes any sense to me.
You simply can’t do any kind of list about gay heroes in comics and not mention the X-Men’s Northstar, who for what seemed like forever was the only out gay superhero. Actually, super strong and super fast Jean-Paul Baubier wasn’t even originally a member of the X-Men; he was a member of Alpha Flight, the X-Men’s somewhat lamer Canadian cousins. But although he was originally conceived of as a gay man by his creator John Byrne way back in 1979, he was in the proverbial comic book closet until 1992. Back in the late 70’s and into the early 80’s, Marvel Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter supposedly had a company policy that there were “no homosexuals in the Marvel Universe” – though somehow, the Avengers’ Hercules escaped this clause. Yeah, I went there.
So all the hints that Northstar could be gay could only be that – hints, because of Marvel’s no-gays policy that stood throughout Jim Shooter’s time as EIC. By the early ’90s, things had started to loosen up a bit. Alpha Flight was desperate for sales, so in issue #106, written by Scott Lobdell, Northstar comes out as gay in a horrible “very special episode of Alpha Flight” issue about an abandoned AIDS baby, discovered in the dumpster. It was preachy, it was overdone, it was anything but subtle. Oprah Winfrey would have loved it. Oh, and how does Jean Paul come out to the world as gay? By yelling “I AM GAY!!” to the press, that’s how. Like I said, not subtle. In the slightest.
After the AIDS baby issue, Northstar would get his own mini-series, where his being gay doesn’t come up once at all. Eventually, the one aspect of his persona that had to be hidden for years, is now the trait that totally defines him and keeps him A-List. Ok, maybe not A-list, but he gets to hang out with the A-List, kind of like how Sharon Stone keeps getting invited to the red carpet, even though she hasn’t been in a hit movie in twenty years. His status as Marvel’s first out gay hero has made it so he earned a spot on the X-Men at a time when his fellow Alpha Flighters were mostly sent off to limbo, and his marriage to his manager made headlines last year as Marvel’s “Big Gay Wedding.” My, how times have changed.
5.Rictor and 4.Shatterstar
Marvel mutants Rictor and Shatterstar are perfect examples of when comics fandom picks up on bits and pieces of innuendo placed there by various writers over the years, and collectively decide that all the gay subtext just isn’t good enough as subtext anymore, it just needs to be plain ol’ text. And then the publisher caves in.
Rictor (Julio Esteban Richter) was a somewhat less lame version of DC’s Vibe. Both were Latino, and both had the power to create earthquakes. But where Vibe spoke in a silly, stereotypical accent (“wus up, chu?”) and was a break dancer, Rictor just had a mohawk, so there was less fanboy demand for him to die a horrible death. He started out as a teen mutant ward of X-Factor, then got shuffled off to the New Mutants in the early 90’s, just as Rob Liefeld was about to take over the book and turn it into X-Force.
One of the characters introduced in X-Force was Shatterstar, a pony-tailed warrior from the Mojo-verse, an alternate dimension where everyone looks like they belong in an ’80s hair metal band (the X-Men’s Longshot was also a denizen of the Mojoverse, and looked equally as dumb.) Shatterstar had no personality except that he was a warrior and posed a lot with very big swords and shoulder pads. When Liefeld left the title in less than a year to start the Image Comics revolution, subsequent writers like Jeph Loeb were now required to give Shatterstar a personality, and they decided to develop an…intense friendship between Shatty and his teammate Rictor (who had lost the mohawk, and now also had long metal hair to match his BFF.)
So throughout the 90’s and into the 2000’s, various writers continued to add subtle hints that maybe Ric and Shatty were gettin’ it on on the down low. Finally, writer Peter David got a hold of both characters and put them in his run of X-Factor, where he outed them as a couple. When Shatterstar joined the team, the first thing he did when he saw his old buddy Ric was to make out with him, leaving no room for doubt. Sites like Perez Hilton and others ran with it as a news item, but the actual event occurred in the comic itself, with no pre-release fanfare. Shatterstar and Rictor remain a couple to this day in the pages of X-Factor.
Gotham City Police detective Renee Montoya was originally created for the Batman animated series back in 1992, but she actually debuted in the comics before the series ever aired. This is similar to how the Barbara Gordon Batgirl, who was created for the old ’60s Batman television show, was introduced in the comics a few months before.Throughout much of the ’90s, Montoya was a background character at the G.C.P.D. in various issues of the Batman family of titles, before getting a bigger spotlight in the book Gotham Central.
At this point, Gotham Central writer Greg Rucka elevated her from just the token background Latina cop into a real honest-to-goodness character with layers. In 2003, Greg Rucka outed her as a lesbian. Well, actually Batman villain Two-Face outed her as a lesbian, which caused her Catholic, Dominican family to disown her, and for Renee to fall into a spiral of alcoholism and self pity that eventually got her thrown off the police force. We knew Two-Face was evil, but who knew he was such a dick??
In the year long maxi-series 52, Montoya, now an ex cop and an alcoholic, is recruited by Victor Sage, who intends to train her as his replacement as the super hero known as the Question. By the end of 52, Renee has redeemed herself and walked through the fire, and come out as a super-hero herself. She even had several adventures with her ex lover Batwoman as the all-new Question. Then DC Comics went and effed it all up when they did their “New 52” reboot a couple years back – the original Question is now back among the living, and Renee Montoya not only was never a super hero, but is seemingly nowhere to be found in any capacity. Which totally sucks.
2.Hulkling and 1.Wiccan
Yet another gay Marvel couple. And this time, they’re teenagers! Take that, Christian Right Wing! When Marvel’s Young Avengers series was announced in 2005, fandom had a very skeptical eye towards it. It seemed like a knock-off of DC’s Teen Titans, something Marvel has never really done before. Two of the all-new team members were Hulkling, real name Teddy Altman, a young blonde analogue for the Incredible Hulk; and Asgardian, real name Billy Kaplan, who at first seemed an analogue for Thor. These analogues were fake-outs though; Teddy was really a Skrull who could mimic Hulk’s abilities, and Billy was really the son of the Scarlet Witch. Neither of them had any real relations to the Hulk or Thor in any way.
As the series progressed, fandom embraced the series for its clever writing and strong characterization. As early as the second issue, openly gay writer/creator Allan Heinberg dropped hints that the two young heroes were more than friends, something readers picked up on pretty fast. He had originally planned to out them as a gay couple at the end of his run on the book (issue #12) but let the cat out of the bag early at the San Diego Comic-Con during a panel. By this point, everyone had figured it out anyway. Although the two were finally officially outed as a couple in the final issue of the first run of Young Avengers, It would be another five years or so before the couple was seen smooching in Avengers: The Children’s Crusade. In the current run of Young Avengers though, they are portrayed as gettin’ snugly all the time.
Funny side note: Quickly into the series, once Heinberg got the final approval from his editor to make Billy and Teddy a couple, Billy dropped his “Asgardian” code-name and became “Wiccan” instead. The “in-story” reason is that Billy was revealed to be connected to the Scarlet Witch, not the actual Asgardian Thor. But the real reason? Way too many easy jokes can be made of a gay male character with a name that sounds like “Ass-Guardian.”