Comics Gone Gay

Gay mutant Northstar and his partner tied the knot in Marvel Comics’ Astonishing X-Men #51 last month.
CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Gays have long had a love for fantasy and sci-fi genres of entertainment. There’s something about the escapism that fantasy offers which proves irresistible to us, and we certainly include comic books in that realm. Diving from our lives in an often oppressive reality where we are still despised into the colorful world of costumed superheroes, magical powers, and good usually triumphing over evil can have a mightily therapeutic effect on our spirits.

“Many queer comic book fans got into this medium because the issues that our beloved heroes faced were in many ways our own: double-life secret identities, being forced to live in a world that fears and hates us, an unexplainable fascination with adonis physiques in skin-tight spandex,” said Matthew Lehosit, Brand Manager at Cartoon Network and a writer.

And yet, for the longest time dating from the inception of the comics industry, GLBT’s had to content ourselves with those representations of traditional physical ideals and stereotypes. In other words, gay men only had archetypal heroes including Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Captain America to look up to. Because comic books had traditionally been targeted to males, lesbians had possibly fewer choices like Wonder Woman, Catwoman, and Storm from X-Men.

There simply were no gay characters in mainstream comic book titles. We had to settle for whatever veiled, coded subtexts we psychologically projected into them, in turn hoping for our fantasies to look back out at us and say “We’re in here, and we’re queer!”

Although many of the stereotypes were still firmly entrenched in mainstream titles by iconic American publishers DC Comics and Marvel, many European comic book houses and underground American publishers had already long been blazing trails with the inclusion of radical queer characters and situations in their titles. Things began to change Stateside in the 1990’s, when DC, Marvel, and other emerging independent brands saw the light of changing social conventions and began slowly incorporating more supporting gay and lesbian characters into their titles. It was a start, but the road ahead was still long.

The straight-laced world of Archie Andrews was forever changed with the same-sex marriage between Kevin Keller and his partner in Life With Archie #16.
CREDIT: Archie Comics

The good news is that the road is leading into a clearing. In April 2010, a new Archie Comics character, Kevin Keller, was introduced as openly gay. In January 2012, Kevin – an Iraq veteran – married his same-sex partner Clay Walker – an African-American doctor – in Life with Archie #16. Of course, conservative Christian groups were red-faced and enraged at what they perceived as yet another assault on traditional family values. Delightfully though, the gay marriage issue has sold out, and the Archie Comics group continues to stand by its decision.

“Kevin Keller is definitely an interesting case, because the Archie brand is thought to be so incredibly squeaky clean,” said Lehosit. “I think that Archie Comics saw that their brand was stale, and sought to redefine the Riverdale world with modern topics and themes by exploring them with the same ‘gee golly’ attitude that their characters have always displayed. And it got them a LOT of attention, and it is helping their brand.”

Moreover, some of the costumed superheroes we still look up to are coming around and coming out. In the second issue of DC Comics’ new Earth Two comic series that hit shelves last month, which reinvents the history and mythos of a number of major characters, Alan Scott – the original Green Lantern – is already a matter-of-factly out gay man. In Marvel’s Astonishing X-Men #51, also released last month, hero Northstar his boyfriend Kyle tie the knot.

“Marvel and DC are both taking advantage of an emerging trend, and queer fans can rejoice in that fact, regardless of whether it is a ploy or not,” said Lehosit. “I do think that these characters will sway opinions for the mainstream that invests their time in comic books, but even with all that it is doing right, I have to point out that there has to be a more diverse casting of queer characters before real progress is made.”

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