Holding Out For a Gay (Super)Hero!

LGBTQ Characters in Mainstream Superhero Comics

(This post is part of GayYA‘s blogathon for the whole of the month of April. Go check out the other posts!)

“I heard the whistle of a train as it approached the crossing. I reached my arm around Goran, pulled him in, and our lips met. It felt like flying.”
Perry Moore, HERO

So, I write for teenagers. For young adults. These kids need a gay superhero just as much as they need the supposedly more acceptable – and certainly more commonly represented – straight ones.

We are all – every single one of us – born with the beautiful potential both to love and to be loved. That’s the only thing that matters, in my view. Simplistic? Maybe. But does that make it any less true, or less right? Anything else is just an attempt to force something as natural as love into a form that is less offensive challenging to those who can’t see this simple truth.

When I was growing up, I loved comic books. We’d get US imports over in the UK, and I read everything I could get my hands on. Of course, back in the 1980s, I don’t remember reading a whole lot of superhero comics starring LGBT characters. But now it’s 2011… A lot of time has passed.

Let’s just think about that for a moment.

2011. Dudes. We’re practically living in the future, you know?

Thankfully, there have been some positive changes in the mainstream superhero comics industry, but in my humble opinion not nearly enough. Especially when it comes to representing gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered characters – heroes and heroines – that young readers can identify with. I think that’s a shame. I may be an adult (allegedly) and I may be the ‘S’ in Straight, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been the ‘Q’ in LGBTQ once upon a time. I’m sure there are many teens who question their sexuality; isn’t that pretty damn normal? So wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do something as… you know… normal as picking up a comic book that has a brightly-yet-inappropriately-clad heroine flying around, who might be a little less than straight?

I think that would be pretty cool.

Luckily for us, there are creators like Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung bringing us comics as awesome as the Young Avengers.*

*I know this makes me a total geek, but I love how the initials for Young Avengers are ‘YA‘ – okay, I’ll shut up now. πŸ˜‰

My favourite thing about these comics, hands down, is the relationship between Hulkling (Teddy Altman) and Wiccan (Billy Kaplan). Don’t get me wrong, I love the stories and all of the characters – I really do. But Teddy and Billy are just so ridiculously cute together (sorry, I can’t help myself!), and so right as a couple. Their relationship is portrayed in a realistic and refreshingly ordinary way, which works particularly well against the extraordinary backdrop of superhero shenanigans. I like that Heinberg has the boys being open about their sexuality, and about their growing feelings for one another, while not making the comics revolve around it. These aren’t comics centred on issues. No, we are given kick-ass stories with a whole group of brilliant characters – a couple of whom just happen to be gay (and falling love – yay!).

Billy and Teddy in one of their awesomely cute moments.

It’s good to see a mainstream comics publisher like Marvel putting out titles with young LGBTQ characters that represent true diversity, and I hope to see more in the future. There does seem to be a gradual shift (a tiny one, but at least it’s happening!) with, for example, lesbian and transgender main characters in Marvel’s teen Runaways comic. Of course, there are quite a few other LGBT superhero characters in comics, but I’m talking specifically about young adult characters in a starring role.

I’m happy to say that the Young Avengers are back – after their first successful run a few years ago – this time in Avengers: The Children’s Crusade. It’s currently available monthly from your LCS.* Go check it out!

*Local Comic Shop

Further Reading:

A quick shout out for a YA novel about a gay superhero: Perry Moore‘s HERO. Sadly, Mr. Moore passed away just a couple of months ago. His essay and accompanying list – Who Cares About the Death of a Gay Superhero Anyway? – are recommended reading.

Please also read this fantastic Gay Times interview with writer Allan Heinberg. Among other things, Heinberg talks about the difference between writing LGBT characters for comics and for television (he has written and produced shows such as Gilmore Girls, The O.C. and Grey’s Anatomy). The whole thing is well worth your time, but I particularly love this:

JG: There are a large number of LGBT fans of comics. What do you feel attracts people of our community to comic books, and in particular superhero stories?

AH: Super hero comics tend to be about outsiders β€” people who are not accepted by the mainstream β€” or who feel they don’t belong there β€” who nonetheless strive and sacrifice to save the very people who rejected them in the first place. Even poor Superman is constantly struggling to prove to himself and to the world that he’s worthy of his adopted humanity. As a closeted gay kid growing up in Oklahoma in the 1970β€²s, I completely identified with that struggle. Even now, I find it enormously moving.

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19 Responses to Holding Out For a Gay (Super)Hero!

  1. Renee Sweet says:

    “Are we about to make out in Avengers headquarters?”
    “The minute you stop talking.”

    LOL! I *love* that. Great post!!

  2. This post is ace – and that young superhero couple ARE ridiculously cute. ‘I’m not talking anymore. As of now. That was the last talking’. *Dies* I must find this comic and buy it and snuggle it. Rock on, Kaz.

    • Kaz says:

      Rock on yourself! πŸ™‚

      Yeah, it’s a great comic. You could start with the Young Avengers trade paperback that collects issues 1-12. It’s out in paperback now.

  3. Alexandra says:

    You know what I’ve noticed that makes me sad, though? Gay men are represented a lot more than gay women–not that either group is at all well or widely represented.

    • Kaz says:

      I think that’s a good point. I don’t have any data to support it, but I would say you’re right in general. Certainly in YA fiction. In comics, there ARE some awesome lesbian characters, including Batwoman who is one of DC’s most prominent characters – with her own ongoing comic forthcoming. Runaways, which I mentioned, has a lesbian couple (one of whom could actually be classified transgender, as she shapeshifted from boy to girl so she could be with the lesbian character she falls in love with).

      And then, what about bisexual characters in comics? I didn’t have time to do the necessary research, which is why I limited my piece to mainstream superhero comics – with a specific focus on the Young Avengers (as it was supposed to be a post for a young adult project). But, yep: there can always be more diversity represented.

      Thanks for the comment, m’dear! πŸ™‚

      • YA-fan says:

        We should not forget that in series and movies that includes BOTH gay and lesbian couples the lesbians ALWAYS get more screen-time (with kissing and sexual interferences and so on). But I agree that there should be more of both in comics :3

  4. Firewolf says:

    OH good post. Thanks for sharing! Great progress and I hope we get more of that soon.

    The YA and Young Avengers is pretty cute.

  5. trish says:

    I’m so pumped when you delve into your knowledge of comics! You make me wish I read them. And I love this post! Watching ‘Kick-Ass’ the other day I was thinking, ‘hmm, this movie actually acknowledges the existence of gay people’ but it was in a feeble sort of way–the filmmakers are sort of treading water but not actually swimming. Even though I don’t read comics, I would love to see gay superheroes in movies. It’s great to know that there is something out there in print. I hope there will be more!

    • Kaz says:

      Thank you! πŸ™‚ I love talking about comics. I am really, more and more, getting back into the whole culture of superhero comics. I tried my own tumblr for a while, which is good for keeping up with this stuff, but it was just too much with the blog and twitter, etc.

      I’d love for you to read Hero by Perry Moore, if you haven’t yet. I am going to give it to you – no arguments! πŸ™‚

  6. ThisViewOfMine says:

    I received my bookplate today! πŸ™‚ Thank you.

    • ThisViewOfMine says:

      Forgot to add this to the above msg. Im being very A.D.D. today.

      I like the bookplate. When you said they were hand made you weren’t kidding.(but i like that, I used to stamp/scrapebook) It reminds me alot of the valentine cards kids hand out in elementary school.

      • Kaz says:

        I’m glad it reached you safely! Also, yes… I wasn’t kidding. haha! I just didn’t have the time/money etc. to have ‘professional’ ones made, and then I didn’t just want to send out blank ones. So I took aaaages finding something that sort of fitted the book – and was plain (but green!) – and then got those stickers made. Phew!


  7. Neil says:

    Hey Kaz great post, πŸ™‚ I would like to point out that there have actually been loads of LGBT in the world of comics, the reason that there seems to be so few is because THEY ALL GET KILLED OFF! Seriously thats no joke, and they all die horribly, after about 5 or 6 issues, and if they don’t die horribly then they simply disappear or as with the case of Shatterstar of X-force and Green Arrow II who were both originally written as gay, are rewritten as straight!!!

    Karen has used the lovely relationship between Teddy and Billy of the young avengers as a fantastic case about positive representation, which she is absolutely right in doing so, my only problem with this story line is that Teddy, Billy and the Lesbian Character Karolina Dean from the runaways get singled out in the series Civil War for horrific torture while their straight team mates are left more or less unscathed! Again GRRRR

    Although they are not the first gay positive role model/s there has actually been a positive gay hero that has been out for years, and was actually a massive revelation for me way back when, unfortunately he gets overlooked. He is none other than Alpha Flights North Star (who later joined the X-Men).

    N x

    • Kaz says:

      Well, you already know what I think about this because we talked about it the other day! πŸ˜‰

      And I’m glad I finally managed to get the comment to post. *sigh* I took out the links and only had to edit very slightly. Huzzah!


      • Neil says:

        Sozzy πŸ™‚

        Now stop feeding your internet addiction, and write lady WRITE, lol.

        See you soon hopefully πŸ™‚


        P.S. I have found a tote that is metallic shiny blue, like the Mac shizzle, that I have christened the ‘WONDER WOMAN’ I shall be purchasing on Wednesday. I can’t wait to show you. GOD it would look so good with those trainers!!!

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