Rather than explore how homosexuality has been portrayed in comics over the last fifty or more years and dwelling on an era that refused to embrace or tolerate any kind of diversity, I feel it might be more interesting to explore the (very) recent trend in both online and print comics of fairer representation for LGBTQIA characters. Perhaps it hasn’t become completely commonplace, but gay characters are gaining acceptance in the mainstream realm of comics, and this is what I tend to explore – the new way that gay characters are starting to be depicted in modern comics.
The first, and obviously strongest example of this is Billy Kaplan and Teddy Altman of Marvel’s Young Avengers series. Two teenage superheroes, one a mutant (Magneto’s freaking grandson, how effing cool is that??) and the other a shape changing alien, these two boys are in a deeply committed relationship in their comic series, and have struggled with massive, world-destroying forces in order to preserve their union. Billy and Teddy, or Wiccan and Hulkling if you want to call them by their superhero titles, are probably one of the single best representations of gay characters in modern comics. They are well-developed characters, realistic as people, important to their stories, and struggle with real problems that their audiences can identify with. Marvel has put itself at the forefront of bringing LGBTQIA characters into the mainstream.
Another comic that has done a great deal to accept diverse sexual orientations and be inclusive toward gay characters is Homestuck, by Andrew Hussie. Homestuck is a webcomic, one that has a fanbase of over 2 million unique readers. It is a bizarre combination of the ridiculous, the epic, the hilarious, the hideously depressing, and the uplifting. It features an immense cast of characters, the vast majority of which belong to a race of space aliens that are explicity bisexual.
Several of the human characters are also bisexual or homosexual, and at one point in the comics one of the characters even saves the day by, well… by setting in motion a chain of events along the time continuum that starts, and ends, with his coming to terms with his sexuality and making out with the decapitated head of his male love interest which, of course, resurrects him. The blatant way the characters refer to sexual orientation, the refusal to make it a big deal, the refusal of the author to use a primarily heterosexual cast, is one of the best possible ways to deal with sexuality in terms of story telling that I’ve come across. By refusing to center the story around the sexuality of its characters, Hussie creates an air of normality that does a lot to help gay characters seem like an ordinary occurrence.
Of course an exploration of the changing attitude towards gays in comics has to include mention of last year’s marriage of Northstar to his partner Kyle. Northstar’s marriage was plastered on the front of the comic issue, and was treated widely as an exciting event in the world of comics. Within the comic itself the characters struggled with homophobia and nonacceptance, but of course got to have their wedding because love won through in the end.ner Kyle in the Astonishing X-men.
Finally, I think it’s important to make mention of The Young Protectors, by Alex Woolfson, a traditional super hero genre comic being published one page per week online. The main character, Kyle, is a young gay super hero who has been seduced by an older archvillain. Kyle is a really interesting role model for kids, especially young gay boys struggling with their sexualities. What he’s going through in the comic right now might be a bit adult in theme, but Kyle’s struggles seem very real and he is an awesome step towards acceptance.
Now, not everyone shares this change in attitude towards one of acceptance. The editors at DC recently forbade the writers of Batwoman from marrying the caped crusader to the woman she’s in love with. There was no good reason given for this, and the air of intolerance caused the writers to quit working for DC. Other comic companies share this attitude. But if writers like Andrew Hussie, Woolfson, and the good people at Marvel continue their good work, then hopefully acceptance of LGBTIQA characters in comics will become commonplace, accepted, and sooner or later won’t even require further comment.