LGBTQ Characters in Mainstream Superhero Comics

By Karen Mahoney

“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 the 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.

Karen Mahoney is the author of THE IRON WITCH trilogy and a proud geek. Visit her online at: www.kazmahoney.com