The Most Iconic LGBTQ Superheroes in Comic Books
“Wonder Woman identified as Queer” were headlines last month, but it’s been the case for decades — if you knew where to look. And she’s not the only one — far from it. Alan Scott, Aqualad, Daken, Captain Britain, Miss America, Shatterstar, Rictor, Karolina Dean, Xavin, Angela and Prodigy, the list goes on and on — queer superheroes have long been a part of the DNA of the supehero genre in every era. They’ve survived draconian editorial mandates, the Comics Code Authority and the Congressional inquiry sparked by Frederic Wertham’s criticisms of the comic book industry. Subtle workarounds, vague impressions, and comic book store conjecture became the safest spaces for these heroes to exist in the hopes that eagle-eyed readers would pick up the hints given by creators.
But as the world has slowly become a more accepting place and the archaic structures that limited the kinds of stories that could be told were removed, LGBTQ superhero fans have been treated to a bevy of new, retconned and finally confirmed queer heroes. As new heroes are created and older ones come out, the complexities of human sexuality are being woven into the superhero genre, and comic books in particular, in new ways.
#1 Wonder Woman
Until recently, Wonder Woman’s status as a queer character was contentious. She was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist (and inventor of the lie detector test), who believed that society itself would be better off in the hands of women rather than men. Based on a combination of his partners, Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne, Diana Prince was born into Marston’s ideal vision and embodied his views on feminism. After Marston’s death, the two women continued his work, imbuing the character with a passion for social justice and maintaining the queer identity that is central to the character’s earliest days.
Over the years, the subversive nature of Wonder Woman had been lost as more writers took her on adventures more fitting a superhero than a feminist icon and her sexuality was defined in more binary terms due to relationships with Steve Trevor, Batman, and Superman. But “Rebirth”’s Wonder Woman writer Greg Rucka took a definitive stance saying, “the answer is obviously yes,” when asked about her sexuality, reaffirming that Wonder Woman has been and continues to be a queer character for all time.
A military brat. A socialite. A caped crusader. A lesbian? Kate Kane’s military upbringing didn’t make it easy for her to embrace her sexuality but her struggle definitely informed her heroism. While different writers have had varying degrees of success with Batwoman, there was no doubt about her sexuality from the beginning and fans embraced the character immediately, first in Detective Comics and then in a critically-acclaimed solo title. Before the launch of the “New 52,” her relationship with GCPD Detective Renee Montoya was up there with our last entry on our list as a paragon for well-written, nuanced queer relationships, and their visibility helped open up doors for many other characters moving forward.
DC originally balked at the idea of Kate Kane getting married during the “New 52” relaunch to her then-fiancee Maggie Sawyer based on Dan DiDio’s assertion that DC heroes “…put on a cape and cowl for a reason. They’re committed to defending others — at the sacrifice of all their own personal instincts.” But with the return of a married Superman, Kate Kane is back at the center of Detective Comics and Renee Montoya back from her “New 52”-induced purgatory, the future looks promising for Batwoman.
#3 Apollo & Midnighter
Originally created as analogues of Batman and Superman, Apollo and Midnighter were among the first openly-gay superheroes in comic bookss and were certainly the most visible gay superhero couple in the late 90s and early 00s. When the Wildstorm Universe was folded into the DCU proper, they maintained their sexualities but their relationship was either off or completely erased before Steve Orlando’s Midnighter affirmed that they dated but were broken up in the “New 52.”
However, the success of that run has led to a renewed interest in the characters and the World’s Finest Couple is together again in the “Rebirth” era with the new Midnighter & Apollo title.
Ol’ Hellblazer has been confirmed bisexual since Brian Azzarello’s “Ashes & Dust in the City of Angels,” treating the character’s queerness in a matter-of-fact way that has allowed other writers to explore exactly what that means for the wayward magician. Bisexual writer James Tynion IV’s recent ruminations on the character have reaffirmed Constantine’s fluid attraction and have helped expand the kinds of stories that queer superhero characters can be expected to be a part of.