Guest Blogger Jeremy Vine looks at the most famous Queer Characters in the Comic Book World.
Superhero comics push a lot of story-telling boundaries and often touch on some very topical issues, but let’s be honest, they aren’t always down with the rainbow.
Over the years there have been a lot of characters who would fall into the category of ‘queer’ but not as many who would qualify for the modern definition of LGBTQI. However, there are more (certainly more now than there have been) than you’d expect, and quite high profile ones too. Here’s some of the most recent series to feature major queer characters.
Constantine the character has been around since the early 1990s, originating in the envelope-pushing imprint of DC known as Vertigo Comics. However, since 2011 he has been exclusively used in the DC Comics universe, receiving his own title in 2012. John Constantine is a trickster magician, a demonologist, a wizard, and a con man. He’s often only marginally better than the evil he’s fighting and ends up getting a lot of people killed, which doesn’t do much for his love life.
In his original title, Hellblazer, John Constantine had relationships with both men and women of the course of the nearly twenty year run. When NBC decided to make a TV series about the character, they specifically stated that he would not be bisexual, which was disappointing to a lot of fans. However, the series only lasted one season so perhaps any future adaptations of the character will be keep this aspect of the character.
In the most recent comics featuring the character, he hasn’t had a romantic relationship with anyone save Zatanna, but his past and former lovers of both sexes have been referenced repeatedly. The current series, beginning with Constantine vol. 1, is definitely worth reading if you enjoy snarky anti-heroes.
Oh Harley. Harley Harley Harley. Real name: Harleen Quinzel (because comics!), criminal psychiatrist. Working at Arkham Asylum, she fell in love with the Joker, and decided to bust him out, dressed up as a harlequin and commit crimes with him. She’s the Joker’s “better” half, but he didn’t treat her right so she often goes on crime sprees with her best ‘gal pal’ Poison Ivy. (And yes I’m using ‘gal pal’ in the same way the media does about Kristen Stewart.)
Harley is a fascinating character when she isn’t being used as a foil to the Joker. Originally created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for Batman: the Animated Series, Quinn’s popularity led to her being introduced into the main comics as well. Over the years she’s had a couple of solo series but her most successful is the current run, written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. It’s light-hearted and could even at times be called goofy, but every moment is fun.
Away from the Joker (and the brooding of Batman), Harley becomes a loveable anti-hero; still prone to violence and the occasional psychotic act, but it’s made very clear that she sees herself as the good guy. The series revisits the Harley/Poison Ivy relationship and makes it very clear that their bond goes beyond ‘friendship’. The best place to start is Harley Quinn vol. 1, although you could also try the new spin-off series, Harley Quinn and Power Girl.
Batwoman is by far the most high profile of all of DC’s queer characters. Originating in 2005 during the 52 epic, she took the place of Batman in Gotham City while he was off training to become a better Batman. She was a former lover of Renee Montoya, a member of the Gotham City Police Department, and it was hinted during the course of the series that this relationship would rekindle. Batwoman’s latest series began with her in a relationship with Maggie Sawyer, a police captain. While at one point they were engaged to be married, this didn’t quite pan out, but the less said about that the better.
Kate Kane is a different sort of vigilante to Batman – her first volume deals with a supernatural threat stealing and drowning children, whereas Batman is heavily grounded in crime families and mob bosses (and the Joker). In comparison, the other Bat-family titles are light and fluffy (and one of them involves the Joker removing his own face).
A later story arc has Kate in a relationship with a vampire, although that is the result of brainwashing. This series of Batwoman, written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, has been received with much praise by fans – it starts with Batwoman vol. 1: Hydrology.
The Earth-2 series reimagined the classic Justice Society of America in an alternate universe, one where the Justice League had already fallen to an alien invasion. One of the founding members was Alan Scott, who was given phenomenal power as the hero Green Lantern. Alan was introduced with his fiance who unfortunately died soon after. While Alan hasn’t really had another love interest since then, this was a major step forward, as the origin of the character dates back to the earliest days of comics.
The best place to start with this series is right at the beginning – Earth-2 vol. 1: The Gathering. Sure, it deals with a lot of backstory and Alan’s poor fiancee dies very early on, but it keeps the action coming and the characters are memorable. Volume 1 was illustrated by Australian artist Nicola Scott (who is amazing) and the following volumes were written by Australian writer Tom Taylor (who is also amazing).
As a team book, not every character gets the full focus of the story, so as long as you’re prepared for some of your favourites to occasionally sit a story out, it will be enjoyable. Unlike the other titles, this series takes place in an alternate universe, so you can read it without having to worry about any tie-ins with other books.
Selina Kyle, better known as Catwoman, has been one of Batman’s villains since the 1940s but has had her own title a number of times since then. Sometimes a villain, sometimes an anti-hero, Selina has been a central part of Gotham for over seventy years. Most recently, she’s played the role of mob boss to one of the crime families in Gotham City.
Selina has been a love interest for both Bruce Wayne and Batman since some of her earliest appearances, and it’s not uncommon for her and Bruce to have married in alternate universes. However, Catwoman came out as bisexual in a highly publicised story featuring an old flame who had returned as an antagonist. While this is a new development in the character’s long history, many other writers have hinted at Selina’s bisexuality. In many instances, flashbacks to her early days as a criminal/activist show her with an extremely close friendship with another woman (who for one reason or another, is no longer around).
The new series builds on these hints and has made them explicit. The storyline involving Catwoman’s new relationship began when Genevieve Valentine took over writing duties and can be found collected in Catwoman vol. 6: Keeper of the Castle.
Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner Gordon, doesn’t identify as queer (although fan fiction might beg to differ) but members of her supporting cast certainly are. The initial run in the New 52, written by Gail Simone, introduced Alysia Yeoh as Barbara’s roommate. Alysia is a transgender woman who shares her secret with Barbara, who in turn reveals her secret identity as Batgirl. A later story has Alysia filling in for Barbara as Bat-girl (although not in costume, just carrying a baseball bat) when Barbara has been injured by a villain.
After a change of creative teams, Alysia left the series but was replaced by a number of other characters, some of whom identify as queer. The new creative team of Brendan Fletcher and Babs Tarr had a small setback with some transphobic language regarding one villain, but after seeing fan reaction, they quickly issued an apology and removed the offensive content from the collected trade paperback. This has made the series one of the best in terms of inclusiveness to the queer community.
There are two great runs of Batgirl available – the one written by Gail Simone, starting with Batgirl vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection and the new Fletcher/Tarr series, which starts with Batgirl vol. 1: Batgirl of Burnside.
Jeremy Vine has been hooked on comics since he taught himself to read with the help of Asterix and Tintin. When not dressing up in costumes and attending pop culture conventions, he is an account manager for Penguin Random House Australia.