In the first article for the LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Group's blog takeover to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Avery Warner discusses LGBTQIA+ representation in comics and how much bigotry there is in the wider community.
There is one immediate question I must address in the beginning, why am I writing about comic books? Surely there’s more immediate issues and topics to be covered? Well, in the last 10-20 years comics have had a greater influence on modern culture and other media like films and television. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) alone stands as a testament to this growing influence with the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), The Walking Dead and Riverdale also being based on comics. With more TV shows and films based on comics in production, the influence of comics on mainstream culture is here to stay. Since comics are a growing influence it makes sense to investigate just how much representation there is of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as how much bigotry there is in comics and in the wider community.
The most basic foundation to start with is representation of LGBTQIA+ characters, which is a pretty mixed bag. There has been a growth of major LGBTQIA+ characters in the comics of the big two companies, Marvel and Detective Comics (DC) when compared to the past. Marvel has major LGBTQIA+ characters like America Chavez, Sera, Valkyrie and Hulkling and Wiccan whilst DC has characters like Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Alysia Yeoh and Aqualad as major LGBTQIA+. This representation is certainly better than the LGBTQIA+ representation found in comics before the 2000’s with significant confirmed non-cishet characters being much rarer, limited to Northstar from Marvel and Coagula and the married couple of Midnighter and Apollo from DC. Any other LGBTQIA+ characters were either so minor as to be forgettable, sidekicks with limited character development or characters that were subtly implied to be non-cishet or were queercoded. The first transgender character in Marvel comics was Jessie Drake, a kidnapped mutant who came out as trans and promptly never made another appearance. Thankfully, starting in the 2000’s, Marvel and DC have created characters who are both LGBTQIA+ and multi-faceted rather than crude stereotypes of non-cishet people. However, not all groups in the community are properly represented. Marvel only has 19 transgender characters in their main universe with most of them having made only a handful of appearances. DC on the other hand, has 6 transgender characters in their main universe, with one of those being a sentient street. The representation of asexuality is nearly non-existent with Marvel only having one asexual character, known as The Truth, and DC matching that with one character of their own in their main universe. That character is Tremors, who isn’t as weird as most other characters so she has that going for her.
That’s not to say that Marvel and DC are the pinnacle of LGBTQIA+ representation, they’ve certainly managed to use homophobic, transphobic and biphobic cliches and concepts. DC made the incredibly short-sighted decision to hire Orson Scott Card to write a Superman comic series. This doesn’t sound too bad, until it was pointed out that Card is as opposed to same-sex marriage as a single person can be and even believed it was a sign of a declining democracy, with DC only putting the story on hold when there was large fan backlash over the appointment. Marvel isn’t innocent either. In 2020 they announced two new characters which managed to cause near-universal condemnation. The two characters announced were called Snowflake and Safespace, with the names alone creating a poor start. Snowflake was also announced to be non-binary, meaning that they would be the first non-binary superhero in Marvel comics. Whilst this would have been a great achievement to reach, the poor design (especially the name) as well as how Snowflake ended up being viewed as a tokenistic attempt at representation that was done in an attempt get more of the pink pound.
Outside of the big two, a wide range of LGBTQIA+ representation can be found in comics from other companies with notable examples being Lumberjanes, The Infinite Loop and Raven: The Pirate Princess. I would dive more into LGBTQIA+ representation outside of the big two but that would make this drag on more than anyone could possibly want, and for the time being it’s Marvel and DC that are having the most influence.
So, what is the state of representation in comic books, specifically in the top two? Comparing it to 20 or 30 years ago, it looks much more positive. There’s a much larger number of LGBTQIA+ characters and they aren’t merely background characters or characters who play a prominent part for a few issues before dropping of the face of the world. Some of these characters are likely to even come to the screen with America Chavez, Hulkling and Wiccan rumoured to be entering the MCU while Batwoman has her own TV show. Despite this improvement, the industry still has a way to go before homophobia, transphobia and biphobia are rooted out. There are still too few trans and asexual characters of actual significance and recent examples show that they can too easily slip into tokenism instead of representation.
Avery M Warner is the Policy Officer for the LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Group in the Young Fabians as well as the LGBT+ Officer in the North East Young Fabians
 Rushe, D. (2013) ‘DC Comics under fire for hiring anti-gay writer to pen Superman’ The Guardian, 11 February, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/feb/11/dc-comics-homophobic-writer-superman (accessed: 15th May 2021)
 Parsons, V. (2020) ‘Marvel reveals its first non-binary superhero, Snowflake, and the backlash is blistering’ Pink News, 20 March, available at: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2020/03/20/marvel-comics-snowflake-new-warriors-black-non-binary-safespace-backlash/ (accessed: 15th May 2021)