Monday, November 26, 2012

10 Favorite LGBT Themed Comics

So here's another for the 10 Favorites category, which have all been comic book related for some reason. Well, why stop now? Specifically my ten favorite LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) themed comics. Not heroes, but actual comics.

Now not all of these might be politically correct, and there's at least one on the list that could count as very offensive, but none the less we're doing this. Well, I'm doing this. You're just reading. Well, hopefully you are. Else I'm talking to myself right now. Anyway, hit the jump.

10. X-Statix
Today if you talk about homosexuality in comic books, you're most likely going to hear a name like Alan Scott, who was once the original Green Lantern, but is currently due to DC Comics' relaunch now just a guy from an alternate reality known as Earth 2. You might even hear of others from the books I'll be mentioning, but back in 2003 there was a surprisingly low amount of characters with an alternate lifestyle that weren't walking jokes or villains, at least when it came to male heroes. Then the team of X-Statix had a book, and we were introduced to Phat (William Robert "Billy-Bob" Reilly) and Vivisector (Myles Alfred.)
Beauty & the Geek?
The X-Statix team were actually stars of a reality show, and to help boost ratings Vivisector (the furry one) and Phat (the umm... not always fat one) decided to fake a relationship in the hopes of boosting ratings. This was an awesome plot line because it not only called out the use of false homosexuality to sell product, but also -for many open minded fans- mocked the use of gay characters in comics. Usually gay characters were obviously just coming out of the closet for book sales. Myles was a geek who transformed into a sort of werewolf, whereas Billie-Bob was an obvious Eminem spoof, and the two were a surprising couple, even if you knew it was faked. In the end, however, Billie-Bob & Myles discovered they truly were gay, just not for each other. Unfortunately for them the X-Titles of books underwent a story line that saw dozens of mutants killed, including our favorite fake gay duo. Well, our second favorite fake gay duo, if we include some interpretations of Batman & Superman.

9. Rawhide Kid
Not to be outdone by the sudden popularity of "Queer Culture" in television that was brewing hard at the time, Marvel Comics decided to unveil a series centered around a gay character of their own. Now they had numerous gay characters already, but that wasn't shocking enough. No, they wanted to do the camp thing. The formula is one we've all seen a thousand times, take a heretofore straight character, and completely revamp said character into a mockery of gay stereotypes. Thus the reinvisioning of the Rawhide Kid came about in a series actually called Slapping Leather. I'll let that sink in.
Making a cowboy and Indian doing the YMCA dance "subtle."

I'm sorry but... AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, I love this book! Trust me when I say this, but this was hysterical, but for all the wrong reasons. The newly revamped Rawhide Kid, which I assume they chose for the new role simply for the name, was completely pandering to gay men clichés. To be honest it was completely tongue and cheek, almost every sentence was an innuendo, and really was fairly innocent in it's insensitive way. None the less people were offended, on both sides of the camp (no pun intended.) Many of the LGBT community saw it as an a front to alternative lifestyles and respect to said lifestyles, while the God fearing were incensed that their children would come face to face with a literal cowboy from the gay rodeo. The book was overshadowed by the hate hype, and unfortunately few people saw it for what it really kind of was. A kitchy homage to camp itself. I can't say that's what it was intended to be, but that's certainly how I saw it. Still, unfortunately for the Rawhide Kid, the anger his coming out caused is far more humorous than the story itself.

8. X-Factor
Okay, so we have another entry in the X-Titles of books. No surprise here since Marvel Comics has used mutants, and as such every X-Title out there, as a fill in for pretty much any, and all minorities facing persecution. Many compare the original X-Men stories involving the anti-mutant sentiment to be a stand-in for blacks and other minorities in the US, and technically elsewhere. At times stories have drawn comparisons between mutants and the Jews, and on to the recent social backlash towards those of various other Middle Eastern descents. Naturally, as less and less racism is evident (yeah, I know that's a lie, but that's how many people view it) the mutants as a racial minority started to lose it's touch. So naturally the next step is to involve mutants and homosexuality. Interestingly, the earlier mentioned X-Statix would, at one time, also be known as X-Factor.
Rictor, making the earth shake for Shatterstar in more than one way.
This outing was somewhat surprising. X-Factor, historically, has been a book that served two main purposes. The first was it allowed the growing "uncool" characters from the main X-Men book a series of their own, while allowing the X-Men to stay fresh and hip. At least that's my view of it. The original X-Factor were the original five X-Men members, after all, after the X-Men roster was filled with newer and edgier characters. However X-Factor would grow to serve it's second purpose, that of a book for C and D-List mutants, which is where the X-Factor team I'm talking about comes in (officially known as X-Factor Investigations, a mutant detective agency.) Around this time Julio Richter (Rictor) was actually in a relationship with one Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane) a woman who could, like the earlier mentioned Vivisector, sort of turn into a type of werewolf. However she left to join Wolverine's X-Force, leaving Julio alone. Afterwards a masked man attacked X-Factor, and it was revealed to be Shatterstar himself, a being from the Mojoworld, a possible alternate future timeline. Shatterstar was being controlled by Madrox at the time, and like most mind controlled heroes turned villains was able to snap out of it. Afterwards Julio and Shatterstar started an interesting relationship that saw Shatterstar wanting an open relationship in the hopes of experimenting with the sexual (something he had never done before) and Julio's old love Wolfsbane apparently (but wrongly) claiming Rictor to be the father of her unborn child.

7. Alpha Flight/X-Men
Any comic fan from the 90's knew this would be on the list. Alpha Flight is the not all that successful series about a team of Canadian patriots. The team itself is a bit of a mix between the X-Men teams and the government controlled Avengers teams. The books weren't very popular, and never really caught on in Canada, particularly because they dealt with a lot of cardboard cutouts. You had the Native American shaman, for example, promptly named Shaman. Of all things. But more than that you had Northstar & Aurora, but we're here to talk about Northstar, real name Jean Paul Beaubier, one of the very first openly gay characters in mainstream American comics.
As I've never seen before? But I've seen gay heroes insensitively written for years!
Maybe it's because I was much younger than the aforementioned Rawhide Kid, but I don't honestly remember the outrage that this comic apparently caused back in 1992. Wow. It was that long ago? Yeah. I was 10. Holy crap. Anyway, Northstar was always rumored to be gay, even I recall that. He was created in 1979, but it took 13 years to get the job done. He came out in a story that involved, of all things, an AIDs baby in a dumpster. Yes. They wrote that. That was the plot. I know, I know. Don't look at me, I never claimed this was handled well, I didn't write it. Still, it happened, and shortly after Alpha Flight was canceled and Northstar was not seen very often, and when he was let's just say it was often to make jokes. But then Northstar proved himself popular enough to appear as a mainstream X-Men member, where he's a hero who now happens to be gay, instead of a gay man who happens to be saving the world from Magneto. His sexuality, like many other characters, is no longer the purpose of the character. It might've taken years, but better late than never I suppose.

6. 52
Renee Montoya was first seen in the cartoon show Batman the Animated Series as a member of Gotham's police force, and was eventually folded into the comic canon. She served as one of the lead characters of 52, as the series often shifted between numerous others. While 52 itself was very tragic, the Question's death seems to stand out (along with Ralph Dibney, but that's for another list.) The Question came into Renee Montoya's life out of the blue, and led her down a sort of rabbit hole of self discovery, while unbeknownst to her or us, the reader, he was terminally ill with a Cancer. What's this have to do with LGBT themes? Nothing at all, the Question is male and Renee is a female. This was merely the main plot thread for Renee Montoya in 52, that of an alcoholic discovering inside herself a strength to become a hero thanks to the last adventure of a dying man. 52 had many subplots however, and one of them involved Katherine Kane (the newly appearing Batwoman) and their one time affair.
Imagine if they had done things like this in Batman the Animated Series
Unlike everything else on this list, thus far, the relationship between Renee Montoya and Kate Kane was not treated as this shocking or gigantic thing. In fact, the two were no longer involved with each other at the time of the story. However Renee crossed paths with Kate, who was herself another major character in the 52 series, numerous times, often seeking help. When the Question's health spiraled downward, it was Kate that Renee went to for help. There was a lot of tension between the two, Kate & Renee, but it wasn't sexual tension for the sake of making 13 year old and 40 year old fanboys drool, it was romantic tension. The two were written just as any straight couple would have been, where gender isn't a character trait qualifier, and were given human reactions and responses. After poorly received and written series involving gay men like the Rawhide Kid & Northstar, and the numerous women characters who were lesbians just for the sake of being sexier to a mostly straight male (and horny) audience, seeing two gay women treated like, well, people was quite nice. Given the backdrop of Renee's story, it was even heartwarming. While the two would appear in other books, including Detective Comics, where their relationship had continuing scenes, it's 52 where I think these two shine.

5. Mantra
So far we've been dealing with mostly gay men, and two gay women. Let's do something different shall we? Malibu Comics was an comic company that set most of it's comics in the so-called Ultraverse, a shared continuity like Marvel or DC's own, where heroes from several books and writers coexisted. It also helped Image Comics start up, and was unfortunately bought out by Marvel Comics and ultimately canceled in an event known as Black September. While some of the characters would be reestablished by Marvel, none were more brutally dealt with than Mantra. Why? Well, possibly because Mantra could be considered one of the first real and true transgendered heroes in mainstream comics.
A man inhabiting a woman's body, cross-dressing as a man. Comics are weird.
Mantra tells the tale of Lukaz a powerful magic user who, upon death was reincarnated and possessed the body of one Eden Blake. Doesn't sound so bad right? Well Lukaz was male, and Eden was female. Quite literally a man trapped inside the body of a woman. As Eden Lukaz was forced to deal with a number of gender and sexual based issues, such as being treated differently, being hit on by men and more than once having to deal with issues of physical modesty. In one scene s/he is naked, and Lukaz/Eden finds himself covering up with his hands, including the breasts. In this scene he actually realizes how odd it is for him to cover his own breasts, since he had always been a man and chest modesty was not something he really knew anything about. In another scene, where the above image takes place, he must now dress up as a man, and is smart enough to use a rolled up sock to mimic the bulge in his pants. While not truly transgendered in some senses of the word, Mantra was a surprisingly fantastic read that was able to use both humor and realism to deliver a respectable transgender and heroic character.

4. I was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space
I love this one so much I decided to use an image from it as the teaser image at the top. Written by Megan Rose (who also wrote YU+ME:dream), Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space tells the tale of Susan Bell a secretary from the 1950's being captured by a crew of, well, lesbian pirates from outer space. C'mon, with a title like that, what's not to love?
Lesbian Pirates told the story of a interstellar crew of aliens from the system of Lesbos who were kidnapping girls in an attempt to find their long lost princess. The entire series was tongue and cheek taking stabs at the ubiquitously straight Male Man, and yes even the lesbians, but unlike the Rawhide Kid above, it garnered no real media backlash. Probably because gay men are more controversial than gay women, but a good part of that probably had to do with the fact that Lesbian Pirates isn't a mainstream comic. A webcomic from DrunkDuck that was later picked up by Platinum Comics to sell in print, the first volume was printed in it's entirety in 2008. While in no real way "serious" it's still a fun read, and I'd also recommend YU+ME:dream.
You can read the entire Lesbian Pirates series here! I truly suggest you do.

3. (Various) Archie Comics
Oh, come now! You knew this would be on here so damned high. At least you would have, if you knew how much I love Archie Comics for doing this, as many people have called it, publicity stunt. Strangely I've always been a fan of Archie Comics - and when I say that, I mean the official Archie Comics, not those right wing religious comics that Archie Comics lent the license to for some time. My favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics were Archie comics even. Plus, I love the Archie/Punisher crossover. That was just fun.
An interracial AND homosexual couple? We're all going to hell.
Kevin Keller was introduced in Archie Comics' Veronica #202 in 2010, to a huge fanfare. Archie Comics weren't doing very well at the time, but still had a cult following of sorts, but the introduction of Keven (on the right in the above image) was a huge boost to sales thanks to the media attention it garnered. The comic sold out everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I went crazy looking for Veronica #202. I unfortunately still don't posses it, but I have read it. In the story Veronica wishes to romance Keven only to find he's gay. The character would end up with his own book, be retconned into the past of Archie's story (where he would become school president), fall in love with fellow militarian Clay, and eventually marry. And it wasn't all clean cut, to my surprise. There actually was anti-gay sentiment to be had in the town of Riverdale. It was, to some, surprisingly respectful. In response to the media's attention to the story, and to those who were quite upset, Jon Goldwater (co-CEO) stated, and I quote, "Archie's hometown of Riverdale has always been a safe world for everyone. It just makes sense to have an openly gay character in Archie comic books." I have to say, it honestly does.

2. Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos
I admit I'm cheating with this one, and that's particularly bad considering the character is ranked so high on this list. The character in question is one Percival "Pinky" Pinkerton, who appeared in 1964's issue 8 of the series. He was an Englishman who was based heavily on the actor David Niven, and for a time spoke with an exaggerated accent in his word balloons, such as saying "lahst" instead of "last." He used an umbrella to great extent, both as a club, a fencing instrument like that of a sword, as well as slowing his descent during falls. His greatest fear was dying alone, but thankfully he didn't. After World War II, ass he succumbed to cancer, in his bed, Dum Dum Duggan (another 'Howler') held his hand as he took his last breath.
This is respectful by 1960's standards.
Pinky, err I mean Percy wasn't actually gay though. He was meant to be gay, originally, and written as a homosexual Englishman, but wasn't explicitly stated to be homosexual. The back story he was given in the comics has him as a womanizing skirt chaser, as opposed to the Stan Lee's later account of attempting to have a gay soldier in WWII. Despite that, many fans still view Pinky as a gay war hero, and many writers and artists do as well, even today. Before his death, like many of the Howlers, he was brought back as Nick Fury became head of the government/military organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. He was still very much gay, without actually being gay. It has become all but official that Percival Pinkerton was closeted his entire life, and never came out. Still, he fought valiantly with the Howling Commandos in Marvel Comic's version of WWII and proved himself a capable soldier and a man deserving of the Howler mantle. He could face enemy soldiers and vampires, but he never could face his own sexuality, a very realistic interpretation of a gay character in comics. Particularly when you consider that all other gay characters in media pretty much require one to come out and overcome adversary. Kind of makes Pinky stand out a bit.

1. The Young Avengers/The Avengers: the Children's Crusade
I admit there are literally THOUSANDS of comics I could have put here. But these are my favorites, and these are the ones I stand by, and I do so no more strongly than when it comes to the Young Avengers. The YA are a team of, well young Avengers. To be more precise a group of young heroes who (mostly) all have some kind of strong tie the regular Avengers. For example the team members of Wiccan and Speed turn out to be the reincarnated children of the Scarlet Witch. Sort of. But we're not here to talk about that, no, we're here to talk about Wiccan and teammate Hulkling.
Forget the interracial gay couple, this is an inter-species gay couple, we're going to super hell!
Hulkling, is the product of the alien races of the Kree and the Skrulls having one mated couple, and is the reluctant heir to the Skrull empire. Wiccan is a magic wielding Jewish hero who used to go by the name of Asgardian, until someone pointed out the jokes that would be made after his relationship with Hulkling became known. During the original Young Avengers series it was obvious the two were going out, but we never saw it. Some claim Marvel wasn't okay with showing teenage boys kissing, others claim it was just good story writing that didn't have to rely on showing physical intimacy to sell a romance angle (although the female Stature did kiss the male Iron Lad in an issue, though her later romance with the newest Vision was also light on the public displays of intimacy.) It wasn't until the miniseries of Avengers: The Children's Crusade that we really got to see Wiccan & Hulkling's romantic depths. Hulkling had previously threatened people who would hurt Wiccan, but here we see the rather polite Hulkling down right threaten to murder someone, Wolverine of all people, for it. The story follows Wiccan and his "twin" Speed's search for their possible mother, the former Avengers member the Scarlet Witch. A mutant who well, long story short, went crazy with power and nearly destroyed the world, and is currently in hiding.

During the events of Children's Crusade the team comes to arguments several times, several members believing they should do opposing actions, but ultimately sticking together and acting as one to protect themselves and their teammates, none more than Hulklin for Wiccan. The result of the climactic battle with the big bad is horribly bittersweet, and sees the team essentially dissolving. Wiccan blames himself, and becomes a shut in. Despite this Hulkling stays with him, makes some very nice comments and they finally kiss on camera - err on panel. And not once were the two treated as a token gay couple, like Renee Montoya & Kate Kane they were written as humans, not as gay characters to sell a book.

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