Allow Us to Explain
With DCnU on the horizon, and speculation running amok about where favorite plots might land once the tornado relaunching dies down, there's been a lot of comic talk in office chats about our much-beloved gay and lesbian vigilantes. Before any more messes of movies come out, or new continuity throws us all for a loop, we thought it would be a good idea to round up June doing what half of every major city (and quite a few small ones) on the planet is doing right now; celebrating Gay Pride Month. It was high time we actually gave space to LGBT issues, given the month, but also in general. (Withstanding the pandering tone of X-Men: First Class does not count.) Before we get to kicking ass and taking names, however, a little history lesson is in order. The existence of this list says volumes by itself. The majority of the characters mentioned were created in the 1980s or later, and all of them were officially outed after 1992. It would have been relatively impossible to create a list of mainstream, name-recognizable gay or lesbian action heroes even ten years ago, putting superheroics behind its sister genres of science fiction and fantasy. Why are capes (and trenchcoats, and shit-kicking combat boots) so late to the pride party? Because from the 1930s right up until the nineties, the primary source of superhero creation, the comic book industry, including the Big Two and their satellites, had to contend with the dastardly Comic Code Authority, and their ban on depicting homosexual characters or relationships. (Or, in some cases, actions, costume choices, or living situations that seemed gay.) Fearing censorship or outright shutdown of titles thanks to the CCA's no-homo policy, the more progressive class of writers and editors hid what they wanted to say between the panels. Still, a lot of implication and innuendo managed to slip through over time, leading to some readers waiting twenty years or more for an answer to their "are they or aren't they" queries. With the official prohibition lifted in 1989, gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters slowly began to trickle into the rosters of superhero teams, and, much more slowly, into the scripts for live-action tie-in material. Today, we've got out team members in the big leagues, many of whom are dedicated canon couples, as well as lesbian and gay headliners of their own titles. There's a big, obvious gap on this list that we wanted to address up front; the absence of transgendered characters or issues. The dearth of the "T" in LGBT is something we at TMS talked about, and its not dealt with in this particular grid for a few reasons. One was that, behind as the action hero world is on strong LGB material, they're even further back on trans issues, and positive depictions are few, and debatable. (Which doesn't mean they're not worth debating.) Another reason we discussed is that, while the longstanding conflation of gender identity and sexual identity is perhaps understandable, we were unwilling to exacerbate the problem. Transsexuality and homosexuality (or bisexuality) are not the same thing, though plenty of individuals can claim membership in both arenas simultaneously. To us, shoehorning in a few (debatably) trans characters on the list would have felt like token inclusion, when gender-bending action heroes (and villains) deserve, and should have, their own Grid. This list is dedicated, as always, to the runners-up who were, for the most part, deemed too obscure, or would have made the list unbalanced towards either men or women. Among others, we salute you; Willow, Scandal Savage, Jetman/Jetlad, Obsidian, Wiccan, Hulkling, Rictor, Shatterstar, and, oh yeah, Erik Lensherr (look it up). On a sentimental, real-world note, this list should also be dedicated to the lobbyists, organizers, and representatives of New York State, who are right now celebrating their victory for marriage equality. They don't have capes or masks, but they're heroes nonetheless, keeping the world safe for comic book fans gay and straight alike. It gets better. Especially if you can punch through walls.