Tales from the Four-Color Closet – LGBTQ Young Avengers

By Joe GlassTotFCC001

Well, it’s finally over. Tumblr is in tears, critics are applauding, and fans all over kinda wish it wasn’t so.

The critically acclaimed and fan-favourite run on Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie et al. is finished, with a wonderful, heartfelt and fun farewell to a team they’ve been working on for just around a year now. They came in to have their say on teen superheroes, and it was an opinion that many sat up and noticed.

But one thing has stuck out in that final issue that has had a lot of people wondering: in the last few pages, or rather throughout the issue in fact, it seems to build up and ultimately imply that nearly every member of the current Young Avengers team is queer.

When it started, we all knew that Wiccan and Hulkling were gay, and in love. That was a given. We all got a surprise when Prodigy turned up and also came out as bi in the most dramatic way he could. But throughout the issue, Loki reveals in panel that he is certainly open to relationships with other men (although it had already been mentioned by upcoming Loki: Agent of Asgard writer Al Ewing that he would be handling the character as bisexual in his title); Miss America implies that she herself is queer too, and Marvel Boy admits to ‘exploring’ in more than one sense of the term.

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As Kate Bishop/Hawkeye points out, she may be the only straight member of the team after all. And yes, despite Miss America’s teasing, she is straight. Or can maybe be curious, and after all, by most definitions the Q in LGBTQ does stand for ‘curious’. But I read it as teasing to be honest, and as Gillen himself has pointed out on his own Tumblr,

America teasing Kate’s somewhat charmingly naive response to discovering she’s a minority on the team is America teasing. You can all decide how much seriousness there is beneath America’s baiting on your own.

So this has of course left most wondering: is this the first all (or at least mostly) queer team in mainstream comics? Frankly, it would seem so. But why rely on just our own personal readings? I asked Gillen whether he always saw his Young Avengers team as an all LGBTQ squad, and whether Kate is joining in on that queer status after all. He said:

Well, some people have leaped to that idea, but Kate being teased by Miss America doesn’t make her LGBTQ. Everyone gets to define their own sexuality. Kate clearly identifies as straight. America teasing Kate’s somewhat naive provinciality on suddenly realising she’s a minority on her team doesn’t change that.

(Kate’s naive in another way – Marvel Boy hasn’t said how he identifies, or even if the concept of identity works the same in the Kree. He’s just said that his people always explore the options.)

I may sound a little serious, but that’s kind of one of the things bubbling along in YA. People working out who they are, and making that decision, and then recognising people’s feelings and ways of seeing the world that are very different than their own. Learning that about other people is a big part of growing up. It’s a part of growing up that a lot of people seem to miss, admittedly, but it certainly should be.

But yeah, it was always the intention. I’ve been writing Loki with that inside his head since my first panel, yknow? I left it to the end for all sorts of structural reasons, not least because the Season model and the fractal-story-shape stuff we’ve been doing means that it all resonates through the whole thing. Just as importantly, doing it any earlier would have felt crass to me, and undermined its sincerity.

It may seem a slightly flown in under the radar manoeuvre, to be sure. What Gillen and co. have done rather brilliantly here is give us characters that are introduced by their full character first, and not just by their sexuality. Obviously, with Wiccan and Hulkling, and lot of that had already been done, so we come in with the gay heroes angle and build with existential angst and maturing to your responsibilities and mistakes. After all, we start the series with a nice big smooch, which was a lot sooner than in the original run of Young Avengers.

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Miss America gets introduced as mysterious, cynical badass first, which while it may have elements of certain lesbians in media archetypes (tough, hard, mysterious, closed off etc.), she’s handled in such a brilliant and natural way as to make her a character fans fall in love with for her as a whole, and not just any one aspect of her. She was really even one of the breakout characters of the series; I’m rather surprised Marvel haven’t announced a Miss America solo title yet. And what was especially well done with her is that even when she does officially ‘come out’, it’s not explicitly so. She doesn’t declare “For I AM LESBIAN!”, like certain fast-moving X-guys might have, but rather just naturally and conversationally.

Loki’s sexuality, frankly, should be expected and it’s amazing it’s never been tackled before. After all, most classical deities have sex with pretty much anything (I’m looking at you, Zeus). In Norse mythology, Loki is a shapechanger who has appeared predominantly as male, but occasionally female, and even occasionally as a horse. Our character Loki pointing out that gods have a different concept, or rather no concept, of sexuality makes sense, and it’ll be good to see this further explored going forward in his new title.

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It fits in with the general themes of this run on Young Avengers, that of exploring what kind of adult you want to be and are going to be. Of ultimately living life, exploring the world, seeing a few things and ultimately learning a few things about yourself. In other words, about being a teen on the cusp of adulthood. As Gillen says,

Seeing the characters I had, it felt like a natural extension of what had come before and an opportunity I’d be a fool not to take. As a writer, you look at what hasn’t been done in the arena you’re working in. That’s normally what’s most exciting. In a team that already was exploring this areas, it was a rare chance to double-down.

It would make sense. This period in our lives is often a time when many of us do experiment. The stereotypical ‘experimenting in college’ anecdote is a stereotype for a reason. We all learn something about ourselves at this sort of age, and for many it is notions of sexuality that are explored or confirmed.

The next question might be ‘does Marvel and/or mainstream comics NEED an all LGBTQ superhero team?’ to which my answer would be ‘why not?’. After all, in Marvel alone we’ve had several all-female teams appear, and Mighty Avengers features a team almost entirely made up of P.O.C. Why not a team made up entirely of LGBTQ characters? It would be nice to see a bunch all together and brought to the forefront, frankly.

But then, I may be somewhat biased. Not just as a gay fan, but also as a writer of my own all LGBTQ superhero team. But titles like my own The Pride, or Martin Eden’s superb Spandex tackle the idea of an all LGBTQ superhero team in a different manner: the sexuality of the cast is very much at the forefront. In Young Avengers, it was more of an aside. The team just happens to be predominantly queer, but they’re not a ‘queer team’ as such.

This might seem to fly in the face of my earlier contention that this is our first queer team in mainstream comics. But really, what we have in Young Avengers is a LGBTQ superhero team, but the sexuality of its team are not the defining factor of the title.  As Gillen points out in his always fantastically informative and interesting Writer’s Notes on his Tumblr,

A majority queer superteam? Why so late in the run. It’s simultaneously not a big deal (because it bloody shouldn’t be) and a big deal (because we live on Earth). Front loading it makes it the story. I wanted to write a book that took for granted that we lived in a better world than we did, and we can create art like this. Doing it earlier felt like chasing publicity, when that’s the last thing I want, as it undermines the sincerity of the endeavour…In short: felt like a good idea. Why not?

Would it be nice to have a book where it was more of a focus? Yes, I certainly wouldn’t mind it. Diversity and representation in comics has a long way to go, and I would like to see a book which tackled characters and heroes of varying sexuality and gender a bit more head on. It’d be especially nice to see more trans characters again. But that is not what Young Avengers was all about; it just happened to star an almost all LGBTQ cast.

I ended my chat with Gillen with one last question, specifically what his thoughts on including an all LGBTQ superhero team in mainstream comics are?

A mixture of being pleased we did it and wondering why we, as an industry, took so bloody long.

Sentiments I agree with, to be sure. And which of course makes it a great book for actual teen readers, and especially actual LGBTQ readers. It’s some true, natural representation, and this book ‘gets’ you.

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Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool contributor, and creator of LGBTQ superhero team comic The Pride, and co-writer on Welsh horror-comedy series, Stiffs. You can follow him on twitter and tumblr.

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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