By Joe Glass
Yes, I write an LGBTQ interest comic. No, I am not going to include it in this list.
Thankfully, in one respect, there have been quite a lot of awesome steps forward in LGBTQ representation and coverage in comics this year. So much so that listing just five is doing somewhat of a disservice to the many other books out there doing a great job of it, but I can’t keep going on forever.
That is not to say that there isn’t a long way yet to go. In many ways, LGBTQ representation in comics is still fairly stilted, and there are some companies still making massive faux pas around dealing with LGBTQ representation. But there is hope that that can all change too, of course.
But without further, let me list the top five awesome LGBTQ in comics things of 2015!
1. Midnighter by Steve Orlando et al. (DC Comics)
When DC announced their new DC You initiative, I was hugely surprised to see that Midnighter was getting his own series.
Midnighter is of course well known and established as one of DC’s LGBTQ superheroes, but up until know was pretty much part of ‘Apollo & Midnighter’, falling in the first trap that most LGBTQ characters in comics find themselves in, i.e. part of a couple, so there’s often little done to establish the character as an individual, but rather as part of a couple. The other major trap most LGBTQ find themselves in is that they are often in team books…almost like an LGBTQ character can only be around when their queerness is ‘diluted’ by the presence of many other characters that also tends to mean they don’t get much focus, and certainly rarely cover any issues that the queer audience may recognise and deal with themselves.
As if the fact that Midnighter as a solo book wasn’t wonderful enough, it was not the only LGBTQ leading book DC had this year, firmly establishing Catwoman and Constantine as bi characters too. And the extra wonderful thing about Midnighter? The writer is LGBTQ too, and Steve Orlando from the offset promised that there would be no watering down or shying away from that in the book.
The opening free preview, part of a vast salvo of free first looks, saw Midnighter in bed with another man, not Apollo, and condom wrappers littering the scene. The first issues saw a Grinder-esque app, Midnighter dating more than one guy, and such wonderful sexual innuendo that it was deliciously devilish, just like the character.
Midnighter is presented as strong, bad ass, and unapologetically true to himself (and thus his sexuality). Nothing is hidden, nothing is gratuitous (except for the balls-to-the-wall action sequences) and the character is presented in such an awesome, relatable fashion that the audience doesn’t have to be LGBTQ to respect him and enjoy the thrill ride that is this wonderful book.
2. Deadendia by Hamish Steele
Deadendia may not be coming out from one of the big mainstream publishers, but what it is doing for comics and representation as a whole is truly wonderful.
There are a host of colorful characters in Deadendia, but all are filled with layers of characterisation and elements to set them apart from your standard cast of characters. Hamish Steele has clearly thought about everything when it comes to them, and it shows in the books and in his blog where he talks about them. There are even elements which maybe haven’t come up yet to further show the level of detail he thinks about each character, and I do so hope to see more of these details make it into the books.
One of the main wonderful things is one of the lead characters is in fact trans. Their presented wonderfully – because they are presented as entirely normal. They are funny, sweet, bumbling and occasionally brave. They have a disastrous love life, and deep regrets. The trans element of the character is both presented matter-of-factly, but also as being far from the be all and end all of the character.
This of course can be said of all the little seen elsewhere elements seen in other characters, and the book looks to be continuing that methodology, whilst also shining light on issues that few other books dare to tread upon, and all done in an open, honest and accessible to any age way that really makes this series a joy and a wonderful addition to the world of comics.
3. Uncanny X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis et al. and the Iceman plot-line
Iceman, for years, has had hints and breadcrumbs left that there is more to this character than simple class-clown, heart of the X-Men archetype that we have most often seen him portrayed as. There has often been hinted that there is something dark inside him, eating him up inside, but never really being fully explored. Brian M. Bendis this year brought it out into the open and made it canon for all: Bobby Drake has been in the closet all this time.
The explosion this caused was huge: so many people blew up over the fact that Bendis was ‘changing’ this character who they’ve known for so long – what was funny about that is that is so often the reaction of some when a person comes out later in life.
Some were angry at a line that they perceived as being bi-erasure. It was a line uttered by a teenage Jean Grey – not just a teen, but a person coming from a time where being LGBTQ was so misunderstood and the terminology was not all there yet. As much as it is a shame that we have a missed opportunity for another bi character in comics, and a heroic one at that, it never struck me as the intention was to harm the bi community – it was awkward, poor phrasing which suits the narrative and character well…it felt honest and exactly like how kids talk.
For me, it was also something I recognised from my own coming out experience, and the later coming out of an adult Iceman, one who has been in the closet for years and had a number of failed relationships with women, was wonderful because again, it was awkward but it was honest, and it presented an aspect of LGBTQ experience rarely seen in the medium. The fact is, due to the nature of society and how many places and people can make individuals feel bad or wrong for being LGBTQ, many LGBTQ individuals will lie to themselves for a long time and not come out until much later in life. They may even have spouses, children, lives built up all around this lie of who they are…the coming out experience is not as simple as you come out as a teen and then its all over. Everyone has a different experience at different points in their life, and its wonderful to see this represented.
In fact, the whole Iceman affair has been the best bit of LGBTQ relations that Marvel has managed this past year…pretty much everything else they have fumbled, stumbled and even insulted the LGBTQ audience with. But at least with Iceman, we are assured this is here to stay, one of the original five X-Men is gay…and if the latest issue of Extraordinary X-Men is anything to go by, then we may finally be getting to see it part of the series again soon.
4. Virgil by Steve Orlando, JD Faith and Chris Beckett
Steve Orlando did it again this year with the action-packed, hyper violent and really wonderfully done Virgil, from Image comics.
Virgil is extra-special because not only is it a leading gay man action hero character in a hard-boiled, violent tale of revenge and murder, but also it’s a black gay man. Gay men of color are tremendously under-represented in media as a whole, so to have this book that has a lead who covers this is wonderful.
More to the point, it tackles a topic that is rarely tackled: the disgusting human rights abuses in Jamaica. In Jamaica, being homosexual is still a crime, but more than that, culturally it is almost acceptable for lynchings of gay men and women to happen. The police often turn a blind eye to some of the most horrific acts perpetrated on the LGBTQ community anywhere else in the world – and yet, the image conjured in peoples minds when they think of Jamaica is a laid-back, blissful paradise location.
Orlando and his team, including fantastic artwork by Faith and Beckett, shine the light on some of the most barbaric acts that occur on the island all wrapped in a powerful, emotional and hard-hitting, gritty crime grindhouse tale – or as Orlando put it, a gay-sploitation story.
5. Jem & the Holograms by Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell et al.
Jem is something of an unexpected success, really. Whilst the 80s cartoon show that it is based on maintains a loyal cult following, its not perhaps one of the most famous of 80s cartoon properties.
But Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell relaunched the series as a comic for IDW Publishing, and its been a huge success (certainly far more so than the film which also came out this year).
A big part of this has been down to the creative team, of course. They handled the property with reverence, but more than that, they didn’t let that reverence hold them back from expanding and updating for the modern world.
This included adding new depths to characters, and fantastic character design that really makes each and every character look different from the other, and all in a vast array of body shapes and sizes.
Moreover, we have a wonderful romance, hinted at in the show but never explicitly explored, now finally brought to light in the series: that of Hologram member Kimber and Misfits member Stormer.
Their relationship is complicated and troublesome, not least for it’s ‘star-crossed’ nature, but it’s also incredibly sweet and handled incredibly well by Thompson and Campbell.
The team certainly know about the popularity of Jem with the queer community, and have promised further representations of the LGBTQA+ community in the future, leaving fans with plenty more to look forward to.
And that’s a wrap! There’s still loads more really great things which have happened in the last year, and I can only hope they continue to get better and better in the year to come. There are so many more I haven’t mentioned, so why not let us know your own favorite things in the comments, and this is all just comics, I’ve not even mentioned cross-media awesomeness like Steven Universe etc. With so much good in this year, next year should be poised for even more. So bring on 2016!
Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool contributor and comics creator, writing The Pride, about a team of LGBTQ superheroes, that is available on Comixology, Amazon Kindle and at the online store here. He also co-writes Welsh horror series, Stiffs, which is on Comixology and available here.