The Publishing Post
LGBTQ+ Representation in the Marvel Comic Franchise
By Becca Binnie, Lauren Dooley and Alyssa Miles
Marvel comics have been - and continue to be - widely loved stories of strength, bravery and compassion. We want to explore how these values have been applied to the inclusion and celebration of characters belonging to the LGBTQ+ community within the Marvel universe.
Looking at the history of LGTBQ+ representation in Marvel comics, we can draw on an article published by Marvel and written by content editor Robyn Belt (2020). This article recounts the 1992 comic panel where the superhero Northstar declared “I am gay!” This declaration was made after Northstar adopted an HIV-positive infant. Northstar received a stream of negative attention from another character, Major Mapleleaf, who was grieving the loss of his gay son, who died after his fight with AIDS. In the comic, the declaration represents how Northstar understood how it felt to be underrepresented. However, in the comic industry, this development was a groundbreaking step in the right direction towards LGBTQ+ inclusion.
If you are interested in reading this story from the beginning, check out issue 120 of The Uncanny Xmen series which introduces Northstar’s character to the superhero group Alpha Flight.
Marvel has traditionally hinted at and led fans to believe that certain characters were members of the LGBTQ+ community. However, recently readers and audiences have experienced said characters being more forward and open about their sexuality and gender, embracing it as part of their established identity. This is an important step forward, as it validates the fluidity of sexuality and gender in a more open and clear format. Such Marvel comics are slowly becoming more celebratory of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
For example, although Northstar’s sexuality was implied when he was first introduced, it took 106 issues for confirmation, and this edition was groundbreaking for Marvel. Copies of the comic sold out in a week and as such, the publicity generated was significant. This example shows the influence and the reach of Marvel’s voice, and highlights the importance of Marvel using this to include and celebrate LGBTQ+ characters and relationships. Moreover, Marvel continued to develop Northstar’s story and, in the 51st edition of Astonishing Xmen, published in 2012, he was celebrated as a part of the first same-sex wedding in mainstream comics in which he married Kyle Jinadu.
Moving forward, we can highlight and recommend more recent Marvel comic series that celebrate and empower characters belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. In 2011, America Chavez (Miss America) was introduced in the first edition of Vengeance and in 2017 author Gabby Rivera wrote an America Chavez spin-off series which featured the first queer Latin American character. Chavez is Latinx, this is the gender-neutral term for Latina/o, and the series follows the superhero as they build and embrace their identity after arriving on Earth. Characters such as America Chavez that construct and cherish their identity are inspiring. Such positive representation acts as an example of the wonderful diversity within society. Readers can finally read about superheroes that encompass their sexuality and gender identity in a positive form.
Another example of positive development in LGBTQ+ representation within Marvel comics is the Black Panther spin-off series World of Wakanda. The comics featured a relationship between Ayo and Aneka, members of the Dora Milaje, an elite group of warrior women – the comics even won a GLAAD Media Award for the LGBTQ+ representation in 2018. It is important that such stories continue to be celebrated and promoted as they are vital representations of strong and powerful LGBTQ+ characters that fans have always wanted and needed.
Marvel now releases special edition comics during Pride month to celebrate the diverse characters that make up the franchise. Commemorative issues that reach an incredibly vast audience are normalising LGBTQ+ characters and encouraging an inclusive and compassionate attitude, which should inspire wider society to do the same. Furthermore, the first edition of Marvel Voices saw Luciano Vecchio’s ‘Assemble!,’ a one-shot comic strip, embrace and highlight LGBTQ+ activism and celebrate real-life Pride founders Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. These connections to the real-world highlight the struggle and oppression the LGBTQ+ community have suffered and continue to fight against. Representing authentic LGBTQ+ characters within comics, along with other forms of writing, can help fight the stigma and oppression faced by this community, and it can help promote acceptance and understanding.
The above examples provided LGBTQ+ fans of Marvel the opportunity to engage with characters that positively represent their sexuality and gender identities. Strong, powerful, brave and impressive LGBTQ+ superheroes are popular within Marvel comics and are becoming increasingly normalised.
Looking at the representation of LGBTQ+ characters in Marvel comics we can see the positive and vital steps towards inclusivity. This same celebration of LGBTQ+ superheroes must persist and increase. It is important that characters continue to be clearly and boldly established in their sexuality and gender identities. It is not enough to simply hint at a character being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it should be embraced, declared and celebrated within all formats of Marvel storytelling. Representation is vital for societal acceptance and such a big and influential company like Marvel will encourage the industry to increase LGBTQ+ representations.
LGBTQ+ people are finally being, and shall continue to be, portrayed as the hero of their own story rather than being stigmatised and stereotyped.