June 2020 has been a historic month, one that has reminded us that resilience, determination, and courage are the heartbeat of positive change. June is a historic month for another (and certainly intertwined) reason as well: it’s Pride Month! During Pride Month, we celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and recognize that without their courage and strength in the face of discrimination, violence, and prejudice, our world would be a much darker place. Pride Month is also a call to remember the stories of those that have been tormented by hatred and injustice while rightfully seeking the freedom to live their lives authentically and without fear. Sadly, just as the fight for equality and representation for the LGBTQ+ community is an ongoing, constantly evolving battle in the real world, the same can be said for queer representation in comics.
Throughout the years, comics have not been particularly heroic in crafting thoughtful depictions of gender identity and sexual orientation. In fact, for several decades after the 1954 implementation of the Comics Code, any trace of homosexuality was banned from the pages of mainstream comics altogether. When publishers later cast the Comics Code aside, queer and transgender characters were technically allowed to appear on the page, but this did not mean that writers handled LGBTQ+ representation respect or authenticity. Past characters, even those created with the best of intentions, often missed the mark.
In the words of comic writer Kelly Sue Deconnick, “Representation is absolutely vital.” In a medium of heroes, it is especially important to showcase characters that connect with readers from all walks of life, giving all of us an equal chance to see ourselves in the faces behind the masks. More importantly, these depictions must be molded with well-informed, complex storytelling to avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes and misinformation.
In honor of Pride Month, let’s take a look at some of DC’s LGBTQ+ characters and the stories they have brought to life. Though some of these depictions are imperfect, awareness of their history is a critical step in mapping out where queer representation in comics has been and how we can continue on a productive path forward. That being said, I have chosen not to include any completely negligent characters, as they are not what this celebration is about. Here is the first of two lists of LGBTQ+ characters who kick butt, tug at the heartstrings, or perhaps, bring a new perspective to the DC universe you thought you knew. Remember, there’s a place in the Watchtower for all of us. Happy Pride Month, DC fans!
Played by actress Rosie Perez in 2020’s Birds of Prey, Rene Montoya is an increasingly visible character in the DC universe. First appearing as a Gotham City police officer in Batman: The Animated Series (1992), Montoya is unafraid to ask the hard questions and push forward in the face of harder answers. Though her sexual orientation was not mentioned in BTAS, Gotham Central #8 (2002) established Montoya as a closeted lesbian who is then destructively outed by the supervillain Two-Face, and her own colleagues, when she is framed for a crime. Blackmailed, shunned, and desperate to protect the people she cares about, this arc of Gotham Central marks a turning point for the character. She quits the force, takes her future into her own hands, and punches back against those who would use her own heart to destroy her.
Renee Montoya is not one to mince words, nor does she ever back down when those she loves are threatened. Montoya eventually takes up the mantle of The Question, after her mentor Vic Sage, and has appeared as an on again off again love interest of Batwoman, Kate Kane. Birds of Prey may have only scratched the surface of what makes Renee Montoya a hero, but it is fair to hope that we will see more of her story play out on the big screen in future films.
Aqualad (Kaldur’Ahm, Jackson Hyde, Jake Hyde)
Fans were horrified in 2013 when the popular Cartoon Network show, Young Justice, was canceled. For two seasons, viewers watched as a group of superpowered teenagers struggled to balance raging hormones, supervillain mind control, alien invasions, and their mentors’ expectations, while simultaneously learning to use and control their abilities. Among these characters, one stood especially tall. As a close ally of Aquaman and respected leader of the Young Justice team, Kaldur’Ahm/Aqualad has plenty of responsibility on his plate. Though he was once a henchman for Black Manta, Kaldur follows his heart to the side of good. His honest character development is exactly what makes him a fan favorite among viewers of the show. Luckily, Young Justice was later brought back for a third season, which revealed even more about the team’s go-to guy.
In the 2019 episode of Young Justice: Outsiders titled “Quiet Conversations,” Kaldur shares a passionate on-screen kiss with his boyfriend, Wynnde. For many viewers, this moment was a triumphant confirmation of something that had only been hinted at in previous episodes. For readers, Aqualad’s homosexuality was confirmed several years earlier, in 2016’s Teen Titans. Even so, there was quite a bit of speculation about whether or not showrunners would openly portray Kaldur as gay in on-screen, as historically, many animated shows for young viewers have avoided outright depictions of LGBTQ characters. With this episode, Young Justice: Outsiders stood by their beloved character and made it possible for the full complexity of his life to play out on screen.
Having multiple versions of a character in circulation at once is nothing new to comics. Alex Sanchez and Julie Maroh’s YA graphic novel You Brought Me the Ocean (2020) features yet another version of Aqualad. In this story, Jake Hyde is a teenager from New Mexico who feels inexplicably drawn to the ocean. As he begins to make important choices about his future, he finds himself attracted to his classmate, Kenny. Together, they face the complicated waters (yep, that’s an ocean pun) of growing up and discover long-hidden secrets about Jake’s past. Much like his Young Justice counterpart, this Aqualad is an example of positive gay representation for viewers/readers of all ages.
Coagula (Kate Godwin)
First appearing in Doom Patrol #70 (1993), Kate Godwin, also known as Coagula, was one of the first, if not the first, transgender superhero in DC comics. During her introduction, we learn that Kate was once a prostitute who gained her powers during a date with an intersex alien known as Rebis. Rebis’ radioactive DNA gifted Kate with the ability to coagulate liquids and dissolve solids. She chose the vigilante name “Coagula,” a clear nod to this unique power. After being turned down for a spot on the Justice League, Coagula meets the Doom Patrol during a fight with a villain named Codpiece. I know what you’re thinking: what kind of a villain goes by the name Codpiece? Well, exactly the kind of villain he sounds like- one who compensates for a specific insecurity by mounting a complex weapons system to his… front.
Coagula became a fantastic addition to the Doom Patrol in the stories that followed. Her Sense of humor was down to Earth and genuine. Her superpowers were an invaluable asset to the rag-tag team. Most notably, Coagula was a character with a palpable sense of enthusiasm and an inner drive that just wouldn’t quit. Her go-getter attitude pushed her to audition for the Justice League almost immediately after discovering her powers, which might have seemed intimidating to a lesser hero. Luckily, Coagula didn’t take the JLA’s rejection too hard. Before joining the Doom Patrol, she continued to fight for positive social change as a citizen, cape and costume be damned. Sadly, after only a brief time in print, Coagula was killed off during a conflict with fellow Doom Patrol team member, Dorothy Spinner.
One of the most important facts to note about Coagula is her creator, Rachel Pollack. As a transgender woman herself, Pollack brought a depth to Coagula that may have been lost in any other writer’s hands. Pollack took over Doom Patrol after writer Grant Morrison’s departure and stayed with the series until its cancellation two years later. In addition to her comic work, Pollack is a renowned science fiction writer, tarot card expert, poet, and mentor in the women’s spirituality movement. Coagula’s short-lived existence is disappointing, but now that Doom Patrol is a massively successful live-action show on DC Universe, there may be some hope that Kate Godwin will step into the spotlight again.
Batwoman (Kate Kane)
By now, you’d have to be living under a rock to not be at least somewhat familiar with Batwoman. The Kate Kane iteration of the character (recently played by Orange Is the New Black‘s Ruby Rose on the CW), is one of the most well known lesbian superheroes in pop culture. In a beautiful case of cosmic irony, the Batwoman persona was originally created in 1956 as a response to the homophobic rules laid out by the Comics Code. Dr. Fredric Wertham kick-started the code’s oppressive reign by claiming that comic books were responsible for juvenile delinquency and the decline of good American morals in the home. Among accusations, he asserted that Batman and Robin were a depiction of a homosexual fantasy. To quell the rising tide (I guess I’m still making ocean puns) of angry parents, DC decided to fill Wayne Manor with women, and thus, Batwoman was born.
The original Batwoman was Kathy Kane, a character that did not add much to the Batman mythology besides popping up in the caped crusader’s adventures to prove how straight he was. In 1964, the lackluster vigilante was replaced with the much more popular Batgirl. Batwoman would not truly reappear until 2006, when Kate Kane was introduced. Early on, readers learn that Kate is the child of a respected military officer. Following in her father’s footsteps, she enlists in the military academy and quickly gains a reputation as a top cadet. Before she can graduate, it is brought to light that Kate is romantically involved with another female cadet. Given the choice of denying who she is and continuing on to graduation, or remaining true to herself and being kicked out, Kate chooses the latter. She returns to Gotham, setting the stage for her eventual transformation into a crusader of justice.
Batwoman has since appeared in multiple comics, including Batwoman, DC Bombshells, DC Bombshells United, Batman, Batgirl, and many others. Additionally, she has starred in her own live-action CW show and appeared in the animated movie, Batman: Bad Blood. As one of the most visible LGBTQ+ characters in the industry, Batwoman is a striking example of how superheroes can evolve from the ideas of the past and find a worthwhile seat at the table in modern discourse.
I’m going to make a bold suggestion here: Wonder Woman’s bisexuality is one of those things that all of her readers know, but perhaps don’t know they know. Created in 1942 by the polyamorous trio of Dr. William Moulten Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and his girlfriend Olive Byrne, the Amazon princess was meant to be a socially progressive heroine from the start. Even in the 40s, sexuality was woven throughout the subtext of Wonder Woman’s adventures, which of course put her high up on Dr. Wertham’s hit list. An island of immortal warrior women who have no desire to interact with men? Scandalous. Though Wonder Woman’s boyfriend Steve Trevor is a part of her story from the first issue, the implications of her homeland, Themyscira, were enough to get Wertham fired up. The funny thing is, he was absolutely right about those implications. The Amazons have romantic and sexual relationships- no men, no problem.
True, there is no outright confirmation of Wonder Woman’s sexuality in those early stories, but as decades have passed, it’s become much more common to find mention of her lovers before Trevor in the comics. In fact, in 2017’s Wonder Woman film, there is a cheeky reference to Themyscira’s sexual norms when she and Trevor are sailing away from the island. Trevor awkwardly stumbles through his assumptions about what Diana possibly could know about sex, prompting her to remark, “When it comes to procreation, men are essential, but for pleasure, not necessary.” Relationships between two women are not only common in Wonder Woman’s world, they are the status-quo.
Wonder Woman’s bisexual identity has certainly become more openly acknowledged in the last few years. Grant Morrison’s Wonder Woman: Earth One (2016) mentions her having a lover named Mala. In Wonder Woman #2 (Rebirth, 2018), flashbacks to Diana’s early days reveal that she was in a relationship with a fellow Amazon named Kaisa, shortly before departing Themyscira. Furthermore, some of her friends remark that the princess is somewhat of a heartbreaker on the island, and Kasia is just the most recent girlfriend in a line of partnerships and flings. This revelation wasn’t newsworthy for most readers. It felt more like someone had named the sky’s exact shade of blue. We knew it, we’ve known it for decades. It makes perfect sense that DC’s warrior of love would not view gender as a boundary when it comes to romance or pleasure, which is just the kind of hero her creators intended her to be.
That concludes part one of DCN’s Pride Month Celebration. Keep an eye out for part two, which will feature another five notable examples of LGBTQ+ representation in DC comics. Are there any characters you would like to see? Do you have a favorite story about any of the characters listed above? Let us know in the comments below!