In honor of Pride Month 2019, we’re re-presenting this classic article from 2012 that celebrates gay couples in comics.
Well, for no reason whatsoever, and certainly not because last week we heard about a bizarre decision around 61% North Carolina recently made to devalue the idea of marriage for at least the next few years in their state, Comics Bulletin decided it was time to give queer relationships our highest honor imaginable — the glory of one of our Top Ten lists. We don’t do this for just anyone, you guys! Here is our list of ten of the more interesting, enjoyable couples to be found in comics.
Settle down, eat some mustard-based barbeque, and remember that this list is absolutely not here as a response against the regressive, pathetic, cowardly and ridiculous nature of 61% of voters in North Carolina. It’s certainly not a retort to a stupid ruling made in that state which further makes it apparent that marriage is increasingly a corrupted insititution which has more interest in money and belittling politics than in celebrating the concept of love and romance.
Here’s our list!
Honorable Mention: Northstar/Hercules
It’s a quick panel which occurred during Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente’s Incredible Hercules series, but it was perhaps the best character development Northstar has ever had. Always presented as the first gay superhero, Northstar’s led a rather sexless existence for most of his life — mostly because of the censorship in comics at the time he was created. Even bearing that in mind though, Northstar’s sex life was nonexistent for decades, with the arrogant Canadian turning into a lovesick gossip-hound under Chuck Austen’s glistening pen. Sure he has a partner now — in the form of wet-blanket Kyle, who has the barest of personalities imaginable — but this is the one time Northstar has ever felt like a sexual being.
The basic premise of this reveal was that Hercules had been “killed off” during a storyline, and friends and lovers had gathered to mourn him. Black Widow and others all gathered to remember the, uh, good loving he provided, and Northstar showed up too. Why so? Well, it appears he and Hercules had a night or two together, at some point. The ancient Greeks were known to have an open approach to sex, and Pak/Van Lente finally managed to get an on-panel confirmation that Hercules, too, finds both men and women attractive. At the same time as giving Northstar a final notch on his bedpost, this also opened up Herc’s character too, in a refreshing and funny way.
Northstar nailed a bear!
10. Holly/Karon (Catwoman)
Back when he was still working for DC, Ed Brubaker found a natural home for his crime noir stories in the shape of Gotham City, the never-endingly corrupt locale where Batman operates. Over time he’s covered stories from all angles, from vigilante justice to the work of the last honest cops in town. And as you’ll see a little later in this list, he’s always taken a progressive attitude towards portraying the city as a diverse, rich place to live… providing you can avoid the super-criminals, drug-dealers and corrupt forces of authority. One of the first examples of this was when he took over writing Catwoman in 2002, turning her into a fragmented mirror reflection of the Dark Knight. And if Selina was an edgier version of Bruce, then Holly was surely a twist on Dick Grayson, the first Robin. Whereas Dick was adopted by Bruce from a young age, and brought up in a safe home; Holly was adopted only briefly before Selina, before finding herself abandoned and on the streets, on her own.
She became addicted to drugs, and returned to her old prostitution role to fund the habit. It was during this time that she met Karon, off-panel, who is introduced a few issues into Brubaker’s run on Catwoman. It’s quickly established that Holly decided to try and turn herself around partly because of Karon’s influence, and that the two have become a couple. The relationship is rather brilliantly realised by Brubaker as the story continues — it’s never perfect, but it represents a security for Holly which she never received anywhere else. Even when Selina returns to Holly’s life, she can’t provide the safety which she finds with her girlfriend. That’s what makes the dynamic so interesting and kinetic: Selina’s influence, although well-intentioned, will never keep Holly as safe and protected and loved as either want it to. Outing Holly made her story more fully-realized that it’d been before, and worked to solidify the stories she’d appeared in beforehand.
9. Hulkling/Wiccan (Young Avengers)
What was cool about these two is that they were together from the start. While the Young Avengers were formed out of adversity to fill the gap left by Disassembled, Billy/Teddy were a sub-group within the underground team, there for each other in a way that was only an intensification (as only teenage emotions can do) of the loyalty felt by the whole team. And while Wiccan was sort of predictably the gay inheritor of his mother’s witchiness (while brother Speed was rebellious and coded as straight, taking after Uncle Quicksilver more than mom), even if his spells were laughably simplistic (basically just self-help affirmations he had to stammer out, lacking his mother’s style), Hulkling’s family dynamic made being gay more of an issue. He only got the name because he was strong and green, but no gamma radiation was involved: he’s half-Skrull, and half-Kree, so he has a legacy to fulfill the legend of Captain Marvel on one side, and the expectations of Super-Skrull warriors on the other. Falling in love with a mutant boy doesn’t fit into anyone’s idea of those duties, but through all their series, the love between these two has only grown, culminating in a romantic kiss and wedding proposal in the final issue of Avengers: Children’s Crusade.
8. Renee Montoya/Daria (Gotham Central)
Ed Brubaker was also one of the people responsible for shaping the direction of Renee Montoya’s life, although Greg Rucka was ultimately the one who took over running the character and made her into one of DC’s most popular characters, albeit until she vanished post-reboot.
First appearing in the Batman cartoon, Renee was swiftly imported into the comic-book universe and joined the cast of Gotham Central, Rucka/Brubaker’s long-running, much beloved crime procedural set in Gotham city. Although this was an ensemble story, Renee’s natural authority slowly pushed her into one of the spotlighted roles. She dominated several stories, from fighting Two-Face to her ultimate breakdown towards the end of the series. But early on was one of the defining stories for her, and a story which started to really progress the way DC told stories. See, it was revealed that Montoya was hiding her sexuality from the rest of the police force, scared that they’d use it against her and that her strongly religious family might find out. Which, as in all dramatic stories, is exactly what happened. She was outed by a private investigator and disowned by her parents.
This wasn’t a simple story. The writing team worked hard to make things complicated and realistic for Renee and Daria, her partner, as often as possible. The relationship wasn’t a source of safety for Renee, and her inability to cope with herself grew more and more important as Gotham Central continued. It was a messy relationship which ended with a heart-breaking sequence of events that broke Renee Montoya almost entirely. The strength of the relationship came mostly from a storytelling perspective: from dealing with this sort of persecution and the casual dismissal Renee received from some of the less-PC members of the force, Brubaker and Rucka were able to show readers just how dark and corrupt Gotham was as a whole. Unlike an idealized relationship like, say, the one seen between Hulkling and Wiccan in Young Avengers, Renee and Daria’s relationship was awkward one moment, affirming the next, and consistently realistic and involving.
7. Karolina/Xavin (Runaways)
Karolina and Xavin’s relationship in Brian K. Vaughan’s seminal teen superhero series Runaways initially seems like your stereotypically overwrought, overcomplicated capes romance: Karolina is a Majesdanian, whose parents promised her to Skrull Prince De’zean’s child Xavin in order to save Earth and stop intergalactic warfare. That alone is the kind of plot development Chris Claremont routinely made Satanic deals in order to dream up during the heyday of the X-Men. But things get even more complicated than that. Earlier in the series, Vaughan revealed that Karolina was a lesbian after she made an advance on team leader Nico that was rejected; so when Xavin showed up, ready to start their promised marriage, the timing couldn’t have been worse, especially since Xavin appeared as a young man. But Xavin took Karolina’s sexuality in stride and changed into a form that fit her sexuality.
On the surface this may seem gimmicky, as though the arranged marriage and Karolina’s sexuality were only drafted as plot devices meant to coincide. But Vaughan’s intention is far more nuanced. Vaughan effectively states with this relationship and storyline that we as humans can’t do anything about physical attraction, we have no control over it and it does not cooperate with what might be best for our minds or our situations. So what would happen if we could shift forms? For Skrulls like Xavin, that isn’t just a possibility, it’s natural, and that ability hasn’t shaped merely their war culture but also their sexual culture, resulting in a planet of shifting forms and sexualities, where it isn’t just impractical to force sexual identity into tidy little black and white boxes, it’s impossible. Throughout the series, Karolina and Xavin would go through many difficulties and they would struggle to understand their relationship, both because of the nature of being a teenager and because of the extraordinary situation they’re in. And for teenage and queer readers, that made them extraordinarily resonant characters as well.
6. Frenchie/Rob (Moon Knight)
Frenchie first appeared in the classic run of Moon Knight decades ago, and fans were nervous for his return once it was announced that Charlie Huston would be relaunching the character in 2007. Little did they know that Huston had been reading the book since a boy, and had caught sight of several things lying between the lines of the classic Doug Moench/Bill Sienkiewicz run. When Frenchie finally did return, he had an announcement for Moon Knight.
The reveal was immediately extremely worrying, because the same issue ended with Frenchie being attacked and beaten by a random assailant, hired to provoke Moon Knight into retaliation. Had Huston brought back the character, outed him, only to then have him be beaten for Moon Knight’s emotional growth? Don’t write Huston off so easily.
What started off as an assault on the character turned into an examination of Frenchie’s growth into tense peacefulness over the years between the classic run and this new run. Formerly a soldier who worked alongside Marc Spector, he had since given up that life and settled down into quiet, peaceful role. His battles over, he finally grew the confidence to address the sexual feelings he’d had for Spector over the years, moved past them, and found a new partner called Rob. They opened up a restaurant together, and acted as wayward moral compasses for Huston’s antihero protagonist. This, again, was a relationship which strained due to the involvement of a superhero, but was well-written enough that it served to develop all the characters individually. Moon Knight has always been a series about blood and suffering and vengeance — Huston made damn sure that everybody, regardless of orientation, remained a part of that. And that’s an important note.
5. Phat/Vivisector (X-Statix)
X-Statix was a great post-modern take on super-heroes. The mutants who starred in that fantastic comic by Peter Milligan and Mike Allred were celebrity super-heroes who were massively popular media stars in the Marvel Universe. Every action by these mutant heroes, whether heroic or personal, was covered endlessly on 24/7 cable channels. Some of the cleverest and most fun moments in the series involved team members Phat and Vivisector. Anticipating the media’s fascination with the idea of gay celebs, these two heroes at first decided to out themselves in order to gain more publicity. The media went crazy with excitement about our heroes being a couple, and despite the fact that the pair were complete opposites of each other — Phat was a trailer trash super-hero who knew how to party while Vivisector was an intellectual child of esteemed college professors – the two heroes had a brief and passionate affair with each other. As quickly as the guys get together, they split up, realizing that they are just too different to be a real couple.
The whole storyline between the heroes was a bit of a satire on the idea that if you put two gay characters next to each other, they naturally have to be attracted to each other. That’s a rule or something, I think, and Milligan did a wonderful job of both satirizing and embracing that rule.
4. Apollo/Midnighter (The Authority)
The problem here is the high concept at work, and we can blame Warren Ellis for it. What if Superman and Batman were lovers? It was a question no one dared ask (what only cranks and subversives may have longed for), and it came way too early, beginning just before the new millennium of widespread tolerance. However, the love between these two developed naturally nonetheless, as both were superhuman experiments who were lab-enhanced, and they went on the run together when they realized they couldn’t follow their makers’ agenda. In that period of hiding, two against the world, already gifted with their exceptional powers, the sun god and the dark detective fell in love. Ultimately in their original series they become surrogate dads for Jenny Quantum, the century baby destined to lead them. And though DC’s ownership of Wildstorm led to instances of censorship early on and ambiguous support later, most creators of subsequent Authority series have managed to keep the relationship moving along. Even now, years later, when a new edition of the controversial Authority are now in the New DCU proper as the latest version of Stormwatch, the two heroes are falling in love all over again. Took DC long enough, didn’t it?
3. Wallace Wells/Anyone (Scott Pilgrim)
Although he did seem to be settling down towards the end of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels, Wallace Wells spent most of his time hitting on any male he wanted, regardless of how much they reciprocated, and was one of the best characters as a result. A dominant force over the heterosexual Scott, Wallace’s importance to the overall narrative was huge. Not only were readers here seeing a gay character who was in complete control of himself, they were seeing a gay character who didn’t live in awkward conflict with his male friends. Everybody knew he was probably going to hit on them, but nobody flinched at it. In so much of mass media, any connection of friendship between two male characters turns into gay-panic jokes and awfulness. Look at how many big-budget comedies will throw in a joke like this at the apparent humiliation of the two men involved, and then look at Scott Pilgrim.
The characters take his joking/semi-joking flirting as a compliment, and don’t treat it as disgusting or scary at all. This is something which was felt throughout the entire series, and ultimately led to Roman’s fourth ex. Wallace’s attitude towards relationships as always a counterpoint to Scott’s lifestyle, but it also loosened up readers for later storylines. He was a fun, enjoyable character to read about, and in subtle ways he pushed the readership deeply into the sadly-idealized world of Scott Pilgrim. It wasn’t just that he was gay and loved it — it was that everybody else loved it too.
2. Mystique/Destiny (X-Men)
Chris Claremont’s contribution to comics will hopefully never be forgotten. He took a great deal of massive chances back during a time period when progressive attitudes towards race, religion, sexuality and gender will still pushing into the collective mindset. With that in mind, let’s confirm now that Destiny and Mystique, two villains from his run with the X-Men, were definitively in a relationship with each other, and ultimately were Nightcrawler’s parents. Ignore the devil storyline Chuck Austen wrote. Destiny is Nightcrawler’s mother figure, and Mystique is his father figure.
Claremont was never allowed to state in the comics that the two women were in a relationship with each other, although he managed to get enough broad hints in that surely most everybody picked up on it. More recently, in books like X-Treme X-Men, he’s been able to finally talk about the relationship he created between two of the most interesting, complex, and entertaining villains the X-Men have ever had. Destiny may have died early, but her love and advice is still one of the defining points to Mystique’s character. Mystique still views Destiny as her only lover.
Let’s not also forget that Mystique isn’t easily defined as simply a woman. Mystique is a shape-changing character, and can become male or female at will. In a franchise filled with metaphors and coded messages of empowerment, Mystique’s sexuality and ambitions makes her an interesting representative of the incredibly under-represented transgender community. And she’s damn good fun, with her pistols and complex plans and constant undermining of Rogue. Mystique is the most fun X-Men villain, and a lot of that comes from those early years with Destiny.
1. Rose/Dr. Mann (Y: The Last Man)
If there is only one gender left anywhere on the planet, what choices of sexuality are there other than homosexuality or abstinence? For the most part, lesbianism in Y: The Last Man is more of a result of necessity rather than homosexuality, which may not necessarily make it an apt candidate for inclusion in a list of top ten gay couples in comics. Still, there are true single gender relationships in the series, most notably the relationship between Rose and Dr. Mann which has a definite blossoming love to it and adds a further layer of character development and drama to the series. Yet even this relationship is clouded a bit by the question of what its dynamics would have been had there been men around. Then again, lesbianism in Y: The Last Man is rather a gray area (take, for example ,the relationship between Bobbi, the male impersonator, and Waverly, which adds another dimension to the whole question). It has to be acknowledged given the overarching plot of the series, but to what extent does it need to be discussed or be a focal point in any regard?
What distinguishes Y: The Last Man in this context, though, is the writing of Brian K. Vaughan. This aspect of the story could easily have been exploited for titillation and male fantasy building. Vaughan refrains from that impulse and provides a relatively frank discussion about female sexuality while trying to ground the issue in as much “reality” as his fictional world demands.
With the complete absence of men, lesbianism takes on a much different context. Y: The Last Man does its best to navigate this issue, while at the same time, I think, provide a vehicle which can easily be seen as supportive of the issue. It’s difficult to be definitive about anything regarding lesbianism in Y: The Last Man, though, given its basic plot device in the first place. The term breaks down right from the start, and Vaughan deftly realizes that it demands a new understanding of sexuality and women.