That Swing Both Ways
by Brandon Tietz
I’m into comic books. My friends are into comic books. And my friends who aren’t into comic books get pulled into these conversations due to simple proximity. Sometimes they ask questions, and one of my gay friends wanted to know why there aren’t more gay comic book characters, and that’s totally valid.
In an age in which diversity is becoming more and more the norm, I could see why he’d want to know this. The truth here is that Hollywood has (for the most part) been giving us nothing but hetero heroes in their big- and small-screen adaptations. I guess straight plays better for the wider audiences.
There are plenty of characters that swing both ways though. You just need to go to the source material. So here’s my top six list of non-hetero characters—three from Marvel and three from DC.
Batwoman (DC Comics)
Real name: Kate Kane
Sexual orientation: lesbian
Abilities: highly trained martial artist and detective
The lowdown: One of the few staples in the DC heroes catalogue yet to make a televised appearance, this reiteration of Batwoman was introduced in 2006 in an effort to diversify and connect with a different demographic of readers.
Kate Kane cut her teeth at the U.S. Military Academy where she was top of her class, but her time there was truncated when she was accused of being in a same-sex relationship with another student. Kate is subsequently expelled under the academy’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. This lands her back in Gotham City where she ends up beating the crap out of a mugger in front of the one and only Batman. This encounter with the Caped Crusader lights the proverbial fire under her ass. After a two-year training period that spans the globe, Kate returns to Gotham and officially begins her crime-fighting career as Batwoman.
Catwoman (DC Comics)
Real name: Selina Kyle
Sexual orientation: bisexual
Abilities: expert gymnast and burglar, proficient in hand-to-hand combat
The lowdown: Anyone who’s seen Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns” or Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” should have a general idea of what Catwoman is about. She steals from people, Batman hunts her down and then the two do their dance of combat and sexual tension. For decades, it’s been this way—both on-screen and in the comic.
Then in 2015 the character was revamped in two major ways. The first is that Selina Kyle gives up the Catwoman identity in order to head up a crime family. The second is that she becomes romantically involved with the person who’s taken on the Catwoman mantle, a woman by the name of Eiko Hasigawa.
In Catwoman #39 these two share a kiss—Selina in her civilian clothes and Eiko in the Catwoman costume. Writers of the comic book have said this choice was made to get Selina to step outside of the male gaze in a meaningful and powerful way.
Harley Quinn (DC Comics)
Real name: Harleen Quinzel
Sexual orientation: bisexual
Abilities: skilled gymnast, immunity to most toxins and diseases, usage of weaponized props, psychiatry
The lowdown: Wonderfully portrayed by Margot Robbie in the hot mess that was Suicide Squad, this gal only has eyes for the Joker—or, Mistah J, as she affectionately refers to him. Their tumultuous relationship is one that rivals the ongoing Batman/Catwoman affair.
Here’s the curveball: Harley swings both ways. Although the Joker will always be her main squeeze, in the comic Poison Ivy is her botanical side piece. It’s not a serious relationship per se. More of a “when the Joker’s away the girls will play” type of scenario.
The DCEU has an excellent opportunity to showcase (or tease) at least some part of this relationship in the upcoming Gotham City Sirens which will see the return of Robbie as Harley Quinn. Poison Ivy and Catwoman (both yet to be cast) will co-star alongside her.
Real name: Bobby Drake
Sexual orientation: gay
Mutant powers: thermokinesis, cryokinesis, hydrokinesis (the dude can control cold and ice)
The lowdown: This longtime X-Man has been straight for literally decades and was portrayed as having a romantic interest in Kitty Pryde in the X-Men films. That changed in 2012 when the writers over at Marvel decided to shake things up a bit.
To make a long and complicated story arc short, a displaced-in-time past version of Iceman is living in the present day. This younger version of Iceman confronts the present version (who is still in the closet) about his sexuality. This leads the present version to comes to terms with being gay. His reasoning for living in the closet is that he’s already ostracized for being a mutant. Being gay on top of that would just double his problems. Eventually, he’s able to accept it and begins coming out to his fellow X-Men. They’re cool with it (of course), but it just goes to show you how weird comic books are when a younger version of a character outs his older self.
Real name: Raven Darkholme
Sexual orientation: sexually-fluid, gender-fluid
Abilities: expert gymnast and martial artist
Mutant power: shapeshifting
The lowdown: You’ll know this character from the X-Men movies as well. First, she was portrayed by Rebecca Romijn, then later by Academy Award-winner Jennifer Lawrence. Due to Mystique’s mutation, she can assume any human form, whether that be male or female (parts and all). The original plan in the comic was to have Mystique and her lover Destiny (who is female) be the parents of Nightcrawler. That would have involved Mystique shape-shifting into male form in order to impregnate her, however, things in the 1970s weren’t as cool as they are now.
The Comics Code Authority (sort of like the MPAA of comics) prohibited the portrayal of gay and bisexual characters. The fact that Mystique could go back and forth between being male and female was already pushing it. The Mystique/Destiny parental angle got nixed, and their relationship was written much more subtlety so as not to ruffle any feathers.
Real name: Wade Wilson
Sexual orientation: pansexual
Mutant powers: accelerated healing factor, resistance to toxins, virtually unkillable
Abilities: expert martial artist, expert swordsman and marksman
The lowdown: Last but certainly not least—Deadpool. The merc with a mouth was finally given his cinematic due with a Golden Globe-nominated performance by Ryan Reynolds. Deadpool is different from any other comic book character for many reasons, one of them being that he’s actually aware he’s fictional and will often break the fourth wall in order to directly address the reader a la Ferris Bueller.
Another differentiating factoid is that Deadpool is a bonafide pansexual. Co-creator Fabian Nicieza went on record saying, “Deadpool is whatever sexual inclination his brain tells him he is in that moment.” We’ve seen the character flirt with the ladies over the years, but he’s also made a few passes at Spider-Man as well (no luck, though). Maybe we’ll see some of DP’s pansexuality come out in Deadpool 2. We can only hope.