Here’s my question about gay superheroes (and superhero sexuality in general)…

If one reads the old Golden Age stories of Superman or Batman (pre-1960), and assumes the main characters were gay, would it change the stories any?

Were there any overt romantic relationships?  The unrequited love quadrilateral of Lois Lane – Superman – Clark Kent – Lana Lang was resolved in a few “imaginary” stories, but did Clark Kent ever date?  (There is the “Woman of Kleenex” hypothesis…)

Northstar has been gay since Alpha Flight #1, although editorial dictates prevented this announcement until Alpha Flight #106.  (Has Jim Shooter discussed this decision publicly?  John Byrne comments over at Byrne Robotics. Some point to the Comics Code, which wasn’t amended until 1989.)  Do those stories read differently with this new knowledge?  How subtle was the inference?

How many characters are actually in relationships, or have made their orientation known in comics?  Has Superboy or Supergirl stated their preference?  (Perhaps Kryptonian society has a different system of courtship and gender identity. And pregnancy, as viewed by Superman’s birthing matrix.)  Even if a character has stated his/her/shklir preference, could that be a ruse (such as Daken or Power Girl)?  Just another secret identity to keep hidden?

I guess what I’m wondering about is, does it really matter?  Or is it just another characteristic?  When do readers stop noticing, just as most have stopped noticing racial “firsts” like Black Panther?


  1. >> but did Clark Kent ever date? >>

    Yes, and fairly widely, over time.

    There are even stories that seem to have been written to show when Clark lost his virginity (The kinda-creepy “Don’t Call Me Superboy” in DC SUPER STARS #12) and one where Lois pretty clearly stays the night.

    Even with the Code being ever vigilant, it’s safe to say that Larry Niven’s theory is hooey. At least in the DC Universe.


  2. Whoops – I missed the pre-1960 note. Both those stories were post-1970.

    But yeah, even before 1960, Clark went on dates, both in his younger days and as an adult. He even gets a date with Lois in ACTION #1, as I recall, and they go out, to unprepossessing results.

  3. @Kurt
    Lori Lemaris first appeared in May of ’59.

    Freud I think, was the one who proposed that fascination/attraction towards mermaids was symbolic of either (A) a lusting for the unattainable mother, as the “good parts” of a mermaid are hidden and up for debate altogether, or (B) closeted homosexuality, again because the “good parts” are not really represented.

    Just something to ponder.

  4. Getting rid of secret identities is, as I see it, indubitably a good thing. Secret identities are obsolete, unless they’re combined with a “superhero story as morality play” approach to the stories. Marvel Editorial has tried to modernize its system somewhat (e.g., “Civil War”) but still says that humans are unaware that aliens exist. You might suppose that if a superhero’s secret I.D. was revealed, he or his friends would be killed, but that’s part of the soap opera approach to timelines: nothing meaningful happens between stories.

    Batman might be a perfect example of someone whose psychological makeup has prevented him from knowing what his sexual orientation is. If he ever focused his attention on living a normal life, he might experience revelations. The same could be said of any hero whose origin and motivations are based on traumatic experiences and obsessive commitments to fighting crime. If he represses emotions and/or is emotionally immature, he doesn’t know himself.

    A useful thought experiment to conduct when thinking about a superhero is to project him, say, five years into the future. What does he do with himself during that time? What relationships does he take up or end? How does he amuse himself? If hardly anything comes to mind except for battles with villains, there’s a problem. If all of his battles are supposedly heart-stopping, life-or-death situations, then they’re all meaningless. Law enforcement people, whether they’re real-life or fictional, have routine, even boring cases. The same should be true of superheroes.

    If a hero is written as progressing toward an endpoint, he doesn’t have to go there quickly. The trip could take years. But knowing that he’s on a trip somewhere makes for a better reading experience than seeing him walk in circles. There will be time to explore all the aspects a person has, including his sexual identity.


  5. If you read the Alpha Flight issues with Northstar and Aurora (7 & 8)you see in their dialogue and Northstar’s relationship with his friend that is killed by Deadly Earnest, you can see that Northstar is indeed gay. I was too young to read between the lines at the time but it was there. After 106 you could go back, re-read, and say “Aha!”

  6. I don’t think that the fact that he’s gay matters. My first thought about Northstar has always been “what an arrogant jerk but he love’s his sister”. That’s what made him a special character to me.

  7. People who look for gay themes will find it no matter what, its like those who look for something perverted or racial in a animated Disney movie. If you want to find it you will find even if it was a bump into another character they would say it was because of the fact he or she is gay.
    Its just that comic books were meant to be fun. A place when you were young you dreamt of being a superhero and would run around with your friends playing superhero. It was an escape for the young and young at heart.
    Today we have pretty much destroyed the comic book industry by trying to make the heroes grow up into the real world facing real world problems. We now have comic books mostly for adults that do not stay long collecting books. Tons of speculators who think each new next big thing will make them rich. How many flocked to the ndcu for all the number 1’s now finding they have multiple copies of a book falling in price. How many old loyal fans have left because of the ndcu and the big change in a superhero that they spent years or decades growing up with?
    How many times have we seen companies try to age a character only seek a way to revert that change. Spider Man and Superman’s wedding are just a couple. By trying to age a character to please some just has never worked.
    By alienating the biggest group of comic buyers and that was the younger age from 9 to 17 the comic book industry has cut off a huge chunk of fans.
    Was it worth it? From over all sales I would say no. The industry now is at a point where they have to decide to cater to the few or try to do a quick fix or take a step back and really look at the industry.
    Did removing the Comic Code of Authority really help boost sales or just tell more adult tales? Leave out so much of the real world and get back to telling fantasy stories because that is what a comic book truly is.
    Super Heroes do not exist in the real world but heroes like police, firemen and others do. A political agenda is not a place for a comic book, you have a newspaper, blog or tv to push that. Keep pushing agenda’s and you keep pushing away fans and the ones you will have left will be the ones who only download your books for free.

  8. I think that it varies from character to character.

    The challenges of having a romantic relationship with a woman were central to a huge percentage of Superman stories. They were frequently full of seemingly intentional Freudian subtext (i.e. his absent birth mother is Lara El, or LL). Making Superman anything other than heterosexual really does make him a very different character.

    The same is true for characters with rich romantic histories, like Spider-Man. I would include characters with strong, monogamous attachments in that group. Barry Allen is largely defined by Iris West. The same is true of Ray Palmer and Jean Loring, or Ralph and Sue Dibny.

    Perhaps ironically, it is the “ladies men” for whom their orientation matters the least. Carol Ferris is not utterly essential to understanding Hal Jordan. No woman has ever matter to Bruce Wayne in the slightest. The same is true for Tony Stark.

  9. Very interesting question. Personally, I would argue (and agree with Dean) that the Clark-Lois-Superman triangle was absolutely essential to the character’s initial success. That was the point of identification. Without Clark, I don’t think we would have Superman today.

    That being said, I would bet that anyone who has hid any kind of emotion, orientation, or secret would argue very strongly that it does matter. Either for someone telling a story or someone reading it. So though the motivations might be economic (as they certainly were in the 30s too), extending the secret ID of a superhero to include sexual orientation seems yet another reason why superheroes can still be an important means of understanding the human condition through fiction.

  10. …then again, over on the distinguished competition, they list the pros and cons of a gay Spectre, so…yeah…..

    great pics, Torsten

  11. No woman has ever matter to Bruce Wayne in the slightest. The same is true for Tony Stark.

    Silver St. Cloud mattered to Bruce Wayne, arguably, although not enough to compete with his need to fight crime without distractions.

    Tony Stark is a shell of a man. You could argue that he immerses himself in technology and finance because he’s terrified of making an emotional commitment to anyone. If he were written as having a family member, either a brother or sister, to compete against and had to watch him or her live a full life, he’d be faced with a hard question: Do I admit that I’m inferior to _____, or do I address my emotional problems?

    The success of WATCHMEN is evidence that superheroes can be written for adults. Villains don’t have to be megalomaniacs; all they have to do is want to control people for their own benefit. There are plenty of real-life examples of that.


  12. I have to take issue with arrowshaft’s analysis on a couple points even though I agree that some of the problems of the superhero publishers are caused by a focus on “relevance” and “realism” instead of escapist fun.

    First I don’t think that the undoing of marriages was necessary. Characters do change and I see nothing incompatible between Superman as wish fulfillment fantasy and being married. I think the undoing of Spidey’s marriage was as much as about the insistence of editors and writers that the characters should be reverted to the status quo they grew up with and then placed in amber as it does with undoing damage caused by trying to age the characters unnecessarily.

    Secondly comics and agendas have always gone together. Golden Age Superman and Captain America are obvious examples. The X-Men themselves have had an agenda from the beginning promoting tolerance and exploring the evils of discrimination.

    And finally I don’t think acknowledging the existence of gay people is pursuing a political agenda.

  13. >> No woman has ever matter to Bruce Wayne in the slightest.>>

    Selina Kyle comes to mind. Julie Madison. Silver St. Cloud.

    >> The same is true for Tony Stark.>>

    Meredith McCall. Pepper Potts. Whitney Frost. Bethany Cabe.


  14. Vicki Vale mattered too, for about 15 minutes.

    But ya know, other stereotypes could apply as well. Maybe DC has chosen the wrong character to “go gay”, or at least the wrong Lantern. If Hal Jordan is such the ladies man, what’s he trying to prove?

  15. “Batman and Iron Man have not been depicted as gay.
    Just sluts.”

    It depends on the writer. If some writer out there loves the idea of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark being promiscuous, they’ll write them that way. See Mark Millar’s treatment of Tony Stark in the Ultimates and Brian Bendis’ use of Hellcat as a tool for locker room talk between Cap, Thor, and Iron Man in Avengers Prime. Seems like there’s some writers willing to live vicariously beyond just superheroics in their books.

  16. Just sluts.

    They’d have to go some to match Namor, who’s been depicted in AvX as willing to have sex with anything, human or alien, that’s capable of consent.

    One of the various problems Stark has is that there’s not enough time for him to be an inventor, a corporate titan, a playboy, and an Avenger. If someone ever tried to fit his activities into a daily scheduler, he’d probably conclude that Stark has 32-hour days.

    Writing superheroes well for adults might take some effort, but so what? Showing off the efforts can impress people. I recently pointed out that in AVENGERS ACADEMY (AA) #29, Sebastian Shaw’s method of escaping from his cell made no sense at all. His kinetic energy came from nowhere. In his review of AA #30, Greg Burgas commented:

    Noted Bendis Hater Steven R. Stahl mentioned in regard to last issue that the way Sebastian Shaw got enough energy to escape from Madison Jeffries was way stupid, and I had some fun with him, because it’s comics, after all. Here’s the thing about Stahl, though: he’s right, but should we care? [. . .]

    I’ve often wondered about this when it comes to writers writing people like Reed Richards and Tony Stark, who are supposed to be geniuses. Are any comic book writers geniuses in physics? No, they’re not – not even Warren Ellis or Grant Morrison, because if they were, they’d be motherfucking physicists. So I admit that Stahl is right, even though I’m willing to give Gage a pass, because the way Shaw escaped was clever enough. Sure, if you think about it, it falls apart, but guess what? If you think about a lot of superhero comics too much, they fall apart.

    I’d argue that no story, in any genre, should fall apart if you think about it, especially if you think about the plot. A fiction writer’s major objective is to construct a fictional reality. If a reader is hit in the face, once or more than once, by the unreal nature of what the writer has his people doing, he’ll lose him permanently.

    Making powers understandable and reasonable might take work. Writing superheroes as people might take work. But if they managed to do that at Marvel in the ’70s and ’80s, but not now, what’s changed besides readers’ expectations? Are we supposed to think that the attitude among many editors and writers now is that the artwork should suffice to carry the story, and if a reader wants something more, he should watch movies?


  17. “Writing superheroes well for adults might take some effort”

    Why should adults want super-heroes written well for adults? Superheroes are a fundamentally and irretrievably juvenile concept. If you’re a grown up and super-heroes no longer entertain you, the problem isn’t with super-heroes.

    “no story, in any genre, should fall apart if you think about it, especially if you think about the plot.”

    Oh, for pete’s sake. Every story in any genre falls apart if you think about it enough. That’s because it is FICTION and, by its very nature, is not a 100% faithful representation of reality. Do you think there’s ever been any real whale like Moby Dick?


  18. SRS, you post a lot about how stories ought to be written. Do you actually write? I’m not being funny, but I’ve been a published writer for 20 years and my principles don’t go much further than “get the shit written”.

  19. Arrowshaft said:

    “By alienating the biggest group of comic buyers and that was the younger age from 9 to 17 the comic book industry has cut off a huge chunk of fans.”

    YMMV, but I think kids were walking away from comics even in the 1970s, when DC at least was still largely committed to reaching them. I believe that when the Big Two agreed to go after the DM audience, it was out of desperation (though distributor problems played a role as well).

  20. Mbunge said:

    “Superheroes are a fundamentally and irretrievably juvenile concept. If you’re a grown up and super-heroes no longer entertain you, the problem isn’t with super-heroes.”

    Disagree; I think superheroes can have their adult and juvenile modes w/o contradiction.

    And to hew marginally closer to the topic, even if everyone agreed “superheroes are juvenile,” that in itself wouldn’t keep people from writing stories about gay topics in them, as per the book publisher who did the “I Have Two Daddies” book (or whatever it was called).

  21. Synisdar: “A fiction writer’s major objective is to construct a fictional reality.”

    Is that really accurate? It may be for some, but for many, I’d bet that the construction of a fictional reality is just a means to an end.

    “If a reader is hit in the face, once or more than once, by the unreal nature of what the writer has his people doing, he’ll lose him permanently.”

    There’s something to this, but I don’t think it’s as strict or the margin as narrow as you make it out to be. And readers will have different levels set for where that unreality hits them in the face, and most likely that level will vary for different types of stories and different types of readers.

  22. “Writing superheroes well for adults might take some effort”

    I’m going with MBunge on this one. I grew up on late 70’s and early 80’s Marvel and I love superheroes but I don’t need to know what’s going on in their sex lives (not romantic relationships but how Luke Cage gets all carnal on Jessica Jones type sex lives) or how they’d use their power in the real world or how physics makes their powers impossible. I look at cartoons like Young Justice and the whole Bruce Timm DCUA as a perfect way to do superheroes.

  23. Why should adults want super-heroes written well for adults? Superheroes are a fundamentally and irretrievably juvenile concept. If you’re a grown up and super-heroes no longer entertain you, the problem isn’t with super-heroes.

    Stories with superheroes aren’t inherently juvenile, any more than action/adventure stories are. If someone’s power can be emulated through technology, it’s SF; telepathy is commonplace in SF. All someone needs to do to make superpowers understandable is to establish a common source for them, along with reasonable limits. The Ultraverse had the Jumpstart. As long as there’s a single power source and the powers are handled intelligently, there shouldn’t be problems.

    Conservation of energy, for example. A shape-shifter keeping his mass the same but varying the distribution of it. Distinguishing between relative invulnerability (resistant to injury) and absolute invulnerability (immune to injury). If two paranormals with differing levels of strength and relative invulnerability fight, the battle could be as tactically complex and intriguing as a martial arts battle. Can a fighter locate an opponent’s weak spots and make use of them? Can he use technology to his advantage?

    For a reader, the most important element might be the author’s intent. If the story has character development, a theme, and an ending, then the story can succeed in spite of glitches, or even succeed with a depressing ending, because the theme and development were convincing. The hero’s pride led to his undoing; the couple divorced because they grew apart. But if the story has no theme, no development, and all the reader gets is plot, what does he have to enjoy or think about if the plot is defective?

    If Tony Stark were to marry someone, his struggle to stay faithful to her and to give her adequate time could be as useful a continuing source of dramatic tension as any battle with a villain might be. But he has to be written realistically first.

    Writers should be able to avoid simple mistakes even without being physicists, such as not writing adamantium as being chemically reactive, or, in the AvX event, having the Phoenix Force travel from the Kree Galaxy (Greater Magellanic Cloud) to the Milky Way at less than light speed. If it can travel through hyperspace, there’s no reason for it to cruise through normal space; if it travels faster than light in normal space, there’s no way to perceive it.

    Fantasies work as fiction because normal people find themselves in strange situations, strange people are in normal situations, or strange people are in strange situations, but don’t act randomly. If a story has structure that can be summarized in a paragraph, it can’t fall apart, regardless of how much one thinks about it, or the existence of flaws. The writer’s point is identifiable, even if he makes it imperfectly.


  24. It really doesn’t since wanton destruction is prevalent in the marvel universe and nyc gets destroyed 15 times in the supposed floating timeline or the DC universe needs to rewrite its origin every 5 years, why bother? no one will remember you. One More Day? bollocks