In the past few years, the LGBTQ+ community has become more outspoken about representation in every form of media. Their voices have come through via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, speeches, letters, etc. and the comic book community has taken notice.In the past year, the number of characters representing the community and/or allying with the community have increased tenfold.
I’m unsure when it truly started, but as an avid reader of comics, I remember the surge of articles that consumed my timeline about comic characters being confirmed LGBTQ. The big one that really opened my eyes to the change comic book creators had started was with the one and only Wonder Woman.
Diana Prince. A hero my mother and I both looked up to for her wisdom and strength. In September of last year, writer Greg Rucka stated in an interview that the Amazonian warrior was queer. The feedback was CRAZY. Left and right, people (avid readers or casual fans, even those who had just a simple understanding of who exactly the superhero was) were putting their two cents into the conversation. This is where my thoughts of the rhetorical ecology within the comic sphere begins. Like everything, there were positive comments and negative ones. There is a definite movement underneath the confirmation of queer characters.
Many were against the character’s identity, calling the move to be “unoriginal.” For the most part, though, the feedback was positive, and sparked a movement within the comic creator realm to push boundaries with their own superheroes.
For example, in light of recent events, CW Supergirl‘s co-lead character Alex Danvers, sister to Kara Danvers, has been written as a lesbian. The coming out story became what felt like a worldwide phenomenon and in my opinion one of the best stories written for the LGBTQ+ community. Since the episode where she came to realization she was lesbian (which premiered a month after WW’s identity statement) she has since come out to both her sister and mother, furthering the movement to create more queer characters. Chyler Leigh, the actress behind Alex, stated recently that she had received the script for her character’s story the night of the shooting and felt even more compelled to properly portray a queer character on the screen.
But comics have always tried to pander to those who aren’t straight or cis. Batwoman was created solely so that readers could have a queer character in DC comics. Midnighter and Apollo, a current run by DC comics, showcases a high profiled gay couple fighting baddies in the panels of their monthly comic. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy became a legitimized polyamorous couple in the pages of Harley Quinn. It seems though that now, more than ever, they are trying very hard to create a community of characters that their readers can relate to better and also tackle the debate on sexuality and LGBTQ+ rights through their stories. The list can go on forever. Young Justice co-creator Greg Weisman recently confirmed via Twitter that there are canon LGBTQ+ characters within his show, even if not explicitly stated (because of the network it premiered on, etc.) after fans continued asking him on social media. Sara Lance, aka White Canary on CW’s Legends of Tomorrow was canonically confirmed bisexual and the actress behind her, Caity Lotz, advocates widely for the LGBTQ+ community post the confirmation.
Indie comics have gotten behind the movement as well. At the start of this year, IDW publishing released a comic anthology called Love is Love to mourn the victims of the tragic Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. In their anthology, queer comic characters make appearances to express their feelings and thoughts on the tragic event. Many non-queer characters also appear, along with poems and artwork showcasing 300 artists and writers who stand behind the LGBTQ+ community.
Bitzer’s rhetorical situation ties neatly into what I’m trying to explain. A speaker-reader-message collection; where the comic readers ask and discuss the opportunities of canonically queer characters and the creators/writers are privy to such conversation that they bring such characters into existence or (a lot of times) in the case of many writers, have just come forward about the characters being canonically queer and then later on that is relayed into a message through the colorful panels of comic books. There’s also the exigence there, the idea that if comic books do not progress with their readers that the form of story-telling may as well be lost.
Furthermore, Edbauer’s rhetorical ecology holds true as well, constantly moving and never in one fixed place since comics are available in digital and hard copy format. But also that not just one comic company is joining in on the movement of representation, rather multiple companies are.The interaction via social media from both creators of comic characters and fans shows a “rhetorical publicness” Edbauer speaks of in her article. The network created in the comic creators’ sphere has shown that circulation is necessary. “No one single text can create a public” holds true since the audience has continued to urge creators to make more characters, asking for a more diverse universe within the comics. It’s clear that the massive movement the LGBTQ+ community has created calling for more proper representation has caught the attention of comic book creators, leading to the past few years’ worth of newly confirmed queer characters.