FAN NEWS

Variations on a Theme: The Queer DC Multiverse

Alex Jaffe

Alex Jaffe

June 26, 2019

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Imaginary stories. Elseworlds. Infinite Earths. For nearly as long as DC has maintained a continuity between its titles, it's also maintained a right and tradition to publish stories outside of it. Stories designed to examine beloved characters at new, unfamiliar angles, where the world and circumstances of their lives may be different, yet the identity at their core remains the same. (In some cases, like 1997’s Tangent Comics, even THAT’S up for grabs.) Different time periods, geographical settings, and entirely separate genres are all explored within these titles, with familiar heroes cast into new roles. Race, gender, and nationality aren't set in stone when recreating a character for another world. One element that's sometimes changed, particularly when adapting an old work into a modern context, is to rebut the heteronormativity of their creation by presenting a wider sexual diversity within their newly interpreted world. In honor of Pride Month, here are some of the queer characters you’ll find in the vast reaches of the multiverse beyond Prime Earth.

 

 

Earth 2: Green Lantern, Alan Scott

 

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As one of the founding fathers of the Justice Society of America, Alan Scott has been a pillar of the multiverse practically as long as there’s BEEN a multiverse. As the Silver Age began in the mid-'50s, comics would continue to check in on the continuing adventures of Golden Age heroes like Alan Scott on the so-called “Earth 2.” In 2012, DC reinvented the Earth 2 concept for the New 52 line-wide relaunch. For the first time, heroes who'd remained relatively unchanged since the late '30s and early '40s were open to reinterpretation for a more openly diverse market. For Alan Scott, a precedent had already been set in the '90s by ‘Infinity Inc,’ where his son Obsidian came out as a gay man. But after the paradigm shift of the New 52, Obsidian was no more. Perhaps because of that, it was Alan Scott himself in this new iteration of Earth 2 who now operated as a gay hero. Here, Scott’s origin began in tragedy, as the train accident which led to his discovery of the Green Lantern also resulted in the death of his fiancé, Sam Zhao. (Later, Zhao would return as an air elemental avatar, and fuse with Alan into a single entity.) Today, with the return of the Justice Society of America to mainstream continuity on the horizon, it remains to be seen just how much of Alan’s Earth 2 background remain a part of the character.

 

 

Krypton: Nyssa-Vex

 

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Nyssa-Vex is one of many original characters introduced in ‘Krypton,’ a series which fleshes out the society and peoples on Superman’s homeworld like never before. Nyssa-Vex is a cool-headed, brilliant legislator in her society’s upper crust, but perhaps her greatest asset is an emotional intelligence rarely found amongst Kryptonians. It’s Nyssa-Vex, arranged wife for Superman’s grandfather Seg-El, who uncovers the affair between him and Lyta-Zod, itself a catalyst for many of the series’ potentially timeline-threatening events. Surprisingly, we eventually learn that Nyssa-Vex is not without her own romantic dalliances. In the season 1 episode “Transformation,” Nyssa-Vex reveals to Seg-El that it was a former female lover who taught her to fight — but that she, too, was ultimately unfaithful. In a society such as Krypton, where romantic affection or sexual attraction of any kind is frowned upon, the choice to introduce a bisexual character stands out as particularly bold.

 

 

Thrillkiller: The Joker, Bianca Steeplechase

 

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One of the most talked about love triangles in the last 25 years of comics has been the internal struggle between Harley Quinn’s obsession with The Joker and her affection for her frequent partner in crime Poison Ivy. The ‘Thrillkiller’ Elseworlds series solves this problem in Harley’s love life in a particularly novel way: it consolidates Joker and Ivy into a single character. As Bianca Steeplechase, The Joker of ‘Thrillkiller’ takes on several of Poison Ivy’s signature traits, such as her power over men to achieve her goals, and a set of poisoned cosmetics which grants her a deadly kiss. And while she may be married to Gotham’s mayor, it’s Hayley Fitzpatrick, the story’s own Harley Quinn, who has captured her heart.

 

 

Young Justice: Marie Logan

 

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In the character-dense world of the ‘Young Justice’ animated series, Marie Logan isn’t afforded a lot of screen time… but she leaves a very big impact. As a teen actor on the '90s sitcom ‘Hello, Megan!’, it was Marie who inspired Miss Martian’s enthusiasm for Earth culture and her very identity. Apart from that, Beast Boy fans may recognize her as the mother of the shapeshifting hero, a role she continues to play in ‘Young Justice.’ When we catch up with Beast Boy in season 2, it seems like he’s been taken under Miss Martian’s wing as a foster brother. It’s only in the tie-in comic series where we learn the truth behind the tragedy that befell his mother. Seeking vengeance for her defeat at the team’s hands, the ruthless, pheromone-controlling Queen Bee seduced and enthralled Beast Boy’s innocent mother, coercing her to drive herself off a cliff — and leaving Beast Boy with abandonment issues which he continues to reckon with in the show's third season, 'Young Justice: Outsiders'.

 

 

Watchmen: Hooded Justice

 

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For most of its publication history, the seminal work done in ‘Watchmen’ by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons stood apart from the DC Universe. This was actually by DC’s own design: ‘Watchmen’ began its life in the eighties as a pitch for integrating DC’s then recently acquired stable of heroes from Charlton Comics, like Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and the Question. It was the editorial board itself that ultimately decided to rebrand the heroes and keep ‘Watchmen’ apart from the goings-on of DC when the universe was realigned after ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths.’ This stance changed in 2016, when ‘DC Universe: Rebirth’ shocked us all by revealing the role of ‘Watchmen’ in DC’s greater cosmology. The implications of this change in direction are far-reaching and are further explored in the ‘Doomsday Clock’ series. One of many things this accomplishes is the integration of Hooded Justice, the first Super Hero of the Watchmen universe, and also a gay man. Although Hooded Justice’s identity and sexuality are only hinted at in the original series, the four-issue ‘Minutemen’ series of DC’s ‘Before Watchmen’ line in 2012 would explore his life “Under the Hood” in greater detail.

 

 

Doom Patrol: Negative Man

 

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DC Universe’s ‘Doom Patrol’ has cultivated a reputation for never allowing viewers any certainty about just what’s going to happen next, whether you’ve read the source material or not. Like all good alternate universes, ‘Doom Patrol’ preserves the soul of its origins even as it changes the details. One interesting change early on in the series was to the background of Larry Trainor, Doom Patrol’s Negative Man. Trainor here is depicted as an Air Force pilot, but one who is carrying out a secret affair with a man in his ground crew, at a time when acting openly as a gay man meant certain career and social suicide. To be sure, many volumes have been written on the parallels between the secret identity staple of the Super Hero genre and the secret double lives that many queer people have been forced to assume throughout history in order to blend in with a heteronormative society. In interviews, 'Doom Patrol' executive producer Jeremy Carver has been outspoken about how the change to Trainor’s background is meant to reflect this very idea. For every queer person who grew up reading comics and understanding the need to maintain a cover identity all too deeply, Negative Man is right where you are.

 

 

The Multiversity: Red Racer

 

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Throughout the history of the DC Universe, whether it’s Jay Garrick and Alan Scott, Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, or Wally West and Kyle Rayner, The Flash and Green Lantern have always been the best of friends. But what if their relationship were something more than that? In ‘The Multiversity,’ Grant Morrison’s Red Racer and Flashlight stand as the answer to that question. Just as Barry Allen first discovered Earth 2 through the comic book stories on his own world, it’s through the medium of comics that Red Racer is able to track The Gentry’s encroachment upon the Multiverse. Sadly, also like Barry, Red Racer nobly sacrifices himself to preserve the continued existence of reality from an unimaginably large threat. But not before making sure that Flashlight, the counterpart on his Earth to Green Lantern, knows he always loved him.

 

 

Swamp Thing: Liz Tremayne

 

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What’s a mystery in the DC Universe without an intrepid reporter to peel back the layers? In ‘Swamp Thing,’ this role is played by Liz Tremayne, friend of Abigail Arcane and writer for ‘In-Depth Magazine.’ The mystery in question: Who killed Alec and Linda Holland? With the wild and frightening turns the case ends up taking as she ventures deeper and deeper into a swamp of secrets, Liz never really had much time for a love life in the original comics. But in DC Universe’s original ‘Swamp Thing’ series, Tremayne is afforded the luxury of a girlfriend — and one who isn’t averse to helping her figure out a clue from time to time. At least in the town of Marais, it’s a little easier to get folks to accept your queer identity than the existence of a primordial swamp elemental.

 

 

DC Comics Bombshells: EVERYBODY

 

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For those who came in late, the award for Gayest World in the Multiverse unequivacally goes to ‘DC Comics: Bombshells.’ In ‘Bombshells,’ practically DC’s entire female Super Hero roster is reimagined as Nazi-punching lesbians. You can read our romantic round-up here.

 

 

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