When looking at a list of gay or bi male superheroes, I notice a lot of characters that would be classified as “twink” in common queer slang. A twink can be defined as a thin, attractive young gay or bi man, who usually dresses fashionably and has no body hair. Think Northstar or Wiccan. On the other hand of the spectrum is the “bear”, which is a burlier, more conventionally masculine gay or bi man, who typically has chest hair, and there are loads of body types and slang terms in between. But sadly, Marvel (especially) and DC’s queer male superheroes have stuck with very slim, effeminate looks with the notable exception of Midnighter, who is broad, muscular, and actually has chest hair to go with mohawk and some stubble.
Another LGBTQ male character who could have added some body diversity was Marvel’s version of Hercules. He made his first real Marvel appearance in the Jack Kirby drawn Journey into Mystery Annual #1 where he and Marvel’s main mythological hero, Thor, fought each other to a standstill. In the 1970s, he was on the shortlived Champions team, and he had several minis and guest appearances in Thor and Avengers-related titles into the 21st century.
In 2008, the regular Incredible Hulk series became Incredible Hercules. It was co-written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente and ran for 29 straight issues. The series concluded with the Hercules Fall of An Avenger mini that revealed Hercules had a sexual relationship with Marvel’s original gay superhero Northstar and possibly its first superhero period, Namor the Submariner. Also, in the fan favorite X-Treme X-Men series, Hercules had a relationship with an alternate universe version of Wolverine, who was the governor of Canada.
Hercules was an easy opportunity to have a queer male lead and actually sell comic books. He’s been one of the Western world’s top heroes for millennia, and his adventures have been told in everything from Disney cartoons to Brett Ratner films. He has been written as everything from a comic buffoon to a tragic figure in Euripides’ play Heraclides where the gods manipulate him into killing his wife and children.
Even more importantly, historically he’s always been bisexual. In the famous myth of Jason and the Argonauts, Hercules abandoned the quest when his young armor bearer and lover Hylas was kidnapped by water nymphs. Hercules also had a romantic relationship with Iolaus, a Theban warrior, who helped him kill the Hydra. There is a creepy factor in this relationship because they were half brothers, but Iolaus did give his name to a shrine where male lovers worshiped together. Basically, the famous Roman writer Plutarch (whose Lives supplied the plots of the Shakespeare’s plays Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra) sums up Hercules’ sexuality by saying, “And as to all of the loves of Hercules, it would take too much time to enumerate them…”
From his portrayal in mythology and in Pak and Van Lente’s Incredible Hercules, Hercules is the polar opposite of the mostly monogamous Northstar, Hulkling, and Wiccan. He forms both emotional and sexual connections with men and women. Whether this is because he just likes to party, is immortal and lonely, or another reason is up to the writer, and there are tons of ways stories featuring him can be told from light, action-filled buddy stories to serious explorations of his semi-divine psyche. (I prefer Herc’s comedy side unless he’s being written by Euripides.)
Unfortunately, Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso curtly denied Hercules’ bisexuality in his weekly interview column at Comic Book Resources. He didn’t even acknowledge the in Marvel Earth-616 canon sequence in Hercules: Fall of Avenger #1 and refused follow-up questions stating that Hercules was only bi in an alternate universe and flat out declaring him “straight”. This is bi erasure plain and simple.
In the past, Marvel has turned subtextual queer relationships into text, such as Loki, who has slept with a variety of genders and species in Norse mythology, being both bisexual and genderqueer in Al Ewing’s Loki Agent of Asgard; writer Gerry Duggan stating on Twitter that Deadpool is pansexual, and writer Kieron Gillen declaring that none of the Young Avengers were straight by Young Avengers #15. The Deadpool one is more played for comedy in Duggan and Posehn’s run and doesn’t explore his pansexuality in depth (I read all 40+ issues and annuals and recently found out that he was pan via Tumblr.) But it was nice baby steps in diversity.
However, in the last year alone, Marvel has lost a lot of their good will by either erasing or fridging bisexual characters. First, there is Iceman, who was outed as gay by Jean Grey in a recent issue of All-New X-Men. Marvel had a chance to make one of the original X-Men bisexual, but instead opted to present him as gay using language typically used to marginalize bisexual people In the recent Runaways series, writer Noelle Stevenson made fan favorite Pixie openly bisexual, but then was killed brutally in Runaways #2 even though there were a bunch of straight characters to fill the Hunger Games quota. This killing felt like a classic comic book fridging because the only purpose of the death was to motivate her girlfriend, Jubilee, who will most likely continue to be straight in the mainstream Marvel universe post-Secret Wars.
And now with a line in an interview, Marvel has lost a golden chance at a bisexual male lead, who is boisterous, masculine, and not about to get married to a random human. (Sorry, Northstar.) Plus upcoming Hercules writer Dan Abnett has a history of writing interesting, badass LGBTQ characters with the lesbian couple Moondragon and Phyla-Vell in his cosmic Annhilation Conquest series and could possibly explore his sexuality in a compelling manner.
On a more personal note, as a more “traditionally masculine” queer man with body and facial hair, it’s been hard for me to connect to characters like Northstar, Wiccan, Bunker, and even Hulkling and Apollo. The first queer superhero I really felt similar to was Prodigy in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers. Sadly, he only made a few appearances, but got to be adorable and nerdy as well as kiss Hulkling, hop dimensions, and discuss his bisexuality at great length. He also had a lanky body type and was in the middle of the “twink”/”bear” spectrum between Northstar and Hercules showing that there are spaces between in queer male body types that the Big Two has barely touched upon.
Midnighter also fits in the middle of this spectrum even though he is much more muscular than me personally. He also represents a kind of “power fantasy” ideal for some queer readers than straight readers have experienced for years with Spider-Man or The Flash. He’s a character who can win a fight before it begins while still being awkward in his relationships and having a romantic side. This is a role Hercules could fill for the Marvel Universe as a hero as strong as Thor, who happens to be attracted to both men and women.
Straight men have had Superman since 1938, straight women have had Wonder Woman since 1941 so why can’t queer men have at least one super strong hero, who can do feats that we can only dream of. (Laying in his arms. Oops.)
But not content to merely dash the hopes of queer comics fan hoping for at least one of the 60 upcoming All-New Marvel comics to have a hero like us, editor-in-chief Axel Alonso and PR person Chris D’Lando decided to retweet an image posted by a GamerGater poking fun of these very fans. (This has since been deleted from Alonso and D’Lando’s accounts.) This painful image is an example of a privileged straight man punching down at fans like me, who found refuge in the LGBTQ metaphors of characters like the X-Men or actual LGBTQ characters, like the Young Avengers.
It’s poor behavior for a company that claims to espouse diversity in their comics, but can’t find the time of day to give more than one LGBTQ character a solo title (Thank goodness for Marguerite Bennett and Stephanie Hans’ Angela.) or even have a single black creator write or draw one of their upcoming All-New Marvel titles until Black History Month in February.
In contrast, DC has six titles with LGBTQ leads (Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Harley Quinn and Power Girl, Hellblazer, Midnighter, Bombshells), with two of them –Hellblazer and Midnighter- written by bisexual creators, James Tynion IV and Steve Orlando.
And it’s for this and number of reasons that for the first time in my five years of reading comics, I can say I prefer DC to Marvel. (Actually, Image and BOOM!, but this is a big deal for a guy with a 4:1 Marvel to DC ratio as far as action figures go.)