Can Marvel Come Back from Queer Character Erasure?

After years of will-they-or-won’t-they, Marvel finally released The New Mutants. It quickly joined the list of lackluster X-Men films destined for obscurity. However, all wasn’t lost with Fox Marvel’s conclusion to its X-Men dynasty. Dani Moonstar and Rahne Sinclair’s on-screen relationship was a win for queer representation in the superhero genre. They presented a positive portrayal of a queer, interracial relationship. With The New Mutants under the Disney umbrella, the Marvel Cinematic Universe now has access to a film that did queer representation right. But the looming question is: will they follow this film’s lead? Marvel’s movie history doesn’t inspire confidence on this front. However, as a queer Marvel fan, I still have hope for LGBTQIA+ representation.

The MCU is known for pulling heroes from around the galaxy to thwart superpowered villains, demons, and cosmic entities, but it still lags behind its comic universe inspiration when it comes to LGBTQIA+ representation. Marvel jumpstarted its foray into queer depictions of different superpowered beings with the coming out of Alpha Flight’s Northstar as a gay mutant in Alpha Flight issue #106. From there, Marvel really hit its major LGBTQIA+ stride. They released page after page of superheroic stories that allowed Marvel’s comics fans to find their favorite do-gooders living as queer heroes.

Dani kissing Rahne in New Mutants

20th Century Studios

Various Runaways, Avengers, Wakandans, and Mutants (already an allegory for LGBTQIA+ folks) have been queer across multiple comic book series. This representation brought us gay weddings (Northstar making history again), distinguished bisexual and pansexual characters devoid of stereotypes (like New Mutant’s Prodigy and Deadpool), LGBTQIA+ friendships (Young X-Men’s Graymalkin and Anole), transgender/cisgender relationships (like Angela: Asgard’s Assassin’s Sera and Angela), and superheroes wrestling with their sexuality (like X-Men’s Iceman). All of this resonated with queer fans across different Marvel comic properties.

MCU films introduced some of these LGBTQIA+ card-carrying members. Granted, these were characters with layered development throughout, but those layers didn’t include their queerness. These characters either didn’t have their queerness present or were coded as queer after their film appearances. In anticipation of Marvel’s Phase Three behemoth Avengers: Endgame, Marvel stated that an openly gay character would appear. That statement heightened anticipation for the blockbuster film. Many fans assumed said character would be a superhero. So you can imagine the disappointment when the openly gay character in the film didn’t have super powers and appeared in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene.

This history, unfortunately, doesn’t instill any faith within the MCU from its vast LGBTQIA+ fanbase. With Marvel’s LGBTQIA+ representation not transferring from print to screen, it tells an all-too-familiar tale to queer audiences that who they are does not translate to film. The MCU contains some amazing plots; the same writing that constructed an entire superhero universe can tell stories that are true to queer experiences as well. Having a queer superhero or villain does not detract from character development. If anything it only embellishes detailed narratives that make characters feel relatable. That relatability translates to queer audiences feeling represented, even in a fictional universe with a straight default setting. Why can’t Marvel Universe gods, Dora Milaje, and X-Men engage in superheroics and be a part of the LGBTQIA+ community?

Thor, Valkyrie, and Hulk in a hallway


Hopefully Marvel’s Phase Four will answer that question. Between rumors and announcements, Phase Four will include more LGBTQIA+ representation than any Fox Marvel or MCU movies have provided within the past two decades. For instance, Disney+’s Loki will reportedly show the character’s bisexuality and gender fluidity on screen. Rumors also point to the show introducing the MCU’s first transgender character. Additionally, we have Tessa Thompson appearing as Valkyrie again in Thor: Love and Thunder. This film will finally introduce the character’s bisexuality as the leader of Asgard looks for someone to rule alongside her. Marvel’s Eternals will feature a gay married couple. Alongside other rumored stories in development, such as the X-Men reboot and the eventual introduction of the Young Avengers, Marvel has multiple opportunities to represent queer folks. They have even more chances to tell queer stories that engage current LGBTQIA+ fans and acquire new ones.

With all of these new appearances, Marvel could be on a journey towards creating proper LGBTQIA+ representation. My hope is that the studio can stick to this path. As the MCU embarks on new territory, audiences around the world will be patiently waiting to see what will unfold. Hopefully, it will lay down the groundwork for a more inclusive MCU.

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