Marvel's Wait-and-See LGBTQ Character Approach Isn't Worth Celebrating Yet

Tessa Thompson in Thor Ragnarok - Publicity - H 2018
<p><em>Thor: Ragnarok</em></p>   |   Marvel Studios
Studio chief Kevin Feige recently confirmed queer characters are coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which lags behind the comic book publisher.

As Marvel Studios continues to diversify its line-up, studio boss Kevin Feige has revealed that there are finally plans afoot to increase the studio’s LGBTQ+ footprint in upcoming releases.

Talking to The Playlist, Feige was asked whether Marvel was working on offering audiences an out queer character in the MCU, and responded, “Yes.” Pressed to elaborate, he said the characters — yes, multiple — were “both ones you’ve seen and ones you haven’t seen.” (As Playlist pointed out, the “one[s] you’ve seen” probably refers to Thor: Ragnarok’s Valkyrie, who was outed by actress Tessa Thompson while promoting the movie last year; in the movie itself, it's not a subject touched upon.)

Whether or not this will really come to anything remains to be seen. Certainly, the timing of the comments can’t be overlooked; with a question as direct as “When are we getting a Gay, Bi, LGBTQ, out character in the MCU? Is it even in the works?” it would’ve been nothing short of a PR disaster for Feige to say anything other than “yes” in the middle of Pride Month. His comments, however, are vague and reminiscent of his many comments in response to questions about a Black Widow movie for the past eight years, which have all been variations on “it’s coming soon, maybe, keep watching.”  With that kind of response and a loyal audience, you can avoid having to do something for quite some time. (Though, in Black Widow's case, the movie does finally have some real movement, with a writer on the project and the hunt on for a female director.)

Historically, Marvel has had a difficult history with gay and lesbian characters in its comic book universe. The first out gay characters in Marvel’s comic book output were two would-be rapists in 1980’s Rampaging Hulk No. 23, who threatened Bruce Banner with dialogue like, “What’s your name, sweet cheeks, and where are you from? I like to know a fella, first?” The writer of that particular story was Jim Shooter, who’d go on to become Marvel’s editor-in-chief for much of the 1980s, and reportedly instituted a “no gays in the Marvel Universe” policy.

Whether or not that policy was more than an urban myth, it’s a fact that the character who would become Marvel’s first openly gay hero — Northstar, of Canadian super team Alpha Flight, who declared “I am gay!” in the 106th issue of the series — took more than a decade to come out of the closet. According to creator John Byrne, Northstar was intended to be gay from his debut in 1979’s Uncanny X-Men No. 120, but he didn’t come out until 1992; in the meantime, a 1986-87 plot line that was originally intended to not only have Northstar reveal his sexuality but also reveal that he had AIDS was nixed by Marvel’s editors (including Shooter), being rewritten before its climax so that the character was instead an elf who had a magical elvish allergy to the real world.

In recent years, under the eyes of editors-in-chief Joe Quesada and Axel Alonso, Marvel’s comic book output has become, thankfully, significantly more friendly towards LGBTQ characters, with series like Angela: Queen of Her, America and Iceman putting openly queer characters in lead roles, while members of the Runaways, X-Men, Defenders and other supergroups had characters come out of the closet. 2012's Astonishing X-Men No. 51 even featured the wedding between Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle; it wasn't comics' first gay wedding, or even superhero comics' first — DC's The Authority beat them by a decade, as Apollo and Midnighter got married in 2002's No. 29 — but it was a much-hyped moment for the company nonetheless.

This, potentially, offers up a number of LGBTQ characters for Marvel Studios to choose from when offering up the “ones [audiences] haven’t seen” — but it’s worth remembering that a number of characters who are canonically queer in comics have already shown up in the MCU and been quietly closeted onscreen, from Agents of SHIELD’s Victoria Hand to Thor: Ragnarok’s Korg — and Valkyrie, for that matter. Notably, this year's Black Panther cut a scene featuring flirtation between two Dora Milaje warriors who are in a relationship in comic book source material.

All of which is to say to those excited about Feige’s comments: Yes, more LGBTQ representation will be a great thing… but wait until it actually happens before celebrating too much.