A Very Brief History of Queer Female Superheroes

Power Rangers’ Becky G follows in a very short line of queer women in comics and on television.
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Power Rangers’ Becky G follows in a very short line of queer women in comics and on television.
Becky G as Trina, the Yellow Ranger, in 2017’s Power Rangers.

Becky G as Trina, the Yellow Ranger, in 2017’s Power Rangers.

In at least one respect, the new Power Rangers movie is going where no multi-million dollar franchise reboot with toy and mobile game tie-ins has gone before: The superhero film will be the first of its kind to feature an LGBT protagonist, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Power Rangers director Dean Israelite described to the Reporter a scene that will explore the “girlfriend problems” Yellow Ranger Trini (played by Becky G) is experiencing.

Though queer characters have snuck into comics since at least the 1930s, Marvel and DC superheroes didn’t openly flaunt their attraction to members of the same sex until the late 1980s, starting with DC’s gay male character, Extraño, who wore flamboyant clothes, had a lisp, called himself “Auntie,” and was infected with HIV by a vampire. Marvel’s (far less stereotypically) gay hero, Northstar, came out four years later in an issue of Alpha Flight. In 1989, the Comics Code—a self-regulatory system that was phased out in 2011—was revised to allow references to LGBT characters.

But it’s taken even longer for women to come out as definitively queer in the superhero world: Though Wonder Woman’s creator admitted that the superheroine could be attractive to the opposite sex in the 1940s, it wasn’t until last year that one of her writers identified the character as bisexual. In fact, as our timeline of milestones in queer female superhero representation indicates, mainstream queer superheroines didn’t come out until the last 20 years. It’s been a slow process, which make the Power Rangers news just as exciting as it is exasperating.

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1988

Maggie Sawyer: One year before the Comics Code was revised to allow references to LGBT characters, Sawyer, Superman’s point person at the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit, became DC’s first implicitly lesbian character. When her daughter runs away, Sawyer—who had previously described coming “face to face” with her identity in the wake of her divorce from her husband—turns to female reporter Toby Raines for emotional comfort.

1990

Mystique: Marvel celebrated the end of the LGBT restriction in the Comics Code with an Uncanny X-Men plotline that introduced an old lover of Mystique’s named Destiny. Though writer Chris Claremont didn’t make their relationship explicit until 2001—when he revealed Destiny as Mystique’s “true love”—they did slow dance together in one 1988 comic, and, in 1990, Destiny was referred to as Mystique’s “leman,” an archaic term for a secret lover.

1996

Ice Maiden: A bisexual woman joined the Justice League in 1996, when Justice League America introduced Ice Maiden. “We do have one big thing in common … we both like girls,” Ice Maiden told another JLA teammate, Atom Smasher, whom she asked out on a date out a few issues later.

2003

Renee Montoya: Writer Greg Rucka revealed that a popular character in the Batman universe—Renee Montoya—was a lesbian in Gotham Central, when villain Two-Face outed the police detective to the press as part of an attempt to frame her for murder.

Karma: A longtime X-Man, Karma, came out as a lesbian to her team upon finding out that her female crush on the team, Kitty Pryde, didn’t return her affections. The upside to all this disappointed love? Sweet clarity.

2006

Batwoman: Batwoman was first introduced as a love interest for Batman in 1956, in part to quash rumors that Batman and Robin were having a fling. So it’s ironic that when DC re-introduced her in 2006, Batwoman became a paradigm-shifting queer character in comics: She the first-ever lesbian character to headline a mainstream comic series, and one storyline even featured mass market comics’ first-ever lesbian engagement scene.

Karolina Dean: Marvel’s Runaways featured a plot line in which Xavin, a shape-shifter, changed gender to be more attractive to his arranged-marriage lesbian bride, Karolina Dean, who was still nursing a crush on her friend Nico Minoru. So, yeah, DC Comics had a better queer-superheroine year.

2014

The White Canary: Television series Arrow inaugurated its first queer superheroine in season three, when Black Canary (played by Caity Lotz) came out as bisexual. But let’s not give DC all the credit in this timeline: If witches count as superheroes, then Buffy the Vampire Slayer preceded Arrow by 15 years when it introduced a season-four relationship between Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay, circa 1999. Buffy’s creator, Joss Whedon, is now writing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for Marvel.

2015

Harley Quinn: DC Comics tweeted that Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy — long rumored to be a couple — are non-monogamous “girlfriends” (the next year, they shared a kiss in DC’s Bombshells series).

Jeri Hogarth: Marvel’s Netflix series Jessica Jones debuted the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first lesbian character, Jeri Hogarth (a man named “Jerry” in the comic books).

CatwomanCatwoman writer Genevieve Valentine wrote on her blog that the longtime character and sometimes-Batman-fling was a “canon bisexual.” Meanwhile in Hollywood, Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Fantastic Four — surprise! — were filling the multiplexes with predominantly heterosexual dudes.

2016

Wonder WomanWonder Women spends her 1941 debut comic falling in love with the male United States Army pilot Steve Trevor, who crash-lands on her all-female island from which men were barred. Though a romance between Trevor and Wonder Woman ensued, even in its early days the comic often incorporated same-sex innuendo (just check out this panel from 1942). Later comics had even Wonder Woman introducing her boyfriend to the pre-established mating rituals of the all-woman island (you do the math). In 2016, the comic’s current lead writer Greg Rucka finally put the issue to rest in public, confirming that Wonder Woman has had relationships with other women and is therefore canonically queer.

Supergirl: Following a recent trend of TV shows outstripping films in depictions of queer female characters, The CW’s Supergirl debuted a headline-grabbing lesbian plotline in its second season, when the titular superheroine’s adoptive sister came out on a date. “No one should ever feel like they’re trapped. No one should ever feel like they’ve got a secret inside of them,” executive producer Andrew Kreisberg told The Hollywood Reporter. May studios take that message to heart beyond this year’s Power Rangers.

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