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In and Out: A Brief History of Marvel's 2006 Gay Policies
by Andy Mangels
[Print-ready Version]

While Marvel has not reverted to Jim Shooter's "No Gays in the Marvel Universe" policy of the 1980s, the fortunes of Marvel's gay characters have taken a serious downturn in the last ten months. With multiple gay characters killed, maimed, and tortured, the latest twist is Marvel reversing Rawhide Kid's orientation and making him heterosexual again.

But it's not just the characters who are suffering. Editor in Chief Joe Quesada has publicly discussed Marvel's policy about labeling books starring gay characters, stating that it exists, then later no longer exists after discussion. Following that, a Marvel PR flak says that all of Quesada's direct quotes were "out of context" and the policy never existed.

And within weeks of the interviews, the newly touted Marvel gay character was dead, and almost every other gay character was in for a very rough time.

Fans have begun to draw very negative conclusions about exactly how and what Marvel's internal vs. stated policies are. When the EIC is contradicted by a publicity flak, and both are contradicted by the actual published Marvel output, the time has come to question exactly what the status of Gays in the Marvel Universe is…


February 3 — On Newsarama, Joe Quesada, editor in chief of Marvel Comics, says that Rawhide Kid will NOT be featured in Marvel's Western event. "Well, understand that if we were to go with the gay Kid we would have had to label the books MAX and that's not what we wanted for this event. So, for the commercial betterment of this mini Western event, we felt it was best to keep it out of the MAX world for now. Granted we could have gone back to the traditional version of Rawhide, but with so many other characters to choose from, there seemed to be no need… I don't think Rawhide is "radioactive" though I like the term because it does describe properly the incubation period some characters need away from the spotlight in order for fans to be in a desirable mood for them."

February 10 — Joe Quesada's interview with Newsarama elaborates on his previous comments. " Rawhide was labeled MAX because the major hook and focus of the project was the sexuality of the main character, a 50-plus year old established character. The reason the books featuring the characters you named in your question don't carry a MAX label is because that's not the focus of their books. The sexuality aspect of their lives is just one part of the whole that makes up their books, as opposed to Rawhide, where the fact that he was gay and his history was the major point of the book." When asked if they'd ever make Rawhide Kid straight, he responded, "I’m very proud of what we did with Rawhide and really like the new take. What is essential about the Rawhide Kid is that he's one of our great Marvel Western heroes, the fastest gun in the West and if his sexuality is ever an essential part of any given story, he's gay."

Mid-February — The brewing controversy is covered on Rich Johnston's Lying in the Gutters column and on blogs, including GayLeague.com and Comics Should be Good.

June 2 — At Wizard World Philadelphia, Joe Quesada says about DC's Batwoman that "Any time comics can reach the mainstream that way, it's good for comics. The fact that Marvel has done gay heroes before is not as important as that."

June 10 — Marvel receives GLAAD Media Award (Gays and Lesbians Allied Against Defamation). The Outstanding Comic Book goes to Young Avengers by openly-gay writer Allan Heinberg, a book which is on hiatus when the award is given. Despite multiple comic websites, such as Crocodile Caucus, talking about the award, Marvel makes no mention of it in any press release, letters page, or editors column, and Joe Quesada does not mention it in his weekly Newsarama interviews.

August 5 — At Wizard World Chicago, Joe Quesada, says that no ongoing solo series which stars gay or lesbian characters at Marvel Comics will go out without a "MAX" or "Explicit content" label. He apologized for the company's practice, and blames it on negative media attention about Rawhide Kid, citing particularly Stan Lee's Crossfire appearance. He calls the labeling "ridiculous," and says, "I hope it changes next week."

August 11-onward — The controversy is covered by The Advocate, GLAAD, Gay League, Lying in the Gutters, Silver Bullet Comic Books and many other national gay newspapers and comic book websites.

August 18 — In a Newsarama interview, Joe Quesada, EIC, announces that Marvel will not use any warning labels for comics with gay characters. "It’s given us the opportunity to spark some internal discussions and revisit this issue, especially in light of the fact that we have characters like Freedom Ring, who is the current star of Marvel Team Up without much fanfare mind you, and that we’ve had more gay and lesbian characters appearing in Marvel comics than ever before. In many ways, the old policy over the last few years has just sort of faded away, so let me just say that there is no longer any policy." He then repeats that Freedom Ring is the star of Marvel Team-Up.

Late August — News media, including The Advocate, GayLeague.com and GLAAD, and bloggers report on the reversal.

September 7 — Marvel Team-Up #24 is released, less than three weeks after Quesada touted Freedom Ring multiple times in his interview. Freedom Ring is graphically killed, with 28 spikes impaling him, including one through the groin/butt.

September 11 — Lying In the Gutters, GayLeague.com (also here) and bloggers report on Freedom Ring's death.

September 15 — According to reports in The Houston Voice and The Washington Blade, Jeff Klein, executive vice president of Dan Klores Communication and spokesperson for Marvel denies that Marvel ever had labels, says Quesada interview quotes “taken out of context… On the record, Marvel never had warning labels on comic books with gay characters, and we never will." Klein said Rawhide Kid was under the Max Imprint, not Marvel's, and said pressure from conservative groups had nothing to do with its label. “Looking at certain aspects of the title, that specific story fell under that banner. It’s just an overall adult labeling.”

September 18-29 — Newsarama, Lying in the Gutters, GayLeague.com and bloggers report.

September 27 — Despite Joe Quesada's promises in February, the All New Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe A-Z #9 puts Rawhide Kid back in the closet and says he was pretending to be gay "to confuse others" when appearing in the Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather mini-series.

The heterosexual Rawhide shown in Apache Skies and Blaze of Glory is therefore made the "official" Marvel version. The full text as follows: "In 1877, Rawhide fell in love with an Apache woman named Bright Fawn; Rawhide was adopted into her tribe and planned to marry her, but she and her fellow Apaches, wrongly blamed for crimes, were slaughtered by vengeful townspeople, leaving Rawhide to avenge himself against the true criminals and return to wandering... For a time he adopted an eccentric persona apparently intended to confuse others, even concocting false details of his childhood to cement the deception, but this failed to alienate him from youngsters enthralled by his legend, which was only enhanced after his defeat of the Cisco Pike Gang in Wells Junction." There's also an earlier reference in the entry to him "almost becoming engaged" to another woman.


Recent doings with Marvel's gay characters:

  • Freedom Ring - Introduced in Marvel Team-Up #21 (May 2006), he is violently killed in Marvel Team-Up #24 (September 2006). Series is cancelled with #25.

  • Northstar - Between February 16th and March 9th, 2005, THREE versions of Northstar were killed in three separate Marvel realities: Wolverine #25; X-Men: Age of Apocalypse #2; X-Men: The End. The "main" Northstar is resurrected from the dead as a villain in Wolverine #26. Current whereabouts unknown.

  • Wiccan & Hulkling — 2 of 3 characters singled out for torture in Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways (September 2006).

  • Karolina Dean — now appearing in Runaways, the third of three characters tortured in Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways (September 2006).

  • Frenchie DuChamp— the previously womanizing alcoholic sidekick of Moon Knight is revealed to be gay in Moon Knight #3 (June 2006), is now a double-amputee, and is nearly beaten to death with his prosthetic leg.

  • Ultimate Jarvis - killed in Ultimates Vol. II #9 (Dec. 2005)

  • Minor characters Flatman and Living Lightning, both outed in GLA in mid-2005 have appeared in current Civil War books. They are not yet dead, nor tortured.

  • Ultimate Northstar and Colossus — currently appearing in Ultimate X-Men. Colossus apparently "came out" in issue #65 (January 2006), Northstar in #46 (May 2004).


Andy Mangels is a longtime comics writer and LGBT comics activist.

All images and characters TM and © 2006 Marvel Comics. Article © 2006 Andy Mangels.

Prism Comics promotes the works of the LGBT community in comics. It does not implicitly endorse any other material or products associated with those works. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s).


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