2017 was a big year for me, personally, as well as for LGBTQ representation in comic books. Given that I am a gay person who reviews comic books, those two facts are largely intertwined. I first joined the AiPT! staff back in March, and have been reviewing comic books on a regular basis ever since. In addition to reviews, I’ve also written articles regarding the history of LGBTQ representation in comics and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Now, looking back on a year in which I’ve criticized LGBTQ representation (and lacks thereof), I would like to take some time to celebrate. 2017 saw record numbers of mainstream American comic series starring LGBTQ characters and storylines. Admittedly, these weren’t hard records to break–in Marvel’s case, specifically, Iceman and America were the first such ongoing series the company ever published. After growing up reading comic books as a lonely gay kid and longing for series that starred people like me, it has felt both surreal and life-affirming to finally have them. Such series and stories are especially important given the times in which we are living; that’s not to say that being queer wasn’t already a nightmare for many people before Donald Trump became president, but let’s be real, it’s just gotten worse since.
In the spirit of positivity in the face of life’s more troubling aspects, I’ve compiled a top ten list. These are my favorite instances of LGBTQ representation in comics (both American and Japanese) from last year. This isn’t strictly a list of what I consider to be the year’s most notable titles–there were multiple series featuring LGBTQ characters that I either haven’t read yet or didn’t enjoy as much as the titles I’ve included. This is a list of love–so, without any further adieu, here are my top ten favorite instances of LGBTQ representation in comics from 2017.
This pick is almost a cheat but not quite. I’ve been excited about DC’s latest reinvention of a Hanna-Barbera property ever since it was first announced in early 2017. While the first issue of Snagglepuss‘ series, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1, by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan, doesn’t release until the first week of Jan. 2018, the character has already made his DC debut. The character starred in an eight-page short at the back of Suicide Squad/Banana Splits Annual #1 in March 2017. While I didn’t care for that issue’s main plot line, I did love the Snagglepuss story, written by Mark Russell and drawn by Howard Porter. Heavens to Murgatroyd, did it excite me for the upcoming solo series. Grounded in an even more oppressive era of American history than our own, this new take on the character is as touching as it is hilarious. I can’t wait to see what comes next in 2018.
9. Batman: Creature of the Night
Sneaking its way onto the list at the very end of the year is DC’s Elseworlds-style tale, Batman: Creature of the Night. Kurt Busiek and John Paul Leon’s series doesn’t revolve around a queer protagonist, but it still has one of my favorite queer subplots from this year. Creature of the Night stars a young boy named Bruce who sees his parents die right in front of him. The twist is that Bruce isn’t actually Batman, but rather is a fan of Batman comic books, and his understanding of the line between fantasy and reality becomes questionable as he grieves. In true Batman fashion, Bruce refers to his older guardian as Alfred. Unfortunately, this world’s Alfred is unable to take Bruce in after his parents’ death. Alfred is openly homosexual, and for him to raise a child in the series’ bigoted society would not be possible. Like Snagglepuss, Creature of the Night provides touching nods to an era not long gone; after all, LGBTQ people across this country still face strong opposition when attempting to adopt children. Besides this subplot, Creature of the Night is also worth reading simply for a unique and very well done take on the Dark Knight’s mythos.
8. Love is Love
In the aftermath of the the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, DC Comics and IDW Publishing came together to produce an anthology to benefit the shooting’s victims, survivors and their families. Love is Love is massive, with over 140 pages and work from dozens of comics’ top names. As with any such large anthology, your mileage may vary on which of its specific shorts or pin-ups you like the best. With that said, there’s something intrinsically beautiful about so much talent coming together following tragedy. Love is Love is unlike anything else ever published in the history of the comic medium, and may be the most historically significant work on this list.
7. The Woods
The BOOM! Studios series, penned by James Tynion IV and illustrated by Michael Dialynas, concluded this year with issue #36. It’s technically another ensemble series, but it deserves its own spot on the list due to its sheer number of queer characters and how excellently they are portrayed. Many of its characters (such as Isaac, Ben and Sanami) are among my favorite representations in the history of the comic medium. I can’t say much about the series’ events over the last year without treading heavily into spoiler territory, but just trust me on this one. The Woods is an all-time great, and now that it’s finished you can read it without having to wait for monthly updates.
6. My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness
For the sake of manga releases on this list, I’m counting works that were first translated into English last year, even if their original Japanese releases predated 2017. Kabi Nagata’s autobiographical tale was originally published in Japanese in 2016 before being re-released in English by Seven Seas Entertainment in 2017. My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness chronicles a decade of Nagata’s life in which she struggled with eating disorders, a lack of understanding of her sexuality and sex in general, creative difficulties, and an inability to love herself. As the volume progresses, Nagata gains more of a sense of clarity regarding her life. She doesn’t claim to have everything figured out by the end of it, which only makes the memoir more relatable–it’s a tale of moving forward through life, even when one doesn’t have the exact words to describe their feelings or even their self. For a queer narrative that focuses less on revelations to the outside world and more on the inner process of self-realization, check this manga out.
Jughead gets major props for being not only one of the year’s most delightful titles, but also the only solo series I’m aware of with an asexual lead–not just this year, but ever. Writer Ryan North and artist Derek Charm’s time on the series was fantastic, treating Jughead’s sexuality with respect and imbuing Riverdale with a sense of infectious fun that is sadly missing from its televised incarnation. Magical mishaps and high school hijinks provided great comedic material, and Charm’s artwork was simply perfect for the title. Jughead is one of the now-finished series that I’ll most miss in 2018.
4. Nothing Lasts Forever
As emotionally earnest as it is funny, Sina Grace’s memoir Nothing Lasts Forever (published by Image) is likely my favorite original graphic novel of 2017. From creative self-doubt to sickness to grieving after the death of a loved one, Nothing Lasts Forever never flinches while confronting the sheer oppressive exhaustion of life’s most difficult periods. The pencilling, which often feels akin to drawings in a diary, helps reinforce the novel’s bare-bones sense of intimacy. Grace accomplishes the difficult task of creating work that feels relatively unfiltered while still being polished enough for all the jokes and emotional beats to land with full effect. There are a number of fantastic comedic moments throughout, such as Grace’s sharing the Image Comics headquarters’ elevator with Savage Dragon, but it’s the novel’s raw authenticity of feeling that earns it such a high spot on this list.
With Rebirth, Kate Kane finally got her own solo series again, and it was well worth the wait. Primarily written by Marguerite Bennett (alongside James Tynion IV for some issues) and featuring numerous artists (including Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, Renago Arlem and Fernando Blanco), 2017’s Batwoman stories breathed fresh life into the character by grounding her current missions in memories and emotional scars from her past, as well as pitting her against foes she had never previously encountered. The series’s fifth issue, a one-off chronicling Kate’s love life with Safiyah on the island of Coryana, was one of the best single issues of the entire year. In the following arc, Kate went up against Scarecrow, leading to surreal battle scenes that were reminiscent of the New 52 Batwoman title in all the best ways. Here’s hoping this series keeps going deep into 2018 and beyond.
2. My Brother’s Husband
It’s not often that I read something and think that it’s virtually perfect. But, as I wrote in my review of its first volume, My Brother’s Husband is nearly flawless. Gengoroh Tagame’s serialized manga, which debuted back in 2014, made its English debut last year, courtesy of Pantheon Books. The series follows a makeshift family of three: Yaichi (a single father), Kana (his daughter), and Mike (the husband of Yaichi’s dead brother, Ryoji). Expertly written and drawn, My Brother’s Husband is all about people coming together in the face of grief and discrimination, confronting their own prejudices, and doing their best not to pass hatred or unhappiness down to younger generations. Comics don’t get any better than this one when it comes to displaying what homophobia and societal bigotry look like on a fundamental, day-to-day level. I found this series to be one of those rare cases where I actually had trouble putting it down.
There was one comic this year that excited me like no other. One that thrilled me from its first announcement, to its stellar first issue, and throughout the rest of its installments thus far. There was one comic this year that the AiPT! staff has heard me rave about more frequently than anything else, and where my boyfriend bought me the Funko Pop of its lead character for my birthday, because he knows exactly what I’ve been stanning all this time. There has only been one comic to date (like, ever) where my passion for it prompted me to buy the original artwork for one of its pages. I’m talking, of course, about Iceman.
Written by Sina Grace, and featuring artwork from Alessandro Vitti and Robert Gill, Iceman is everything I ever wanted as a six year old playing with my brother’s passed-down X-Men toys. Finally, Marvel released an ongoing solo series starring a gay man–and he was from my favorite team, to boot. Across the series’ eight issues thus far, the creative team has delved into Bobby’s emotional life in ways that feel authentic and emotionally resonant while still staying true to the classic character’s senses of humor as well as anxiety. This series is an excellent example of how to take a supporting cast member, flesh them out, and make them feel completely worthy of the center-stage.
The choice of villains throughout the series has been strong–the Purifiers and the Sentinels, in particular, are both perfect antagonists for a book all about coming to terms with oneself in the face of bigotry. The two Bobbys have also been utilized excellently. Bobby Sr. has served as the series’ focus, and provided a coming out narrative centered firmly in adulthood, which is a nice change of pace from a company whose LGBTQ characters are almost all teenagers. Bobby Jr., meanwhile, has popped in and out effectively as yet another strange but important reality that Bobby Sr. must come to terms with.
From taking on various villains with gigantic, badass ice-creations to having his first gay kiss to reuniting with his old teammates the Champions, Iceman starred in several of 2017’s best comics. Sadly, it has been announced that his series will end with issue #11. That just leaves three more issues of one of my favorite comic series of all time, and to say that I am bummed would be an understatement. Still, I’m thankful that now, even if just for a little while, I’ve gotten what I always wanted from the House of Ideas–a hero, an X-Man even, who loves like I do, and who receives the kind of respect and character work that Marvel has never given a gay man before. I don’t know what I’ll stan for after Iceman ends, or how long it will take for another comic to excite me as much as this one did. For now, I’ll just soak the feeling in, and enjoy it while it lasts.