DC Comics Steps Up Its LGBTQ Representation with Batgirl, Harley and Ivy, Renee Montoya and More!

by rory midhani

by rory midhani

It’s not exactly a secret that I’ve been fairly critical of DC Comics since their New 52 relaunch, especially when it comes to their treatment of queer characters. They benched some terrific queer WOC like Renee Montoya, Scandal Savage, Grace Choi and Thunder. Batwoman, the most prominent lesbian in all of superhero comics, was raped; and then her writer said it wasn’t rape on twitter. Batwoman’s comic was cancelled. And then Batgirl, which had been my one bright spot in DC’s lineup, messed up, and messed up big time.

In Issue #37, Batgirl was fighting a Bat-imposter who looked just like her and was giving her a bad reputation all around town. In the climactic scene of the issue, the real Batgirl pulls off this imposter’s cowl to see that it’s the male performance artist Dagger Type. This was already playing into a bunch of stereotypes about trans women — that we’re deceptive and dangerous, that we’re “creepy crossdressers” — but then Batgirl’s reaction made it hurt so much more. Batgirl, the one superhero in mainstream comics who had a trans woman for a best friend, the one who I knew wouldn’t be transphobic, shouted “Dagger Type? But you’re a —” clearly about to say “but you’re a man!” I’ve already talked about this at length, but if you think someone is a woman, and then you pull off their wig, it is absolutely transmisogynistic to call them a man, especially if you’re shouting it. That was the part of the comic that most bothered, offended and hurt me. I’m completely fine with transgender villains, I’d love an awesome trans woman villain, but Dagger Type wasn’t trans; he was just playing into negative trans woman stereotypes and then Batgirl herself reacted in one of the worst possible ways to the reveal.

The new Batgirl of Burnside collected edition with changes made to issue #37.

The new Batgirl of Burnside collected edition with changes made to issue #37.

I was hurt by this issue. It was one of my favorite comics (and I read around thirty a month) and it was the only comic put out by DC or Marvel that I thought I knew I would be safe from transphobia. I mean, if Alysia Yeoh, Barbara Gordon’s friend and former roommate knew she was doing anything transphobic (like, let’s say, pulling someone’s wig off and calling them a man) she would be sure to set her straight. I actually had to put the comic down and stop reading it. But in the end, I thought it was just another example of DC throwing its LGBTQ characters under the bus.

Now, seven months later, DC is looking like it’s turning over an entirely new leaf.

Some of the changed dialogue in the collected edition via MTV

Some of the changed dialogue in the collected edition via MTV

I was extremely impressed (not to mention relieved and comforted) back in December when writers Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and artist Babs Tarr very quickly apologized, acknowledged what they had done wrong and promised to do better. I was even more impressed when I learned that in the trade paperback version of this first Batgirl run, Batgirl of Burnside, they actually changed the dialogue in the most offensive and hurtful scene. Stewart told me that as soon as they realized what they had done, they wanted to fix it, “Brenden, Babs and I immediately realised the mistakes we’d made and felt it was really important to us, not only as creators, but also on a personal level, to try to make amends to the transgender community, whom we all value as a part of our readership. The collected edition provided us with an opportunity to examine the story and make improvements.”

This is how companies and creators should react when they mess up like this. This is a huge company, DC, in one of their big franchises, stepping up and not only admitting and acknowledging their mistake, but doing what they can to fix it. As I told Stewart, the new version of the comic will prevent other readers and fans like me from feeling the hurt, self-disgust and betrayal that I felt when I read the original issue. Stewart says that he and the rest of the Batgirl team hope that those who were hurt by the original issue “will now find the story handled with greater sensitivity, and that the changes indicate a commitment to our pledge to be better allies moving forward.”

I know this might seem kind of hokey, but Team Batgirl’s words and actions here really give me hope for the future of comics. I was already looking forward to the future of comics at other companies like Boom!, Image and even Marvel, but this commitment to do better shows that DC is taking it’s place at the front of the movement to make comics more friendly for readers who aren’t cis, straight, white men. Stewart’s promise that Alysia Yeoh “will be a key component of an approaching storyline, the culmination of which will occur in the October issue” makes me even more excited.

John Constantine getting flirty via io9

John Constantine getting flirty via io9

So do some other moves DC has made recently. First of all, they gave a monthly title to Midnighter, who is openly gay. They also have two bisexual men, Catman (in Secret Six) and John Constantine (in Constantine: The Hellblazer) who are starring in titles and being very open about their sexuality. This is especially welcome after the recent Constantine TV show erased its title character’s bisexuality.

Queer women are getting a lot more attention too. Not only will Alysia Yeoh be heavily featured in upcoming issues of Batgirl, but Barbara’s other friend, Frankie, is a disabled queer woman of color, and also the new Oracle. In non-Batgirl titles, DC recently announced that Maguerite Bennett (of the terrific A-Force and Angela comics, as well as a dozen others) will be writing an alternate history WW2 DC Bombshells comic starring Wonder Woman, Supergirl and the very queer Batwoman. They also just reintroduced Renee Montoya, one of the greatest comics characters of all-time and a Latina lesbian, into the pages of Detective Comics #41, which gave off a lot of very Gotham Central-type vibes. If you’ve read that series, than you know that that’s a stupendous thing.

Bombshells #1

Bombshells #1

Now, in news that could have been the headline of this week’s article, DC also made an announcement that they should have made back when Batman: The Animated Series was still on the air: Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are real-life honest-to-god girlfriends!!! On Twitter, Harley Quinn writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner answered the question “are harley and ivy girlfriends? Please confirm this” with “Yes, they are Girlfriends without the jealousy of monogamy.” Seriously, finally. So, that makes at least eight titles at DC this summer that have an LGBTQ character as the lead or co-lead (Secret Six, Midnighter, Constantine: The Hellblazer, Harley Quinn, Harley Quinn and Power Girl, Catwoman, Detective Comics, Bombshells). Did I miss any?

I’m really loving this new direction for DC. It seems like they’re doing their best to make up for their mistakes and to listen to their readers. The Batgirl of Burnside trade paperback is one of the very few trades that I’ve bought after buying all of the single issues, and I plan on continuing my support of this comic as long as they’re going to commit to being the best allies they can be. With DC on board, the future definitely looks bright for queer characters in comics and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

New Releases (June 17)

Princeless: Be Yourself #1 (Action Lab)

Betty and Veronica #276 (Archie Comics)

Lumberjanes #15 (Boom!)

Black Canary #1 (DC)

Gotham Academy Vol. 1 TPB (DC)

Harley Quinn and Power Girl #1 (DC)

Mad Max Fury Road: Furiosa #1 (DC)

Secret Six #3 (DC)

Wonder Woman #41 (DC)

Swords of Sworrow: Dejah Thoris/Irene Adler #1 (Dynamite)

Infinite Loop #3 (IDW)

Trees #10 (Image)

Ms. Marvel #16 (Marvel)

Runaways #1 (Marvel)

Thors #1 (Marvel)


Welcome to Drawn to Comics! From diary comics to superheroes, from webcomics to graphic novels – this is where we’ll be taking a look at comics by, featuring and for queer ladies. So whether you love to look at detailed personal accounts of other people’s lives, explore new and creative worlds, or you just love to see hot ladies in spandex, we’ve got something for you.

If you have a comic that you’d like to see me review, you can email me at mey [at] autostraddle [dot] com


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Mey Valdivia Rude is a bisexual Latina trans woman living in Los Angeles. She's a writer, comic consultant and a trans activist. She's a bruja, a femme, a pop princess and she loves comic books, witches, dinosaurs and crying. She has a cat named Sawyer and a very successful twitter.

Mey has written 500 articles for us.

33 Comments

  1. I was/am so, so excited. As soon as I heard about Harley and Ivy I immediately wanted to rewatch and find all of their interactions in anything and everything. Sadly I was at work and my fidgeting and squeals were disturbing my coworkers, buuut too bad.

    I mostly stick to Marvel and Boom! for my comics, but I remember an article posting about the Dagger Type terribleness. I’m glad they redid the pages and posted an apology, and hope that they stay that accountable and hey maybe send Mey an advance copy for troubleshooting, editing, and insider tips mayhaps?

    Just a thought.

  2. So many things!

    1) Good on the Batgirl team for recognizing that they were wrong and stepping up to fix it. That’s how everyone should handle things like these when they happen… with an apology, a promise to be better, and actual steps that show they’re trying to be better. Might pick up the TPB now, as I stopped reading after that issue for that reason.

    2) I’m very curious about this new Constantine series. I’ve never read any Constantine but the premise is intriguing. I’m glad they’re keeping his bisexuality intact and not under wraps.

    3) How did I not know about Bombshells until now? Dude, I need this. I also thought Batwoman was wearing roller skates and the derby player in me got very excited. Ah, well.

    4) I am excited that Ivy and Harley are official, but I must confess that despite the knowledge that I enjoyed the animated Batman series when I was a kid, the only episode I remember is the one where Batman gets trapped in a maze by the Riddler, and he wins by answering a question wrong on purpose. So I guess my reaction to this is more a golf clap than a my-team-just-won-the-Superbowl clap.

    5) Picked up Detective Comics #41 and was very happy to see Renee and even happier to see that she’s likely one of the main characters. Her and Maggie Sawyer. I know people who just couldn’t love Maggie because they missed Renee too much, but I was introduced to Batwoman (and to comics!!) through the Blackman & Williams series, so Maggie has a special place in my heart.

    6) Not related to the content of the article, but… shit, 1602: Witch Hunter Angela was AMAZING. Not good, not great, but AMAZING. Hot damn. I’ve been waiting for this column so I could have a place to flail with joy a bit, because I know folks here will understand. I hadn’t read any Angela comics before but now I want them all because yes.

    tl;dr YES TO EVERYTHING THE WORLD IS GOOD

  3. True story: when I was in high school, my best friend and I used to write to each other back and forth in a notebook. We had pennames for each other: she was Harley and I was Ivy. Not long after that we became real actual girlfriends.

  4. The Harley and Ivy storylines were always my favorite parts of the Batman animated series from the 90s, which made Harley so popular in the first place. Some years later they are finally acknowledging what I had already knew in my head and always wanted as a kid.

  5. I’m not caught up on current comics from DC, so this may be inaccurate, but what bothers me about Palmiotti and Conner’s confirmation that Harley and Ivy are girlfriends is that they had to confirm it on Twitter at all. There’s always been an enormous amount of subtext between the characters that queer fans (including myself) have gone nuts over. But I feel like, if they’re going to confirm that they’re in a relationship, why not just actually put it in the comic? Like, have Harley and Ivy ever even actually kissed romantically or sexually? Have they been shown in bed together like Superman and Wonder Woman (ugh worst comics couple ever) have? And I mean in an obvious “we just fucked” sort of way and not a cutesy pinup way like Bruce Timm used to do. Like I said, I’m not caught up so they may have done those things and more by now, but the fact that someone had to ask about it on Twitter leads me to believe that they’re still just relying on lesbian subtext.

    But the changes to the Batgirl trade paperback make me incredibly happy! It’s almost unbelievable to see comics creators actually listening to their trans audience and making changes to make us feel comfortable. I love it.

    • I’m pretty sure in Harley Quinn’s solo there is definitely implicit “we’re going to fuck/we just fucked” between her and Poison Ivy. I was confused why there needed to be a confirmation at all, as far as I was aware it was already 100% canon.

        • I just went and got my harley quinn tpb to check and in the very first issue, Harley says “Driving in a hot car with my even hotter girlfriend, Poison Ivy” later she’s like “isn’t this where you tell me you love me?” to Poison Ivy

          I don’t want to spoil it for you if you plan on reading, but it’s definitely fairly clear that they’re a couple. There are pet names and bedsharing and physical affection.

          I mean, if you’re fiercely glued to your hetero goggles you could probably convince yourself they’re just close friends, but… doubtful.

          • Yeah, there have been a ton of scenes like that, where they kiss or are in bed together or call each other girlfriends or do a thousand other things, but until now, Jimmy Palmiotti had said on twitter that there wasn’t anything romantic or sexual between them, that they were just Gal Pals.

          • Okay, thanks for clearing that up, Emma and Mey! That’s good. I hadn’t read any of the New 52 stuff so I wasn’t sure how far they had taken their relationship. Now I’m just confused why it took them so long to admit they’re girlfriends.

  6. Some info about Batwoman in DC Bombshells from a twitter convo between series writer Marguerite Bennett and Kate Leth I came across>

    MB: “Writing BOMBSHELLS is so fun because we have so many girls and women that no one single person must stand in for all female experiences.”

    “One character’s story is a windswept, barefoot, kiss me on the sunset beach romance & it’s allowed to be BECAUSE OTHER KINDS OF WOMEN EXIST”

    KL: “PLEASE MAKE A SEXY BATWOMAN ARC”

    MB: “Batwoman’s arc is mad fucking sexy. She hates the beach, though. Think of her complexion D:”

    KL: “uh, relatable”

    MB: “Batwoman doesn’t just get a romance, she gets a love polygon”

    So, not sure what a “love polygon” would look like, but there you go. LOL Just as long as there are no men involved I’m super excited!

  7. I’m so pleased about Batgirl fixing their mistake and hopefully they won’t have another misstep like this again.

    Is anyone else really excited for the Black Canary solo this week? Hoping for a diverse background cast, much like all Batgirl’s friends.

    • “They also just reintroduced Renee Montoya, one of the greatest comics characters of all-time and a Latina lesbian, into the pages of Detective Comics #41, which gave off a lot of very Gotham Central-type vibes. If you’ve read that series, than you know that that’s a stupendous thing.”

      (one day I’ll figure out HTML)

  8. So he would track me down if he knew I was talking about this, but my little bro is down with feminism and anti-oppressive politics specifically because of Gail Simone and Batgirl. He had given up on DC for a bit because of the above, but now he’s warming up again. Maybe it’s time to start borrowing TPBs off him….

  9. For comics this week I’d also recommend;

    Stumptown v4 #1. This comic has featured a number of lesbian characters in the last 3 arcs and the main character, Dex, is bisexual.

    Hexed #11. The two main characters and the villain are all women and there is a strong friendship between Lucifer and Rania.

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer S10 #16. Willow unfortunately broke up with the green snake lady, but hopefully they’ll give her a new romantic interest soon. This issue is a Buffy/Angel crossover.

    Tales of Honor #1. Surprised you missed this one, it’s looking very good if you like sci-fi. Check out the free preview issue here. http://www.comicbookresources.com/comic-previews/fcbd-tales-of-honor-bred-to-kill-full-issue-top-cow-productions-2015

    Prez #1. About a girl who is the first teenaged president of the USA. The preview looked interesting so I’m going to check it out for an issue or two.

  10. See? SEE HOW BLOODY EASY IT IS??? If comic book writers can admit they messed up, apologize, and genuinely try to make amends to trans folks, why the hell can’t John Barrowman do it?

  11. I honestly was surprised that there was no mention of the earth 2 green lantern who is not only openly gay, but in the first issue of “earth 2” was givin a ring by his boyfriend who then asked him to marry him, right after planting a huge kiss on him. This was a huge thing. Alan scot (earth 2 GL) also had two children (in the old comics) that were gay, and openly gay at that. Please add these to your DC titles that you have listed.

  12. Somehow I just now found out that Ivy and Harley were officially have having sex, as of a year ago. No problem with that whatsoever, it totally makes sense that they’d be attracted to each other. And I’m fine with as many LGBTQ characters as writers want to put in comics.

    But then I tracked down the actual issue of Harley #2..and there are graphic representations of MEN IN REFRIGERATORS, which I’m sure was intentional on Conner & Palmiotti’s part. (If you remember, “Women In Refrigerators” was the trope that Gail Simone and others railed against).

    Interesting that you advocated and applauded the *censoring* of an issue of Batgirl (personally I don’t think the worst thing about the book is that gaffe – it’s that she *moved out of Gotham to become a goddamn hipster in Oregon*, to begin with!) and yet nobody in the Tumblrist realm says “hey, maybe you should remove the panel of the guy in the fridge.”

    Apparently, a hero being motivated by the grisly death of a woman is bad, but female serial killers motivating themselves by stuffing men in fridges is totally fine. And I’m a fan of extreme anti-heroes like Jennifer Blood, so I’m not shy about a story where a woman kills dozens of people, either.

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