Some 20-plus years after it was first published, Watchmen has reached the silver screen, and nearly every seamy detail co-creator Alan Moore imbued the original work with has come along for the ride. There are plenty of explosions, fight scenes and social commentary in Watchmen to please even the most jaded of sci-fi freaks. But in addition to being glad that Archimedes and Bubastis made the cut, we’re pleased as punch that the movie didn’t wimp out on including the gay characters that the comic book gave us.
Moore’s comics, including V for Vendetta, Top Ten, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and more, are chockablock with GLBT characters—some heroic, some tragic, some misbegotten, but all just as wonderfully varied as gays and lesbians are themselves.
Moore has long been a supporter of gay rights, going all the way back to the dark days of Thatcher’s England, when he lived with his wife, Phyllis, and their mutual lover Deborah Delano. Now, this type of Big Loveian living arrangement may sound slightly unusual for a funnybook writer, but when you talk about a man who self-identifies as an anarchist occultist and worships a Roman snake-deity called Glycon, well, most rules have to be jettisoned out of the window.
Though not gay himself, Moore is certainly LGBT-adjacent. And in 1988, alarmed by the proposed Section 28 amendment that would outlaw “the promotion of homosexuality” by local UK authorities and schools, Moore banded together with fellow comic writers and artist to publish AARGH—Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia. Also featuring stories and art by luminaries such as Neil Gaiman and Dave Gibbons, the main event was an eight-page epic poem by Moore called “The Mirror of Love,” which explored homosexuality from the dawn of human civilization in the Middle East to the growth of Western Civilization and beyond. The fact that Moore wrote this in-between cranking out Batman and Superman stories makes it even more amazing.
Close your eyes and try to imagine the writer for Superman or Spider-Man getting a bunch of his superfriends together now to write a comic protesting Proposition 8. Harder to picture than a man who’s faster than a locomotive? You bet. And considering that Alan Moore was doing this in the late ‘80s, when AIDS-phobia was near its peak and straight allies were hard to find, you realize exactly what kind of super man Moore is. His support was not just in an “I love my dead, gay son” kind of way, but a celebration of homosexuality and a recognition that we’ve been around from the very beginning and merit a spot at the table with the rest of humanity. That’s heady stuff from a man who cut his teeth writing Swamp Thing.
Speaking to The Advocate back in 2004, Moore said that he hoped “Mirror” might serve as a helpful and hopeful reminder to readers gay and straight. “I would like the straight people who read it to realize what an incredible contribution gay men and women have made to human culture—to realize how important, and indeed vital, they’ve been and continue to be. And I would like gay people who read it to realize exactly the same thing. . . If you had a sense of these men and women in the past, ranked behind you–if you had a sense of your culture, what it had achieved, what it might be capable of—then I think that might make you feel empowered.”
While Moore was not the first comics writer to include homosexual characters, he was certainly among the first to treat them as fully-formed individuals. From Evie’s lesbian cellmate who gives her the strength to fight back against the viciously totalitarian government in Vendetta, to the chain-smoking, demon-damned bisexual John Constantine in Hellblazer, Moore’s gay characters run the gamut from the noble to the vile. To give a comparison where gays were in the comics world when Moore was writing Watchmen, gay readers could choose either a clichéd limp-wristed weirdo like El Extraño, who was attacked by an “AIDS vampire,” or a pair of perverted sex fiends out to rape the Hulk’s alter-ego, Bruce Banner.
For an industry that’s founded on muscular men bounding around in form-fitting spandex with the occasional short-shorts-clad teen sidekick, gay characters have had a rough go of it in the comic book world. Even in the relatively enlightened Aughties, it’s hard out there for LGBT superfolk. Marvel Comics’ first openly gay hero, Northstar, was killed not once, not twice, but three times in one calendar month in three separate realities, each time in a throwaway, non-heroic manner. After being touted by Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada as being one of Marvel’s premiere gay heroes, Freedom Ring was killed off some five months after he was introduced, metal spikes shot through his body, including his crotch and through his, um, hinder. Insulting and nasty, and this was just in 2005.
But, fortunately, there are more gay comics characters than ever, thanks in part an ever-expanding number of out writers and artists, including Phil Jiminez, a writer and penciler on Wonder Women, and Allen Heinberg, the writer of Young Avengers, which features Marvel Comic’s first openly gay teen couple, Hulkling and Wiccan. And with DC announcing that the lipstick lesbian Batwoman is getting her own series, suddenly the streets of Gotham are seeming a bit safer for the LGBT hero. Just stay away from those metal Marvel spikes, Batwoman; they pack an awful punch and they go right for the hoo-hoo.
So, here we are, circling the drain of the first decade of 21st century and the comics world has managed to just about catch up to where the mad, snake-worshipping weirdo was in the mid to late ‘80s—from sex criminal to super-powered savior. Now if only comics would get behind having more heroes with exposed blue, pendulous wangs, too, well, I think we could all get behind that idea.
Dixon T. Gaines is a writer and editor formerly based in New York who now finds himself in Los Angeles.