Feeling GLAAD: DC’s Award-Winning LGBTQIA+ Comics

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Pride Month is a joyful, celebratory occasion where for thirty days, every stripe of the queer community bands together to present themselves to the world without reservation. It’s more than just a party, though. It’s an act of self-declaration to a culture that ignored and resisted them for years. It’s why visibility in media, in literal parades, and yes—in comics—is so important. Pride Month is designed to show those struggling to simply be themselves that they are not alone, and that the parts of themselves they’ve been made to fear are worthy of celebration.

In 1992, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation founded a new category in their annual GLAAD Media Awards, recognizing achievements in the comic book field—and DC received the very first one. DC has been in the running consistently ever since, too. Since the prize’s debut, the company has garnered eleven GLAAD Awards for Outstanding Comic Books, nearly twice the number of any other publisher. Here, I’d like to share the stories of each comic under the DC banner to win this prestigious recognition to date.

1992: The Flash

In 1991, Flash writer William-Messner Loebs addressed a long-standing elephant in the writer’s room: the tendency in media to assign stereotypically homosexual traits to bad guys. In The Flash #53, reformed Flash villain Pied Piper calls this out, while confessing to Wally West himself that he actually is gay. This open and frank discussion of sexuality and queer coding in mainstream comics was unprecedented, all while presenting us with an openly queer character in a hero’s supporting cast. In 1992, the third GLAAD Media Awards ceremony, The Flash won their first ever recognition for outstanding comic. There were no other nominees.

1996: Metropolis S.C.U.

From 1993-1995, no further awards were presented in this category, but in 1996, it was taken out of retirement for another DC title, without any competition. Metropolis S.C.U. was a four-issue limited series by Cindy Goff, Peter Grause and José Marzan, Jr., the first mainstream title to star an openly gay woman.

The head of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit, Maggie Sawyer was introduced into Superman’s world in 1987 with Superman #4. Her girlfriend, reporter Toby Raynes, would debut in Superman #9. In due time, Sawyer became Superman’s own Commissioner Gordon, as he liaised with local law enforcement to curb super-crime in the City of Tomorrow. But for four issues in this limited engagement, Superman would be playing the role of Maggie’s backup. This spotlighting of a queer hero was enough to resurrect the award for Outstanding Comics for good. Fortunately, going forward, there would be a little more competition in the field.

1997: Death: The Time of Your Life

Neil Gaiman and Shawn McManus’s The Sandman: A Game of You was a groundbreaking story in 1991 for its inclusion of a lesbian couple and trans woman in the main cast—although not without problems for its age. But as early as 1996, Gaiman was finding reasons to revisit the troubled couple of Hazel and Foxglove with Chris Bachalo and Mark Buckingham in Death: The Time of Your Life, which brings the two back for a misadventure with Dream’s older sister.

This painful story of death and tragedy presented a vulnerable relationship which displayed that a queer romance is no less fraught than any straight romance, and that queerness itself is far from its only character. Death: The Time of Your Life won the category the first year that the award was competitive, one of the other nominees being DC’s own The Spectre.

1999: Supergirl

1998 was a strong showing for DC at the GLAAD Awards, with all three runners-up to newspaper strip For Better or For Worse being DC titles (The Flash, The Invisibles, Superboy and the Ravers.) DC returned to the top in 1999, for one of the strangest explorations of sexual identity in superhero comics to date.

For his grungy take on Supergirl, writer Peter David reintroduced the Silver Age concept of Comet the Super Horse as a centaur-like angel of love that was forged from two souls: gay stand-up comic and friend to Supergirl Andrea Martinez, and genetic experimentation subject Andrew Jones. It’s not an uncontroversial storyline, to be sure, with painful homophobia from Andrea’s parents and a rejected romance with Supergirl when she learns of Comet’s complex gender identity. But it’s a story that opened conversations which mainstream comics were still afraid to even approach, and even uneasy steps towards progress are worthy of recognition. It’s all a matter of recognizing our own internalized prejudices and moving forward with a more open mind.

2002-2003: Green Lantern

In 2000, Judd Winick took over writing duties on Green Lantern for his own take on the current torchbearer, Kyle Rayner. One of his big changes to Kyle’s life was he got his very own Jimmy Olsen. Terry Berg, a teenage intern at Kyle’s Feast magazine, was working as Kyle’s art assistant for his “City Dwellers” cartoon strip. For Terry, his work among artists and creatives at the magazine represented an escape from his school and home life, where he faced an oppressive atmosphere of homophobia.

Terry’s experience is all too familiar for those of us who have had to grow up in unaccepting communities and was a relatable face at a time when one could rarely be found by queer readers. Terry’s welcome presence in Green Lantern earned DC the GLAAD Outstanding Comic Award two years in a row—earning it especially in issue #154, where a vicious attack forces Kyle to confront the dangerous homophobia within his own community head-on. Terry remained a regular in the ranks of Green Lantern’s supporting cast, until the limelight returned to Hal Jordan.

2004: Catwoman

Writer Ed Brubaker’s Catwoman run is often considered the essential word on Gotham’s princess of plunder, but the soul of his series was Selina’s closest friend and confidante from Frank Miller and Dave Mazzuchelli’s Batman: Year One, Holly Robinson. Formerly a sex worker, Holly was taken in by Selina and left the street life behind her for a number of reasons—one of which, probably, was that she was gay. Holly’s queerness, and her relationship with her girlfriend Karon, are thoughtfully explored in the relatively quiet but psychologically fraught “No Easy Way Down,” where Holly must take stock of herself after she suffers a traumatic experience where she was forced to take a life. After an action-packed first six issues, the transition in both art and tone, thanks to Javier Pulido, is a jarring one—but no less jarring than Holly’s own experience. This mature, contemplative story of Holly’s inner life earned DC the GLAAD Award for its third consecutive year.

2010 & 2012: Detective Comics, Batwoman

While DC would maintain a presence at the GLAAD awards for the next six years, it’s a healthy sign of the industry’s growth that the category has steadily become more competitive. DC earned its next win at the dawn of the next decade when Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III stormed the flagship Detective Comics title with a new main character: Kate Kane, the Batwoman. In opposition to the original Batwoman, introduced in the Silver Age to present Batman with a more heterosexual veneer, this new Batwoman was Bruce Wayne’s openly queer cousin who was drummed out of the military under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. (I couldn’t be happier that this origin story is going to be increasingly out of date as time moves on. Frankly, it’s a good problem to have.)

Kate eventually had to turn the reins of the series back over to Batman, but she’d return in 2011 with a comic book series of her own by a returning J.H. Williams III with W. Haden Blackman. This time, Batwoman enjoyed a new romance with previous GLAAD Award winner Maggie Sawyer, now established on the Gotham City beat.

2019: Exit, Stage Left! The Snagglepuss Chronicles

The late 2010s at DC featured a line of Hanna Barbera cartoon-inspired comics, from a Mad Max-flavored Wacky Races to a Mad Men-flavored Flintstones. But the most surprising of all of them may have been Mark Russell and Mike Feehan’s Snagglepuss treatment, which recast the foppish pink lion as a Tennessee Williams-like mid-century playwright, struggling against the twin specters of McCarthyist communist hunting and the violent homophobic atmosphere which led to the Stonewall riots. Under the guise of a cartoon cat, Exit, Stage Left! presented a true and powerful narrative of suppressed queerness in America and a message that the only way to progress is to stand and fight in solitude with the next generation where too few stood for the last.

2022: Crush & Lobo

The eight-issue Crush & Lobo series from 2021 shined a colorful spotlight on the Teen Titans’ Czarnian lesbian disaster, Xiomara Rojas—known to her teammates and precious few friends as Crush. As a series, Crush & Lobo reunited Crush with her absolute wretch of a father for an intergalactic caper, all while working out her own issues with commitment and intimacy. It was also, quite notably, one of the first series to launch out of DC Pride last year.

Perhaps what makes Crush & Lobo so special is that while it may have been born out of a celebratory month for queer voices and perspectives, its continued run represented a promise to keep that representation alive throughout the year. That’s the insidious queer agenda you may have heard about—the master plan of the LGBTQIA+ community is simply to exist in public without fear and to encourage other members of the community who may feel diminished that they’re not alone. It’s a cause that’s as vital now as it was thirty years ago, making the GLAAD Media Awards one of the biggest honors out there. And one that any comic publisher, writer, artist, editor and fan can take pride in.
 

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly “Ask the Question” column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.

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