The Question: The Best Queer Villains in Comics
The heroes of fiction tend to conform to a certain type — straight, cisgender, male — and the quests that they go on tend to share common elements. 'Boy meets girl' is a familiar phrase because we expect a male protagonist to meet, seduce, and try to save a female love interest as part of his 'quest'. And because finding a mate is so often part of the hero's journey, villains often get to represent a counterpoint; they challenge the narrative, subvert the norm, and... queer things up. With so much fiction being heteronormative, villains often get to play with gender and sexuality in ways that heroes don't.
The queer or queer-themed villain is a trope that has led to some frustrating and upsetting stereotypes, but it's also led to some rich, compelling, and magnetic characters — characters that sometimes have a lot to offer to audiences hungry for representation and uncomfortable with the expectation of 'boy meets girl'. A villain's methods may be questionable, but their desire to overturn the accepted order can hold some appeal.
To celebrate Villain Month on ComicsAlliance, and to mark that intersection of villainy and queerness in fiction, we've asked our writers, 'Who is your favorite queer comics villain'?
(For the purposes of this discussion, characters don't need to be canonically queer to be included. The reader's perception matters more than what the author managed to say, and when it comes to the representation of queerness, we've had to learn to know it when we see it.)
If you're not already firmly onboard the incredible rollercoaster that is Mystique, there's no helping you — but I'd like to talk about her and Destiny, specifically, as a couple. For a long time the true nature of their relationship was only hinted at, but Chris Claremont (and latterly, Mike Carey) tried to make it plain; they were a couple, and they were in love — and though one of them has passed on, they still are.
Their relationship was a part of who they both were as people, and has shaped who Mystique came to be as time went on. I like that they are two indomnitable wills, in love with one another, but comfortable together. They simply were, and their affection made them more interesting as villains. Destiny made Mystique empathetic, and it's a damn shame she was killed off.
Mike Carey impressed on readers just how much the couple passed on to their adoptive daughter, Rogue — Mystique's fire and Destiny's strategic genius. One of my favourite moments in comics is a scene between Rogue and a briefly resurrected Destiny during the Necrosha storyline of X-Men Legacy, in which Destiny gets to say goodbye to her daughter. It's heartfelt and sincere, without grandstanding. For me, Destiny's strength in that scene encapsulates Mystique and Destiny as a couple, and the air of calm power they projected at all times. They were villains, but they had heart. And that made them dangerous. [Steve Morris]
Scandal Savage is the daughter of Vandal Savage, one of those obvious-in-hindsight ideas that clicks, right down to the rhyming name (which I onlynoticed ten years after reading Villains United, so don't tell the people who gave me my diploma).
Handling an LGBTQ villain takes some careful work, but Scandal's co-creators, Gail Simone and Dale Eaglesham, handle this by positioning Scandal as the leader of a breakaway group of villains bucking authority. The Secret Six are still villains, but they're villains who aren't on board with the rapidly forming supervillain organization The Society. They're still positioned against society, as villains often are — just not our society.
The Society is run, in part, by Scandal's father, who wants an heir. "But what about my grandkids?" is a tragically common refrain from parents of gay people, and Scandal refusing to play along with her father's plans works on multiple levels because of it. Since Villains United, Scandal has made her way around the "black ops supervillainy" corners of the DC Universe; she also entered into a polygamous marriage with two other women.
I'm not sure if she's showed up in the New 52, but with the enduring popularity of the Suicide Squad, it feels like only a matter of time. I hope she's as well handled in her second decade as she was in her first. [Charlotte Finn]
Dakeh Akihiro is a type of character I normally don't like; the new guy based on an old concept who gets passed off as a 'tougher' version, so he'll seem like more than just a pale copy. The last ten years has seen a bunch of them, and they don't usually amount to much because there's not much there. But I've become fond of Daken, because he has something that sets him apart. Sex.
Men in superhero comics don't often get to be sexual. Readers might find them sexy — Daken's father Wolverine has his share of admirers — but the characters themselves rarely revel in their sexuality. Comics have tended to uphold the awful idea that sex is all about the presentation of women for men.
Queer sexual identities help shake up that notion — and amoral bisexual punk villain Daken is a good example of how. He presents himself as sexual (but not an object) for the consumption of men and women alike. Some writers still present him as a flat villain, a second generation bad boy, but he comes alive as a character when he's written as a puckishly subversive storm of carnality in tight leather pants. Now, sure, his essential sadism could be used to reinforce the idea that sexual liberation is naughty, but it would be hard for that nannyish finger-wagging to overcome how good he makes it look. [Andrew Wheeler]
One of the main characters of Noelle Stevenson’s award-winning Nimona, Ballister Blackheart is “the biggest name in supervillainy,” according to his sidekick Nimona. Wronged by the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, this disgraced hero has turned nemesis to his former love Ambrosius Goldenloin. Motivated by his hatred, he seeks not to harm the people of his city, but to profit from his villainy. “It’s not about winning,” he tells Nimona, “it’s about proving a point.” The point is, of course, that he’s still really upset about that time when Ambrosius blew his arm off and the Institution kicked him out.
What’s so satisfying about Ballister is that Stevenson completely normalizes his relationship with Ambrosius. Not once is his queerness used to vilify him. Instead, his love for Ambrosius does what any healthy relationship does: it humanizes him. While their relationship is never explicitly dealt with in the comic, Stevenson has confirmed it several times. In a Tumblr Q&A from last year, she said: “Ballister and Ambrosius are, canonically, former secret(-ish) boyfriends, but I must admit it wasn’t my intention from the beginning. It’s one of the things I’d change if I could do it all again — I’d make it clear, in the text, from the start.”
If you need more Goldenheart than what’s in the comic, Stevenson’s Tumblr is full of shipping art and sketches from the Gay Dads AU. It is beautiful and will make you believe in love again. [KM Bezner]
Like all of geek Tumblr I long wished for the days that Loki would be canonically presented as apart of the LGBT community, inspired in part by Tom Hiddleston's flawless on-screen portrayal of the shapeshifting trickster god. In 2013 the fan fiction community yelped in collective glee as Loki's bisexuality was finally confirmed in Young Avengers.
I've always been enamored with villains. In some ways they're much more transparent than heroes, wearing their pains and their skirmishes on their sleeves, though they're also often clouded in mystery. In the case of Loki, his serpentine nature is hypnotically attractive, making for a charming yet disorienting foe.
Loki's powers have always made him an unusually fluid character. Loki can be either a man or a woman, and the character has been magically aged backwards and forwards. Through it all, he (or she) remained mischievous and powerful, always retaining an impish persona. One could even argue that Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal has catapulted Loki ahead of his blond older brother in popularity. Who would you rather have take you to the dark side? (Or through the nine realms, if you prefer.) [Aaron Reese]
There's lots to love about Ivy. We can start with her aims. In the hands of someone who's not insistent upon making Pamela Isley a caricature, she represents yet another villain fighting for a cause that really does matter — the environment. Admittedly, her connection to plants is more personal than most, but the fact remains: we as a society don't treat nature and plant life with even close to the amount of respect or kindness they deserve. As we deplete the earth's resources and destroy its forests, how surprising is it, really, that a lone botanist stood up and said enough?
And then we can talk about her tactics! I always dig a femme fatale who uses the patriarchy to her advantage. Though she sometimes uses her powers on other women, most of the time you'll catch her luring men in, only to use them for her own aims.
Ivy's a queer female villain with truly righteous goals and subversive techniques. There's little more you can ask for than that. [JA Micheline]
Mister Sinister is a queer supervillain from an era before you could call a villain queer. He’s recognizable by his black lipstick, vampiric fashion sense, and flair for the darkly dramatic.
Sinister, later to be identified as Nathaniel Essex (a man who’d once been married to a woman, believe it or not), is a supervillain-scaled take on one of the great queer villains of cinema history: Dr. Septimus Pretorius from Bride of Frankenstein. Like Pretorius, Sinister sits outside the heterosexual reproductive paradigm, but exerts control over that reproduction through a mix of science and social manipulation.
Pretorius created tiny humans in glass jars and did his best to alienate Henry Frankenstein from his bride. Mister Sinister created a full-size human in a glass jar and positioned her to become Scott Summers’ bride. Jean Grey had died, and Sinister needed someone with her genetic material to reproduce with Scott, because apparently only a Grey/Summers baby would have a chance of taking down Apocalypse.
Why Mister Sinister needed Cable to be born is entirely beside the point. What matters is that the heteronormative concepts of love, marriage, and family are just tools for him to use. He’s standing outside your society, and he’s looking down on you and laughing. [Elle Collins]
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