OCG Opinion: Transgender Representation in Marvel and DC Comics needs to be Better than “Tong the Moloid”
If I asked, right now, “Where are Marvel and DC’s active transgender characters”, could anyone give me a fast, and satisfying, response?
Over the last ten years, diversity within comics has gotten better. From Jessica Cruz to Kamala Khan, and from Miles Morales to the new Agents of Atlas, we have seen an explosion of new, diverse characters within the Marvel and DC universes. Because of this, we’ve also seen a bit of a boom in LGBTQIA+ representation! From characters like Harley Quinn and Kate Pryde coming out as bi, to the introduction of our first non-binary superheroes like the Aerie and Jess Chambers, and even to the introduction of DC’s very first transgender superhero on screen: Dreamer. Yet, if someone were hoping to find that same transgender hero on the page, they would be left wanting. Worse, if readers were hoping for any transgender representation at all, they would more than likely find nothing waiting for them but disappointment. That’s because DC and Marvel have done an unfortunately poor job of delivering and utilizing their transgender characters in any significant or important way, and they absolutely need to do better.
Delving into the lists of Marvel and DC’s transgender characters feels very much like what surveying a deep sea trench must be like: there’s not a lot there, anything you find doesn’t stick around for long, and a lot of what’s there—is almost shockingly inhuman. To say it feels like I, as a trans woman, am begging for table scraps almost feels like an understatement. As I’m writing this, there are no active transgender superheroes in either Marvel or DC comics. The representation currently afforded to us is scarce, and usually the best we can get is from transient side-characters. We don’t get to see character like us on the Avengers, the Justice League, or even any of the various X-Men teams, and that is a problem.
Looking at the limited roster available, it becomes unfortunately apparent that there are a few common threads. First off, two of the most recent and, arguably, most well-known transgender characters of either publisher, Alysia Yeoh from DC and Sera the Angel from Marvel, have completely vanished from the pages of their respective publishers for the at least the last two years. Alysia Yeoh was a side-character first introduced in the pages of Gail Simone’s Batgirl, and she is a character that Simone confirmed on Twitter was meant for a much larger role within the Bat-family had she remained on the book! This makes it all the more disappointing as, after Simone left the title, Alysia stayed as no more than a side-character for the rest of the New 52 run into the Rebirth run where she unceremoniously disappears after issue #36 in 2019. Fortunately, she was allowed to take on that hero role as one of the Batgirls in the DC Elseworlds’ Bombshells series, but never served anything more than a supporting role.
Sera has fared no better across the metaphorical pond, as she was utilized for only the briefest amount of time by Marvel in tandem with her girlfriend Angela throughout Angela’s several short-lived titles between 2014 and 2016. She would then disappear until the 2018 series Asgardians of the Galaxy where her with Angela relationship was dissolved in a two-issue arc in 2019. Without the attachment to Angela, Sera has remained in comic book limbo since–gathering dust on the literal fringes of space.
With these characters missing, what is left? Not a lot that’s particularly fun to look at, unfortunately, because there is this rather unfortunate trend I’ve noticed where both companies seem willing to make characters transgender…so long as they are side-characters who either 1) don’t have powers, 2) are completely inhuman in design and concept, or 3) have power but aren’t allowed to be used in any continuous or significant manner.
First, I have to talk about the two doctors. Dr. Victoria October, of DC Comics, appeared throughout the duration of James Tynion’s Detective Comics run, but vanished completely once Tynion left the book. Meanwhile, Dr. Charlene McGowan, of Marvel, still continues to serve as a supporting character in the pages of Ewing’s Immortal Hulk, which is great, but it’s hard for me to suggest that series as a great place for transgender readers to go considering the artist, Joe Bennett, has been documented laughing at and supporting transphobic comments on his Instagram page. Having transphobic creators working on transgender characters feels similar to the chef of my favorite restaurant joking about poisoning the food; it makes me worried about eating their food.
There’s nothing wrong with having transgender characters without powers, they still serve their purpose as characters, but when a reader is looking for themselves in the pages of a superhero comic…it’s hard to imagine that any group would be satisfied seeing themselves as nothing more than the expendable support.
For the second point, I’ve noticed this unfortunate trend to make transgender characters something either inhuman or completely fantastical. From Danny the living, sentient street, to Tong the Moloid, there is something othering about having a handful of an already scarce representative demographic, consisting of characters who are so completely fantastical that it almost feels like a mockery. Although characters like Koi Boi and Tong have been generally well-received, I can’t help but feel that there is something very “othering” about saying, “These characters are the same as you…except they definitely don’t look human!” To have these characters representing a demographic that is constantly demonized and stereotyped for how we look is just not a great feeling, and definitely not the escape I am personally looking for. Transgender people are very real, and exist and look like normal, regular people, and that should be shown much more. If the net of representation were wider, this wouldn’t be as important an issue to me.
Finally, and perhaps the most disappointing one to me, it’s not like there are no transgender characters with powers who could be used. They exist, they’re just ignored. DC recently upped their game with the recent inclusion of Jess Chambers, a Non-Binary speedster from Earth-11, and the Aerie, a member of the new “Revolutionaries” group within the last two years. Yet, looking forward into their upcoming Infinite Frontier slate both characters are suspiciously absent with the exception of a single confirmed appearance of Jess in the upcoming Pride special. Vita Ayala introduced about four transgender mutants in the pages of Age of X-Man, and just reintroduced them in a fleeting cameo in the latest issue of New Mutants…but their appearances in both are so quickly fleeting that they aren’t even name dropped in the last issue and their gender identities were all confirmed off-page. From characters like Aruna who appeared in exactly one issue of Batgirl, to Jake Young who appeared for one Avengers mini series before disappearing for good, there are numerous instances where these characters appear and then are dropped immediately into limbo. While I have hope that Ayala gets a chance to actually flesh out their transgender mutants, and I hope that there are plans for Jess and the revolutionaries that will eventually play out, it is getting increasingly frustrating to play the waiting game.
It comes down to that a lot. Between waiting between scattered issues, and praying for surprises come monthly solicits, there’s a lot that fans have to wait for if they want transgender representation. I picked up X-Factor because Leah Williams has hinted that a story-arc will address how mutant resurrections could affect transgender characters. We only just found out last week that Dreamer’s debut is only three months away, but there are no confirmed plans for her beyond that, which means there’ll still be waiting yet once that issue is out. Writer Crystal Fraiser confirmed she would be writing a transgender story for Marvel’s own June Pride anthology, but as for what character it will be—we still have to wait and see. It’s been a long game, and lately it’s required a lot of patience, but I would be lying to you if I said I was happy in any way, shape, or form with the current state of Marvel and DC’s representation.
Yet, I would also be lying to say there isn’t hope. Dreamer’s arrival reignited that within me this week, and although DC has a lot to prove after she appears, and us, as fans, need to make it a point to support this book, her appearance is progress. If we get to see the story that Williams has said we will in X-Factor it will be progress.
We need to have these conversations, because DC and Marvel are missing out on a huge opportunity. In the year since I became active in this community, I have found that so many transgender people like me exist within this space. They deserve to have their voices heard. They deserve to be seen. The big two have work to do both on and off the page (Magdalene Visaggio’s disappearance from the upcoming DC projects, especially Pride, greatly concerns me), but it’s not impossible. Look at what Boom did with Lumberjanes, what Image has done with Die! There is an audience for these books, for these characters, and it’s time that we all come together and demand the same thing.
Let us have heroes, too.