Marvel Comics, one of the big two comic book publishers alongside DC comics, was founded in 1939 as Timely Comics, and by the 1960s had changed its name to the now recognized Marvel Comics. The Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel Comics in 2009. Comic book writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby are often considered to be responsible for the popularity of Marvel Comics, as they created some of the most popular characters in Marvel Comics, such as The Hulk and Spider-Man.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, a series of movies featuring Marvel Comics characters, in both solo and interconnected team-up movies began in 2008 with Iron Man. Since then, there have been over 23 movies, as well as several TV shows, released within that cinematic universe, all interconnected, and divided into story arcs referred to as “phases.”. As of now, 2021, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the MCU, is part way through phase four, with no plans to stop producing movies or TV shows for the MCU anytime soon.
The MCU is now one of the most prolific and well regarded media franchises in the world. However, it has a severe diversity problem. Of the current 23 movies of the MCU, only one has had a lead protagonist of color – Black Panther (2016). Only two have had a female lead protagonist – Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), and Captain Marvel (2019) (with 2021’s limited series WandaVision making a third female lead property of the MCU).
Comic book movies, both as part of and outside of the MCU have a history of erasing the queer idenities of their heroes, and no heroes or recurring characters have been confirmed as queer on screen in any MCU property. The extent of queer representation on-screen in the MCU thus far is limited to Avengers: Endgame (2019), which had one gay background character.
However, some characters already present in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are canonically yl queer in the comics, and including their sexualities and gender identities in the MCU going forward would be a boon of representation in the franchise. Already, the upcoming MCU film The Eternals, set to be released November 5th, 2021, is set to feature a gay married couple.
Valkyrie (Played by Tessa Thompson)
Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok’s (2017) Valkrie is considered to be bisexual in the MCU, same as her comic counterpart, but all scenes referring to her sexuality were cut from the final film prior to release. Though this is supposedly going to be rectified in the upcoming 2022 sequel Thor: Love and Thunder.
Valkyrie, also known as Brunnhilde, is the last of Odin’s Valkyries whom he sent to drive Hela back to her prison, as detailed in Thor: Ragnarok. As of now, Thor has made her King of Asgard in his place. Her first appearance in the comics was The Avengers #83 (December 1970).
Valkyrie is bisexual in the comics, having had relationships with both men and woman, though none of her major love interests have counterparts in the MCU as of yet. In the 2013 comic series Fearless Defenders, Valkyrie has an intense will-they won’t they relationship with Dr. Annabelle Riggs, an archaeologist.
Dr. Annabelle Riggs and Valkyrie in Fearless Defenders.
Loki (Played by Tom Hiddleston)
Tom Hiddleston as Loki in a promotional image for Loki (2021)
Marvel seems to be committed to bringing queer representation into the MCU in the upcoming Phase Four movies and TV shows planned for 2021 and beyond. Along with Valkyrie’s bisexuality being set to be made clear on-screen in Thor: Love and Thunder, the upcoming Disney+ show Loki is rumored to feature the character’s bisexuality and gender fluidity which is a large part of the character’s identity in the comics.
Much like in the MCU, Loki in the comics is the God of Mischief, the brother of Thor, and a trickster. His first appearance was in Thor (2011) and he has been featured in six MCU films thus far. Loki has had many incarnations in the comics, but his first official appearance was Venus #6 (August 1949). His first appearance in the modern comic continuity was Journey into Mystery #622 (April 2011).
Loki has long been hinted at being bisexual and gender fluid, but writer Al Ewing, who has been writing Loki comics since 2014, was the first to intentionally say: “Yes, Loki is bi and I’ll be touching on that. He’ll shift between genders occasionally as well.” in his Loki: Agent of Asgard series. Loki’s gender and sexuality are also featured in Original Sin by Simone Bianchi, Young Avengers by Jamie McKelvie, Siege by Brian Michael Bendis, and Journey Into Mystery by Kieron Gillen.
Odin, acknowledging Loki’s gender fluidity in Original Sin by Simone Bianchi
Peter Quill / Star-Lord (Played by Chris Pratt)
Chris Pratt as Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Peter Quill was introduced in the MCU in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), a human who was abducted from Earth and raised in space, who was now an outlaw. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II (2017) it is discovered that he is a human-celestial hybrid, and the son of Ego the Living Planet. In the comics, rather than being abducted, he steals a Kree ship and runs away after his mother’s death. His first appearance was in Marvel Preview #4 (January 1976).
In the recent December 2020 Guardians of the Galaxy #9 one-shot “I Shall Make You A Star-Lord,” also written by Al Ewing, Peter Quill was revealed to be both bisexual and polyamrous. It makes sense that Peter Quill’s sexuality hasn’t been written into the MCU, as it’s the most recent comic addition on this list, but unlike Loki and Valkyrie, Marvel seems to have no plans to include Star-Lord’s sexuality in Chris Pratt’s portrayal of the character as of yet.
A panel from “I Shall Make You A Star-Lord”
Ayo (Played by Florence Kasumba)
Florence Kasumba as Ayo in a The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Character Poster
Ayo is a member of and second-in-command of the Dora Milaje, the protectors of the Black Panther and Wakanda. In the MCU, she was first introduced in Black Panther (2016), and most recently appeared in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021).
In the comic series World of Wakanda, Ayo falls in love with Aneka, the general of the Dora Milaje. The MCU character Okoye is an analogue to the comic character Aneka, as both are the general of the Dora Milaje in their respective medias. Black Panther (2016) originally had a scene where Okoye and Ayo flirted, but it was ultimately cut from the movie, and it is unclear currently whether the MCU intends to bring Ayo or Okoye’s lesbian identity from the comics to the films.
Art by Brian Steelfreeze from Black Panther #1
Billy and Tommy Maximoff (Played by Julian Hilliard and Jett Klyne)
Julian Hilliard (Billy; right) and Jett Klyne (Tommy; left)
Billy and Tommy Maximoff were recently introduced to the MCU in the limited series WandaVision (2021), as Wanda Maximoff’s twin children. At the end of the series, they disappear, along with the rest of the magic Wanda constructed in Westview. But, the twins are likely set to return in the upcoming film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022).
In the comics, the twins are reincarnated as Billy Kaplan and Tommy Shepherd, becoming the Young Avengers Wiccan and Speed respectively. In the comics, Billy is gay, and in Young Avengers Presents #3, begins dating fellow Young Avenger Hulking. Meanwhile, Tommy is bisexual and has relationships with both male and female team members across the Young Avengers series.
Billy (dressed as Wiccan) and Tommy (dressed as Speed) in Young Avengers
Honorable Mention: Bucky Barnes (Played by Sebastian Stan)
Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes
Bucky Barnes was a side character in the MCU, before currently being one of several focus characters in Phase Four, with his most recent appearance being the Disney+ show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Bucky Barnes named comic counterpart is not actually gay in the comics, but his backstory is partially based on the character Arnie Roth, who was Steve Rogers’ childhood friend (not Bucky as in the MCU). Arnie Roth is considered to be Marvel’s first gay character, and does not exist in name in the MCU. Bucky Barnes is considered one of Marvel’s most queercoded character, likely in part due to a gay character forming the basis of his backstory and personality.
Malcom Spellman, head writer on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, was recently interviewed and was asked about Bucky Barnes’s queercoding, and whether there was the potential to have him actually be canonically queer: “…whether Bucky is bisexual or queer…So is that question going to be definitively answered [in the show]” Spellman laughed in response and said “I’m not diving down rabbit holes, but just keep watching.”
Since that interview, the rest of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has been released, with no acknowledgement of Bucky’s potential sexuality, leading many fans to accuse Spellman of moving past queercoding and into queerbaiting, intentional goading fans with the potential of the character coming out, without ever fulfilling that promise.