Where are the LGBTQ characters in Battleworld, Marvel's wacky mash-up of alternate realities that serves as the setting for this year's Secret Wars event? You won't find them in the new romance-themed Secret Love one-shot, unless you look closely.
Out of all the numerous romantic possibilities that could happen in a world where the Age of Apocalypse exists alongside the Elizabethan world of 1602, where a city of anthropomorphic animals exists alongside Skottie Young's Little Marvel, these are the pairings we get in the five stories that make up the one-shot:
Daredevil and Karen Page; Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan and the newest Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes; Iron Fist and Misty Knight; Thor and Squirrel Girl; and anthropomorphic insect versions of Wasp and Ant-Man.
Five stories, five heterosexual couples. The only LGBTQ representation of note consists of several same-sex couples in the background of a party scene in the Squirrel Girl story.
Prodigy and Speed, Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane, Namor and Quicksilver - wouldn’t any of these pairings have made for a compelling story?
None of this is intended as criticism of the writers and artists behind Secret Love, whose work is uniformly excellent. But the lack of any significant LGBTQ representation, in a book that ostensibly exists to showcase the diverse romantic possibilities of Battleworld, is a troubling omission - all the more so given that it wasn’t originally going to be this way.
That’s because Secret Love was originally announced as featuring a same-sex romance between Young Avengers’ America Chavez and the female Hawkeye, Kate Bishop. But that story was swiftly un-announced, and replaced with the charming, but very heteronormative, Misty Knight/Iron Fist story.
Now, the official explanation for why the story was killed, courtesy of Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, is that it “didn’t fit in properly with other stuff that had been established elsewhere in the SECRET WARS books.” Which is fair enough, given the demands of a shared universe - and that very romance may still show up in the current Siege miniseries, in which America and Kate both appear. But why on earth replace it with yet another story of heterosexual romance, given the vast storytelling possibilities to be found in Battleworld? Did the thought really not cross anyone at Marvel editorial’s minds - be it Brevoort, EIC Axel Alonso, or the one-shot’s editor Emily Shaw - that this might not be the best idea, and might project the image that Marvel is less than fully committed to representing an increasingly diverse readership?
I guess the honest answer, “no,” would have made for bad PR
To be clear, Marvel is not a homophobic company. They employ LGBTQ editors and creators, and they’ve published great stories about LGBTQ characters. And as far as general diversity goes, in the past few years alone, they’ve made huge strides forward in placing female and POC characters in the spotlight, from Kamala Khan to Jane Foster as Thor, from Sam Wilson as Captain America to the forthcoming Moon-Girl.
But not being homophobic isn't enough anymore. And it’s clear - whether from the recent Hercules straightwashing controversy, or from the general dearth of visible LGBTQ characters in the currently announced books for the upcoming All-New, All-Different Marvel relaunch (including a total lack of solo titles about LGBTQ characters), that Marvel editorial has simply not made LGBTQ representation a priority to nearly the extent that they’ve done for female or POC characters - nor are they always particularly well attuned to more specific concerns about how LGBTQ characters are represented. And let’s not get started on diversity of writing talent, which is its own can of worms.
Marvel can and should do better by its LGBTQ readers. But until then, we need to make our voices heard - before we get more discouragingly LGBTQ-free books like this one.
Tweet - politely, I swear! - to Emily Shaw (@Emily_ShawShaw), Tom Brevoort (@tombrevoort), and Axel Alonso (@axelalonsomarv).