Marvel's Quiet Trans Character Announcement is Actually Radical

February 14th 2015

Marvel took another step toward a more representative comic book universe on February 4th with the release of the most recent issue of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin. Co-written by Kieron Gillen and Marguerite Bennett — you might recognize Gillen’s name as the writer of the very LGBT-inclusive 2013 Young Avengers series — issue no. 3 revealed backstory to Loki’s long-lost sister Angela, as well as her female traveling companion Sera.

I won’t summarize the plot up until this point for you (because what fun would that be when you can read the comics yourself? Or find great summations here), but I will provide one spoiler, however: In it we quietly learned that Sera was an Anchorite of Heben and has transitioned genders. A trans woman of color as a canon character in mainstream comic franchise? And possibly queer as well? How far we’ve come.

 Asgard's Assassins featuring Sera's coming out.

Gone are the days when Marvel comic artists were reportedly barred from producing work with gay characters. (During the 1980’s, the publisher had a “No Gays in the Marvel Universe” policy, according to LGBT comics historian Andy Mangels. And in the 1990’s, any series that focused on a solo gay character was required to carry an “Adults Only” label.)

Although some have accused Marvel of being a slouch on diversity issues — comparing them unfavorably to DC because of the competing company’s more racially and gender inclusive slate of superheroes on the big screen — the release of Angela: Asgard’s Assassins comes after almost a decade of progress on the page by Marvel.

While DC's refusal to allow the new Batwoman/Kate Kane to marry her female fiancée led to the departure of the comic’s editorial team in 2013, Marvel was celebrating the heavily promoted 2012 wedding of characters Northstar and Kyle. And for me, that’s where this new iteration of Marvel diversity is even more groundbreaking. When asked on Tumblr about the introduction of Sera as a transgender character in the Feb. 4 issue, co-writer Gillen responded:

Kieron Gillen's statement about Sera on Tumblr.

(h/t themarysue.com)

What speaks loudest to me is the silence; as Gillen said, Marvel "did it in a quiet way.” Although some might initially see this as hiding the direction of the character, I think it more accurately speaks to the normalization of Sera in the Marvel universe.

Less than four years ago, Kyle and Northstar’s wedding received major coverage; Marvel even confirmed the marriage rumors for the gay couple with an official announcement on ABC’s "The View." It was a big step forward for Marvel’s LGBT diversity, no doubt, but it also seemed like capitalizing on increasing positivity toward marriage equality. The grandstanding felt forced.

Contrast this with web comic culture, which has been quietly supportive of an incredibly diverse roster of characters for years. Series like Questionable Content feature complex and inclusive material regularly, such as the 2012 introduction of trans grad student Claire Augustus, through which the writer has explored coming out, dating as a transperson, and other issues with great finesse.

Trans people have become awfully trendy lately, which isn’t entirely a bad thing, so it’s refreshing to see Marvel not rush to the press to cash in on Sera. This time feels more genuine: A transwoman of color — possibly even a queer transwoman of color — can be introduced into a story arc without comment or publicity. There's neither need to highlight nor excuse her. And why should there be? As web comics have shown, there’s a welcoming and hungry fan base for diverse stories that reflect the real lives people lead. Everyday occurrences don’t need an accompaniment precisely because they are so common; for once, I'm glad that all is quiet. 

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