Comics Corner – New gay X-Men hero Somnus debuts in ‘Marvel Voices: Pride’

After DC introduced the world to its first all-queer team weeks ago, Marvel now follows suit with Marvel Voices: Pride, an anthology focusing on its own assortment of heroes, told by a collective of queer creators.

It’s an X-Men-heavy collection of shorts – eight out of thirteen stories are focused on mutant characters – but that’s perhaps no surprise. As narrator Prodigy points out in Introduction, an opening history lesson on the Marvel Universe’s legacy of LGBTQ+ residents by Luciano Vecchio, “mutant and queer identity and cause often intersect and overlap”. Given the nature of mutancy is often a stand-in for real world minority identities and issues, the assorted X-Men titles have, for decades, been home to some of the more progressive characters and stories.

Marvel’s pantheon of LGBTQ+ heroes and villains get the spotlight this Pride month (Image ©Marvel)

That’s evident in what is arguably the main event for the issue, a section called Man of his Dreams by writer Steve Orlando and artist Claudia Aguirre. The story is focused on Daken, the son of Wolverine who, despite being introduced as a villain, has had something of a redemptive arc over the years. Now a hero – or perhaps anti-hero – in his own right, he’s also one of Marvel’s most notable bisexual male characters, but has had relatively few stories exploring this facet of his life. Here, Orlando and Aguirre deliver a rare peek behind Daken’s brash exterior as he reminisces on an entire life he spent living with a man named Carl Valentino – a life made possible thanks to Carl’s own mutant power of oneiromancy, the ability to craft dreams. In reality, only one night passed for them, but the memory of lost love lingered with Daken over the decades.

Although the story is only six pages, the creators cram a lot of important character moments in, from Daken’s regrets over the dark and bloody path his own life took, to an almost quiet regret that he didn’t get to enjoy the same sort of quiet life surrounded by family that Carl did. Given Daken shares his father’s longevity, the short is also a chance to explore changing attitudes – he and Carl met in the late 1960s, and while Daken barely aged in the decades since, Carl is shown to have lived a largely closeted life, raising his brother and sister before dying of old age, surrounded by his family.

However, regular readers of the current X-Men titles know that mutants are effectively immortal now, having the ability as a society to bring any mutant back from the dead, hatching from strange eggs in newly grown bodies. Orlando and Aguirre use the metaphor of rebirth and emergence in a way that will resonate powerfully for LGBTQ+ readers, as Carl is resurrected in a younger body, free to finally live his life on his own terms. It’s the super-powered equivalent of coming out of the closet, and it is glorious. Carl doesn’t seem to be a one-off character either – reborn, he takes the name Somnus, and is slated to appear in X-Men titles later this year.

Man of His Dreams is also a welcome and unusually positive exploration of bisexuality, as Daken’s effort to resurrect Carl has the support of Aurora, his current female love interest from the pages of X-Factor. Too often, bisexuality in fiction is shown as either alternating between partners of different genders, or the character being bi in name only, and shown exclusively with partners of one gender. Showing Daken with a girlfriend while also getting the chance to undo what he perceives as a past mistake with a male lover – and it not leading to a fiery argument or misunderstanding with his female partner – is a refreshingly mature and progressive depiction.

Somnus makes his debut in Marvel Voices: Pride – and he’s set to play a role in X-Men stories going forwards (Image ©Marvel)

Elsewhere in the special, and much like DC’s effort, Marvel Voices: Pride’s assortment of stories has some hits and misses – a peril of its anthology format. A Black Cat short – the lengthily titled When a Black Cat Crosses Your Path, You Give Them the Right of Way, by Leah Williams and Jan Bazaldua – features the feline thief (herself recently revealed as bi in her own series) lightly flirting with Marvel’s first openly trans character Jessie Drake. However, unless you happened to read two issues of Marvel Comics Presents that were published 27 years ago – Drake’s only prior appearances – the significance of her appearance here will be lost. An editor’s note referring to Drake’s first appearance, and a publishing timeline later in the comic are the only clues to her importance.

Similarly, The Man I Know by J.J. Kirby, a story focused on Northstar, Marvel’s first openly gay hero, and his husband Kyle is a three page exploration, from Kyle’s perspective, of why he loves the notoriously brusque speedster, but is too short to amount to much more than a love note. It’s sweet, but unsatisfying.

Much better is The Grey Ladies by Tini Howard and Samantha Dodge. Set aboard a train in c.1900 London, it features Mystique and her long-time love Destiny, a blind precognitive. A tense chess game against a man heavily alluded to be Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty serves as an examination of the attitudes of the era, while also being one of the still too-rare examples of the two women’s decades-long romance. Mystique and Destiny’s relationship has long been a complicated one – partly because of Marvel’s early refusal to allow them to be portrayed as a couple, partly because their usual role as villains ensured tragedy and death followed them – but this story is one of the firmest presentations of their commitment yet. As with Somnus’ planned future appearances, there’s more to see with this pairing though, as the upcoming crossover event Inferno will explore Mystique’s explosive reaction when she learns Destiny is one of the few mutants not to be resurrected.

The relationship between Mystique and Destiny has been confined to the shadows for decades – but is about to play a central role in the upcoming Inferno storyline (Image ©Marvel)

Sticking with the theme of X-Men and flashbacks, Anthony Oliveira and Javier Garrón’s Early Thaw is a lovely look at the early days of Iceman, back when he was still closeted. For continuity fiends, it doesn’t ­strictly fit, but the timeline on Iceman’s coming out is a little wonky anyway, involving time travel and mind-wipes. More important is that this is a story with a tonne of heart, as the young Bobby Drake longs from afar for his (canonically gorgeous) teammate Angel – a feeling a lot of young gay people can relate to – while getting some advice and support from a very unlikely source. It’s another short one at only five pages, but it’ll leave readers feeling warm and fuzzy afterwards.

Also impressive is The Vows, a one-page pin-up of sorts that is exactly what it says – the marriage vows of Wiccan and Hulkling, following their two weddings that took place in last year’s Empyre storyline. Besides being tear-inducingly sentimental, with the vows detailing precisely why these two young heroes love each other so much, it’s a lovely stroll down memory lane, with a background full of Polaroids featuring their friends from the Young Avengers. Best of all, it’s all lovingly crafted by Wiccan and Hulkling’s creators, Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung – what a way to give their boys away.

The best part is, there are a host of other LGBTQ+ characters that couldn’t fit into this spread by Jacopo Camagni! (Image ©Marvel)

It’s also impressive how much trans representation there is in the comic. In addition to the Black Cat/Jessie Drake story, there’s Something New Every Day, by Lilah Sturges and Derek Charm – a crime-busting caper featuring Dr Charlene McGowan, a tech genius trans woman from the pages of Immortal Hulk, teaming up with Elektra Natchios, the current Daredevil – and Totally Invulnerable by Crystal Fraser and Jethro Morales, which sees villainess Titania start a fight with her arch-enemy She-Hulk, only to discover it’s a case of mistaken identity. Both stories offer a few friendly lessons on trans terminology for readers who may be unfamiliar, while the latter is also structured in hilarious fourth wall-breaking fashion in a nod to the ’90s Sensational She-Hulk series.

While there are a few characters sadly lacking in the anthology – there’s no mention of Star-Lord, and only a passing reference to Kitty Pryde, for instance – it’s a good problem to have more queer characters than there is page space for them. As a comic, it’s less consistent than DC’s effort, with the story lengths here being highly variable – and ten pages are given over to a partial reprint of Alpha Flight #106, the issue where Northstar came out; historically important, but it’s hard not to think the space could have been better used – but makes up for it with some genuinely interesting background content. An interview with Chris Cooper, a former associate editor at Marvel who, as an openly gay man himself, helped oversee some of the publisher’s earliest efforts to introduce LGBTQ+ characters is the highlight here, but a “Big Gay Moments” spread of some of the major milestones over the years also serves as a reminder for long-time readers and a helpful guide to newcomers.

All in all, Marvel’s come a long way since Northstar was finally allowed to blurt “I AM GAY!”, nearly 30 years ago. While Marvel Voices: Pride isn’t a perfect collection of stories, it’s a great celebration of Marvel’s increasingly vast assortment of LGBTQ+ characters, and sets the stage for more queer-centric stories to come.

Matt Kamen

Matt Kamen is a veteran media writer based in the UK, specialising in video games, film, and comics. If found, return to nearest coffee shop.