About to tackle a prehistoric shark alongside Jason Statham in The Meg, Australian DJ and model turned actress Ruby Rose has also been announced as the first out and proud comic book hero to land their own TV series.
She’ll play Gotham’s queer crusader Batwoman – aka Bruce Wayne’s cousin Kate Kane – a rebel with a cause socialite booted from military academy during the dark days of the US army’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
Announcing the news on Instagram, Rose said, “The Bat is out of the bag and I am beyond thrilled and honoured. I’m also an emotional wreck, because this is a childhood dream. This is something I would have died to have seen on TV when I was a young member of the LGBT community who never felt represented.”
Of course the Twitter reaction was fierce. Orange is the New Black co-star and trans woman Laverne Cox called the move, “Totally awesome good!” while pansexual musician Janelle Monaé insisted, “She will SLAY.”
While some in the community criticised her casting on the basis that she was a high-profile, easily palatable queer person targeted at straight audiences, Rose, clearly hurt by the inference, was quick to respond: “When we tear each other down it's much more hurtful than from any group.”
Whatever your take, it’s a big leap for representation of queer characters in the all-dominating juggernaut that is superhero film and, to a lesser-extent, TV today, and the show runners have major skin in the game.
When the CW Television Network, home to a raft of DC Comics’ finest superhero series – including Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl – announced Kane would appear in their latest crossover event, with a series to follow, the rumour mill rumbled that a queer actor would be cast in the role.
That theory was strengthened by the involvement of Batwoman’s show runners. Love, Simon director Greg Berlanti was immediately attached alongside Smallville and The Vampire Diaries writer Caroline Dries. Both bring a proudly queer sensibility to the table, leading to the casting of Rose.
Ironically enough, the character was first introduced as a love interest for Batman in 1956. The move was editorially mandated following the creation of the industry governing body the Comics Code Authority in 1954.
Explicitly banning depictions of homosexuality, DC Comics were keen to head off suspicions about the nature of Batman and Robin’s relationship.
Less than a decade later, Kane was wiped from continuity, only returning to the comic books in 2006, this time in a considerably re-tooled iteration as an out lesbian and Jewish woman who has dated Gotham cops Renee Montoya and Maggie Sawyer.
Interestingly enough, Sawyer has already appeared in the Melissa Benoist-led Supergirl TV series, as played by Floriana Lima, so we’re keen to see where that might go.
Whether or not both actors will carry through to the recently announced Supergirl movie from DC’s struggling big screen endeavours remains to be seen. That hasn’t been the case so far, recasting TV’s Guy Gustin with Ezra Miller as the Flash, for instance.
While the Comics Code Authority was disbanded in 1989, there were subtle subversions before that, most notably with the introduction of Marvel’s French-Canadian superhero Northstar in Uncanny X-men in 1979. Major hints were dropped about his sexuality before the pioneering character officially came out in 1992.
Comics have introduced a raft of queer characters since then, including the Young Avenger’s cutest teen couple Hulkling and Wiccan over at Marvel, and the macho Midnighter and Apollo over at DC Comics. The big screen has been woefully slow to follow.
Amazonian warrior Wonder Woman (who spent most of her life on a magical island populated only by women, remember) has been explicitly confirmed as fluid in the comics, but neither Lynda Carter nor Gal Gadot got to explore this.
Shapeshifter Mystique’s lesbian relationship has been AWOL from the X-Men movies too, with neither Rebecca Romijin nor Jennifer Lawrence getting to play gay. There was no sign of Harley Quinn’s sexual fluidity from Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad either.
Sure, proudly pansexual Thor: Ragnarok star Tessa Thompson tweeted that her drink-sozzled, Asgardian warrior in self-imposed exile was bisexual, but nothing on-screen gave that away. Meanwhile co-star Taika Waititi’s rock-like lovable doofus Korg is out in the comics too, something we hope Disney-owned Marvel can address soon.
For the moment, the small screen’s leading the way, with Batwoman set to kick ass next year, and trans activist Nicole Maines about to portray trans superhero Dreamer in the new series of Benoist’s Supergirl. Nafessa Williams also plays lesbian emerging hero Thunder over on Black Lightning.
Will Marvel and DC finally get round to showing us a queer caped crusader on the big screen? We’ll see, but for now we’re following the Bat Symbol as it lights the way for LGBTIQ representation in Lycra-clad world-saving heroics.