Marvel Studios has prevailed as one of the most advanced and evolved forms of world-building the entertainment industry has ever seen with twenty movies spanning over a ten-year period.
The storylines of each movie connect and are weaved together by the smallest details and the biggest plotlines.
We’ve been introduced to an array of different characters with their own histories, relationships, powers, and quirks, but the one thing Marvel could get a little better at is representation. Marvel has been criticized for a lack of female and POC representation before, but since the release of the 2019 film Captain Marvel, there’s been a spike in the conversation about LGBTQ+ representation in the series.
Marvel has made a few nods towards having gay characters in their movies, like Joe Russo’s unnamed character in Avengers: Endgame who discusses a date he went on with another man during a support group meeting led by Steve Rogers. However, leading to the idea of gay characters without fully including them is not representation, it’s queerbaiting. Marvel Comics has made a much more apparent effort at LGBTQ+ representation.
In 2012, it was revealed that Bobby Drake (AKA Iceman) of the X-Men franchise was gay. An adult version of himself is stuck in an alternate timeline and has a conversation with his younger self about how hard it was to become a mutant and be in the closet at the same time. He remains out in the comic books, but none of the movies he appears in have ever even hinted at his sexuality. The Young Avengers series from the early 2000s revealed that Billy Maximoff was bullied at school for being gay and even though we haven’t met a grown-up version of Billy in the MCU, we’re still looking to see that come in the next few years.
Like all fandoms have done throughout history, deeply involved Marvel fans have their own thoughts and theories about which characters are LGBTQ+ and which ones aren’t. Here’s my list of five not-straight characters in the MCU. Warning: there are spoilers.
In Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2, the Guardians travel to Ego, Star-Lord’s father’s home planet where they meet Ego’s servant, Mantis. She’s a meek, sheepish kind of girl with antennae on her head that help her read emotions. Her skill becomes handy multiple times during their adventures together and Mantis’ simple form of oblivious comedy adds something the group was previously missing. Some people would argue the appropriate ship here is between Mantis and fellow Guardian, Drax, but I would argue that Mantis is actually on the Ace spectrum.
The only major relationship arc in Guardians of the Galaxy is between Peter Quill (Star-Lord) and Gamora. Drax frequently mentions his late wife and a daughter. The other two main characters are Rocket – who is essentially a raccoon with a human mind – and Groot – a sentient tree.
There’s never any mention of a relationship Mantis has been in before or has an interest in now. In the second Guardians movie, Drax thinks Mantis is hitting on him and references how disgusted he is by the idea of being with her physically. Mantis responds, “I’m not attracted to the type of thing that you are,” which could mean that she’s not attracted to men or the race of aliens that Drax is, but the vibe I get from Mantis is that she’s not really sexually attracted to anyone. Not every superhero needs some romantic subplot, so I don’t think it’s proof that Mantis never shows signs of attraction, but since this is all speculation, we can go off of how we think the characters are.
Four: Bucky Barnes
In my own personal opinion, I think the tale of James Buchanan’s “Bucky” Barnes, AKA The Winter Soldier, is one of the sadder arcs in the MCU. Born in Brooklyn, New York in the early 1900s, Barnes was drafted for World War II in 1942 and was shipped off to Europe as a Sergeant in the Army. In 1945, he fell from a moving train in Russia and was pronounced dead, but he was far from it: he was being held in a Hydra facility and turned into a sleeper agent.
Over the course of the next sixty years or so, he would be responsible for dozens of assassinations with no knowledge of who he was before and during the war. It isn’t until 2015 when his childhood friend turned Avenger, Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, chooses to save him rather than kill him that Bucky puts the missing pieces of his life together. Bucky would then spend the next few years trying to figure out how to live his life in the 21st century.
There’s a very large section of the MCU fandom that loves the idea of Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers being romantically involved before the war. As a creator, I have my reservations, but I still support the idea that Steve and Bucky were human rights advocates as far back as 1930 and would be proud of what the world became. Between Steve’s first introduction in Captain America: The First Avenger and his last appearance in Avengers: Endgame, I don’t think he had much time to explore his sexuality, but Bucky is free now to live his life. Bucky makes his first appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger as a bit of a ladies’ man, taking Steve with him on double dates and parading around in his Army uniform.
I think in the 21st century, Bucky has seen things that the naive kid he once was could never have imagined, and I think he’s beyond prejudice and limitation. As far as romance or even sexual experiences are concerned, Bucky is just looking for something emotionally meaningful. I think Bucky Barnes in the MCU is pansexual and just trying to find someone to make him happy.
There are a dozen badass, amazing women in the MCU, but I have a personal attachment to Valkyrie. She’s relatively new, making her first appearance in the 2017 film Thor: Ragnarok. In this movie, Thor must save his home planet of Asgard from his evil, long-lost sister Hela. Along the way, he meets Valkyrie, the last of her kind, as an alcoholic and a junker on a planet where Thor and the Hulk are being held hostage. We learn that the Valkyrie were an elite team of female warriors meant to protect the throne, but all but one killed in battle when they fought Hela a thousand years prior. Valkyrie (the individual) is reluctant to return to Asgard out of grief and resentment.
She gives off obvious queer vibes throughout the movie, between her demeanor and her tomboy-bro friendship with Thor, but this is an interesting addition to the list because both Valkyrie’s actress, Tessa Thompson, and the movie’s director, Taika Waititi, have said that she was meant to be bisexual. In fact, there is a scene cut from the movie that showed a woman leaving Valkyrie’s bedroom, but it was ultimately removed because it “took away from the vital exposition of the scene”. Straight people like to say things about having gay characters just for the sake of being gay and this leads back to queerbaiting – if she’s going to have those kinds of interactions on screen, I would want them to have meaning. It should be more vital to her character. It seems obvious that her friends would be accepting of her.
At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Thor tells Valkyrie that he plans to leave Asgard; when she tells him that their people need a king, he says, “They already have one,” and gives her a meaningful look. Since it’s been publicly stated by both the lead actress and the director, we can hope to see some queer Valkyrie in her upcoming screen time.
Two: Carol Danvers
Captain Marvel is a story-telling masterpiece about Kree warrior Vers, who is struggling with her identity and controlling her superpowers. After a mission tracking some dangerous Skrulls (shapeshifters), she sees some memories from her subconscious and lands on Earth, where finding out the lost details of her past could be the key to ending a war. She discovers that she used to be an Air Force pilot named Carol Danvers and six years prior, her mentor turned up dead and Carol had vanished off the face of the Earth. Meanwhile, she turned up on the Kree planet, Halla, near death with no memories. She figures out how to further unlock her superpowers and protect the people she once thought to be enemies.
Similarly to the relationship between Thor and Valkyrie, we have two male-female relationships in this movie that reads like a brother-sister thing; Carol and her boss, Yon-Rogg, and with S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, Nick Fury. There’s also the very close relationship she has with her old friend, Maria Rambeau, that reads more like a domestic partnership under the right lens. Maria is a single mother to her daughter Monica, who practically worships the ground beneath Carol’s feet. Monica would have been very young when Carol disappeared, but she remembered her enough to talk her ears off when she came to visit Earth. There are also a few flashback shots of Maria and Carol doing karaoke while drunk and falling all over each other. She also wears a cute little grunge outfit at one point that gives off lesbian vibes. Not to mention her very short haircut in Avengers: Endgame.
It goes without saying that just because we have a strong female lead without a male love interest doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a lesbian, but it makes sense with Carol.
One: Peter Parker
There have been many incarnations of Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, but for this list, we will focus on the Marvel Studios version played by Tom Holland. Peter was introduced to the MCU in Captain America: Civil War as Tony Stark’s newest project and secret weapon against Stever Rogers. He’s also appeared in two solo movies, plus Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. He’s nerdy, awkward, and witty, as Spider-Man is meant to be in any version. This version of Peter Parker is a little more focused on the hero stuff: he wants to be an Avenger and he’s starting to grow into his own, especially after what happened in Endgame.
The newest version of Peter Parker sees him as an incredibly bright high school student, struggling with the weight of being a superhero and normal teenage troubles. In Spider-Man: Far From Home, he gets into a relationship with MJ, which is a classic comic book love story. However, there’s no denying that Peter Parker gives off bisexual vibes. There’s a scene in Avengers: Infinity War that shows that he cuffs his jeans and another scene later in that movie where he seems quite offended that Star-Lord would say that Thor is not that attractive. Both Tom Holland and former Amazing Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield have said that a bisexual Peter Parker is completely plausible and even something the fans want.
It’s impossible to stress just how important LGBTQ+ representation is in movies and TV and since superheroes have such an impact on young kids, there’s no better time to introduce the idea that being gay is okay, and that even superheroes can be gay. The argument many people make is that these characters weren’t gay in their original comic books, but the first Spider-Man comic book was published in 1962 and the first Avengers comic book was published in 1963. No one would have released these stories in the 60s if they featured homosexual protagonists. These characters weren’t written as openly gay back then because that wasn’t allowed, but now, we have an opportunity to get to the heart and soul of these characters that so many generations have followed and give them new life and new love. The diversification of fictional characters is not an attack on straight culture and it’s not making characters gay for diversity points – it’s about being true to who they are and showing the viewership that it’s okay to be different.
Unfortunately at this time, Marvel doesn’t have any trans or nonbinary characters, but as more open-minded creators make their way up the ranks and impassioned fans continue to voice their thoughts and concerns, we can make that happen. In the meantime, we have our imagination and Tumblr to fuel our theories and ships.