Marvel Comics have created their first ever drag queen superhero and she is quite simply fabulous!
While Iceman is the company’s only monthly series featuring an LGBTQ lead character in Bobby Drake (aka Iceman obvs), it’s taken more than 50 years for the founding member of the X-Men to get his own title, first hitting news stands in 1963 and revealing his sexuality in 2015.
Launched in 2017, last month the fourth issue of Iceman went a step further, introducing the world to Shade, a sassy green-haired drag queen who fans are loving.
Created by openly gay Marvel Comics writer Sina Grace and artist Nathan Stockman, Shade is the comicbook powerhouse’s first drag queen superhero.
Part of the X-Men, Shade is a mutant who can teleport by flicking open her handheld fan with a ‘thwoooorp’, which also enables her to enter pocket dimensions.
So not only does she look great with a wonderfully suitable name, but her superpower is pretty awesome too.
Making a big entrance, Shade rocks up at the first ever Mutant Pride parade, via her fan, becoming its master of ceremonies.
Speaking after a fellow mutant’s performance, Shade introduces herself saying:
Ello Manhattan. It’s your emcee, Shade. And I got none to throw at Dazzler’s set. Let’s give her another round of applause.
I love her already!
In my opinion, it is about time Marvel had a drag queen superhero and they seem to have nailed it with Shade, who has quickly strutted into fans’ hearts.
The company hasn’t always had a good track record when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation, although other comicbook companies have.
While Shade is Marvel’s first drag superhero, in the mid 1990s Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, a comicbook series published by Vertigo for DC Comics, featured several characters with ambivalent gender, in particular Lord Fanny who was non-binary.
In the indie comics world, Glamazonia: The Uncanny Super-Tranny, created by Justin Hall, featured a heroine who gains her powers after being bitten by a radioactive drag queen.
Last year Marvel was criticised, along with rivals DC, by advocacy organisation GLAAD for poor LGBTQ+ representation in their films.
In their annual report, GLAAD noted the ‘disappointing drop’ in the number of films which featured LGBTQ+ characters, pointing to Marvel and DC as being two examples of studios which lacked the representation.
It is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore that LGBTQ people remain almost completely shut out of Hollywood’s big budget comic book films that have dominated the box office over the past several years.
In 2018 Marvel’s Black Panther cut a scene which would have confirmed Danai Gurira’s Okoye and Florence Kasumba’s Ayo as same-sex lovers.
The year before, Thor: Ragnarok cut a brief scene which showed a woman leaving Valkyrie’s room. Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson) is bisexual.
The introduction of Shade then is a welcome turn for the company, and one that makes sense according to Dr Joan Ormond, a Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the Manchester Metropolitan University.
Dr Ormond, who specialises in women in comics and subcultural identities, explained to UNILAD how Shade fits into a 2019 version of the X-Men due to the current debate surrounding the inclusion of drag identities.
The X-Men universe has always been about inclusivity and representing otherness and the marginalised. A lot of the stories originally were predicated on X-Men as heroes who were outsiders and reviled because they were mutants. This was used as a metaphor for race but also marginalised groups. Marvel was also one of the first publishers to introduce gay superheroes with characters like Northstar.
Drag and transgendered identities and the debate surrounding them are very current. Marvel is responding to this from the point of view of addressing gender politics but also from a sound business decision as they are responding to a contemporary issue.
Dr Ormond emphasised how for many years superhero comics have predominantly featured white male characters, which was ‘getting tired’.
The popularity of films like Black Panther and Wonder Woman however showed the potential ‘less traditional superheroes’ (ie black and female) can have, so Dr Ormond can see why Marvel has now introduced Shade.
For her, it provides the opportunity to ‘renew’ the superhero genre stating:
Marvel and DC have been criticised for not showing enough of these types of characters across the various media of their expanded universe, so I can see why they decided to introduce her. It was a sound business decision as much as an appeal to their fanbase.
I think showing powerful characters from marginalised groups may be where the superhero genre can renew itself and it make financial sense for the company. Look at the critical and general popularity of the latest Spider-Man film to see how different ethnic and gendered superheroes can pay off.
As an ‘appeal to their fanbase’, Marvel’s decision to introduce Shade has worked as fans are already looking forward to seeing more of her.
Drag queen Banksie has always loved Marvel, but was delighted when she heard about Shade, a character she feels able to connect to.
Speaking to UNILAD, Banskie explained how great it is people like her now have a superhero to look up to.
She is a sassy drag queen of colour, big props on that too Marvel, from the already GLAAD acclaimed Iceman franchise. I feel that we need to take less precedence and emphasis on the fact that she is a drag queen and more on the fact that a major comicbook brand is recognising and publishing storylines with real queer and LGBT characters.
As a gay comicbook fan, I remember sitting in my room coming up with theories for how Batman and Superman would end up together, so for a comicbook company to abandon the heteronormative boys club ideology and include a femme, powerful, sassy character is really empowering for younger members of our community.
There is definitely a part of me which thinks that they are just jumping on the drag ‘bandwagon’ to meet a profit, however more inclusivity is always welcome in my book. I definitely think that the boom of drag culture entering the mainstream is to thank for this and hopefully in the future we can see more REAL queer identities in our comics, books, TV and film.
Banksie also urged the creators of Shade to make her ‘fully dimensional and give her a real life’, hoping she doesn’t just make a one-off appearance in the story.
Comicbook and drag queen fan, 17-year-old Liana, from the Philippines, completely agrees with Banskie emphasising the importance of inclusivity.
She told UNILAD the character of Shade couldn’t be more inspiring:
When I opened my social media accounts and saw that there was a new superhero in the comics, I was first feeling ‘meh’ about it. But what caught my attention was when they said ‘first drag superhero’. I was super happy!
I immediately fell in love with Shade’s characterisation, her style and inspiration. I think it’s important that comicbooks are doing their best to represent minorities and the LGBTQ+ community to let them know that it is definitely okay to be who they are and they don’t need to change themselves.
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Guess who you get to see some more of in Iceman 5? SHADE Available at all fine comic shops tomorrow – Wednesday 1/9! And for those asking: my inspos for the character are def Shea, Monet, Dax & Vixen (and more!). Used a pic of Shea as ref for this one and tried to mix some Monet, with Sasha brows
Drag queens receiving superhero status is both important and progressive, and empowering to members of the LGBTQ+ community, with the message it is okay to be you.
We can’t wait to see more of Shade saving the world with one flick of her fan, both in the comics and in the real world too.
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Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.