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Losing the Mask: Five Comic Book Coming Out Stories

Losing the Mask: Five Comic Book Coming Out Stories

By Alex Jaffe Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021

Pride month is in full swing here at and across the country. In our current climate, it’s never been more important to embrace your identity and celebrate the parts of you that form the person you are. But while pride is a lifelong journey, taking the first step can always feel like the most daunting. In a world full of prejudice, just being honest with the world about who you are can take courage worthy of a Green Lantern. It’s a challenge that millions of people around the world have to face…and one that even some of our greatest heroes have had to surmount as well. Here are five inspiring, illuminating and heartfelt stories about coming out in the DC Universe.

Pied Piper

The Flash #53, 1991

At a time when widespread gay panic was even more prevalent than it was today, William Messner-Loebs was breaking new ground in The Flash. In The Flash #53, Loebs gives Hartley Rathaway, the longtime Flash rogue known as the Pied Piper, a sympathetic turn by giving him a heart to heart talk with Wally West about his personal identity. More than that, Hartley takes to task the historical “gay coding” of villains throughout popular media, up to and including the Joker, which subtly instils mistrust of people with attributes associated with gay communities in children from a young age. Hartley knows that hatred is learned—whether it comes from another group or yourself—but it’s also something that can be unlearned.


Detective Comics #859, 2009

Let’s be clear, the wrong way to do a coming out story is to put the focus on the cisgender straight protagonist’s reaction to the revelation of queer identity, whether it’s one of acceptance or not. In a true coming out story, the hero must be the queer person themselves. While it’s true that Batwoman’s coming out story is emotional because of the surprising acceptance and pride she received from her father, she always remains the focus. We see how Kate sacrifices her dreams when they come into conflict with the value she places on her identity and living in truth. And how she confronts her father, unflinching, with the reality of her dismissal from the military under the now thankfully antiquated policies of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Jacob Kane’s acceptance of her daughter’s truth, and even more so the morality which compelled her to stand by it, is a best-case scenario for anyone who fears coming out. But it’s an important illustration that even when you feel like your world may shatter in contact with your truth, the people who care the most will stand by your side.

(Also, if you prefer your DC superheroes on the screen, you can see this story play out in the first season of Batwoman, which is available for streaming on HBO Max.)


Teen Titans #10, 2017

Jackson Hyde, the Aqualad of the Rebirth era, is a boy who spent his childhood sheltered from his identity. Sheltered from his Atlantean heritage, from his super-villain father and from the opportunity for pride or acceptance in his feelings for other boys. Finding acceptance for his identity from the mother who raised him was a battle which took Jackson down a hard road, so the reaction he got from his Aquaman-hating father was downright comical in its indifference. While Manta accepts Jackson as his son, it couldn’t be more apparent that his sexual orientation doesn’t make one bit of difference to him. A misanthrope through and through, who you love is never as important to Black Manta as who you hate.

In a way, it’s a sort of relief to have your identity not be treated like it’s a big deal. The relationship between Jackson and his dad—a relationship that, ironically, Jackson abhors in all other ways—is perhaps emblematic of a society where prejudice against sexual orientation and identity doesn’t exist; the very reality that we should all be striving to reach. But considering who Black Manta is and the many other atrocities he commits each day, I doubt anyone, let alone Jackson, will be holding him up as a pillar of acceptance any time soon.

Renee Montoya

Gotham Central #6, 2003

This Eisner-winning, often-painful story by Greg Rucka is about the dark side of coming out—especially when it’s not done on your own terms. A vindictive Two-Face outs Renee as a lesbian before she is ready to go public with her identity, breaking her personal and professional life into shambles. This point cannot be stressed enough: while coming out is an act of bravery, outing someone else, under any circumstances, is a clear violation of a person’s space, identity and privacy. Not only is it never acceptable, no matter your intentions, Rucka here makes the reality very clear—outing another person is, plain and simple, the act of a super-villain. Coming out is always a personal decision. Your role in another person’s process is never to talk, but to listen.

The Ray

Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth, 2017

From the very beginning of the genre, the superhero story has always been about dual identities. Living one life in public and another in private. People keeping parts of their own identity secret for social survival have empathized with the likes of Batman and Superman for decades, for this very reason. Steve Orlando, known well for the queer themes prevalent throughout his work, made this subtext overt in his 2017 origin story for the Ray. As a boy literally forced to live in the dark his entire life, it’s only when the Ray embraces the light responsible for his brilliant powers that he’s also able to accept another part of his identity: his reality as a young gay man. Scary as it may be, life can be so much simpler, so much more joyful, after taking that step into the sun. After all, as Ray himself confides with the reader upon his luminescent debut: “Crazy how much easier it is to find a guy when you’re visible.”

So, who are your identity icons? Share your pride right now in the DC Community!

Batwoman Season 1 is now streaming on HBO Max. Not a subscriber? Sign up today and discover more of HBO Max’s Pride programming, available this month and every month!

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.