Trans characters in comics are still far and few between despite the growing visibility and awareness of transgender people in the world. Still today’s release of Batgirl #45 was a hallmark for having the first trans character getting married in comics. But this week was a great week in comics not just for that, but also for the new Angela: Queen of Hel, a series with its own trans character. Two major comic companies released issues simultaneously that have stories surrounding queer trans women of color! Sound like the fever dreams of a “PC Police SJW”? Maybe but lets take a look at these two!
Alysia Yeoh was introduced to us in Gail Simone’s Batgirl #4 back in 2011 as Barbara Gordon’s new roommate. A big activist, her and and Barbara quickly became friends and she accepts Barbara’s strange habits. She begins dating Barbara’s brother, James Gordon Jr, though unknown to her he was a murderer and was using her to get to Barbara. In Batgirl #19, Barbara finally tells Alysia her history (minus being Batgirl) as an explanation for a lot of what had been happening. In turn Alysia comes out as a trans woman to Barbara.
The reveal was well accepted and widely reported on at the time as the first major trans character but it didn’t change anything in the comic as they kept portraying Alysia as a strong supporting character in Barbara’s story she had been before. The story gives us the fact she is trans as an aspect of her personality but doesn’t dwell on her past like most narratives do about trans characters, which can be a nice change of pace. Unfortunately with the series shift with Batgirl moving to Burnside, Alysia lost more focus as a character as she was no longer Barbara’s roommate. While she had never been a regular part of the story, with the move Alysia mostly faded out until Batgirl #42 where she comes to tell Barbara she is getting married and asks her to be her maid of honor.
Alysia’s girlfriend-turned-fiancée Jo had never gotten any characterization with seen only in quick glimpses, most memorably when Barbara came home to find them “playing Scrabble” in the living room. Following the announcement the series placed more focus on the pair with Barbara helping Alysia plan the wedding in between being Batgirl, and Jo getting into trouble with her activism. Fortunately this gave them a chance to shine in the issues leading up to their wedding.
While Alysia is more of a reoccurring supporting character in the Batgirl series, Sera was the costar of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin from the start. The series followed Angela, eldest daughter of Odin and Freyja who had long ago been kidnapped by Heven, and her companion Sera, as they fled through the universe and the Nine Realms from Odinson (formerly Thor but currently not) and the rest of the forces of Asgard after kidnapping Odin and Freyja’s newborn daughter. While Angela is certainly the focus of the series, Sera plays a prominent role in supporting her and she often narrates the story.
Through her storytelling we learn the story of how she was an Anchorite, one of the “men born every 100 years” in Heven who is relegated to staying underground and praying while the women went off to war. With Angela’s help she escaped that fate forced onto her and was able to transition. The story was done well in letting us know the character is trans without making it a story about how she isn’t “really a woman,” as some similar stories do. Asgard’s Assassin gives us the two characters as close companions with strong hints of a deeper love.
Following the end of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, Marvel ran a Secret Wars tie in series 1602: Witch Hunter Angela. In this series based off the Marvel-1602 universe Angela and Serah (not sure why the different spelling) work for a holy order that hunts down Witchbreed (Mutants). However their story follows them tracking down a new threat: those who make Faustian deals for power.
The series has the romance between the Serah and Angela much more front and center as the series feels part love story at times. Serah’s being trans in this series was left more ambiguous, though, and I wasn’t sure at first if she was supposed to be trans in this universe until I noticed that during her story of how they met (acompletely made-up story told over panels showing the true story), that Serah in her first scene had a tonsure, a hair style male monks are known for wearing.
Overall, the series, while paralleling some of the plots of the main series and foreshadowing the next series, Angela: Queen of Hel, is largely self contained and makes for a quick read without having to worry about overall continuity.
Batgirl #45 starts off with Barbara as the fearless Maid of Honor, ready to tackle any problem that might plague the wedding.
Though given the comic is Batgirl, it quickly shifts focus to other things as Barbara is visited by Dick Grayson who everyone had thought was dead. The majority of the comic is actually him stealing the wedding ring Barbara was safekeeping to goad her into chasing him and talking to him and just generally being a dick. Fortunately Barbara gets back in time for the wedding which was very sweetly done. If only DC weren’t so against their heroes getting married we could have gotten something similar with Kate Kane aka Batwoman.
Overall, pushing the Dick Grayson plot into the same issue as the wedding didn’t ruin the historic moment, but I didn’t think it really helped. Perhaps it had more import for those that read the other Batfamily titles. We will have to see if this wedding will represent a change in how much Alysia will show up in future issues of Batgirl.
Angela: Queen of Hel #1 follows Angela’s quest into Hel (Norse underworld) to recover Sera after the events of Asgard’s Assassin. The issue starts off with Angela already ruling Hel with Sera as her Royal Consort before cutting back to eight months earlier as Angela is just beginning her journey.
Queen of Hel is very much a love story about the pair as Angela searches for her beloved in the underworld. Though Sera is missing, she is still our narrator for Angela’s journey. A large portion of the story is given to flashbacks to early in their relationship, including Sera’s nightmares which were referenced in Asgard’s Assassin and Angela protecting her from being taken back to the Anchorites.
Not to spoil the ending, but the issue ends with the promise that Angela’s journey will not be a short and easy one with plenty more to tell.
So who was the winner out of these two? All of us, for getting great stories with amazing trans women of color in love! The characters are both well-written and give us interesting and compelling stories which add to their respective comics. They represent how the media can write in diversity and representation without being “forced” or “out of place,” whether they are supporting characters that fade in and out of focus as the story needs or as major characters who are part of the story’s driving force.. They represent stepping stones towards greater trans representation in comics with possibility of heroes like these possibly showing up in their own series one day.