Marvel’s X-Men have always been one of popular culture’s most resonant metaphors for the triumph of the marginalized in the face of oppression. Writer Chris Claremont, the architect of pretty much everything you know and love about the ragtag mutants today, put it best when he said “the X-Men are hated, feared, and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants… Intended or not, [X-Men] is a book that is about racism, bigotry, and prejudice.”
Though that statement was made back in 1982, racism, bigotry, and prejudice unfortunately haven’t gone anywhere—but neither has the lens that the X-Men offers for deconstructing the hate-du-jour. Just look at the acclaimed X-Men: Red, a recently-wrapped series which saw Jean Grey & Co. trying to overcome fascism in the Infowars era.
The latest diverse voice to be added to the X-Men’s chorus against the status quo is Shade – Marvel’s first drag queen superhero. Just as shady as their name would imply, Shade debuted in Iceman #5 as the emcee of the first-ever mutant pride parade. Shade’s power? Teleportation, which is activated using a folding hand fan (Hell. Yes.).
As if we didn’t already have enough to love about Shade, their creator, openly-gay comics writer Sina Grace, confirmed Shade’s character to be an amalgamation of your favourite Drag Race all-stars via Twitter:
Sina Grace (a writer for Marvel) has confirmed that @Daxclamation, @SheaCoulee, @monetxchange and @TheVixensworld were the inspirations to create a new mutant in X-Men called Shade. Shade is the first mutant in the history of X-Men that is also a drag queen. pic.twitter.com/rh4AQ4z9Ci
— 🎀 𝓽𝓮𝓪𝓶 𝓪'𝓴𝓮𝓻𝓲𝓪 🎀 (@lgbtvelour) January 10, 2019
Shade is just one part of the X-Men’s growing embrace of the LGBT community in recent years. Iceman, the pages of which Shade debuted in, sees Grace chronicling the life of the titular O.G. X-Men since he came out as gay in 2015. In addition, the band of merry mutants are also responsible for the first gay wedding in comics history, when Quebecois superhero Northtstar married his longtime partner in the pages of Astonishing X-Men back in 2012.
Though this increased prominence of LGBTQ+ voices is obviously welcome, some members of the community can’t help but feel that these reflections rarely rise above tokenism and superficiality. Joe Palmer of GayLeague.com, the online headquarters for all things caped and queer, pointed out that “queer comics characters from DC and Marvel often appear for a while and then disappear for months or years or sometimes disappear into comics limbo and fondly remembered by fans.” Even when it comes to Shade, who Palmer admits “makes a magnificent appearance – for all of one panel,” the jury’s still out as to whether or not “Marvel will make room for Shade beyond this appearance or more on panel time in the final Ice-Man issue.”