Ah, ships. We all have them, but the more queer they are, the less likely you are to see them fulfilled. With Valentine's Day upon us, I find myself, teary-eyed, staring out my window, and asking myself, "What if?" Not about my own relationship history, that's fine, but about the queer relationships in comics that were hinted but never truly made canon by their publishers.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are a few of the ships that haunt me to this day.
Shrinking Violet & Lightning Lass
One of the first comics I got my hands on was the early 90s run of Legion of Superheroes—in which there is a heavily implied lesbian relationship between Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass. In a clear case of when the subtext just becomes text, the series writers of the time have claimed that beyond the shadow of a doubt, they were writing a lesbian couple. There are some really incredible scenes between the two that completely blew me away as a kid. Baby Gay Me picked up every issue she could, waiting for the moment when the two would finally kiss on panel—yet it was not to be.
What's really messed up about the end of this ship is that it didn't just end—it was completely erased from continuity. There was an event called Zero Hour in 1994 in which the entire history of the Legion of Superheroes changed, so when they showed up again, Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass had never even been a thing. The relationship existed and ended entirely off-panel, which somehow made it seem all the more tragic.
In the 20-plus years since, although most other preexisting relationships in the Legion have been revisited, we've only seen subtextual glimpses of the love affair between these two, including a panel where Violet has her hand on Lightning Lass' hip and announces that she's taking her home “for the holidays.” As a preteen, I was completely devastated that writers would just totally forget my favorite relationship in comics even existed. I'm actually still kind of devastated, but on the other hand, this did prepare me for a lifetime of being queerbaited by comics companies. You lose some, you lose some.
Moondragon & Cloud & Iceman
Cloud was a recurring character on the series New Defenders in the early-to-mid-80s, described as "a sentient nebula." Being essentially a formless cloud of gas, they wandered around unclothed with only little wisps to cover them, and could take male or female forms. Cloud became rapidly obsessed with Moondragon, and who wouldn't? Moondragon was a contemptuous but morally strong goddess who was completely bald and wore this incredible green outfit complete with an ultra 70s headband throughout the series. I'm with Cloud on this one.
Also featured was a serious flirtation with Iceman. While later outed as gay, in the 80s Bobby Drake only flirted with queerness and tended to overcompensate constantly in hopes of convincing himself and the world that he was straight. Cloud really threw a wrench in that plan by appearing to Bobby as a genderfluid sex symbol, causing Iceman more than once to leave the room flustered.
Both Moondragon and Iceman are now canon queer, proving that Cloud actually had the best gaydar of all time. The character of Cloud hasn't been revisited since their initial storyline in the later issues of The New Defenders series (one of the queerest superhero teams of all time, in retrospect). This is probably because pretty much half the team wanted to make out with them and it made things a little awkward occasionally. I still really liked Cloud, and their uninhibited declarations of love for multiple characters in the Defenders remain some of my fondest memories of the series.
Storm & Yukio
Both Storm and Yukio have dated Wolverine, but less commented upon is their relationship with one another, which began as far back as the early 80s. While the X-Men were in Japan in hopes of attending Wolverine's ill-fated attempt to marry Mariko Yashida, Storm was swept away by the vibrancy and energy of Yukio, a criminal whose risk-taking alternated between simply having a love for danger and flatout having a death wish. After Storm and Yukio parted ways, Storm showed up in full leather with a mohawk, citing her time in Japan as a turning point—just to give a slight glimpse of the incredible influence Yukio has on her.
While the relationship could never be a stable or lasting one due to Yukio's unapologetically wild nature, obviously, it has taken on the undertones of a Batman and Catwoman-style affair, where the two skirt around each other, their morality (or, in Yukio's case, the lack thereof) challenged by the other. Most importantly, and unique in Storm's affairs, Yukio is the person that genuinely encourages Storm to let loose and enjoy life. Often necessarily self-repressed for fear of destroying entire ecosystems if she lets go even for a second, Storm is attracted to Yukio because she's her opposite.
Kate Bishop & America Chavez
I almost can't say the name of either of these characters without dying a little on the inside due to their extreme ship status. A flirtation was revealed between the two late in the Young Avengers series, and ever since, fans (mostly me) have been shipping them harder than we've ever shipped anything before. In fact, I would go so far as to state that this is probably Marvel's most-shipped couple of the last few years. We are reaching Scully and Mulder in season 4 of X-Files-level shipping here.
Despite all of this, Kate Bishop and America Chavez remain friends, both living that single life and dating around. While I do enjoy their friendship dynamic, COME ON! It's hard to say much else, besides, "Why are they not a couple? Why can't you give people what they want for once in your lives?"
Fire & Ice
Not a lot of people will reference this pair when talking about queer characters, mostly because their relationship consisted of guys writing what they thought was an enticing flirtation between two women. Said flirtation dragged on over years instead and never teetered into either “will they” or “won't they” territory. For these reasons, it's mostly just kind of frustrating to read. I will say this, though—this relationship was the first time I understood the term “queerbaiting," so I did get something out of it and I would never say I didn't.
Several times, we see a sexual undertone in Fire's protectiveness over her friend or Ice clinging to her in turn. Ultimately, Fire ends up sort of rejecting the advances of Icemaiden, a version of Ice (long story), saying that they must remain forever "gal pals" and "roommates." OKAY, BEATRIZ. Because grabbing a woman by the face, gazing into her eyes, and telling her about the woman she wants to be are totally straight-girl activities.
Brainiac 5 & Invisible Kid
Wow, will you look at that—another Legion of Superheroes ship. Abnett and Lanning's Legion was a fan favorite and tended to introduce a lot of personality and danger to a series that had been going since the 60s but had grown ever more stale before finally being canceled. Part of the series' success and popularity was rooted in their ability to show deep relationships developing or unraveling in a cast that often contained dozens of characters.
During the Abnett and Lanning run, Invisible Kid and Brainiac 5 were commonly paired together as the more intellectual, antisocial members of the team. Their versions of Invisible Kid and Brainiac 5 are incredibly cute with each other, always smirking and making flirtatious eye contact while the rest of the team talks about... whatever the Legion of Superheroes talks about. Once again, as occurs so often with queer characters in the Legion, when the series was revamped again the subtext disappeared and both began relationships with other characters.
Kitty Pryde & every girl
Kitty Pryde is a character that not every writer clicks with. I've seen a lot of creators miss the point and portray her as being low on personality, which she emphatically is not. I've read Joss Whedon write her as what turned out to be pretty much a Buffy analog. I've seen her bounce around X-teams for years. I've seen her become both a ninja and an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I've watched her date a self-loathing British guy for years despite a complete lack of chemistry between the two of them. One thing I have seen only in glimpses and subtext, however, is her between-the-panels love affairs with pretty much every girl.
Like Storm, Kitty Pryde is actually canon bisexual, but most of her modern-day writers haven't taken the time to notice or address that aspect of her. Still, throughout the 80s and 90s, there weren't a lot of stories featuring Kitty where her queerness didn't show, at least via subtext.
In the early days, she went through a break-up with Colossus, then developed a hard crush on his little sister, Illyana. Kitty represented the far away concept of “home” for Illyana, and Kitty along with Colossus were always Illyana's two biggest supporters.
My personal ship-to-end-all-ships has always been Kitty and Rachel Summers, a troubled, complicated daughter of Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force from an alternate reality. Their interactions were always laced with a bit of longing, a bit of tragedy, and a great deal of loyalty to one another. Writer and creator of both characters, Chris Claremont, stated that he intended Rachel to be the love of Kitty's life, and it shows when he writes them interacting with one another. After Rachel vanished for a few years, Kitty was seduced by the significantly older Courtney Ross, a villain from another reality that had once dated and served as the foil for Captain Britain. Then, in the mini-series Mekanix, there was a near-kiss between her and Karma, an out lesbian who first appeared in the New Mutants comic. That series wasn't good by any stretch, but it established Kitty's queerness beyond the shadow(cat) of a doubt (sorry).