Thursday, April 18, 2024
ComicsComics Corner

Comics Corner – Superhero Drag Queen Realness

After decades of being a niche facet of queer culture, the art of drag is finally mainstream. While legendary figures such as Divine, Dame Edna Everage, and Lily Savage paved the way, it’s undoubtedly the phenomenon of RuPaul’s Drag Race that’s most contributed to the greater exposure and acceptance of drag in recent years. However, the ultimate mark of drag having arrived may have been the 2018 introduction of Marvel’s first drag queen mutant superhero, Darkveil, AKA Shade!

Iceman is not a drag queen – yet – but he did help introduce Marvel’s first drag superhero! (Image ©Marvel)

While the recently-concluded second season of Drag Race UK actually featured a superhero design challenge in episode seven, let’s be real – not a single one of them delivered an actual superhero look. Perhaps none of the remaining queens at that point – Tayce, Lawrence Chaney, A’Whora, Bimini Bon-Boulash, Ellie Diamond, and Sister Sister – were comic book fans themselves, but if they had been, they could have had a super-drag design lesson courtesy of writer Sina Grace and artist Nathan Stockman, who introduced Shade in Iceman #4.

Although the series followed Bobby Drake, the frost powered original X-Man, and was in the middle of a storyarc seeing Bobby investigating a threat to the sewer-dwelling Morlocks – mutants whose abilities make them outcasts from the surface world – issue four took something of a detour into the first Mutant Pride parade. After a glittering performance from Dazzler, the Marvel Universe’s answer to Kylie, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé, rolled into one fierce, light-bursting package, the parade’s MC Shade made her first appearance.

Category is: mutant drag queen realness! (Image ©Marvel)

Truthfully, Shade doesn’t get a lot of page time: just her one-panel debut in issue four, showing off her shadow-walking powers – she’s able to travel through the Darkforce Dimension – as she steps out of her own fan, then a contribution to the final fight in issue five, where she rescued Christian Frost, brother to Emma ‘White Queen’ Frost and future love interest for Iceman himself.

Since then, Shade also showed up in Uncanny X-Men: Winters End, a one-shot that allowed Grace to tie up storylines from his two-year run writing Bobby’s solo adventures. There, she was emceeing Iceman’s birthday party, and had changed their codename to Darkveil. She also appeared in a one-page story by Luciano Vecchio in Marvel’s Voices, as part of a superhero contingent walking in another Pride parade, holding a banner of LGBTQ+ rights pioneer Marsha P. Johnson.

The children need to know their history, henny (Image ©Marvel)

Despite Shade/Darkveil’s relatively few appearances, she’s made an impression on LGBTQ+ readers. From her immediately iconic debut look, inspired by the 1990s X-Men comics and cartoon with gold moments and an excess of pouches for detail, to her visually interesting powers, and her unapologetically queer, positive, flirtatious personality, she’s left readers gagging for more.

The Winters End one-shot did at least provide readers with more info on their new favourite comic book drag queen, with a biography page in the style of the classic Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe guidebooks. It reveals that Darkveil’s real name is Darnell Wade, and gives some more background to the character, including that she once tried to get on “a drag competition show” (hmm…) before her mutant powers kicked in. The entry also seemed to seed future ideas Grace has for Darkveil, including a drag queen friend of hers who was lost while Wade was travelling through the Darkforce Dimension, trying to escape from cops.

RuPaul’s Drag Race undeniably had an impact on Darkveil’s creation though. Grace has said that past queens Shea Couleé, The Vixen, Monet X Change, and Dax Exclamationpoint were all influences in Darkveil’s look (or LEWKS), and the storyarc where she first apppeared opened with Iceman saving another drag queen from an attack on a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen, New York – a drag queen who, in retrospect, looks suspiciously like Drag Race season 13 competitor Tina Burner.

Tina, is that you? (Image ©Marvel)

Fingers crossed, Darkveil hasn’t faded into the shadows entirely – it would be delightful for fans to get more stories featuring the character. Marvel has announced plans to celebrate the US Pride Month, with an LGBTQ+ centred issue of Marvel’s Voices leading the way, and other projects to be revealed before June. Hopefully, the Marvel Universe’s premiere mutant drag queen will be a part of them.

Matt Kamen

[He/Him] Matt Kamen is a veteran media writer based in the UK, specialising in video games, film, and comics. If found, return to nearest coffee shop.