DC’s Sci-Fi Arthurian Epic Camelot 3000 Was an LGBTQ+ Pioneer

Although not often mentioned among the most influential comics, the 1980s DC Comics maxiseries Camelot 3000 was a pioneering series at the time for many reasons, but particularly for its complex and nuanced portrayal of themes of gender and sexuality. Camelot 3000 was conceived by writer Mike W. Barr, having been pitched and rejected at DC as early as 1975, before finally being released by DC in 1982. The series featured art by fan-favorite cartoonist Brian Bolland; it was inked by a team of artists including Bruce Patterson, Dick Giordano and Terry Austin, and colored by Tatjana Wood. A sci-fi update to the Arthurian legend, it was the first twelve-issue maxiseries to be released by DC for the direct market, and it broke new ground for the industry.

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But Camelot 3000 was not just a groundbreaking comic for its status in the industry and its exceptional artistry. It involved a forward-thinking representation of gender and sexuality, one that made room for queer and transgender representation in comics at a time when there was even less representation than there is today. While this is by no means a perfect series, bearing its age and the flaws that come with its time, it nonetheless presents a character with a transgender identity that is not only deeply human, but strong, heroic, and capable. It’s a beautifully drawn series, as well as remarkably complex and empathetic.

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The story, in broad terms, involves the reincarnation of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in the year 3000, where they are needed to help Earth overcome an alien invasion. The invasion is led by Morgan le Fay and Modred, Arthur’s legendary enemies. Although Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot are largely identical to their legendary components, the rest of the knights reincarnate into new bodies, with varying results. Sir Galahad is reincarnated as a Japanese samurai; Sir Percival is transformed into Neo-Man, one of the genetically modified monsters created by Morgan le Fay; and Sir Tristan is reincarnated in a body assigned to a woman at birth. Tristan, however, identifies as male and rejects his gender assignment, wanting nothing more than to have the male body he remembers from his previous life.

If there’s one silver lining to Sir Tristan’s troubled reincarnation, it’s the fact that the reincarnated Lady Isolde, his love from his previous life, still loves him no matter what he looks like or what body he inhabits. Throughout the story, the resonant message is that love is mightier than anything – mightier than death and reincarnation, mightier than oppression, and mightier than any binary gender. If that’s a message that needs to be heard today – and it is – it was even more so in 1982.

The portrayal is flawed, of course – there’s plenty of occasional confusion in the story, as well as a fair amount of internalized misogyny presented in Sir Tristan’s interior monologue, both of which could potentially upset readers. Nonetheless, it’s a fearless depiction of the struggles trans and non-binary people face within society, and in 1982 it was a message the comic book industry badly needed. Today, creators have more resources at their disposal to better understand queer and trans identities, and queer and trans individuals have more access to the industry today than they had in the 1980s. although it is still an imperfect system. However, it is important to know where the medium came from and how far it has progressed – and the DC Comics maxiseries Camelot 3000 is a fine example of a brilliantly made story from a less enlightened era, which nevertheless still has a message worth telling.

Lucas E. Kelly