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The Old Guard buries the ‘bury your gays’ trope with queer commandos

Greg Rucka reflects on Charlize Theron and her unkillable gay warriors

THE OLD GUARD (2020) - clockwise from top: Matthias Schoenaerts (Booker), Charlize Theron (“Andy”), Luca Marinelli (“Nicky). AIMEE SPINKS/NETFLIX
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Netflix’s latest original movie is The Old Guard, a fun, suspenseful, and surprisingly emotional action vehicle featuring Charlize Theron as the leader of a squad of functionally immortal, mostly queer, stone cold badasses who’ve fought on every battlefield in history.

And when you’ve got functionally immortal queer people, that’s a big welcome sign to queer viewers who’re tired of the mainstream trend of queer characters who don’t live to see their happy ending.

Having majority queer leads is a pretty unusual trait for a popcorn action movie, but not for the work of Greg Rucka, the veteran comics writer behind the original The Old Guard comic series, and the screenwriter of the Netflix adaptation. In fact, The Old Guard is kind of a perfect storm of Greg Rucka hallmarks: A hardboiled female lead who can kick the asses of ten men, highly skilled black-ops soldiers, and envelope-pushing queer representation. It’s just that this time, it’s a movie.

How did Andromache the Scythian (Theron) and the rest of her Old Guard get quite so old, and quite so gay?

“It is straight up malice aforethought,” Rucka told Polygon with a laugh. “It was done with deliberation, and it was done with care.”

For one thing, Rucka wanted to show that even if his characters had been raised with prejudices, their extended lives had sloughed all of that away.

“If you live 500 years, if there’s one thing you’ve discovered, it’s that people are people, right? And that who they love and how they love isn’t the main nut of any relevance to how they’re going to treat the rest of the world. You want to judge people by what they say and what they do.”

But Rucka said there was another reason, one that was much more about audience reaction.

“It was also important to me, very early on, to make it clear that there weren’t ‘conditions’ that had to be fulfilled to have this immortality. You didn’t have to be a straight white guy. That was basically it. The team needed to represent a breadth and depth of diversity. I just didn’t want anybody coming away from the audience, or coming away from the book, going Ah, so it’s a reward for this kind of behavior.

For artist and Old Guard co-creator Leandro Fernández, there was another practical concern for the team’s diversity: The reader had to be able to tell who was who, no matter what the historical time period.

Andromache the Scythian ponders how tired she is of life, as we see scenes of her sleeping with men and women across history, and of her dying on battlefields from the ancient world to the modern day.
Andromache the Scythian reflects on her many lives and deaths in the over 6000 years of her life in The Old Guard, Vol. 1.
Image: Greg Rucka, Leandro Fernández/Image Comics

“It’s not that I couldn’t make them more beautiful than they are,” he told Polygon, “[but] that wasn’t my intention. From the beginning I was focused on making them really easily recognizable, because they’re immortal. They will be seen in different periods of time in history with different fashions. The fashion changes all the time, the clothes, the hair styles; sometimes they will be seen with a beard, with a mustache, without it. They are warriors, and we will see them in different situations; many times dirty, in a trench, maybe covered with mud, with blood. The reader should recognize them, on the spot, really quick. That’s what I wanted for one side. And on the other side my goal was to try to make a really different personality on each one of them. I wanted the reader to feel a different voice when each one of them is speaking.”

[Ed. note: the rest of this piece contains spoilers for the end of The Old Guard.]

To be fair, the immortals of The Old Guard are only technically immortal. They don’t age, and they come back from the dead right up until one day, they don’t. But when the whole hook of the story is people who don’t die, it’s a pretty solid bet that most of those queer characters are gonna make it through the movie. The Old Guard could have buried its gays — but it doesn’t. Rucka said that that was deliberate, too.

“I wasn’t gonna turn around and be like, ‘Well now I’m going to ruin my one happy couple,’” Rucka laughs.