X-Treme X-Men is a great series for a lot of reasons. It has a lot of fun alternate universes and adventures, as well as some heart-stirring moments and great friendships and characters.
It also contains a positive, non-stereotypical portrayal of a gay relationship.
With Hercules and Howlett, there is no butch/femme dynamic, nor could their relationship be classified as yaoi. It instead leans toward bara.
The difference here is crucial. Yaoi is homoerotic material typically written by women for women. Relationships in yaoi consist of a seme (the top, who’s also more dominant and masculine) and an uke (the bottom, who’s also more shy/innocent when it comes to sex, as well as more feminine). Even the more masculine seme is drawn to be pretty, the masculine/feminine dichotomy coming through more in size difference and personlity. The seme/uke dynamic allows female readers to put themselves in the place of the uke, essentially rendering him a woman with a penis. Additionally, as it’s written primarily by women for women (though there are male readers of yaoi, but they make up a small percentage), rather than displaying a realistic depiction of homosexuality, yaoi depicts homosexuality as it’s idealized (or even fetishized, as some would say) by women.
Bara, on the other hand, is homoerotic material written by men for men. Rather than being portrayed as feminine and pretty, the characters are portrayed as masculine (sometimes even hyper-masculine), with muscles and body hair.
It is in this sense that Hercules and Howlett lean more toward bara. They’re both portrayed as hyper-masculine (at least physically- more about their personalities to come later).
I realize that I’m applying Japanese terms and culture to American comics, so comparisons may not be entirely accurate, hence my saying Hercules and Howlett “lean toward” bara, rather than saying they are bara.
Hercules and Howlett have an interesting dynamic. There is no “femme” between them, just as there isn’t always a femme in real life (conversely, there isn’t always a butch, either). From looking at the cover of issue 9, one would not even think about trying to determine who’s the “girl” and who’s the “guy.” They’re portrayed as equals and warriors.
With yaoi, on the other hand, one can usually tell from the cover or a single panel of the two characters together who is the seme and who is the uke.
While they both are portrayed as masculine warriors, Howlett is the more sweet, sensitive of the two. As these are more stereotypically feminine qualities, one might be tempted to put Howlett in the more feminine role. However, look at the dynamics of their kiss in issue 10.
Howlett lifts Hercules’s leg, placing him in a stereotypically feminine pose.
Also, note the use of the word “love.” Though they clearly have sexual chemistry, that’s not what their relationship is about. They’ve been through a lot together, and their feelings run deep. Their relationship is built on respect, love, and a bond forged in battle, and the sex is just a bonus.
I love this relationship to bits and pieces, and the way it subverts so many different tropes. It really is something beautiful.