Latest edition of 2000 AD comic is called Closet and appears to show legendary lawman in passionate clinch

He is the futuristic policeman whose personal desires have always come second to his love for the law. But the writers of Judge Dredd have caused a stir among fans by appearing to suggest he will come out as gay.

The latest edition of the comic 2000 AD is titled Closet and deals with the issue of a teenager coming out.

The first page appears to show the legendary lawman in a passionate clinch with another man in a gay club, with the caption: "I guess, somehow, I'd always known I was gay. I was just too scared to admit it."

The image prompted an extreme reaction from fans of the comic, with some praising the writers for tacking a sensitive topic – and others threatening to burn copies.

However, the subject of Dredd's sexuality looks set to remain a mystery after it emerged that the man in the image was not, in fact, the comic book hero. A spokesman revealed that the figure is simply a man dressed like Dredd at a Judge-Dredd-themed gay club.

The writer Rob Williams sought to keep fans guessing as he said Dredd "may well be gay, straight or bi" but that was secondary to his passion for the law.

"Although, can you imagine what would happen if that repression ever fell away, just for an instant? Sure, Dredd could be gay," Williams said.

"You can't look at the original costume design of leather and chains and not see a fetishistic edge there. But Dredd's feelings are so deeply hidden, he is extremely unlikely to ever let them show."

The comic strip, illustrated by CLiNT magazine's Mike Dowling, will be available on Wednesday.

Steve Marchant, a tutor at the London-based Cartoon Museum, described the suggestion of Dredd being gay as a "major first".

But, he added, Dredd would not be the first superhero whose sexuality was the subject of speculation: the 1940s character Green Lantern "used to fight crime in a red blouse", he said.

"It's certainly the first time such an iconic character has been suggested as coming out and I think it's a bold, brave move and will give gay kids a good role model." © Guardian News and Media 2013