I found out I was bisexual some time during 2018.
There were signs, of course. I’m sure if you talk to enough of my friends, you’ll find a few who said they kind of figured – I certainly had a few employers who thought I was flat-out gay, which was a funny conversation to have. I didn’t really know until I was 19, though, when it eventually occured to me that the “exception” I made for my Hugh Jackman crush wasn’t a particularly good excuse.
Sexuality and gender identity isn’t exactly a choice, as many regressives would have you believe – but it is a long conversation you have with yourself, and it’s a conversation that arrives at different conclusions the longer you live your life. People are slowly becoming less beholden to the gender binary, and while it can sometimes feel like discussing sexuality and gender requires a two-year college course, it’s worth it to see the euphoria people have from being able to truly express themselves. It’s why I’ve questioned my own gender identity recently, and why I’ll continue to question it. The world is slowly becoming a place where we can be the people we want to be… even if we don’t always know who that is, yet.
Naturally, this means that corporations are becoming more and more eager to capitalize on this. But when it results in a comic all about queer people feeling represented and empowered, that’s not such a bad thing.
There are nine short stories in this collection, that portray a broad spectrum of heroes (and villains!) in the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t love all of them, of course – this is a review, not a puff piece – but they do all express a level of pride and personality that’s exciting to see from a major publishing company. Let’s take a look at what makes these stories special.
“The Wrong Side of the Looking Glass”
James Tynion IV recently came out as bisexual on his social media – and with him currently writing Batman and having extensively written Batwoman in Detective Comics, I’m sure that DC thought he was the most obvious choice for this short. That feeling of coming out and accepting who you are is difficult, and Tynion writes a version of that experience in this comic. The story is held together by a long monologue Kate Kane is making about her life to another character, and it’s where both the strength and weakness of this short lies. About two thirds of the way into the story, the man behind the curtain is revealed, and we as the audience understand why Kate is talking about herself and her sister. However, the monologue continues – and after a certain point, she’s essentially talking to the audience anyway. Personally, I might have preferred it if they cut the villain from this story entirely, and make this more of a confession on the part of Kate. Anyone who knows the slightest thing about Batman can tell who the villain of this story is, and it makes for a great narrative hook – but it also undercuts the character exploration that Kate goes through, just a little.
Trung Le Nguyen’s art is probably the strongest part of this story, with a storybook style that reminds me of Omori, a fantastic RPG I just finished playing yesterday. The ethereal, fantastical and fluid nature of the art blends introspective thoughts with hallucination really well, and its a shame that Tynion’s extensive narration sometimes feels like it drowns Nguyen’s work out. The ending, though, is really sweet, and it surprised me by showcasing a few characters that I didn’t know were LGBTQ. Good story, though I think it needed a little more time in the oven.
“By the Victors”
This one is quite an interesting story, because the combination of characters within it is really something I wouldn’t have expected. John Constantine is here, pansexual disaster that he is, but the main characters are Midnighter, one of DC’s most popular gay heroes, and Extraño, one of DC’s first. We also see the brief appearance of a character called Moish, which I found little to no information about – so please, someone tell me about him in the comments if you can. The premise of the story involves Midnighter and Extraño – who looks a little too close to Doctor Strange for my liking – taking down the time-warping operations of a Neo-Nazi Vampire, as most gay couples tend to spend their evenings.
Nothing particularly crazy happens in this issue, but everything within it is done well. Stephen Byrne’s art is very strong and easy on the eyes, and he does a great job of showcasing the dynamic personalities of each character on the page. Midnighter, Extraño and Constantine all feel like well-rounded and distinct people, on both a writing and artistic perspective – so it’s pleasant to watch them play off one another in a story where that’s really the only thing it’s setting out to do. There doesn’t really feel like there’s a purpose to the plot – while it’s cool to see two gay men literally beating the shit out of their oppressors, the story itself feels like it’s a prelude to something else – but it’s a pleasant read, and a good enough time to leave you with a positive impression afterwards. Shame we didn’t see Apollo, though.
“Try the Girl”
Oh, I really like this one. I wasn’t huge on Vita Ayala’s Batgirls story in Future State, but I’ve been enjoying Children of the Atom, and really think they have a lot of potential within the DCU (I’m VERY interested in Static Shock!). One of my biggest criticisms about Batgirls was that I didn’t feel the dialogue always fit the scene, which is decidedly not the case here. Ayala frames Renee Montoya’s short story as a classic Noir, complete with the charming narration and one-liners you’ll find within the genre. More than that, the typical “damsel-in-distress” archetype is reversed to some degree here – though in a way that feels like we could have used a few more pages in this story to make it feel a little smoother. The chemistry between Montoya and Valeria Johnson is a lot of fun, with both characters clearly enjoying being in one another’s company.
Big props to Skylar Patridge for being able to portray that dynamic excellently – it’s not easy to make a character without a face look so emotive. Patridge draws action well, in a way that’s both clear and portrays the character of the opponents as they do battle. Montoya is sometimes a little clumsy, but skilled and acrobatic in a way that makes sense within a superhero’s world. José Villarrubia also deserves a special shout-out for his colours, which portray a moody Gotham setting without seeming bland. The final few panels in particular made me smile, and the “Just the Beginning” tag at the end makes me hope to see more from both these characters and this creative team.
“Another Word for a Truck to Move Your Furniture”
I don’t think it’s the best story of the bunch, but this is a particularly meaningful story for me, specifically. One of my first reviews on this website was for a series called Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, one of the more recent books from DC about the couple of villains/anti-heroes. While DC had toed the line as to what their relationship was for some time, it was pretty clear that by the time this book was out, these two had a relationship… yet there was zero acknowledgment of this, culminating in a final issue where not even a kiss was shared between the two women. Here, they kiss several times, and the entire story is framed around one thing: the two characters openly and loudly proclaiming “yes, we have a romantic and sexual relationship”. To me, it’s a catharsis I think I needed, as it did sometimes feel like the (in-continuity!) comic books weren’t giving Harley and Ivy the relationship they deserve.
I like Tamaki’s writing quite a bit, which also helps me enjoy this issue – though I do think her dialogue gets a little lost, specifically when the two women are trading witty remarks at the start of the issue. The heart of these characters is there, though, and it’s helped by the vibrance that Amy Reeder injects into every scene. Harley is as physically bubbly as she is verbally, and while it takes a few more glances than I’d like to understand what Poison Ivy’s doing in some of the panels, her facial expressions are excellent, and range from comedic to genuinely touching. This is a story that I think was quite good, and definitely necessary for the couple’s place in the DCU.
“He’s the Light of My Life!”
I think this is one of the stronger-written scripts of this collection, but it’s a little bit let down by the art. Klaus Janson has obviously done some legendary work in his time – and even here, there are some particular highlights, like Alan Scott’s “origin” and the fantastical way he illustrates his Green Lantern powers – but I also found many moments where characters felt blocky and disproportionate, with faces that sadly don’t portray the emotional impact that the scene is going for. And the story is emotional – Alan trying to reconnect with his estranged son Todd Rice (Obsidian) makes for some really good moments between the two, especially with the both of them bonding on what it’s like to be gay within their respective time periods.
This story doesn’t completely heal their relationship, but it’s the first step a father makes to placing himself on good terms with his son again – just like in real life, it’s a difficult process that requires patience and humility, which Alan personifies in abundance. As someone who never spent too much time with Scott, this did a good job at telling us what was important to him as a character, his old-fashioned ways, and the struggles he’d had with his sexuality. It’s a very straightforward and honest piece, and it’s all the better for it. Even if the art isn’t what it could be, the meaning of Johns’ and Janson’s short shines through.
“Clothes Makeup Gift”
When I was reviewing Future State: Justice League, one of my favourite parts of the comic was the relationship between Jess Chambers (Flash) and Andy Curry (Aquawoman). Jess is non-binary, and while not all non-binary people are as perfectly androgynous as Jess is, Jess really does represent a wonderful example of how to break from traditional gender expectations. Danny Lore writes this in a very fun and natural way, where everything Jess wears seems to fit like a glove, because they have the confidence in themselves to wear it. Of course, Jess is still a Flash – meaning they have time-management skills that leave something to be desired, to put it mildly.
We see this in a story that introduces Flash’s first enemy, Reflek – who looks fun, despite having a design that probably could have done with some revisions. Lisa Sterle’s art is beautiful, no doubt about it – though I got a little lost in the action at points, where I wasn’t sure which panel to jump to if I wanted to see the fight play out chronologically. Both of these creators work together to create a comic dripping in character, that does a great job of juggling a typical superhero story with the relationship that propels Flash to the final page. I like this one in particular because of how charming I find its two leads, and they’re a big part of why I want to see more from Future State.
“Be Gay, Do Crime”
It’s a real shame that the best title out of the bunch has to have my least favourite story attached to it – but I suppose they can’t all be gold. I quite like the artwork we see from Ro Stien and Ted Brandt, which clearly had a lot of work put into it. The colours are a vibrant display that really light up the scenes they’re attached to, with even characters in a crowd dripping with style and making everyone feel like a distinct person within the world. Pied Piper in particular looks good, and I like seeing him in the costume he wears today vs the old costume Drummer Boy sees him in on the television.
However, I really think the writing suffers from trying too hard to speak like people my age, to the detriment of the story itself. Drummer Boy is very much a zoomer, and as a zoomer myself, I’m self-aware that nothing she really says is out-of-place… there’s just so much of it that I don’t think it feels natural. Someone in my friend group might very well say “the boug”, “yuh”, “goals” or “iconic” – not so much “gayborhood”, but whatever – but placing them one after another makes this feel like an emulation of youth-speak rather than something a person would actually say. This’d be less of a problem if this was anything more than a four-page story, one with most of the dialogue coming from Drummer Boy. As such, the dynamic between him and Pied Piper feels a little stilted, and seeing as that’s all the book has time to establish, I don’t really think it works.
This is a particularly special short, as it’s the first comic book appearance of a character called Nia Nal, AKA Dreamer – a trans superhero introduced on the CW’s Supergirl television series. What’s fun about this short is that it’s actually written by Nicole Maines, the trans actress and activist who plays Dreamer in the show! As introductory comics go, it does a fairly decent job of telling us what we need to know about the character, without giving too much away and leaving the door open for future storytelling potential. Rachael Scott’s artwork is quite good, though I found it dipping slightly into uncanney valley territory in the first couple of pages. What I loved, though, was the page-spread of Dreamer predicting the fight she’s about to participate in – it’s a really cool visual demonstration of her powers, which are admittedly a little vague and nebulous at points.
I think this story works particularly well as setup, though it’s setup for a story that I’m not entirely sure will happen – to my knowledge, this is the only Dreamer content we’ll be getting for now, which I honestly think is a shame. She seems to be a fun, witty person, who has a relationship with an established character that could give her an “in” to other comics in the DCU. As it stands, this is still quite good – though seeing as it doesn’t talk much about her origin, I hope that this is just the first chapter of many that show us what Nia can really do.
I wasn’t particularly feeling the story until the end, but the final pages made me realize why this is the perfect story to end this collection on. I sadly haven’t read a lot of Aqualad content, so I don’t have much of a connection with the characters here – though Wheeler does a good enough job of making me understand where his head’s at as he attends his first Pride event. There’s a lot of dialogue in this book, and it feels a little “tell, don’t show” at points – especially when Eclipso shows up and starts spouting a rather typical villain monologue.
What makes this short is really what it accomplishes at the end: the introduction of the Justice League Queer! This is a team Wheeler created and pitched for DC’s abyssmal Round Robin challenge, where they allowed fans to select what comic they wanted to see the most from a selection of interesting, diverse ideas (the final two were, of couse, a Bat-Book and a Suicide Squad book). This story is a sign that there might still be hope for the team, which had a great selection of characters I’d love to play off each other. This was beautifully drawn by Luciano Vecchio and coloured by Rex Lokus, who do a great job at showing the unique looks people will often wear during Pride celebrations – as well as some gorgeous final pages of the JLQ fighting, smiling and looking to new horizons. This story is okay, but the way it looks to the future is very promising.
In addition, there’s some really neat bonus content! We get several interviews with cast members who play LGBTQ characters in DC shows, which is a lot of fun: Javica Leslie, Nafessa Williams and Matt Bomer (Batwoman, Thunder and Negative Man) get some particularly in-depth interviews which are a nice read, if DC TV is your sort of thing. The art prints are also really sweet, portraying a crazy amount of talent that adds to the value of what you’re buying. My personal favourite is Sophie Campbell’s Harley and Ivy, which portrays a gentle intimacy that hits particularly hard for me.
There’s also an introduction from Marc Andreyko, the openly gay creator of Kate Spencer’s Manhunter and writer of her amazing Streets of Gotham backup. While I don’t agree with everything he says – I dunno if I’d describe DC’s commitment to diversity as “groundbreaking”, for example – but what he says about the definition of pride, and what it means to those in our community and those we lost along the way, really resonates in a way that makes this intro well worth a read. This book is bookended by some seriously great content that makes me proud to be a small part of the queer community.
- You’re gay, hahahahahahahahaha. Same.
- Representation means a lot to you, whether you’re LGBTQ or want to see people like us show up more in mainstream media.
- You don’t mind forking out a bit of money for a comic book – this time, at least, it makes that expense worth your while.
None of these stories are perfect, but all of them make me feel good – about DC, about diversity in the comic book world, and about myself. I’ve been lucky enough to never be the subject of direct homophobia, though I’ve certainly felt how it hurts – the little jabs from friends worried I’d hit on them, the careless remarks about trans people that make me afraid to ask about my own gender, or the comments on this very website decrying homosexuality as a disease. It’s not a good feeling. It makes you feel isolated, small, trapped within yourself – and it doesn’t help that these feelings are cycling through my head in the middle of a lockdown. It makes you afraid to step out of your shell and be the person you want to be – and that’s why books like these are so important.
For those of you who don’t see this book as I do, please take a moment to think about how that feels – the times you’ve felt alone, the times when you’ve needed others to help you up and say that you’re not. It’s why so many people gravitate to comics, I think: that desire to find a place that accepts you, one that reminds you of the person you can truly be.
Everyone deserves to take pride in who they really are.
P.S. Make Nightwing bi, you cowards.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch