DC Pride 2022 #1 review

Look who’s back! Back again! Joshie’s back! Tell a friend!

Ok, ok. I’ll drop my Slim Shady act. Seriously though, I’m just stepping in because my good friend, Nick, is a little under the weather, already has a lot on his plate, and he needed a tag-team partner this week… It just so happens that I have some free time, so I’m stepping in to review DC Pride 2022. I hope you’re ready because this is going to be really gay!

It’s June, and we all know what that means! Rainbows galore! Now, I will give DC some credit because when the gay community said, “If you really cared about the gay community, you wouldn’t just release stories with gay characters during the month of June, but carry them throughout the year.” And you know what? DC seemed to agree with that sentiment and has spent the past year releasing stories under a Pride banner… Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve enjoyed any of them… At all. Will this anthology be different? God, I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.

“Super Pride”

The first story in the collection is “Super Pride” by Devin Grayson and Nick Robles. Here we get to see Jon and Damian stopping some villains before attending the local Pride parade. If you’re hoping this story leans more heavily into our heroes stopping villains, I hate to disappoint you, but it doesn’t. Most of it is about Jon and Damian preparing for and attending the parade.

The story is light-hearted but has a heavy-handed, network-special feel to it. If you saw the images of Jay presenting Jon with a rainbow cape circling the internet a while back, I’ll just go ahead and inform you that that takes place here. I rolled my eyes at this and I’m a gay man, so I can only imagine how the straight community reacted. But honestly, that’s not the worst part of this story. After cleaning up the villains, Jon asks Damian if he’s ready for Pride, and Damian gleefully replies revealing he has smoke bombs and an electrical net for crowd control… Now, before you get the wrong idea, this is meant to be a joke, but it definitely doesn’t land. There’s a connection to Stonewall and Damian viewing Pride as riots that’s meant to be educational, I guess, (hence my “network special” comment) but I don’t see this sitting well with some folks.

There are underlying themes here about symbols, and how people perceive or view them. It’s quite clear this is nothing more than a commentary on Jon Kent, Superman, being a gay man, and the reaction that the general public had to this news. Which, yes, there were some crazy responses, but I think it’s also fair to say that it hasn’t been handled well from DC’s side either. I mean, can you legitimately tell me what the draw of Superman: Son of Kal-El is other than the fact that Jon is gay and on a journey of self-discovery? Yeah, there really isn’t another draw, and that remains true here as well.

“Super Pride” score: 3/10

 

“Confessions”

The second story on the slate is “Confessions” by Stephanie Williams and Meghan Hetrick and features Nubia. Uh… Yeah, I’m just going to come right out and say it. This story is bad. The writing is so stilted and Williams tries so hard to be cute but fails every step of the way. Plus, the story is just… odd.

Nubia and Io – who have zero chemistry here by the way – are lounging and enjoying each other’s company, when a conversation is brought up about a time that Nubia broke her sword during a battle with a giant creature. Well, as it turns out, Nubia did fight the creature, but that’s not when she broke her sword. So, it’s confession time, and Nubia is embarrassed to reveal the truth… That she broke her sword during a women’s wrestling match. I’m not joking.

I had so many questions while reading this. Logically, there’s just so much that doesn’t make sense. For example, Big Barda is in public in a robe, bunny slippers, and house clothes, holding a cup of coffee while Nubia fights a giant bird monster. She literally just appears on the street like this. Where did she come from? And why isn’t Barda helping Nubia fight this monster?

Then there’s the whole wrestling bit. There’s a women’s wrestling match that’s intended to be a fundraiser, and if they can get Nubia to wrestle, they’re certain they’ll meet their projections. We’re just going to ignore the fact that nobody knows who Nubia is at this point in time. Anyway, it gets weirder because Giganta is also wrestling because it’s mandated based on her parole. (What!?!?!) And then on top of that, Nubia’s wrestling with her damn sword and shield. (What?!?!?!)

As one might expect, things go south, Giganta goes gigantic, and destroys most of the venue in the process. Nubia and Barda stop her, and then one of the coordinators proclaims that they tripled their donation goal (as if it’s all not going to go to repairing the arena). Honestly, it feels like a six-year-old came up with this.

“Confessions” score: 2/10

“Think of Me”

Ro Stein and Ted Brandt deliver “Think of Me,” which features Connor Hawke. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the dreaded “asexual story.” And by “dreaded,” I mean I’ve been dreading this because I’m undoubtedly going to ruffle some feathers. This isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.

Now, I’ll just come right out and say it, but I don’t view Connor as asexual. That’s my stance. It’s perfectly fine if you disagree. That standpoint isn’t hindering the story’s score in any way. It’s just that my history with the character informs me that he was raised in a monastery where he took an oath of celibacy. I fully believe that vowing not to do something is different than simply not feeling a desire to do something. But regardless, this is the story and version of Connor that we’re getting.

As far as stories go, this is the best-crafted story of the lot so far. Nearly all of the dialogue here is a letter that Connor is writing to his mom revealing that he’s asexual. While I don’t necessarily view Connor as asexual, I’ll also admit that I didn’t view asexuality as falling under the pride umbrella. I don’t mean that as disrespect, the two have just never been associated as the same in my past.  But looking at it, from this context, I guess people who are asexual might feel a need to “come out” to explain why they may not be in a relationship with someone. And, yes, an asexual person can still be in a relationship, but as this story points out, that often comes with an expectation of physical displays of love as well. So, even though I don’t agree with the classification of Connor as asexual, I will applaud the creative team for delivering a product in a way that forced me to examine it from a different perspective.

Visually, “Think of Me” delivers a much different story. Connor is infiltrating a venue so he can take something he needs from the Music Meister. There are some fun, low-stakes antics here, and he’s ultimately successful in his mission. In the end, he meets Damian on a rooftop and we learn that whatever he needed plays into the upcoming story in Robin. A solid story with a point that features decent characterization and a connection to what’s going on elsewhere for these characters? Wow! It looks like this team put some time and thought into crafting this short, and I appreciate that.

“Think of Me” score: 6/10

“Up at Bat”

And, the quality drops back down to where we were prior to “Think of Me” with this entry from Jadzia Axelrod and Lynne Yoshi. Alysia Yeoh is the star of “Up at Bat,” and I was initially excited to see her – I enjoyed her in Gail Simone’s run – but that excitement faded quickly. From an opening page that basically reads like a laundry list of problems that plague the trans community, to the extremely stilted and out-of-character interactions between Alysia and Batgirl, this story is rough.

I like the concept well enough though. Alysia is leaving a conference and Batgirl comes to her after being injured by Killer Moth. How does Babs know where Alysia is? Don’t worry about it. Anyway, Babs needs help, and she knows Alysia is good for it.

Alysia takes Batgirl back to the Clock Tower (didn’t this get blown up in Fear State?) and proceeds to help her with her wounds. In doing so, she discovers that the bolt that Killer Moth shot Batgirl with is a tracker, and the two realize the danger they’re in. With Batgirl in no condition to run or fight, Alysia takes it upon herself to suit up and protect her friend.

Simone has stated that she intended to have Alysia suit up during her run but never got to move forward with the plot, so seeing it here kind of feels like a nod to what never came to light. I’m sure certain people will read this and take issue with the fact that Babs needs Alysia’s help, and that Alysia is overly successful in her first outing as a hero – honestly, I take issue with that as well – but I still think the bigger problem here is simply the dialogue. The art is fine here and does what it needs to, but it is also stiff in certain panels, and there’s not much world-building taking place, so I hope you’re not opposed to solid backgrounds.

“Up to Bat” score 3/10

“A World Kept Just for Me”

Alyssa Wong and W. Scott Forbes deliver your paint-by-numbers, boy-likes-boy story, where one boy has a nice wholesome family and the other comes from the wrong side of the tracks. While the story is sweet, that’s about all I can bring myself to say about it. The page count is too short for anything poignant to take place, and the exploration of Ha’Wea’s upbringing compared to Jackson’s just feels lifeless. I get what the team was going for here, and I think they did well with the space they were able to use, but ultimately I just found myself uninterested.

I think part of the problem that I’m finding with a number of these stories is that the only attribute that seems to define a number of these characters is that they’re gay, and that’s it. While that can be an interesting element of a character, that alone isn’t enough to make a character interesting. There’s so much more that could’ve been referenced here, and I can’t stop thinking about what this story could’ve focused on instead of what it is. That’s never a good sign.

The art, however, is really nice. The colors pop and there’s an innocence captured here that would work well for a number of YA books. So, yeah… Jackson’s story is fine, sweet, and pretty, but it’s kind of boring.

“A World Kept Just For Me” score: 5/10

“The Gumshoe in Green”

As I find with most Tini Howard books, there are aspects that I think are great, and then some that I think are severely heavy-handed. In this tale, we follow the Green Lantern, Jo Mullein, as she investigates a husband, Droso, who is potentially cheating on his wife. The story takes place on The City Enduring, so we’re not exactly dealing with humans here, but aliens instead.

After a brief rundown of this world and the aliens involved, Jo jumps on the case looking for Droso. He ends up finding her first, and he lets it be known that he knows his wife hired Jo to follow him. At this point, I’m 100% on board. It’s obvious there’s something else at play here, and despite that, Jo still decides to insult Droso for not being committed, calling him a “bed-swerving man-jezebel.” *Sigh* And, here’s the heavy hand.

Despite it being obvious that there’s more here than meets the eye, Jo continues to bull-in-a-china-shop her way through this investigation. It feels like amateur hour – both for Jo and Tini Howard. The story continues and we finally get to the point where Droso and his wife reveal that the cheating allegations were just a farce, and they just wanted to have some fun with Jo, and then eat her. Mmmm… How Jeffrey Dahmer of you two. Again, this exchange becomes heavy-handed as Jo jumps to a “will-power isn’t the reason I say no to sleeping with everyone! I have standards.” argument before destroying the couple’s apartment.

The story leaves a lot to be desired, but where it lands, it really lands. Evan Cagle’s art, in particular, stands out. The black and white color palette works incredibly well with the noir-esque vibe of the story, and the flashes of green pop with grandeur. While there is some substance here, this is definitely an example of style-over-substance, and that might just be more than enough to appease some of you.

“The Gumshoe in Green” score: 6/10 (Huge lift thanks to the art here.)

“Public Display of Electromagnetism”

Next up, we have The Ray in “Public Display of Electromagnetism” by Greg Lockard and Guilio Macaione. Just seeing this group of characters (the most-recent Justice League of America team) makes me wish Steve Orlando were writing this, because this… This is terrible.  I mean, Macaione’s art is ok, but it’s nothing to write home about, so it doesn’t do much – if anything – to save how terrible this story is.

The Ray has created his own version of the Danger Room for the JLA, and the entire team is overly enthusiastic about it. Maybe I’m just jaded, but we’ve seen this a million times, so I don’t understand the hype surrounding it. Anyway, in celebration of his success, Xeno, his boyfriend, tries to kiss him, and Ray shuts him down to avoid PDA. At that moment, Black Canary and Killer Frost alert the team that they need help with a villain and the Ray storms off ahead of everyone else.

In the scene, he encounters Shadow Thief, and from here the writing only gets worse. Shadow Thief can create darkness, so naturally, this leads to a nauseating metaphor of Ray being a light in the darkness (because, you know… he’s gay), and there’s even a line where he says, “My existence contributes to something greater.” Ugh. (Eye roll.) And believe it or not, the writing gets even worse once the team starts discussing the “drama” that Ray created by storming off from Xeno after the attempted kiss… Which… He didn’t just storm off, he answered a call for help. Also, I’d like to add that there are and aren’t appropriate times for smooching, and if you’re actively working, it’s not the best time. Anyway, after some terrible quipping from the rest of the team, the two finally kiss and the story ends. Thank God!

“Public Display of Electro-Magnetism” score: 2/10

“Bat’s in the Cradle”

Well, well, well… What do we have here? A damn good story! That’s what we have! Look, I know I’m probably pissing a lot of people off with this review – people from varying classifications or identifications at that – and I’m sure there’s a sub-group out there, somewhere, in the internets, who will be pissed that I’m saying a Stephanie Phillips is good. But good is good, and there’s no beating around that.

“Bat’s in the Cradle” features Batwoman, but it’s told from her father’s perspective. Colonel Kane has been kidnapped and is about to be executed. At the last minute, Kate swoops in to save him, and together, they stop the bad guys. Visually, that’s your story. And it’s fine. But the script… The script is great. Nearly the entire story is just Colonel Kane thinking back on his military background, what he’s accomplished, and how it made him a “hard” man. And then he juxtaposes that with being a father, and how having a child – an innocent being who is completely dependent on you – softens you and forces you to live with worry and caution. And then it goes into the general concepts of parenthood. You strive to do better and be better so your child can do, be, and have a life that’s better than what you had. And then, somewhere along the way, you realize that in your attempts to make your child better, your child actually made you better.

This is the first story in this collection that genuinely feels honest. It feels heartfelt and sincere. There’s some actual weight and some meat to the story. Maybe it’s not hyper-focused on the “it’s ok to be gay” trope, and both characters are written as fully-developed characters who identify as more than one thing. Maybe that’s the lesson here for DC.

If I have one, minor, note about this story… I would’ve cut the dialogue from Batwoman saving her father. It can get cheesy at times, and interrupt the tone of Colonel Kane’s thoughts. But that’s it. That would’ve been my one note.

“Bat’s in the Cradle” score: 8/10

“Special Delivery”

Oh boy… Here we go. The Tim Drake story. First off, I just want to say that I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Travis Moore on many occasions, and he’s a wonderful guy. He’s one of my favorite artists, and there was a point in time I’d tapped him about doing some concept art for a story of mine that was getting some interest (everything fell through). Anyway, as far as I know, this is his first step into writing for the “big 2” and he does an ok job.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m not crazy about how DC went about revealing Tim is gay, or bi, or whatever he is. I feel like it’s been handled rather clumsily and without much care. I also feel like Tim, as a character, has completely lost his identity. This isn’t new, either. I’m not blaming his orientation for this. We lost the Tim we know and love when the New 52 launched. We got elements of him back during James Tynion’s Detective Comics, and then he essentially vanished again. But now, now it seems that the only thing DC can seem to associate with him is being gay. This is neither here nor there concerning the story, just a generalization of where Tim is at the moment.

Here, Tim stumbles across a robbery and decides to act. Unfortunately, he seems more concerned with protecting whatever’s in his box than actually protecting the citizens of Gotham. The villains take note of this, and then they suddenly want the box because it has to be something important. I get that this is supposed to be humorous, but it didn’t land that way for me. I just kept wondering why Tim didn’t set the box down somewhere out of harm’s way so he could deal with the threat. Anyway, the “what’s in the box” gag went on for way too long (and shamefully never referenced the film Seven), only for it to later be revealed that it’s a “Happy First Pride” cake. *Deep breath.*

Look, I wouldn’t consider this bad. Too cutesy? Sure. That’s not really my thing, so I’m openly acknowledging that. My problem is that none of this feels authentic. Everything about this and the stories that have led up to this feel forced and manufactured. And because of that, I just can’t get on board.

“Special Delivery” score: 4/10

“The Hunt”

If there’s a Pride issue, you can bet money that there will be a Harley/ Ivy story in there. DC decided to get Stephanie Phillips a break from Harley so Dani Fernandez and Zoe Thorogood could take a crack at the characters… And I kind of wish they wouldn’t have.

This story starts with some form of chase that Harley has concocted as a date-night game with Ivy. The first page or two are nothing but sexual innuendos that are so cliché it hurts to read. Then, somehow, an imposter Ivy and Harley manifest in the woods to challenge each character’s romantic partner. So, Harley is dealing with an imposter Ivy and Ivy is dealing with an imposter Harley. Where did these imposters come from? No clue.

The imposters begin to challenge Harley and Ivy’s feelings for each other, and once again, it’s a severe case of “been there, done that.” The main difference is that previous takes have been executed much better. We continue the cliché with the typical, “I know you’re not the real Ivy/ Harley!” followed by both characters professing their love for one another so loudly that the other will hear, and then poof. The imposters disappear. Thus begins the sexual innuendos again, and I decide to just move on rather than wasting more time on a lackluster story with lackluster talent.

“The Hunt” score: 2/10

“Are You Ready for This” 

Why do I feel like the title is a penis joke? Is it a penis joke? Maybe they’re just asking if we’re ready for how bad this story is, because it’s bad. Aside from being a complete and total mess narratively, it also appears to be written on a level for elementary school kids, but I’m not even sure they would like it.

The gist of the story is that it’s time for the gay pride parade (shocking), Kid Quick might be late but isn’t. There’s another float honoring Doctor Midnight. Someone is trying to steal Doctor Midnight’s goggles. The villain, Shimmer, ends up being part of a kid version of The Fearsome Five. Teen Justice jumps in. There’s… a… resolution? (No, there isn’t. Things just end.) And then we end with a tease for Multiversity: Teen Justice and a reveal that boy-Raven can’t join the Teen Justice based on what he learned today… There’s no hint or thread, just that reveal.

All of this, by the way, is captured by atrocious dialogue from Danny Lore. The art is fine, but definitely seems targeted toward the YA audience. Regardless, nothing seems to land here, from the first panel to the last.

“Are You Ready for This” score: 1/10

“Finding Batman” by Kevin Conroy and J. Bone

Finally! Another good story. Once again, this story works because it actually contains an ounce of honesty and sincerity. I do find it interesting that DC decided to put a warning in front of it or to explain why a serious story was in a celebration book. My first thought was, “This just makes it more evidently clear that today’s youth, generally speaking, haven’t endured tribulations, and because of that, they may not understand that this story, to me, is part of what Pride is about.

Anyway, “Finding Batman” is a personal account of the struggle Kevin Conroy faced throughout his journey of becoming a working actor as a gay man. We get a glimpse of his childhood, the destructive relationship of his parents, his requirement to care for his mentally-ill brother, and then the challenges of trying to hide a piece of who he is for the sake of protecting his dreams, talent, and livelihood.

If you’ve watched or read a number of gay stories from the 90s or early 2000s, the general themes here won’t surprise you because they’ve been told time and time again. As a Batman fan though, this resonates with me on a new level because of that. Kevin found a connection, and therefore strength in himself, because of the similarities he has to Bruce Wayne/ Batman… And that makes this story special.

Once again, the story that stands out – and is clearly head and shoulders above all of the other stories collected here – is one that focuses on the character as a person first and foremost, and uses their sexuality as an aspect of who they are. I consider myself very lucky. I’m at an age where I knew people who died from AIDS (they were older than me), but I didn’t necessarily have to live through that time period as they did. I’m also at an age where a shift in acceptance started taking place during my youth. I witnessed laws change. I watched general perception change. I got to be part of that change.

So, yeah… I’m lucky. I didn’t have to struggle nearly as badly as the people before me, but I’m old enough that I caught the tail end of some of those tribulations. No, I didn’t get arrested just for being gay. And I didn’t get jumped or have my house vandalized like some people I know. I did lose a job because of my sexuality though. I was told to keep my private life private, and to try and live a lie for the public. See, I lived through an age where if my significant other got severely sick and was placed in the ICU, his family could deny me visitation rights. I lived through an age where if my significant other died – for whatever reason – his family could have the rights to everything over me, even, in some instances, if a will was in place. I lived through a time when I couldn’t even claim my significant other on my medical insurance. But still, I didn’t have it nearly as bad as the people before me.

There are still problems today. They do exist. I’m not denying that. In America, I’m happy to say they’re not as bad – comparatively speaking – and sometimes I do think we forget to acknowledge that. But there’s still work to be done. We still have preachers (here in the U.S.) calling for homosexuals to be lined up and shot in the back of the head. Not metaphorically. Literally. We still have gays being slaughtered across the world just for being gay. So, if you celebrate Pride, please keep this in mind. If you ask why there’s even a Pride celebration… This is why. And DC, for the love of God, don’t put a warning ahead of a story that represents why Pride exists.

“Finding Batman” score: 10/10

 

Recommended if:

  • You collect gay literature or media.
  • You’re a fan of one of these characters.
  • You’re young and discovering your place in the world as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

 

Overall:

If I’m being honest, this book isn’t for me. That’s weird, right? I’m a gay man. I should be the core audience for a celebratory Pride issue. But I’m not. I don’t know if this is intentional on DC’s part – perhaps it is – but the book feels like it is targeted toward young kids. That’s how the stories are crafted anyway. That’s the tone and how the characters are written. For me though, it just doesn’t appear to be executed well. It’s almost as if DC missed the point with a number of these stories. So, if I were going to recommend something, it wouldn’t be this. If you want gay comics, go pick up Generations by Flavia Biondi. Hell, Love is Love will show you what this comic could be. If you want gay super-hero content, go pick up The Authority, Midnighter, or Greg Rucka’s Batwoman. All are far superior to the sum of these parts here.

I’m happy DC’s releasing these books, but I think they can do better, and I genuinely hope they do.

 

SCORE: 4/10