Friday, June 21, 2024
ComicsComics Corner

An all-queer Justice League just debuted in DC Pride

Stay inside, Outsiders. Take a study break, Teen Titans. Have a day off, JLA – the JLQ is here to save the day. Some of DC’s most powerful LGBTQ+ superheroes have banded together in this week’s DC Pride anthology, serving readers a taste of queer superheroics and laying the groundwork for more adventures to come.

The team assembles in the short story Love Life, written by Andrew Wheeler with art by Luciano Vecchio and Rex Lokus. The tale finds Jackson Hyde, the current Aqualad, attending his first Pride on a date with Syl, an apprentice magician. Unfortunately, the celebration is ruined when Eclipso arrives to quite literally rain on the parade. This is no typical downpour though – the storm brings out all the hate, fear, anxiety, and doubts of anyone caught in it.

DC’s bravest and boldest LGBTQ+ heroes take centre stage in the publisher’s first Pride anthology! (Image ©DC)

As Syl teleports to safety, only Aqualad is able to mount a defence, thanks in part to his hydrokinetic powers (for the less-nerdy, that’s water manipulation). Unfortunately, Eclipso is no mere weather manipulator – he’s the unfettered wrath of God from the dawn of time, so Jackson is a tiny bit outclassed.

The whole point of Pride though is that we, as queer people, are not alone – even when biological relatives abandon or ostracise us, when former friends reject us, or when colleagues shun us, our community and our found families will always have our backs. When Syl returns, he’s not alone – he’s joined by an entire team of LGBTQ+ heroes gathered by Extraño, DC’s first gay superhero (who has himself, thankfully, had something of a glow-up from his earliest, deeply problematic incarnation) to help dispatch the demonic villain.

The team itself is arguably a bit bloated – Extraño is joined by his husband, Tasmanian Devil, plus The Ray, Steel, Batwoman, Crush and Bunker from the Teen Titans, Midnighter and Apollo, Wink and Aerie from the Suicide Squad, teen ghost hunter and mage Traci 13, immortal warrior Shining Knight, and Tremor (still DC’s only asexual hero). However, it’s a hugely positive development that there are so many LGBTQ+ characters for the creators to choose from nowadays, and that there are still plenty of others who could have shown up too. While some of the roster here are undeniably niche characters, Wheeler and Vecchio haven’t had to scrape any barrels to fill the team.

Despite only being an eight page story, Wheeler and Vecchio cram a lot in. Yes, it’s an action packed short – a must for superhero stories – but there’s a surprising amount of emotion too. The doubts and fears the Pride crowd express will ring all too true for many LGBTQ+ readers, but so will the sense of community, camaraderies, and indeed pride as the team comes together. A little cheesy? Perhaps – but a real delight.

Enter: the JLQ! (Image ©DC)

Away from the JLQ, the rest of the anthology is a welcome showcase of queer characters and talent. A particular highlight is He’s the Light of My Life! by Sam Johns and Klaus Janson, which features the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott – who recently came out late in life – attempting to reconcile with his estranged son Obsidian, who is also gay. It’s a touching story about dealing with rejection from society even as you try to protect it, and how different generations of gay men have faced unique challenges. For younger readers, it also offers a few real-world history lessons on how gay elders were forced underground just to find companionship.

A Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn story by Mariko Tamaki and Amy Reeder impresses, with a nervous Harley showing some rare emotional vulnerability but finally declaring the two are indeed in a relationship, while Date Night sees the first comic book appearance of Dreamer, a trans woman superhero from TV’s Supergirl, written by the character’s actress Nicole Maines with art by Rachael Stott. It’s a fun short that sees Dreamer tackling a threat to National City single-handedly, displaying a significant power boost for the hero over what fans have seen on TV so far – all before heading to a movie date with boyfriend Brainiac 5.

However, anthology titles are by their nature a mixed bag, and that’s no exception here – not every story is as memorable or striking as the JLQ entry. The opening Batwoman story, focusing on the Kate Kane version of the character, tries for emotional depth by exploring the character’s feelings of isolation as a child – largely in not liking boys when her friends started showing interest – but feels like a retread of past stories. Trung Le Nguyen’s beautiful storybook-style art and deliberately restricted colour palette – almost all cold, icy blues that make Kate’s red hair or the red highlights of the Batwoman costume all the more striking – save this from being thoroughly dull.

Clothes, Makeup, Gift, which focuses on the Jess Chambers incarnation of The Flash – a non-binary hero from the future of the alternate reality Earth 11 – also falls flat. It’s another date night story, which allows for a fun ‘getting ready’ scene where Jess experiments with fashion, but otherwise disappoints. It lampshades its own reliance on the antiquated Flash story trope of the hero always being late despite having super speed, while wrapping the events around a boring battle against a literally faceless villain.

It’s also worth lamenting that, aside from an interview with actor Javicia Leslie, there’s still no sign of the new Ryan Wilder incarnation of Batwoman in DC Pride. Both the Batwoman who shows up alongside the JLQ and the one in the solo story is the Kate Kane incarnation. Hopefully DC won’t drag its heels on having Ryan appear in-costume in the comics much longer.

Still, there’s more good than bad here, and plenty for LGBTQ+ readers of all stripes to enjoy. There’s a chance this won’t be the last readers will see of the JLQ, too. DC has been running an elimination tournament called Round Robin recently, pitting 16 potential mini-series against each other with fans voting on which one will be published. JLQ was first teased as one of those titles – when the DC Pride anthology was first solicited, what would become the JLQ entry was announced as simply an Aqualad story – and although it was eliminated in the first round of votes, the positive response to just the idea of an all-queer team of heroes was reportedly much higher than expected. The best way to send DC a message that you want to see more of them is to pick up a copy of DC Pride now it’s on sale.

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