Monday, May 20, 2024
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Comics Corner – ‘DC Pride 2022’ is a celebration, but is it a party?

Following the rousing success and critical acclaim of its debut Pride anthology in 2021, DC is back with another collection of short stories focused on its LGBTQ+ heroes. DC Pride 2022 is a bigger and bolder collection than its predecessor – literally so, clocking in at 110 pages, compared to last year’s 80 – and packs in 12 stories drawing on characters from across the vast DC multiverse.

For the most part, it’s a joyous celebration of queer identities and unrestrained heroism, but it sadly puts a few steps wrong – and does so from the off.

DC’s biggest Pride celebration yet! (Image ©DC Comics)

The issue opens with “Super Pride” – written by Devin Grayson, with art by Nick Robles and Triona Farrell – and it proves a somewhat conflicting Superman story. The eight-page short sees Jon Kent – current Superman and son of Lois and Clark – teaming up with his best friend Robin (Damian Wayne) before attending his first Pride parade with his boyfriend, Jay. Grayson’s tale starts out solidly enough, exploring the nature and power of symbols, and how their meaning can change depending on both who is using them and the context they’re used in. It’s an interesting concept that works in both a straightforward narrative sense – the meaning of the Kryptonian ‘S’ crest within the DC Universe and the sight of Superman fronting a Pride parade – and a metaphorical one, with the powerful resonance that a bisexual Superman has in the real world.

However, there are two elements of the story that disappoint. When Robin – obsessively planning defensive tactics in presumption of a supervillain attack on the parade – points out that Pride started as a riot, referencing 1969’s Stonewall uprising, Superman replies that “Pride’s been a party for decades”. Insert grimace emoji here.

Jon, we love you, but no. (Image ©DC Comics)

Even with the space restrictions that an eight-page story necessitates, that’s a sadly over-simplified take that does a disservice to the nature of Pride events in reality. The awkward part is that Jon’s statement isn’t necessarily incorrect – in much of the western world, the politics, the struggle, and the rage of early Pride parades has largely been stripped away in favour of corporate-sponsored, family-friendly street parties. That in itself is worthy of discussion, the fact that however much we might want Pride to still be a protest, in many cases events are more akin to rainbow-decked music festivals, where actual LGBTQ+ support, outreach, political, and community groups are sidelined to collapsible tables hidden behind the drinks tents.

Worse, when Superman says that ‘Pride is a party’, it’s not even intended to discuss or introduce that conflict – it simply hangs as its own definitive statement. The brevity of the story here means there’s simply no space to explore the nuances of the situation. When LGBTQ+ rights, and especially Trans rights, are under increasing threat in the US and UK in particular, having Superman frame Pride as something effectively frivolous feels borderline dangerous.

The other element that may raise eyebrows is Superman’s new cape, gifted to him by Jay. On the outside, it’s the classic red with a gold ‘S’ crest, but on the inside it’s lined with Pride flags. Overall, it’s a great touch, if not one we’re likely to see Jon flying into battle wearing in regular monthly issues. Awkwardly though, one of the flags incorporated into the design appears to be a so-called ‘straight pride’ flag – black and white horizontal stripes. This could be, and hopefully is, just a colouring error amidst the detailed patchwork of other Pride flags, but it’s a disappointing oversight, whatever the reason.

Thankfully, the rest of the anthology is far stronger. “Confessions” – written by Stephanie Williams, art by Meghan Hetrick and Marissa Louise – is a lighthearted tale of Nubia, current queen of the Amazons on Wonder Woman’s home island of Themyscira, recounting an old battle to her lover Io. It’s a great slice of DC lore, inserting Nubia into a decades-old issue of Mister Miracle and having her take part in a professional wrestling match alongside Big Barda. There’s a great blend of art styles here, with an almost painterly bookend for the pages with Nubia and Io, and a retro-style dot-ink look for the flashback. It’s also lovely to have Nubia and Io’s relationship further cemented here.

Creators Ro Stein and Ted Brandt team up for “Think of Me”, a story focused on Connor Hawke, the son of Oliver Queen, both of whom have used the Green Arrow moniker. Introduced in 1994, Connor was always intended to be the antithesis of his hot-headed, womanising father – raised in an ashram and trained in Kyudo archery, he was a Zen Buddhist with a calm, patient, precise demeanour – and early issues played up his ineptitude with women. Here, Connor is confirmed to be asexual, and it’s rather marvellously, delicately handled. The story is framed around Connor writing a letter to his mother, building up to coming out as ace, overlapping a battle against the Music Meister. The sound-powered villain is a perfect foil, as Stein and Brandt beautifully contrast Connor coming to terms with his own asexuality as learning to appreciate a form of silence, contrasted against the cacophony of society screaming about sex at almost every juncture. Not only does the direction fit Connor well based on his prior appearances, it also does a brilliant job of explaining asexuality to readers who may not get it. Bonus points also go to Stein and Brandt for accurately presenting Connor’s mixed heritage – he’s half-white, quarter Korean, and quarter black, but has previously been drawn as pale as his father, a mistake not made here.

Of COURSE she does! (Image ©DC Comics)

One of the best strips in DC Pride 2022 is “Up at Bat”, written by Jadzia Axelrod, with art by Lynne Yoshii and Tamra Bonvillain. The story focuses on Alysia Yeoh, one of DC’s more prominent trans characters. Introduced in the New 52 era and an ally to the Barbara Gordon Batgirl, Alysia’s creator Gail Simone had reportedly intended the character to briefly take over the Batgirl mantle while Barbara was out of action, but the storyline never came to pass – until now. Axelrod’s script sees Alysia aiding an injured Barbara, donning a spare Batgirl costume, and admirably handling herself against the supervillain Killer Moth. It’s not just a heroic brawl though, as Alysia also reflects on the stress and frustration of having to fight the same battles over and over for trans recognition, support, and healthcare. It’s a timely message, that also positions the character for new battles going forwards – while Alysia doesn’t formally take on a heroic identity by the end of the tale, she does get to keep the gear, setting her up for, hopefully, more costumed appearances in future.

Bisexual readers get a double dose of representation in both Tini Howard and Evan Cagle’s “The Gumshoe in Green”, a brilliant pulp noir story focusing on Green Lantern Jo Mullein, and Travis Moore’s “Special Delivery”, focusing on the Tim Drake incarnation of Robin, recently revealed as bi.

Hard-boiled pulp noir in deep space, with a bisexual twist? Yes please! (Image ©DC Comics)

The former sees DC’s newest – and most interesting – Green Lantern having returned to the Far Sector of her solo series, finding herself caught in a classic detective case, investigating a seemingly philandering husband on behalf of a suspicious wife. As in all good detective stories, revealing the twist would ruin everything, but Howard uses the married couple’s real motivations to attack a very old and very tired stereotype that bisexual people all too often have to deal with, while Cagle presents the case in beautifully textured black and white with only flashes of green for colour, perfectly capturing the tone of the genre that the story is homaging.

The latter, meanwhile, continues the slow-burn evolution of Tim Drake that begun months ago, as the young hero reflects on his burgeoning relationship with his old friend – and new boyfriend – Bernard Dowd. Similar to the Connor Hawke story, it’s narrated by Tim’s internal monologue as he reflects on his newfound feelings, and how recognising his bisexuality was both scary and thrilling. It’s balanced against Tim in his costumed guise battling niche size-changing supervillains Micro and Macro, all while protecting mysterious precious cargo. “Special Delivery” proves a sweet story about self-discovery, and continues to develop both Tim and Bernard as characters.

FINALLY! (Image ©DC Comics)

Other highlights include Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn mutually espousing “I love you” in Dani Fernandez, Zoe Thorogood, and Jeremy Lawson’s “The Hunt”; Aquaman Jackson Hyde and his new boyfriend Ha’wea introducing each other to their respective hometowns – and opening up to each other in the process – in “A World Kept Just for Me” by Alyssa Wong and W. Scott Forbes; The Ray overcoming the trauma of his closeted upbringing (fairly literally – he was locked inside for most of his childhood) and finding the courage to openly kiss his boyfriend in “Public Display of Electromagnetism” by Greg Lockard and Giulio Macaione; and a visit to the gender-flipped reality of Earth-11 for a spotlight on the nonbinary speedster Kid Quick – and his teammates in Teen Justice – in “Are You Ready For This?” by writers Danny Lore and Ivan Cohen, with art by Brittney Williams and Enrica Eren Angiolini.

“Finding Batman” explores how Batman actor Kevin Conroy’s channelled his real life experience as a gay man to forge a connection with the Dark Knight (Image ©DC Comics)

The pinnacle of this year’s DC Pride though has to be the heartfelt “Finding Batman”, an autobiographical tale written by Kevin Conroy, with art by J. Bone. Yes – that Kevin Conroy: voice of Batman for 30 years of animated series, films, and video games, and even a live action appearance as Bruce Wayne on the Batwoman TV show. The short reflects on Conroy’s early life and career, from growing up gay in a religious home, to his efforts to maintain separate private and professional lives as a working actor in an openly homophobic industry – one where, although it was “peopled with gay agents, producers, directors, and writers, was very unforgiving to gay actors.”

It’s a raw and honest exploration of what was clearly a difficult time for Conroy, made even harder by the impact of the then-emerging AIDS crisis, and juggling the responsibilities of being a carer for his brother while also trying to build a career for himself. It all builds up to Conroy’s audition for the voice role of the iconic Dark Knight on Batman: The Animated Series, and a realisation that both he and Bruce Wayne wore different masks to navigate their respective worlds, finding his voice through a shared pain that transcends the world of fiction.

It’s the perfect capper to a powerful anthology, bridging the gap between queer superheroes on the page, and the heroic impact queer people can have in real life. While DC Pride 2022 gets off to a somewhat unfortunate start, the rest of the collection makes up for it, and the expanded scope helps convey the breadth of diversity that LGBTQ+ characters, creators, and stories can bring to the DC multiverse. Even better, many of the chapters are setting up future stories, so this wonderful roster won’t be absent from comics until next year’s anthology rolls around.

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