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Love Is Love eds. Sarah Gaydos & Jamie S. Rich

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The comic industry comes together in honor of those killed in Orlando. Co-published by two of the premiere publishers in comics—DC and IDW, this oversize comic contains moving and heartfelt material from some of the greatest talent in comics, mourning the victims, supporting the survivors, celebrating the LGBTQ community, and examining love in today’s world. All material has been kindly donated by the writers, artists, and editors with all proceeds going to victims, survivors, and their families. Be a part of an historic comics event! It doesn’t matter who you love. All that matters is you love.
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On June 12, 2016, a year ago today, a man went into a gay club in Orlando on Latin Night and shot 102 people, killing 49 of them. The outpouring of grief, solidarity, and love in the wake of the Pulse shooting was powerful and moving, and hasn’t finished yet. One of the forms that outpouring took was Marc Andreyko, a gay man and writer of queer comics including Batwoman and Manhunter, bringing together a number of luminaries of comics, and the publishing houses IDW and DC, to create Love Is Love, which came out on January 4th and immediately sold out; the second print run also sold out within days of release, but my partner managed to snag me a copy…

Love Is Love is a slightly strange thing to discuss, because I’ll be discussing personal reactions to a tragedy that shook my community to the core; but those responses need praise and criticism for the narratives they are part of and perpetuate, in some cases positively, in others less so. I won’t address every single one of the one-to-two-page contributions, but I’ll highlight the ones I find most significant in one way or another.

One of the constants of the book is direct relaying of personal reactions to the shooting. For instance, Jeff Jensen, in ‘Thoughts and Prayers: A Confession’ (illus David Lopez, lett Dezi Sienty), talks about all the actions he could have, but did not, take in the wake of the shooting, and how he only gave thoughts and prayers – a message that, had it included more ideas of concrete action, or more condemnation of failing to make prayer into action, would have worked far better. On the other hand, the untitled comic by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir (illus Emma Vieceli, col Christina Strain, lett Neal Bailey) brings a humour and a pathos to reactions to the events; it records a conversation with someone’s parents, who want him, in the wake of the shooting, to be careful, be himself, be safe, be brave. It’s beautiful and heartwrenching in its truth. Matthew Rosenberg’s piece (illus Amancay Nahuelpan, col Tyler Boss, lett Ryan Ferrier) is about his reactions to being asked to contribute, as a straight white cis guy, to this anthology; his footnotes to the comic include resources to support people who AREN’T straight white cis guys in comics, and works really beautifully.

Other stories use superheroes; some do it beautifully, and thoughtfully, such as ‘Pulse Shooting: the shooter inside the club is dead’, a Batman story by Marc Guggenheim (illus Brent Peeples, col Chris Sotomayor, lett Comicraft’s John Roshnell) about the complexity of coming to easy answers in this particular case, where the shooter’s motives are such a tangle of religious fanaticism, internalised homophobia and sexual self-loathing. It’s empathetic to both shooter and victims and has a subtle balance that really strikes one. Others, such as ‘Harley and Ivy in Love is Love’ by Paul Dini (illus Bill Morrison, col Robert Stanley, lett Cipriano), simply show love, in this case queer love, as normative; it’s a single page comic that shows the compromises Harley and Ivy make for each other, the neogitations they go through, and what they do for each other, and it is beautiful. Dan Didio’s piece (illus Carlos D’Anda, lett Carlos M. Mangual) has some of that power, using DC’s queer heroes (and for once owning up to some really awful elements of DC’s past, such as Extraño) to talk about the progress made and the road yet to go… but at the same time, it serves as a reminder of just how few queer characters there are, and how few of them headline their own titles. Others are straightforwardly misjudged, such as Matt Wagner’s offering, ‘Every Little Bug’s Got A Honey To Hug’, a splash page featuring no less than three heterosexual couples, two single people, and not a single queer character, as if this was any kind of relevant statement; and Sterling Gates’ ‘Why’ (illus Matt Clark, col Mike Atiyeh, lett Saida Temofonte) is simply terrible, being far more about Supergirl and her response to this real tragedy and how it links in with the loss of Krypton than anything specific to the shooting itself.

Inevitably, there are comics that concern themselves more with guns than queers; Taran Killam’s Deathstroke one-page comic (illus Barry Crain, col Giulia Brusco, lett Joshua Cozine) manages to make the point in a humourous way directly related to the Pulse shootings and with some humour about the absurdity of the way comics treat violence. Mark Millar on the other hand has never been accused of self awareness, and his contribution (illus Piotr Kowalski, col Brad Simpson, lett Michael Heisler) is simply a lecture about the prevalence of guns in the United States, and the fact they can only be used for killing – there’s no attempt at specificity to the Pulse massacre, and indeed, it feels as if Love Is Love simply provided a Scottish man a chance to lecture Americans.

The two comics I want to draw out as uniquely moving to me, though, are first of all, Gail Simone’s beautiful contribution (illus Jim Calafiore, lett Travis Lanham, col Gabriel Cassata), which is beautifully written, slowly building up to its moment of both tragedy and resilience at the end: “You can’t stop us from dancing” comes to mean, in Simone’s hands, so much more than dancing. The other is Teddy Tenebaum’s contribution (illus Mike Huddleston, lett Corey Breen), which is about a father explaining to his child about homosexuality: it isn’t different, but because of the way it is perceived by others, it is, and the comic really draws that out and gives it power.

This barely scratches the surface of an anthology that has some really powerful, beautiful contributions, and some that were singularly misjudged, but in the end, Love Is Love is a powerful statement by the comics community, and meaningful, and beautiful. Love is, after all, love.

If you found this review useful, please support my ability to write these reviews by contributing to my Patreon.

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Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond

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Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. An Army brat, Lois has lived all over—and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas in the middle of one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Fly straight.

As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won’t be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They’re messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it’s all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, a guy she knows only by his screenname, SmallvilleGuy…
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Tie-in fiction is often regarded as somehow “lesser” than original fiction, and criticised as being “less imaginative” or “easier to write” than that which has to establish its own universe (although these criticisms aren’t levelled at mimetic fiction, which also doesn’t have to create its own world?); as such, tie-in writers have in the past been seen as second-rank. With luminaries and critically acclaimed authors like Tobias Buckell, Karen Traviss, Greg Bear and John Shirley writing tie-in novels (all for the Halo series), that perception is changing, and Gwenda Bond’s Lois Lane: Fallout should be stacked up with those novels in demonstrating why tie-in fiction can be just as good as original-world novels.

Lois Lane: Fallout is a true Lois Lane tale; unlike many of those told in comics, Superman doesn’t feature (well, not quite), and this isn’t told in the cracks around a Superman story. Instead, Bond sets her story at a Metropolis high school, with Lois as a student attending the school; she finds ways to tie into the traditional elements of a Lois Lane story – the Daily Planet, Perry White, conflicts with her father General Lane, and of course investigative journalism that annoys the authorities – while never losing sight of the constraints she has placed herself, and her protagonist, under by making her a high school student rather than an independent adult. A consistent threat in Fallout comes from within her own family, as Lois’ disruptive presence at schools (a feature that feels reminiscent of early Buffy) leads her father, General Lane, to want to send her to a military academy.

The story is one of the military-industrial complex and how it is insinuating itself into education and into gaming culture. That might sound like both a dry subject and old hat, and indeed it has been told before in the DCU, but Bond isn’t interested in talking about America’s Army is a recruitment tool for the military or how schools are used by the military to normalise specific kinds of violence; instead, she’s interested more in military experimentation on people without proper consent, and problematic studies that cross lines between the military and education. Lois Lane: Fallout is set in a kind of cyberpunk world with virtual reality headsets and a degree of interactivity that modern gaming still doesn’t allow, and from that she has created a world where the military might exploit that in ways reminiscent of Ender’s Game; the unwitting use of children for military purposes and the idea of gaming as an analogue to, and mask for, actual warfare are both points of interest which Bond engages with in the novel, and shows Lois herself troubled by.

But this isn’t just a political novel with a dry message to send; actually, it’s not that at all. At its core, this is a high school story combined with an origin story; hence, Lois Lane: Fallout sets the stage for the Lanes to conflict over the proper use of the military, especially in an age of extraordinary individuals (the DEO doesn’t come up by name but at least a precursor organisation clearly exists) and also sets the stage for Lois to become Perry White’s star reporter at the Daily Planet, recruited straight from school thanks to exposes on the youth section of the website. It’s engaged with the changing world of the 21st Century well in that regard; Perry is worried about the newspaper dying, and thinks this online experiment will at best prolong that death, while Lois is still deeply passionate and a believer in curated news sources and trusted news organisations in a way Perry no longer can be.

It’s also, as mentioned, a high school story; Bond gives us the expected cliqueyness of American high school fiction, and turns it into something more sinister over the course of the novel, as Lois Lane: Fallout engages with ideas of groupthink, peer pressure and ostracism in literalised ways that provide metaphors for everyday experiences in the way science fiction is so often said to do; Bond is also incredibly sympathetic to her teenage cast, never treating them as stupid or immature simply because of their age, but rather giving them agency, independence and a fierce sense of individuality not yet blunted by maturity, making them read much more like real teenagers than many authors accomplish.

Occasionally, the novel can feel a little light, and its characters descend at times into tropes – the gamer crowd are social misfits who wear all-black, there’s the preppy rich kid who is actually not as rich as he seems so puts on a front which makes him unlikeable, there’s the mean headmaster who just gets in the way, et cetera; and Lois Lane: Fallout treats its themes a little simplistically, with a generally anti-authority, anti-industrial message that could do with being better thought out and more rounded than the simplistic teen rebellion it at times comes across as, but these are failure modes of good YA, rather than being alien to the genre or feeling intrusive, rather than simply a bit of a let down.

Lois Lane: Fallout may not be the best superhero story out there; after all, it’s not really a superhero story. But it is a fantastic tale told using the trappings of the DCU, and a wonderful exploration of an oft-maligned character. I recommend it.

DC’s Superstravaganza! Dark Horse’s Tie-Ins! And Image’s… Things?

As promised last week, some of the DC, Dark Horse and Image #1s I’ve been reading lately… this time, featuring: Superman/Wonder Woman! Superman: Lois Lane! And even some – a lot of! – non-Supes properties!

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Suicide & DC: A Match Made Badly

In 2013, DC Comics announced a new Harley Quinn series. They also solicited images of Harley Quinn committing suicide in a sexualised way, which got them some deserved push-back, not least from their own star female writer Gail Simone.

In 2008, Grant Morrison wrote All-Star Superman #10, featuring Superman talking down a female ledge-jumper sympathetically and interestingly.

In 2002… in 2002, Karl Kesel wrote Harley Quinn #14, with Terry & Rachel Dodson doing the art. And, on the 5th of March 2014, that issue was released in the paperback edition Harley Quinn: Welcome to Metropolis.

These facts are, not surprisingly, related. Content under the cut potentially triggering, with significant discussion of suicide and brief discussion of depression.

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