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‘DC Pride 2023 #1’ (review)

Written by Grant Morrison, Leah Williams, Nadia Shammas,
A.L. Kaplan, Josh Trujillo,
Jeremy Holt, Mildred Louis,
Rex Ogle, Christopher Cantwell, Nicole Maines

Art by Hayden Sherman, Paulina Ganucheau, Bruka Jones,
A.L. Kaplan, Don Aguillo,Andrew Drilon, Mildred Louis,
Stephen Sadowski, Skylar Patridge, Rye Hickman

Published by DC Comics

 

You don’t need me to tell you Pride Month in 2023 is happening at an increasingly difficult time for LGBTQ+ people. The news will tell you plenty: waves of anti-LGBTQ laws being introduced and/or passed in state legislatures across the country blocking health care for transgender people, trying to ban drag, and more.

A stupid beer brand is being held hostage because how dare they send a can to a transgender woman influencer.

Target has scaled back its Pride merchandise in stores after violent outbursts from people ginned up by right-wing conspiracy theories and bigotries.

What in the hell can some superhero comics do in the face of that?

They can still do plenty, DC Pride 2023 proclaims.

As Phil Jimenez – the longtime out-and-proud DC illustrator – wrote in his foreword, “What does ‘queer’ or ‘queer-presenting’ even mean in a genre that is decidedly queer already … Who is queer in a universe o fcolorfully costumed, bigger-than-life beings with outlandish names (like drag queens) in a universe that is defiantly hopeful and mind-bending and even absurd”?

Superheroes live in a bright fantasy world in outlandish costumes and codenames, brandishing special powers and seeking to change the world, one good deed at a time. Superhero comics provide a fantasy in which beings with so much power choose altruism over greed. They forge a space where physical might is granted in service to the fight against evil and compassion for the world.

Superheroes, then, are extensions of the heroic selves we find in the real world. Wow, that sounds very Grant Morrison-ish. (They – Morrison came out as non-binary in 2020 – do write a story in this anthology, and we’ll get to it later.)

“Anniversary” by Josh Trujillo and Dan Aguillo, tackle 2023 America head-on through Apollo and Midnighter from The Authority. They fight anti-queer bigots, escort teens against potential bullies, even welcome folks to The Stonewall Inn.

But even they feel stuck about how to help more while holding the line at a courthouse protest, until Green Lantern Alan Scott arrives on the scene and spells out how many different ways queer people have fought back. Because as long as the spirit to live free exists, there remains hope for a better tomorrow.

Is the story preachy? Sure. Does it mention “radical actions” without saying what they are? Yes. Does it talk about fighting back but not specify that sometimes, queer folks have had to actually fight back (hence the Stonewall imagery and a Marsha P. Johnson quote illustrated into the background)? Sure does. Yet just because something is corny doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Some of the stories focus on queer themes and storytelling as much as centering queer characters. “Subspace Transmission” by A.L. Kaplan follows Circuit Breaker, an energy-absorbing conduit of the Still Force in the line of Flash comics. Circuit Breaker is a transgender, genderfluid man who’s having trouble controlling his powers until reality-hopping nonbinary future Flash Jesse Chambers shows up and gives insight into finding that balance by reconceptualizing how his powers work beyond a binary idea of still-or-fast.

Kaplan’s illustrations, inspired by psychedelic pop-art and reminiscent of P. Craig Russell-meets-Steranko, leaps off the page with awesome characters designs and layouts. It’s especially cool how Circuit Breaker’s jacket features a pattern referencing his gender-affirming top surgery. (Look it up if you don’t know what that is.)

Amid stories of truth and justice, or embracing a non-binary self to actualize one’s full power, you still get stories grand and small about love is love.

Leave it to Grant Morrison, however, to give you a queer love-is-love story that goes metaphysically cosmic in a way that nearly turns your brain inside-out. “Love’s Lightning Heart” places us on Earth-36, home of the Justice 9 from Morrison’s Multiversity corner. Red Racer is presumed dead in a multiversal crisis, like his Earth-0 counterpart Flash did in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

But Flashlight, this Earth’s Green Lantern doppleganger, tracks down a message in deep space. Maybe, just maybe, the fastest man alive, and love of Flashlight’s life, may still be alive somewhere. What follows is an almost too-clever-for-its-own-good story involving cosmic entropy, youth-draining pleasure flowers, and so much more. God knows how artist Hayden Sherman was able to keep up with Morrison’s racetrack of ideas.

You also get stories where queer characters interact with each other in various ways, whether it’s Tim Drake Robin and Connor Hawke unpacking their coming-out journeys; Jon Kent fighting a magical creature for the amusement of John Constantine; Natasha Irons putting Nubia through her paces in a combat simulator; or Catman and Ghost-Maker turning a rooftop fight into “Your place, or mine?”

But, I say this loudly, please please DC: “And Baby Makes Three” by Leah Williams and Paulina Ganucheau is so dang cute. Please make more stories about Crush (the half-Czarnian, half-human teenaged daughter of Lobo) palling around with her new gay aunties, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.

DC Pride 2023 also grants space to its elders, with a tribute to Rachel Pollack, a trailblazing trans woman writer and editor in comics who left a great mark on Doom Patrol. Sadly, she died before she could finish a new story for this issue, so instead friends and fans of Pollack leave great words and memories in this anthology issue.

What DC Pride 2023 does best is showcasing some of the many queer characters populating the DC multiverse, in various aspects of their queerness while also just showing some living their super-heroic lives. Enjoy the breadth and depth, and I think I’ll check out the upcoming YA novel about Dreamer that is being written by Nicole Maines, who played the character on the Supergirl TV series. (RIP!)

DC Pride 2023 shows a grand fantasy that indeed colors our real world. That when people can live free in their truth, we all can emerge in a far more colorful and beautiful place. And that freedom speaks so loudly to the human spirit that, as Jimenez writes, regardless of oppression or attempts at eradication and silencing, queer people will refuse to be small.

Well done.

Grade: A

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