DC’s latest 100-page giant is dedicated to the company’s non-straight heroes, some well-known, others less so. The company pretty proud of this one, down to commissioning a rainbow version of the DC bullet from Daniel Qasar, the man behind the Progress Pride flag. And rather festive it is too. The issue also has an introduction from Mark Andreyko, who created the Kate Spencer Manhunter, putting the project into context. His short essay on growing up queer with gays in comics either unseen or gross stereotypes chimed with me.
But how are the stories? A mixed bag, as with all DC anthologies. The spotlight given some of the characters in here is a reminder of the old adage, ‘just because you’re gay, it doesn’t mean you’re interesting’. For ‘gay’, read ‘non-cis male’, as along with the likes of Extrano and Batwoman, we have bi and non-binary heroes and villains.
First up, writer James Tynion IV and artist Trung Le Nguyen give us a Batwoman story that’s nicely crafted but very much been there, done that. It’s Kate Kane, her relationship with sister Beth aka the psychopath Alice and how Kate came to terms with being a lesbian. I stopped reading Batwoman strips because such seemed to be all we ever got. By the end of this one Kate is basically making a pitch for a Pride Ted Talk. Still, points for use of the archaic term ‘inverse’.
Next up, it’s Midnighter and Extrano taking down a Nazi vampire who wants to erase gay history, with a framing sequence in which the bisexual John Constantine picks up Extrano in a bar. Having been a fan of the Midnighter/Extrano chemistry in the former’s old series, it was great to see them team up again; the Constantine stuff was a pleasant waste of space that could be better used by writer Steve Orlando and artist Stephen Byrne. Mind, the bit with John being a terrible old tart did give the talented Orlando and Byrne a chance to bring back the Time in a Bottle pub from the tremendous Knight and Squire mini-series.
Renee Montoya gets a surprise when she goes looking for a missing politician in her alter ego of The Question. Writer Vita Ayala and artist Skylar Partridge produce a very likeable short, with gorgeous colours by Jose Villarrubia, but I wish someone at DC would remember that ‘The Question’ isn’t just a name and a mask, the identity should mean something.
If you’ve been following DC’s ever-changing mind on the question of the Harley Quinn/Poison Ivy relationship, you’ll find the story in Pride rather meta. The pair are fighting a mean green monster from inner Gotham, but Ivy wants to nail down their status – are they simply gal pals who flirt, or something more? Amy Reeder’s amazingly animated art, with candy cane colours by Marissa Louise, is spectacular, while Mariko Tamaki’s fluffy script will hopefully seal the deal for awhile.
My joint favourite story in the issue sees Green Lantern Alan Scott, newly revealed as gay, opening up to son Todd – who shares his orientation – about his past. Writer Sam Johns does a nice job of putting Alan and Todd – also a superhero, as Obsidian – in a better place than they were. And he hits the ‘pride’ theme on two fronts – gay pride and fatherly pride. Johns does, though, do a disservice to Alan’s history – it’s one thing for DC to ‘reveal’ that a Golden Age hero was in the closet, it’s another to completely ignore the two women he married while in there. Neither Rose Canton nor Mollie Mayne merit a mention. Veteran inker Klaus Janson contributes a rare full art job, and it’s lovely. My favourite page subtly captures the thrill of a first meeting, with terrific colouring from Dave McCaig.
Future State Flash, Jess Chambers, shows up to meet their very own Mirror Master or Mistress – anything would be better than what they call themselves, Reflek. The non-binary speedster is preparing for a date with Aquawoman Andy Curry, and trying to remember the importance of the phrase ‘clothesmakeupgift’ when the new villain so rudely interrupts them. The point finally hits them, but went right over my head (it’s something to do with the term ‘hit pan’; I looked it up and was no further forward) and by story’s end we still don’t know a single thing about them bar their self-identification – this Flash seems to exist only because DC realised they didn’t have a non-binary character. As a time-passing short, Danny Lore’s story, ably drawn by Lisa Sterle, is fine, but Jess seems to be here simply to make up the numbers.
The next story is also a Flash spin-off, featuring the Pied Piper, the super-villain scion of a rich family turned advocate for Central City’s poor. I like Piper, otherwise Hartley Rathaway. I really don’t like the new character introduced here, an annoying, entitled millennial he takes to calling ‘Drummer Boy’. The kid is stealing from the rich ‘because’ Piper has moved on from the same MO, but they’re seriously obnoxious. Writer Sina Grace isn’t endorsing Drummer Boy’s point of view, but he has created them, and leaves the door open for further appearances, so a million demerits! The art by Ro Stein and Ted Brandt is nice and cheery.
TV Supergirl regular Nicole Maines does a great job of introducing their TV alter ego, Dreamer, to the DC Universe, sort of – they’re in a DC comic, but the story, featuring the League of Shadows, is firmly in telly continuity. As on the box, Dreamer can do anything the story requires, but it’s a fun short, with Nia Nal’s personality shining through. Equally, artist Rachael Scott captures Dreamer’s expressions and movement with charm.
Aqualad goes on a date at a Pride parade in a story debuting the much-teased Justice League Queer. Jackson Hyde has been putting off a blind date with young wizard Syl, who’s studying under Extrano (fnar fnar) and I suspect it’s because he has a monobrow and flaunts a fanny pack. Anyway, Eclipso rains on the parade – literally – resulting in the arrival of the extremely unlikely ‘JLQ’. Andrew Wheeler’s story is wilfully daft and great fun, with the only downer being that as with every other Jackson Hyde story, he’s defining himself against his bad dad, Black Manta. Let’s move on, please. Luciano Vecchio’s storytelling is enjoyable, and Rex Lokus really brings the rainbow. All together, this is my favourite story of the issue, alongside the Alan Scott piece.
As well as the strips, the issue features a bunch of pin-ups, such as this quartet. There are some excellent images, with the Catman and Scandal Savage/Jeanette/Knockout pics a reminder of some great Gail Simone character work sitting unused. Come on, DC!
The cover is less successful, a collaboration between penciller Jim Lee, inker Scott Williams and colourist Tamra Bonvillain. It’s Lee work at its bumpiest; I thought all the main creators involved with DC Pride were to be non-straight, but according to Wiki Lee is happily married with at least nine kids. Which is lovely, but unless he’s a little on the Alan Scott side, the DC Publisher and Chief Creative Officer should have stepped aside for an LGBTQ+ creator.
DC Pride is a hotch potch, but what anthology isn’t? There’s a lot of work in here I like, and the rest are at least sincere efforts to give an underserved part of the comics fanbase something they can call their own. So well done to everyone involved – and that includes editors Amedeo Turturro, Jessica Chen, Chris Conroy, Michael McCalister and Andrea Shea – and let’s see you top this in 2022.