DC Comics is back to kick start pride month with DC Pride: 2023 #1, which follows the same format as the last two years with several short stories featuring some of DC’s most prevalent LGBTQIA+ characters. Before reading the stories, I urge everyone to read Phil Jimenez’s foreword which is exceptionally well done and reminds everyone of the current rise of anti-LGBTQIA+ bills being introduced across the United States. Jimenez expertly ties their work in superhero comics with the larger fight for equality and the hope that “this anthology feels like an invitation to all – to experience life the way queer folk do.”
First up is Grant Morrison’s “Lightning Heart” with art by Hayden Sherman, which focuses on Hank Hallmark aka Flashlight, as he follows a lead to rescue his presumed dead lover, Ray aka Red Racer. Admittedly, I had to do some background research on these characters but realized I had read Red Racer’s death scene back during Rebirth with Superman #16, giving me more context to fully buy into the story. Right from the start, Sherman’s pencils and compositions are striking and inventive. The first page has its panels wrap around Red Racer’s watch, as if the panels are counting backward in time. This ties into the first clue Hank finds which is that Red Racer’s watch is running backward. These first pages perfectly set up the theme and stakes of the story. Hank races off to rescue Ray stating that he’s being reminded that “we don’t do sacrifice”, which feels like a jab at the bury your gays trope. There’s a clear headed romance and optimism to Hank’s mission and this makes the subsequent journey easy to follow even if Morrison’s script indulges their taste for near indecipherable at a glance plotting. Anyone familiar with Morrison’s work will find themselves at home here, and the ultimate reunion between Hank and Ray is touching and feels earned even within the story’s short page count.
“And Baby Makes Three”
Leah Williams writes a cute and often funny story that has Crush accidentally crash (literally) Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s romantic getaway on the deserted Dinosaur Island. Distracted by a text from her girlfriend, Katie, Crush winds up crashing her spaceship and being greeted by Harley and Ivy. Harley quickly gets comfortable with Crush, treating her like a child to take care of, despite Crush’s attempts to remind her she’s seventeen. Paulina Ganucheau’s pencils are appropriately cartoony and expressive as they track the over the top silliness on display in the script. Just as the trio are about to leave, Ivy discovers that their own jet is missing and that the three will have to spend more time together. Harley, suspiciously happy, takes the opportunity to bond with Crush and Ivy resulting in a variety of hijinks, the funniest being them building a SOS rock sign that instead reads “UWU”. The situation is mostly an excuse for Ivy to monologue to Crush about the nature of love and how thinking that love will complete you is dangerous. Instead, Ivy convinces Crush that she is a whole person by herself and that loving others is an additive and can create something new entirely. The message is sweet and clear, though the plot is so simplistic that Harley revealing that she purposefully hid the jet to spend more time with Ivy is less a surprise and more an obligation to clarify.
Nadia Shammas’ script is very similar to the previous story, but takes a more grounded approach. The story here is more of a frame for Tim Drake and Connor Hawke to meet after both of them recently came out; Tim as bi and Connor as ace. After requesting backup from Damian, Tim finds Connor arrive instead and after an awkward reunion and clean up of a crime scene, Tim’s anger finally bursts through. Shammas’ dialogue does a great job of capturing that awkward banter between two people who know an argument is upcoming and Bruka Jones’ pencils nail the body language between the duo. Connor and Tim spend the first half of the issue not making eye contact, or keep their bodies slightly turned away from each other until the argument erupts. From here, the emphasis is on Tim and Connor as they relate to their shared struggle of coming out. Since Shammas chooses a more intimate and small-scale interaction, the script lives or dies on whether or not the dialogue and emotions feel genuine. Luckily, they do despite any recent controversy given Tim’s recent coming out. What’s here works, particularly when Tim thanks Connor for listening to him questioning his identity in the past and recognizing he wasn’t ready to share more. This is a subtle and truthful dynamic that sets this story apart from the others. Lastly, Tamra Bonvillain’s gorgeous colors deserve a shoutout as they make the story pop off the page.
A.L. Kaplan writes and draws the next short story that focuses on Jules Jourdain aka Circuit Breaker as they are swept into an adventure by Jess Chambers aka the Flash. Jules was introduced recently in Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate and is described by Kaplan as a “Trans man, but not super into the binary.” Right from the start, I love Kaplan’s art and overall aesthetic, but some page layouts either overcrowd the page with dialogue bubbles or lead the eye in strange directions with an overabundance of overlapping panels. The story itself is simple, though somewhat marred with a lot of speed force versus still force talk that I frankly struggle to follow at times. However, the script does a great job of tying Jules’ struggles with his newfound powers to their journey of self discovery. The narrative doesn’t really rise above typical multiverse shenanigans with Jess Chambers’ arrival, sending the duo adrift in different universes. Instead, Kaplan seems more interested in examining Jules’ struggle with controlling his connection to the still force and comparing it to their experience with transitioning. Jules says, “Testosterone felt like it aligned all the pieces of myself” but that the still forces changes their perception in a different way. In order for Jules and Jess to find their way home, Jules must let the still force flow through them and let themselves “rearrange and react” to the experience. Out of all the stories, Kaplan’s script plays with strong metaphors the most and makes for one of the more rewarding reads with a truly joyous final page. However, the story definitely throws readers into the deep end of the pool and required me to look up Circuit Breakers’ first appearance to better understand the basics of the character.
If the previous story was too subtle and insular then this Midnighter and Apollo story might be more to your liking. The couple fight off various bigots before ultimately finding themselves caught in a protest about to erupt into violence between gay rights activists and homophobic counter-protestors. While Apollo focuses on maintaining order to protect kids who are present, Midnighter grows frustrated and feels hopeless about the protests as he states, “the “lawmakers are against us.” The mediator arrives in the form of the Green Lantern, Alan Scott, who reminds Midnighter of the progress previous protestors achieved including pressuring the government to fund HIV/AIDS research and marriage equality. There’s definitely a moment where Alan’s dialogue verges into sounding like a lecture, but that feeling disappears before long. John Trujillo’s script chooses to emphasize the importance of protesting and visibility as a way to fight back, leading to Midnighter to call in some favors and broadcast a marriage ceremony between him and Apollo to every news feed on the planet. It’s a very simple storyline, but the clear stakes and arguments make it refreshingly to the point even if Alan’s role as the mediator doesn’t feel as progressive as the other stories. Unfortunately, I found the art to not fully work with the story, mostly due to the muddy colors. There’s not much contrast on the page, leading to a story that looks visually muddled despite the rather simplistic messaging. This results in a solid short story that ultimately doesn’t linger too long after reading it.
“Lost & Found”
Up next is a story about another newer character introduced recently, Xanthe Zhou, a nonbinary hero who currently has their own series, Spirit World. Xanthe, who is both living and dead, finds themself stranded in the world of the living where they have less of a purpose. Again, I had to do some outside reading to get a better idea of the character’s basic powers and background, and I do wish these stories with newer characters did a little more to introduce them. Nonetheless, Jeremy Holt’s script does a good job of establishing Xanthe’s isolation and aimlessness as they wander Gotham, finding themselves at a cemetery as they feel more comfortable there. Batwoman soon arrives, fighting off intruders that seek to desecrate the Kane family mausoleum. After a brief team-up fight where Xanthe aids Batwoman, the two find themselves discussing family and how despite not being able to choose their family, they can decide “how to love them.” Xanthe also adds that creating a new found family is “equally meaningful.” Andrew Drilon’s art delivers highly detailed, yet easy to follow art that makes me interested in seeing more work from them. The issue wraps up with a nice coda as Xanthe bestows a gift to Batwoman with her powers, but the overall theme never quite rises above addressing some interesting ideas about found family without doing much to expand upon it. The main plus is that Xanthe’s characterization was strong enough for me to want to check out their solo series.
“Teamwork Makes the Dream Work”
Natasha Irons gets to meet Nubia and Io as the couple accepts Natasha’s invitation to test out a combat simulator she created. That sentence basically sums up the scope of the relatively simplistic narrative at hand here, but Mildred Louis’ art carries the weight with its cartoony and energetic figure work. Louis’ script isn’t bad, but there isn’t much to it except for some tension between Natasha and Nubia as the latter is offended by the idea that a combat simulator would pose a challenge to her. There are a lot of nice touches in the visual storytelling and I particularly like the backgrounds becoming cracked and shattered when tensions rise with Nubia. Nonetheless, the ultimate story arc does little to illuminate much about either character. Nubia is humbled and Natasha earns her respect, leaving readers little to ruminate on once they turn the page to the next story.
Equally as simplistic, but overall more engaging is the Ghost-Maker/Catman team up. Rex Ogle’s script delivers a short, but sweet fight scene, an interesting monologue and a satisfying final page. This approach works as a limited page count doesn’t always give enough space to develop a traditional beginning, middle, end arc, and Ogle is satisfied to essentially visualize a romantic pickup in the guise of a fight. Ghost-Maker watches Catman take on two mercenaries (Cannon and Saber, one of the first gay couples in DC comics) and decides to help him as he thinks Catman’s death would be a waste of his “art”, or in other words, his body. Stephen Sadowski’s art is solid and they manage to make their somewhat blocky figure designs look graceful as they fight. Ogle has Ghost-Maker narrate the entire story, making the team-up less of a fight sequence and more of a seduction as he compares battling to a dance. While I wouldn’t say I have a greater understanding of either character, the final moments where Ghost-Maker speaks about celebrating bodies “no matter the forms” as he lies naked in bed with Catman makes for a memorable ending.
“My Best Bet”
The last short story features a bargain between John Constantine and Felix Faust on whether or not Constantine’s “fetch” (a conjured being/monster) can defeat Jon Kent. There’s a healthy dose of action, well rendered by artist, Skylar Patridge, but I particularly love Dearbhla Kelly’s colors. The entire issue is bathed in blues and reds perfectly suited to the somewhat horror oriented scenario. While Jon fails to take down Constantine’s fetch, Felix taunts him about how his magic has no chance in taking down someone as powerful as Superman’s son. At the same time, Constantine hints at the real reason the bargain is taking place, while also ruminating on how things are harder for the types of “folks others are keen to forget about.” Christopher Cantwell’s script manages to juggle all these dueling ideas and narratives with precision, making for a truly gripping story. The final twist is incredibly satisfying, particularly for anyone wondering why Jon struggles to take down what looks to be a fairly straightforward opponent. It’s a great story to end on as it touches upon Constantine’s heartbreak as his bargain is revealed to be an attempt to save the soul of an ex-lover of his, Oliver, while still delivering some rays of hope as his gambit is ultimately successful. The story not only develops Constantine and his deceptive ways of doing good deeds, but also Jon’s inner nature as he allows himself to appear weak in order to help Constantine. In my opinion, the collection ends on its highest note.
Throughout the collection there are various pin ups by artists including Maria Llovet, Travis Moore with Tamra Bonvillain, and Angel Solorzano. Additionally, there’s a touching tribute to writer and Tarot expert, Rachel Pollack, near the end of the book. Pollack was a trans woman who worked on DC’s Vertigo imprint, including writing “a long run on Doom Patrol that was a deep influence on the property’s recent HBO Max series.” Pollack was set to write a story for this very collection, but was ultimately unable to complete the project and the pages set aside for her story are now filled with tribute letters from friends and colleagues including Neil Gaiman and Alisa Kwitney. It is worth the time to read them and hopefully this tribute brings more eyes to her life’s work.
Lastly, there is a short preview to the upcoming Bad Dream: A Dreamer Story graphic novel, written by Nicole Maines with art by Rye Hickman. The preview is only five pages, with very little dialogue, but the art is striking and the colors by Ben Glendining are especially beautiful. It’s by no means a selling point for the collection, but it’s worth a look for the art alone.
- You’re open to a collection that features a lot of new characters.
- The lack of a true low point in the collection makes the price point worth it.
- The representation matters to you as either a member of the LGBTQIA+ community or as an ally who wants to expand the scope of their understanding.
DC Pride 2023 #1 is a strong anthology with many highs that more than make up for the small stumbles within. I don’t think there’s a story worth skipping inside and I found myself introduced to a few characters that would have likely slipped past my radar otherwise. There’s heart, excitement, and joy contained within the stories inside, but, as Phil Jimenez’s foreword reminds us, there’s a genuine threat emerging in the form of hundreds of legislative bills aimed directly at removing rights from the LGBTQIA+ community in the United States. As the list of banned books in some school libraries grows, it’s become more apparent than ever that stories contain power and that everyone’s story deserves to not just be told, but heard.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.