I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of superhero anthology specials. The genre just isn’t a particularly good fit for short stories: while there are some exceptions (Alan Moore’s Green Lantern shorts come to mind) squeezing a superhero story into a short length often just makes the underlying formula over-apparent. Put a bunch of short stories together into an anthology, and you risk coming up with a series of villains being effortlessly duffed-up with no stakes or drama.
So, I was a touch uncertain about picking up DC Pride; however, the premise of the anthology – a series of stories celebrating the company’s LGBT heroes, with big-names and comparative obscurities placed on equal footing – was intriguing. So, I took the plunge…
DC Pride kicks off with a story by James Tynion IV and Trung Le Nguyen starring arguably DC’s highest-profile LGBT character: Batwoman. The ambiguity-heavy narrative follows Batwoman as she reminisces about a girl who may have been called Beth and may have been called Alice; who may have died and may still be alive; who may have been her sister and may have been an imaginary friend. From here, we see something of Batwoman’s life story as her memories of the more conventionally-feminine Alice (the two girls having pretended to be each other’s reflections) served to remind her that she was not like other girls. Rounding things up is a supervillain fight against the Mad Hatter that tidies up all of the questions. A lesbian coming-of-age story, a twisted tale of childhood fantasy, a psychological drama and a solid Bat-book all squeezed into ten pages – not bad at all.
The Batwoman tale is unusual for the anthology in its comparatively brooding subject matter: most of the adventures in the comic deal with effortless triumphs over adversity while rainbow flags fly overhead. Even the other Gotham story (by Vita Ayala, Skylar Patridge and José Villarrubia) ends on a lighthearted note, with Renee Montoya getting lipstick smeared on her Question mask courtesy of a self-rescuing damsel-in-distress.
The creators involved with DC Pride find different ways of incorporating LGBT relationships into their various super-battles. The story by Steve Orlando and Stephen Byrne has Extraño and Midnighter (with Constantine turning up in the framing device) teaming up to take on a Nazi villain trying to magically rewrite history so that Achilles and Patroclus are no longer lovers. In the Harley/Ivy story by Mariko Tamaki, Amy Reeder and Marissa Louise, meanwhile, the antagonist is more generic (a monstrous plant) and the thematic heft is provided by the two antiheroines having a lover’s spat in the middle of the action.
There’s one story that sounds on paper like a disaster, but turned out to be (for me) one of the most enjoyable entries in the anthology. Starring the newly-introduced future version of the Flash, the plot follows the character getting ready for a date only to be attacked by a mirror-themed villain while clothes-shopping. This is ridiculous, of course, but it’s the kind of ridiculous that silver age comics made so appealing (ever read the old issues from when Superman was a weird rom-com?) Creators Danny Lore, Lisa Sterle and Enrica Eren Angiolini do a good job of recapturing that carefree spandex silliness, with the LGBT aspect present without becoming heavy-handed. Nice use of the mirror motif from artist Sterle, too.
Less successful is the Dreamer story from Nicole Maines, Rachael Stott and (again) Enrica Eren Angiolini, which has the same basic plot of a superhero getting into a fight with a villain while preparing for a date. The artwork is nice, but the story didn’t sell me on the main character – too bad, as this is her comic debut (she was introduced in the Supergirl TV series, which I haven’t seen).
For my money, the only outright misfire is the story about lesser-known villain-turned-hero Pied Piper. The plot sees the Piper going up against an antagonist who turns out to be fighting against gentrification; after a debate they join forces against the real villain. This could have been interesting, but unfortunately the creative team of Sina Grace, Ro Stein and Ted Brandt are granted only four pages, which is far too short a space to do the plot justice. The characters are reduced to firing point-blank soundbites like “all of those systems are in place to make it impossible for a bunch of at-risk youth and local business owners to survive.”
Perhaps the most interesting entry is Sam Johns, Klaus Janson and Dave McCaig’s story about Alan Scott, the World War II Green Lantern who has recently been canonised as a just-out-of-the-closet gay man. This completely forgoes the hero-villain fight formula used by the rest of the anthology, instead telling a story of Alan explaining his personal history to his estranged son Todd/Obsidian.
There’s a conflict here, but it’s a conflict between generations, with Alan using his superpowers to conjure up a flashback and explain to his son (the product of a more privileged generation) what it was like to be gay in the forties. The story isn’t perfect, tending to tell rather than show, but it definitely adds a good degree of flavour to the anthology.
The final story – courtesy of Andrew Wheeler, Luciano Vecchio and Rex Locus – stars Aqualad and Syl, with back-up from various other DC characters who come to comprise “JLQ”. The plot, which sees a villain literally raining on a (pride) parade, could be described as a tad heavy-handed; but it at least bakes this lack of subtlety into its premise: the cursed rain causes people’s negative emotions to rise to the surface, compelling them to come out with lines like “there’s so much injustice and pain in the world, and we can never fix it all, and i’m so angry all the time”. It’s a bit on-the-nose, sure, but it feels well enough intentioned to work as an appropriate send-off.
So, that’s DC Pride. It doesn’t entirely escape the shortcomings that come with superhero anthologies, but there’s some worthy work on offer and it’s nice to see a few lesser-known characters being granted the spotlight.