Matt Bomer talks about playing Larry Trainor, a.k.a. Negative Man, in the new DC Universe series Doom Patrol and how it differs from voicing (and nearly playing in real life) Superman.
People always say, ‘What about Superman,’ they bring that up constantly, and I think this character is just as, if not more, interesting… I’d never really seen a gay male superhero and what I love most about the character is that even though it’s a huge struggle internally for him, it’s not the sole thing that defines who he is, he’s such a multifaceted character, if it was just one stereotypical aspect of him I would have had reservations about it.
In the show as in the comics, Larry is a former ace pilot before an accident left him terribly scarred and with super powers; in the show, they’ve added a backstory of being a closeted homosexual with a lover on the airbase and a wife and kids back at home.
A few weeks back I made mention of my newfound love of my local comic shop. And in rekindling a relationship with them, I was torn with what to do with my old comic shop. You see, the manager of the establishment is a longtime friend and colleague whose opinion on good quality pulp and paper I covet. So, I came to an agreement. From my local shop I would establish my subscription box with “the big two” cape books — Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Titans, Captain America, and so on. And on the other side of that comic coin, I issued a challenge to my friend:
Take the $20 I would have given you for my subscription box, and turn it into any other books you think I’d like. Just nothing mainstream per say.
Well, a few weeks ago, I got my first custom crate if you will. In it, came the entire run of #1 issues from DC’s newly christened Young Animal imprint (and a pair of other books unrelated to fully spend the $20). Eric, said manager-friend, did his homework well. He knew I’d long been a fan of the Grant Morrison years of Doom Patrol, and with that, made the choice to show me what a full line as directed by Gerard Way would look like.
So, what of Doom Patrol? As penned by Way himself, I’m left (ironically) between diametric opinions. I truly either loved the book or I loathed it. Nearly a month since cracking it open, with several rereads has yet to solidify my thoughts. Way clearly loves the Morrison years as much as I, but in doing so he creates a book that offers as much new content as it relies on obscurer-than-obscure references throughout the thin read. By books’ end I had a sense of where we’re headed, without any idea what (if any) the stakes are. As a number one, the issue skates by on style points enough to warrant a second issue buy for sure. Will I be getting it? No.
Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye is Vertigo to a tee. Gerard Way also writes this book, wherein a retro-futuristic spelunker of yore has recently lost his wife but gained a new ocular outlook on life. Unlike DP, this one is weird, but grounded solidly. Cave Carson himself is maudlin, but thanks to slick art by Jon Rivera, the panels breeze by. Because I have a strong feeling (and truly no urge to Wikipedia about it further) that the book is dusting off a silver age concept, there’s that quintessentially Vertigo vibe to the proceedings. Darkness around the edge of a hipster plotline? Sure, count me in. The added pocket of mysteries — the wheres, whys, whats, and hows of the titular eye — would certainly give me reason to see it through a few more episodes.
Shade The Changing Girl is penned by Cecil Castellucci and is the wild trip Gerard Way perhaps wishes he’d written himself. Taking cues from the Shade, the Changing Man — itself a dusted-off ditty from one of the first Vertigo-rounds — the Girl takes the basics of the brand and boils them in some serious acid. What we get, in its best parts, is the sheep of CW drama in a Vertigo wolf’s clothing. When a braindead mean girl is reanimated by a dimensionally-traversing bird-man who has appropriated some Shade-Tech, the result is psychedelic in media res of epic proportions. The book is a rough read in all the right ways. Its concepts are challenging enough to remain engaging despite the off-kilter kitsch of being weird for weirdness sake – which itself is a Vertigo trademark, as far as I’m concerned. Suffice to say, with a blissful balance as presented of properly pretty/trippy art Shade was the biggest standout to me of the line.
Last and least comes Mother Panic. Jody Houser delivers a Tarantino-esque revenge porn comic wherein a wealthy socialite stalks Gotham on the fringes Batman misses to punch bad men in the dicks until the crime is solved. Forgive my blunt snark. Mother Panic is a sludge-dirty book that seems to be joyless in the face of its Young Animal brethren.
The plot – revolving around our hero trying to pin down an artist-cum-serial-killer – is rote enough to have been back-burner fodder from a spec script of Hannibal. The titular heroine is mean, nasty, and nasal throughout. And her Rom: The Space Night pajamas may look striking on the cover of the book, but read as a half-thought mid-panel. Where Cave, Doom Patrol, and Shade each combined darker and mature themes into their retro-tinged panels, Mother Panic is a gothic melodrama with no light to be seen; save only for the Jim Krueger / Phil Hester backup piece which delivers at least one laugh before toppling into gritty grizzle for the sake of blackity blackness. Color me unimpressed.
But… I digress.
Pair those four books with two other indie gems (tied together as Eric denoted: all written and/or directed through the lens of a rock and roller), and you paint me a more-than-satisfied customer. Young Animal was off-the-beaten path enough for me to feel that hipster vibe I was searching for when I came up with the challenge. My best advice to you: befriend your local pulp slinger, and throw down the gauntlet yourself. I’m certainly a better fan for doing it. Let’s reconvene in a month and see what box #2 will hold!
This past week has been an interesting one for me as far as comics are considered. I finally finished Tom King’s twelve issue run on The Vision – easily one of my favorite comics that Marvel has put out in a long time, and that’s something I never thought I’d say about a comic starring The Vision. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor. A friend of mine wrote this about it a while back if you’d like to read up on it more first.
I finally started reading Jeff Lemire’s Trillium after putting that off for years. It’s a great read.
I also went through some of my piles of comics here and rediscovered my copy of Vertigo Jams. This comic, which was put out by Vertigo back in 1993, featured original eight page comics from the different creative teams; something I hope DC’s Young Animal line and others will do down the line. It really was a fun read.
Since this came out, Vertigo Jams included an eight pager from Rachel Pollack for Doom Patrol. I had honestly completely forgotten about this story and it was really exciting for me to read it again. It’s a cute little story about Dorothy accidentally releasing ghosts from their HQ and going out on the town with the S.R.S. to find them and bring them back. We get cameos from Niles Caulder, Robotman, and it ends with two queer women going home with each other after a date. What more could anyone ask for?
Speaking of Rachel Pollack, if you have an incredibly keen eye and a good memory, you may have noticed the Rachel Pollack reference in Gerard Way and Nick Derington’s Doom Patrol #2. In that issue, the Niles Caulder one page strip involves Niles in a hot air balloon passing a mountain with his face on it. Those of you familiar with Rachel’s run will notice that imagery of Niles’ face in a mountain running through issues #65 and #66 as part of the Sliding Through the Wreckage arc. If you think that comparison is a bit of a stretch, Gerard Way said it was a reference to Rachel’s run here.
While Gerard Way has been referencing Rachel Pollack’s run in the new Doom Patrol, DC has still not announced any plans to reprint her run. Please, if you are reading this, upset about this fact like I am, and are in comics journalism or know someone who is I’m asking you consider writing about this as well.
Her run on Doom Patrol is important in queer history and it’s important to get the works of incredibly talented people like Linda Medley and Ted McKeever, two artists that inarguably helped shape Rachel’s run, out there to more people as well. If you want to write about this yourself and don’t know where to start, reach out to me via the comments section and I will help you.
My final anecdote from last week for me in comics started Friday night getting drinks with fellow ComicMix columnist Martha Thomases. We discussed the state of the nation, what we have to do going forward under a Trump presidency, and Paul Jenkins. Martha is a staunch supporter of both the liberal wing of the Democratic party and of Paul Jenkins. She recently read Alters #2 and wanted me to read it to get my opinion to discuss it.
Spoilers ahead for Alters #2.
After more drinks than I care to confide to you, we went back to Martha’s so I could read her copy of Alters #2 and talk about it. The beginning for me was a little rocky. The issue opens with Chalice being interrogated by other Alters asking her probing questions including questions about the current medication she’s on and her DNA. It was a scene lacking in subtlety about Chalice’s transness and the sort of medical questions that could out her.
Shortly thereafter we have a sequence where Chalice is out of her superhero costume and at her home dressed as Charlie. She then has a verbal confrontation with her father that’s written in a way where it’s hard to tell if she’s talking about being an Alter, being trans, or both. That was the point of the scene, but it just didn’t feel entirely right to me. The issue wraps up with a physical confrontation that Chalice has with Matter Man in which Matter Man seems to go out of his way to use insults directed at Chalice’s femininity by both calling her a bitch and saying she punches like a girl. Perhaps if Matter Man only said one or the other it wouldn’t have stood out to me, but both was too much.
One thing I really appreciated was at the end of this issue they include a letter from Paul. The letter involved both a discussion with one of the trans people he has consulted with on writing this comic. Additionally, Paul Jenkins goes on to talk about the importance of respecting people’s gender identity and how dangerous, even lethal, it is to misgender someone. While I do have issues with the story in Alters so far, the second installment is showing more effort being put into raising awareness of issues affecting the trans community by having this letter at the end.
This led to a discussion with Martha on what it means to be an ally and a broader discussion on survival during the Trump years. Martha makes a point by saying that people like Paul Jenkins, someone who is sincerely trying to do a positive representation, is not the enemy and, of course, I agree wholeheartedly.
While I do understand the argument that some people might make about people how people need to avoid attacking those who are ignorant for using the wrong terminology, the flip side to that is that by framing the issue in that way we are continuing to look at everything through a privileged lens. Instead of catering to those more privileged in these situations we need to teach those more privileged that sometimes you have to sit down and listen instead of getting defensive or worse.
What Paul Jenkins has done, from what I can see based on Alters #2, is sit down and listen to some extent. He’s heard the criticism out there and is trying to take positive steps in the right direction. And while I still have my reservations, it’s still a great thing to see in a comic creator and I hope that Paul will be able to continue moving Alters down a positive path, including making a change in issue one for the trade to remove Chalice’s self misgendering referring to herself as the middle brother. Middle sibling or child works just as well.
Perhaps speaking to someone like Rachel Pollack, who has created a trans superhero for a team book before, could also be beneficial for someone like Paul. She certainly understands the topic on a level not many other people do and has written some profoundly moving moments with Coagula.
As much as I would like to spend this column and all of my writings for the foreseeable future on what happened this election and its consequences, I’ll be returning to comics this week as this is what I and everyone at ComicMix signed up for. If I feel it’s applicable down the line, you better believe I’ll be writing about it here.
I’ve dedicated more than a few of my columns to the new Doom Patrol and to DC’s Young Animal imprint. Everything I had written about prior to today has been speculative regarding Young Animal as a whole. Now that at least one issue of all four series under the Young Animal banner have been released, I’d like to discuss my thoughts on the imprint so far.
For those less familiar, DC’s Young Animal imprint is “curated” by musician and Eisner Award winning writer Gerard Way, those titles being Doom Patrol, Shade The Changing Girl, Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye, and Mother Panic. Doom Patrol is the flagship title and what Gerard Way had originally pitched. Shade is an update of Peter Milligan’s Shade The Changing Man at Vertigo, which was an update of Steve Ditko’s original concept in the late 1970s. Cave Carson is an obscure DC side character who’s never had his own series before. Mother Panic is a new character created by Gerard Way, Jody Houser, and Tommy Lee Edwards.
After reading three issues of Doom Patrol, two issues of Shade, and one of both Cave Carson and Mother Panic a few things have become very clear. These comics are all character pieces. They’re very much driven by one character in each series, with Doom Patrol’s focus shifting somewhat while keeping Space Case in primary focus.
Some of this works. In a lot of ways this approach is also necessary. These are characters most comic readers aren’t as keenly aware of. Mother Panic is entirely new, though taking place firmly in Gotham.
My problem with the stories so far is they lack strong antagonists. There is no singular villain that shakes me to my core. The stakes in a lot of what I’ve read so far haven’t really been fleshed out. Space Case has some vague danger and weirdness following her, but we don’t really know to what extent and what’s at stake. Shade had aliens that seem to kind of be looking for her, but we aren’t really all that sure yet how that’s going. Cave Carson’s eye is causing him problems, but, again, there is no clear antagonist. The closest we get to a clear antagonist is in Mother Panic, and even then little time is spent on her.
Now to be clear, I do really like strong character pieces where other elements of the story become secondary. This is only a problem for me as this is prevalent in all four titles. If I feel like I’m getting more of the same across four titles, it’s easier for me to be willing to drop one as time goes on.
We are also getting more of the same across all these titles in that they are all about straight cis white women – with the exception of Cave Carson, who is a straight cis white man. This by itself isn’t inherently bad. However, DC Comics has been trying to expand its readership and I’m not entirely sure I’m seeing how this will end up doing so in the long run. They’ve been doing a good job in terms of pumping out plenty of comics with straight cis white women or now some bi cis white women with Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn. I don’t see how creating another white hero in Gotham is a step forward or a tool to garner new readers.
I know it may sound like I can’t be enjoying these books if I’m being critical about them. That’s not the case; I have been enjoying these comics overall. If anything, I wish more of the main DC titles took up some elements of these books. They’re often weird and deal with alienation and other feelings that either aren’t tackled in other DC Comics. The art is expressive at best and different at worst. The characters do all stand out and were fleshed out well from their debut issues. I do plan on continuing to read them for the foreseeable future.
That being said, DC Comics and others need to be more considerate about the future. I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about the election and its aftermath, but this does feel applicable. Now more than ever comics are going to need to step up. We have elected a bigot to the highest office in the land who has already appointed a bigger bigot as his top adviser. We need imprints that aren’t as white. Imprints with more diverse characters and more diverse creators. Outside of Tamra Bonvillain, nearly everyone involved with Young Animal is straight cis and white. And while I do commend them on the amount of women working on the imprint and the amount of women that are leads in the comics they’re putting out, we need more than that. We need not just white women, but people of color, queer people, and non-Christians feeling welcome and accepted. Feeling they can be superheroes too.
There are plenty of places to start. DC Comics controls the characters and universe from Milestone Media and doesn’t seem to be doing anything with that. Now is the time to do something. Marvel Comics seems to be onto something having Ta-Nehisi Coates help to bring people in to expand their Black Panther universe. Joe Illidge has been working hard over at Lion Forge to start Catalyst Prime, a series of superhero titles with both diverse characters and creators set to debut next year. We can only hope other comic publishers will be able to learn a thing or two from what Catalyst Prime will be and I hope for their success.
I’d be more than happy for more pop up imprints like Young Animal. I do think Gerard Way is doing something good. We just need more and different things as well. We need comics important to other audiences.
Here’s an idea: give Grace Jones a pop up imprint. I don’t know what she’d do, but I can tell you right now I’d read it.
DC in the 80s is a Webzine for the DC Comics Fans with an affinity for 80s comics. It’s fun, upbeat and engaging. Justin Francoeur and Mark Belkin keep the fan fires burning with wit and a great degree of nostalgic professionalism. I’m fascinated by the their endeavor, so I reached out to discuss it with them.
Ed Catto: Can you tell me a little bit about the site and how it came about?
Justin Francoeur: My formative years of comic book reading were during the early 80s to the early-to-mid 90s. Roughly six years ago, there wasn’t much on the Internet about DC Comics from the 80s (or it was scattered all over the place and not easy to find) so I decided to make a tumblr blog specifically spotlighting the house ads of that era. There were a lot of ‘buried gems’ in that time period and my goal was to identify them and discuss the interesting history behind them. It just started as a review site, really.
You can thank our executive editor, Mark Belkin, for the evolution of this site. It was his suggestion that DC in the 80s could be something more. With his help, it went from a tumblr blog to a website with reviews, articles and interviews. We chose a ‘zine interface to emulate the DIY aesthetic of the 1980s ‘zine culture – where anyone with a typewriter, a passion for something, and access to a Xerox machine could distribute an 8-page booklet to anyone willing to read it. Despite our commitment to journalistic integrity, this is still just a fun project for us – and we hope the DIY aesthetic of our site reminds people of that.
Mark Belkin: Justin invented it and ran it for a long time before I came along. I joined in about 2014, and Justin asked if I would post a few things. I did for a bit, but I did not get involved until later – 2015. Justin started to kick around the idea of me interviewing people and being more involved, and I felt inspired to do more. Now I feel I am a great #2 to Justin, and am really happy being a “full time” contributor. We click when it comes to making the site grow, and seem to do well working off each other.
EC: Why do you think there is so much interest in DC Comics from the 80s?
JF: To be candid with you, I think it had a lot to do with the New 52 DC relaunch of 2011. I think the radical reboot of a lot of DC characters had readers – mainly millennials – who still wanted to read about their favorite DC characters, re-visit their favorite comics they read growing up and it brought back a renewed interest in the 80s (and by extension, the early 90s) material. DC fans don’t disappear, if they’re not happy with what’s currently being published, they just re-read their favorite comics from their back-issue bin.
Additionally, there’s a bit of a retro 80s craze run-off that has drawn people to our site. Prime examples include VH1‘s I Love The ’80s, National Geographic‘s The 80s: The Decade That Made Us, as well as numerous radio stations and websites that are fixated on 80s nostalgia. Enough time has elapsed that it’s cool to look back and celebrate the 80s in an un-ironic way. Part of the original goal of this ‘zine is to tie-in what was happening in then-current 80s culture with what was happening in DC Comics of the 80s and create some links between the two. I always like it when a reader leaves the site learning something new. I also like it when a reader leaves a comment along the lines of “I totally remember that comic series! I’m going to go out and hunt it down again! Thanks!”
MB: DC Comics in the 1980s was a revolution in creativity. Because of the late 70s implosion and the almost sale of DC to Marvel in the early 80s, I believe that they were willing to take more chances. Paul Levitz, Karen Berger, Jenette Kahn, Dick Giordano, they took so many risks creatively and brought in amazing creators. They gave people chances to experiment, to kill off tested characters, to change everything around. I would have killed to be in those Len Wein/Marv Wolfman editorial meetings when they were planning Crisis and Who’s Who. From everything I read, it evolved organically and grew from them just doing it… and later bringing in British talent like Brian Bolland, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison. These are the most creative comic books creators of all time. What they did was change the world.
They also gave other talent a chance to take some pretty incredible changes. Sure, putting Frank Miller on a Dark Knight series makes sense – he had such buzz coming off his Daredevil and Ronin work – but it’s still ballsey. Robin being dead? Old man Batman? Letting Frank turn their number one property, Superman, into a tool for the Government, and openly mocking him? These stories are still some of the best of all time, and editorial deserves respect for letting it happen.
They let Keith Giffen go nuts on Legion of Super Heroes art and nuts on the comedy with Ambush Bug, and then let Keith and JM Dematteis experiment with Justice League. They brought in John Byrne to do what he wanted with Superman, pushed George Pérez onto Teen Titans, Mike Grell on Green Arrow, Timothy Truman on Hawkman. These are some of the best comics ever made, and these stories stand until this day.
My dream has always been to be an editor for DC Comics, and everything about what happened in the 1980s is what I would be absolutely honored and privileged to be a part of. Sorry, that turned into a thesis and/or cover letter. But long story short, the comics were dope, and they remain dope today.
EC: Back in the 70s, I remember the nostalgia craze for the 50s. Is something similar going on here?
JF: I honestly believe it’s a ‘generational’ thing. Growing up in the 80s I was still in elementary school and thus didn’t have much money to my name – thankfully, I had a huge long-box of then-current comic books my dad had been collecting for me, so I had a pretty healthy knowledge of what was going on. I always swore that someday I’d go back and revisit all of those issues I wanted to read. I’m thirty years older and now I have disposable income to spend, so this is a great time to catch up. We’d like to think that we’re here to help you find the hidden gems of that era.
MB: I feel that everything goes in 20-year cycles. The 70s had the 50s craze, which ran into the early 80s. The 80s had a 60’s thing that ran into the early 90s. The 70s into the 90s. Especially in music, fashion, and in art. If you think about the Silver Age, it was the Golden Age but updated. 60s updating the 40s. The 80’s Bronze Age updated the 60’s Silver Age. In the 2000’s, you saw the emergence of Identity, Infinite, and Final Crisis. Its 20 year cycles. Right now we are into the 90s, which I can’t speak to because I didn’t collect comics in the 90s. But even though we are nostalgic for the 80s, DC in the 1980s transcended the decade. Everything they did affected the 90s. Crisis, bwa hahaEra Justice League, Watchmen, Dark Knight. All those affected the 90s and are still affecting comic books today.
Also, I think, we live in an age where the Library of Alexandria is at our fingertips, and people know which stories to scout out and buy. This makes it where people are always discovering the work, and people have such fond memories of it.
EC: How does the DC fan of the 80s differ from the DC fans of today? Or are they the same?
JF: The DC fan of today is multi-faceted; there’s lots of different ways to become a DC Comics fan. Of course there’s still the “physical” comic book, but now there’s also console/computer games [i.e. DC Universe Online, Batman: Arkham Knight], the films [i.e. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad], the live-action TV shows [i.e. Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Gotham] and the cartoons [i.e. Batman: Brave and the Bold, Vixen, Young Justice]. It’s actually a really great time to be into DC Comics – there are lots of options available.
However, someone cosplaying as Stephen Amell’s Green Arrow will swear to you that they’re a major Green Arrow fan – and they’ll be absolutely correct – but will have never heard of Mike Grell’s The Longbow Hunters. This is one demographic of fans we’re trying to reach. They may never actually end up touching a comic book (being satisfied with the CW universe of the character), but if we can convert a few of them over to DC comic book fandom, that’s great.
On the other side, I’m finding that fans of the 80s material are generally not too keen on adapting to the more current media. They are less likely to be standing in line on opening night for Suicide Squad because “it’s not the Suicide Squad they grew up reading, but they’ll watch it when it inevitably comes to Netflix”. Coincidentally, these are also the really interesting fans to talk to – you can tell that DC Comics from that era really had a profound effect on them and they will happily tell you all about what it was like collecting the comics, playing the RPGs, watching the Superman films for the first time and their initial reactions to major DC comic moments like Crisis On Infinite Earths, John Byrne’s Superman relaunch, or Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One.
MB: I remember going to comic book shops from ‘85 until the summer of ‘89, when I stopped collected. I think the Marvel movie success has brought back the kids to shops and conventions. For a while, you never saw kids going into comic book stories. When I was a kid, I saw a lot of adults, but they were considered “childish” or immature for liking comic books. I could feel their stigma. Nowadays there is still a stigma, but it’s different.
Another difference is there are a lot more ‘in the know’ fans then back then. I remember there was the guy who would read Amazing Heroes and/or The Comics Journal and knew so much more than we did. In fact, knowing too much is what killed comic book collecting for me in 1989. Someone told me about an interview with Rick Veitch, and how he was not allowed to do the Swamp Thing #88 the way he wanted, and was off the book. It killed everything for me. If I had never known that, and all I simply knew was that he was no longer doing the book for whatever reason, I may have stayed collecting. And maybe that’s something today? Too many people know too much about how the sausage is made and it translates into people dropping the hobby. Could be the price too. Comics seem to be doing ok now, so maybe people are coming back.
We review a lot of new material, because we want the fans of the 80s to know there’s a lot of great new stuff that DC is doing. I love the Rebirth stuff, and I’m excited for the new Doom Patrol. We try to break through the stereotype of “everything new sucks,” because I don’t believe that. There is always good new music, art, movies, and there are definitely good new comics. I just read All Star Batman #1, and was really excited to see where Snyder and Romita Jr would be taking the story. In my opinion, Tom King, Gail Simone, Jeff Lemire recently, and some others, have done some of my favorite comics books in decades.
EC: It seems like there’s a lot of 80s cosplayers and customizers out there. Why do you think that is?
JF: Mark is typically on the front lines at the comic conventions interviewing creators and taking photos of cosplayers. I tend to be more of the ‘Oracle’ to his ‘Batman’ (filling out the paperwork, researching for interviews, managing the e-mails and social media accounts), so I don’t get much opportunity to talk to cosplayers. The ones I have chatted with are doing it for the pure love of the character. I feel that anybody who’s willing to parade around wearing silver body-paint for the afternoon to look like Captain Atom is worthy of being called a DC fan.
I think the customizers (I’m assuming you’re referring to ‘action figure customizers’) are really just trying to fill a void – a lot of cult-favorite 80s DC characters were never immortalized as action figures [i.e. Infinity Inc., All-Star Squadron, L.E.G.I.O.N.] and this is their chance to rectify that. The Kenner Super Powers Collection were some of my favorite 80s toys growing up (I suspect that’s the case with a lot of our readers) and I could only imagine what would’ve opened up for me had the toy line lasted more than 3 waves.
MB: People like dressing up and making things their own. Not in a bad way, but we live in a very “Look at me” generation, where people are constantly one-upping themselves on social media. Not a bad thing at all. I also think it goes back to people knowing about more characters, and being able to get resources (‘How-to’ videos on YouTube, any materials you may need on Amazon) to make great costumes and action figures. I actually really enjoy collecting DC action figures, and would like to customize a few I’ve never found.
EC: Have you had any surprises from your fans? I’m curious how predictable or unpredictable 80’s DC fans are.
MB: Justin is much better to speak on this. He answers the emails and tweets. I’m too busy caring about myself.
JF: The fans I’ve encountered have always been polite, knowledgeable and eager to share memories with us. Something that always seems to catch me off guard, however, and I’m not sure if this is just limited to fans of comics from the 80s or all comic book fandom in general, is how much venom and vitriol is directed towards the whole “Marvel comics films vs. DC Comics films” debate. It’s not like you need to choose sides; this isn’t the Spanish Civil War. You can appreciate both companies for what they are. Calling ourselves “DC in the 80s” is a bit of a misnomer, since we’re not “DC or nothing” fanboys. A lot of great work came out of Marvel, DC, Eclipse, First, Pacific, Renegade Press, Fantagraphics, Kitchen Sink Press and Dark Horse during the 80s and we recognize and acknowledge that.
MB: I loved DC, but I also loved Grendel and Elementals in the 80s. Almost as much as anything. But DC is my favorite. I might be categorized under the “Make Mine DC” crowd, even if I own 200 issues of X-Men.
EC: What’s your favorite series from the 80s? What are your favorite series now?
JF: At the risk of sounding cliché, I’m still discovering new 80s favorites on a monthly basis as I’m re-reading older DC material for what seems like the first time. If I had to narrow it down to just one, I’d go with Grant Morrison’s run on 1988’s Animal Man ongoing series. Those 26 issues really changed the way I looked at comics. I actually discovered it a bit later in life – during my early college years. I remember reading the TPB off the rack at my local Chapters and I was so impressed by it that I returned the next day to purchase it (and the following two volumes). It’s been sitting on my bookshelf ever since.
Currently, the DC material I am most excited for is Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint. I’ve flipped through the ashcan and am thoroughly impressed. I’m really hoping that a new batch of talent can re-spark that ol’ Vertigo magic that really made DC stand out over everything else on the market in the late 80s/early 90s. The first few issues have been released yesterday and as of this writing I’m actively trying to avoid comic book review sites (and spoilers) until I can pick up the issues myself and read them with a blank slate.
MB: Other than everything Alan Moore did, I have three special series:
The Rick Veitch run on Swamp Thing. So criminally underrated and I want nothing more than convince Dan Didio and Jim Lee to publish #88. It was so twisted, so dark yet funny, so smart. I loved Veitch, and I will have an interview with him that I got in Baltimore, probably in the next few weeks.
Doom Patrol with Grant Morrison, Richard Case, with lettering by John Workman. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Case and Mr. Workman recently, and am working on a story based on that run. I think there is such an amazing artistic spiritual undertone to that run. Especially the Painting That Ate Paris with the Brotherhood of Dada. I feel I could teach a course on that run, and still not be able to convey how groundbreaking it was. As Justin said, that Animal Man run is up there, but Morrison’s Doom Patrol run was magical for me.
The Question by Dennis O Neil and Denys Cowan. Everything about this made Question my favorite all time character. It was surreal, intelligent, real and violent. It spoke to me as someone growing up in Brooklyn and discovering philosophy, and violence in the streets.
I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children because I was so sure I would leave the theater either fantastically impressed or utterly repulsed. There were just so many flags for a strong reaction: it’s a Tim Burton movie, it’s a movie where the director made a boneheaded comment the week before release, it’s a superhero movie but not really, it’s a bit Harry Potter adjacent. None of it ended up inspiring a strong reaction in me. Miss Peregrine’s is a fine movie that capably blends some spellbinding spectacle with some rather drab boring junk. That probably sounds a little more harsh than I intend but this is very much the movie equivalent of the little girl with the little curl; when it’s good it’s very, very good and when it’s bad it’s horrid.
The fun stuff in the film is unmistakably fun. The use of super powers, or peculiarities, has a sense of wonder and more importantly whimsy that separates it from a lot of the bleak drab superheroics we see in films these days. It feels a little more like Grant Morrison’s X-Men than Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and it makes the whole thing so much less psychologically draining. The time loop mechanism is fun in the light doses of it we get in the first two-thirds of the movie. There’s a great fight scene on a pier in modern-day London. This is a disjointed list because the connecting tissue that binds all of these things together is lacking.
The story, once you get past the fun stuff, is a boring mess. Plot points are gone over and over until belabored doesn’t seem appropriate anymore. I understand that the target audience for this movie is probably a bit younger than me but I bet they don’t need to be told that Emma had a thing for Abraham before he left a half dozen times. There are severe lulls where it seems like nothing happening and no new information is being parceled out. The finale also seems flat but maybe that’s because it relies heavily on time travel causality loops that can’t be thought about too hard or it gives you that weird feeling in your stomach. I guess I believe the ending is consistent with the rules established, but I’m not certain why.
Tim Burton got a lot of well-deserved flack for his comments about how he wasn’t sure if his movies “call for” diversity, but I think there was a different representation issue overlooked here… Miss Peregrine’s is unmistakably a movie about a young child dealing with the enormity of the Holocaust. A boy learns from his grandfather (named Abraham no less) that he had to flee his home in Poland as a boy due to the threat of “monsters” and go in to hiding in a remote part of Wales. The boy goes to try and trace the history and finds a bombed-out building. The monsters in the movie are called Hollowgasts, which sounds a fair bit like “Holocaust” to my ear. It’s honestly one of the best ways I’ve seen an issue like this tackled in a movie, obvious but indirect so it doesn’t become smothering, but they did it without any Jewish actors involved. It’s strange to see such a specific metaphor explored with no one with a direct connection to the actual lived experience. I’m not here to argue that Jews are somehow underrepresented in Hollywood, but it’s a bit vexing to see this happen like this.
There were no children in my 2pm Sunday showing of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Maybe it was the awkward time or maybe it’s because I was seeing it in Hollywood, which is not exactly a big family destination, or maybe people were just seeing through it. The ad I saw for this movie called it “Harry Potter meets X-Men“, but it was really more like Doom Patrol with a British accent. There’s nothing wrong with Doom Patrol, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be a monolithic kid’s franchise. I liked the stuff I liked but it wasn’t a good movie and I remain basically uninterested in Burton’s entire oeuvre since Mars Attacks. He’s become some kind of heartless version of Wes Anderson, and I’m not sure how much heart Anderson has to lose.
Over the past year I have been working on raising awareness of Rachel Pollack’s run on Doom Patrol. She’s not only one of two trans women to ever write at DC Comics, she’s also the only woman to write Doom Patrol.
When I was given a slot here at ComicMix to be a weekly columnist, I used my second column to talk about Coagula. Once DC Comics announced its plans to launch the Young Animal imprint helmed by Gerard Way and how Doom Patrol would be the flagship title, I wrote about my excitement and made sure to discuss Rachel Pollack’s contributions again. Months later I took to Geeks OUT to praise the importance of Rachel’s run to queer comics history. Most recently, I wrote up a piece last week on how Rachel Pollack has been forgotten by the comics industry at [insertgeekhere].
After a year of writing pieces on the subject, I finally got the chance to interview Rachel Pollack this past Saturday on her career in comics. Here is the transcript of that interview.
Joe: What got you into reading comics and what stood out about Doom Patrol?
Rachel: Well first I’ve read comics since I was a kid. So I’ve been reading comics all life, which is a very long time now! I’ve always loved comics. There have been these periods where I would grow out of it so to speak and then the comics would get better and I’d come back to it you know? And then with Doom Patrol I never read the original, and I forget how I came to read Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. I really don’t remember exactly how I came to read that except that it wasn’t Vertigo yet but it was associated with Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman which started before Vertigo so I was aware of it as part of that group. When I read it I was completely knocked out by it. I loved it. This is so incredible. A work of genius. And that’s how I came to read Doom Patrol.
Joe: You had gotten started on Doom Patrol after Grant was off the book. How did that come to be?
Rachel – What happened was I went to a party with people from DC with my friend Neil Gaiman and he introduced me to Stuart Moore. I mentioned my appreciation for Doom Patrol to Stuart and he said Tom Peyer is here at the party I should talk to him. So I told Tom I love Doom Patrol. It was the only ongoing superhero comic I was interested in writing at the time, if it was ever available. Tom told me Grant is actually leaving so why don’t I do a sample script and send it to him. And so I did that. He liked it enough to hire me.
Then I did that prank where I sent a letter to the letters column of Doom Patrol. I had to wait ages for Tom to get around to reading it. I wrote in this voice as a young fan. It read something like, “Dear Mr. Peyer, Doom Patrol is great! Grant Morrison is the most fabulous writer in the world. He’s a super genius! If he ever dies or gets sick can I write it?” And Tom finally reads it and calls me and tells me he loves it and to write more of these. Then in Grant’s last issue we’ll announce that you’ve gotten the job. So I wrote more letters and in the second to last one I wrote, ”I really wanna write Doom Patrol! I’m getting kinda angry here! I have friends. Don’t think I’m just a kid. You wouldn’t wanna have your head shoved in the toilet would you? Or sugar in your gas tank.” And then in the last issue of Grant’s run I wrote, “Gee Mr. Peyer I’m really really sorry about that! I got kinda carried away. The thing is I already told my mom I would be writing it and she told all her friends already. And so then Tom responded with, “Well what can I do? She told her mom. I have no choice! Rachel Pollack is the new writer of Doom Patrol!”
In that same issue I wrote this essay praising Grant Morrison in my serious writer voice. It just seemed to me it was so obvious that it was a joke and yet all of these people thought it was real! Some were really angry thinking I got this job just by writing letters. Others thought if they wrote letters they could write a comic. I was shocked that people could be so silly, you know?
Then I went to some other party at DC and I met this group of people. One was from the New Yorker Magazine and one was from the Village Voice and they asked you didn’t get the job from writing letters? I was like oh my God you people are nuts! So if you never heard that story that’s how the letters came to be.
Joe: When you started writing on Doom Patrol Tom was still editor, Richard Case was still doing layout work, and Stan Woch was still on the book as well. So basically you were one of the only new elements to the book. How was stepping into the role of writer with so much of the prior team on board at first and how did you start making this run of Doom Patrol your own?
Rachel: I was actually really thrilled that Richard Case was staying on for my first story arc. I love his art. I guess they were hoping that the transition would be smooth. I kind of did my first story as a homage to Grant’s beginnings. His first story was Crawling Through The Wreckage and I called mine Sliding Through The Wreckage. Tom had said to me Grant wouldn’t give any information. I think Grant wanted the series to end after he left. I’ve never had this confirmed but it was always my impression. Like how Russell T. Davies believed the BBC should let him kill off Doctor Who. But they didn’t.
So Grant wouldn’t give much information. The only information Tom had for me was that Robotman would be left and Dorothy, there had to be somebody in bandages (that’s what Tom wanted), and the Chief would be a head without a body. This turned out to be a Grant Morrison joke. Because Grant did this one off issue of a dream where the Chief lost his body and was a literal talking head, but I just went with it. I gather, like I said I never got the information from Grant, that he thought it was absurd. I thought it was hilarious. Since Tom said we need someone in bandages I introduced George and Marion, a couple in bandages. Then I introduced Kate Godwin but that was seven issues in. My first issue was 64 and issue 70 was when Kate Godwin appeared.
Joe: How did you go about creating Kate Godwin, a.k.a. Coagula?
Rachel: I was told that the current artist needed a break and I should do a one off story that could be done with a different artist. And I wasn’t pleased with the idea because I always tended to think in large story arcs. So I had to think of something and I came up with this ridiculous villain called Codpiece. And then somehow I just decided without even really thinking about it to introduce this transsexual lesbian superhero.
At the time I was involved in transgender activism and someone asked me if Kate Godwin was based on me and I said to answer the question, she’s based on a couple of friends of mine. But it wasn’t this big decision like I was trying to have this crusade. I just thought it was a cool thing to do.
The theme that had been emerging in my run was people having issues with their bodies and accepting their bodies. I always thought that was implied in Grant’s run. Dorothy was ugly, Cliff had a brain in a robot body, the Chief was in a wheelchair, Rebis was in bandages and so on and so on. I just made it more explicit. George and Marion were the first characters I had the idea of having accept themselves. And there’s a scene in that issue, the Codpiece issue, where George and Marion are heading to town and they ask Cliff and Dorothy if they want to come and they both make excuses. Dorothy says how can you stand it having people stare at you all the time? George and Marion say they have two choices: either they can go enjoy themselves and have people stare at them or they could stay home all the time and hide. George and Marion would rather go enjoy themselves and have people stare.
Codpiece himself was freaked out about people not liking him because he thought they would think he had a small penis which was all in his head. The first scene of that issue shows Codpiece’s origin. He’s in high school and he asks this girl why won’t you go out with me? She doesn’t want to say because you’re an asshole so she says because you’re too small. He’s wounded from this exchange and takes it as her implying he has a small penis. It becomes a fixation of his. And we see this over the years even though there is no evidence of this.
Then we get to present day where a prostitute says to him if you’re worried about being too small why don’t you wear something? He responds by developing this ridiculous codpiece costume. My idea was that it’s a parody of the ridiculous weapons in comics in the 50s and 60s. Like how Green Arrow would have a quiver on his back that would somehow contain boxing glove arrows and rocket arrows and so forth. So Codpiece had a boxing glove weapon and so on. Apparently some people thought I was attacking the fans. That I was somehow judging the fans as inadequate in the sense of their masculinity. Weird!
I guess it was in contrast to him and to some extent Dorothy and Cliff that I had this character come in, a transsexual lesbian. It was also because of a friend of mine, to go back to my earlier point. Her last name was Chelsea Godwin. She had asked me if she could be in the comic because she always wanted to be a superhero so I was sort of thinking of doing something for her. And Kate came from Kate Bornstein who was this brilliant transgender activist and performer. So I was paying homage to my friends.
Kate became a regular character. And a thoughtful character. A lot of people connected with her. Some people didn’t obviously. I didn’t get a lot of criticism that I was being too much of a trans activist, but rather that I was being too much of a feminist. That I was forcing feminism down their throats is what some people said. Some also said I was being too obscure. That was in the early issues. I was following Grant’s tendency to be obscure, but I perhaps took it a bit too far. As time went on there was more structure to the stories, but by that time we had already alienated some readers.
Joe: Do you have a favorite moment from working on Doom Patrol?
Rachel: Well I just really loved doing it. I loved telling these stories that were so outrageous. I loved the characters. We came up with some interesting ideas. I liked the character False Memory which was another single issue story.
There was one thing that happened shortly after we introduced Kate. We got a letter from a young transsexual reader from England who stated that she was wanting to kill herself, but never dared and because of the character of Kate Godwin she was able to come out to her friends. She was finally able to tell people because what we were doing made her finally feel that it was possible to have a life being herself. It was very powerful. We may have saved someone’s life. It was amazing. I wonder how that she’s doing now. It was a long time ago. Hopefully she continued to move in a positive direction.
Joe: You also worked on other books at DC including New Gods. Can you tell us about that?
Rachel: Yes! I was really thrilled to write it! Tom Peyer had gotten the job to write that, but he wasn’t that wild about it, so he asked if I’d be interested in writing with him and I jumped at it. Jack Kirby’s New Gods I think about in the same way as Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. It’s a work of genius, you know? Even more, New Gods to me was so powerfully from Jack Kirby’s subconscious. You know, Kirby is known for his art primarily and New Gods was known to be kind of primitive in the writing, but actually it was so powerful on this raw level that it didn’t matter that the dialogue would be clumsy at times. An example was there was one issue with this character who was a revelationist, Glorious Godfrey, and at one point Darkseid appears and Godfrey says to Darkseid that they have to manipulate these people and Darkseid says he likes him because he’s brash but that he’s the revelationist, but “I am the revelation, the force at the core of all things.” You could tell Kirby meant it. It wasn’t just some throwaway comic book line.
So I was thrilled to work on that comic. Then Tom dropped out and I was writing it by myself. I was never thrilled by the artist though. With Vertigo I would always have some say in the artist but with the mainstream DC they insist on having these artists and he just did tits and ass all the time. It infuriated me. I used to joke with people that I would have quit if they didn’t fire me!
What happened with the comic was I got a letter from the editor saying the current artist was fired. I was happy. I really didn’t like him because of how sexist he was in his style of art. Then the next letter I got was you and I are fired too!
Apparently John Byrne had decided to take over New Gods and got rid of everybody. The same way he took over Doom Patrol after me, after a gap. With Doom Patrol too he wanted to sweep away everything previous and go back to what he perceived to be the true Doom Patrol before Grant Morrison.
Joe: How did you end up leaving comics?
Rachel: Well to be honest my stuff wasn’t selling that well, so things got cancelled. Doom Patrol got cancelled because sales went down below a certain point and the irony is not that long after that sales point would have been great because the sale of comics at the time were declining so rapidly. But compared to the previous sales from Grant’s books and Sandman, they cancelled it.
And actually my editor on Doom Patrol at the time, Lou Stathis, had died which was very sad. He was a wonderful man, and he had been my champion at DC. In fact, he said to me one time they wanted to cancel me and he told them, “Look, if Vertigo isn’t going to publish Rachel Pollack then what’s the point?” He thought I was doing daring things that no one else was doing and that’s what Vertigo needed.
When he had died Axel Alonso had been the assistant editor on Doom Patrol and of course now he’s the editor-in-chief of Marvel. He wasn’t interested in the kind of things I was doing. He was interested in war comics and other genres and didn’t want to continue Doom Patrol at that time as sales were below a certain point.
I had done some other things at DC too. I did a one off issue of The Geek with Mike Allred that I enjoyed a lot. I also did a one off issue of Tomahawk. It was funny, they enjoyed taking these older characters from the 50s or so and doing revisionist stories with them. I was asked what would I like to do and out of my subconscious came Tomahawk. It was never my favorite as a kid. I had read it though, and obviously in my subconscious I wanted to do a story about the whole European attitude to the forest and the Native Americans as the original idea was be frightened by the forest and be frightened by the savages.
Then Stuart Moore started the science fiction imprint Helix and I got to do Time Breakers which I had a real great time doing. I had wanted to do a time paradox story for a long long time and this was my chance to do one. It was so much fun!
Joe: Once Time Breakers was over was that it with you and comics?
Rachel: I forget if it was Time Breakers or New Gods. The stuff I was doing didn’t sell well enough and they were no longer interested in ideas from me. It was unfortunate. I loved doing comics. Hopefully there will be more. Some possibilities for doing something in comics again. There are one or two things I’m currently interested in doing.
Joe – Your whole run of Doom Patrol is on Comixology and has been for a couple of years. How does that work for you?
Rachel: It doesn’t. I know nothing about it. No one told me about it. I really don’t know. I have no idea how that happens. I assume that if DC was making some money on it that they would be paying royalties no matter how tiny to myself and the artists.
Joe: So you haven’t received any money from Comixology?
Rachel: I never even received official acknowledgement that my comics are there. So I know nothing about it. I would have thought that somebody would say something.
Joe: Does DC own the rights to all of your comics work?
Rachel – No. Time Breakers is owned by me and Chris Weston. I guess that’s the only one. Every other one I worked on was with existing characters and properties. It’s the only creator owned comic I had published.
Joe: Any plans on possibly reprinting it?
Rachel – Well there are some possibilities. Nothing definite yet. Chris and I are hoping to get it reprinted. Chris took it on himself to get the rights reverted from DC which didn’t cost him anything, it was just time consuming. They had to give over some files and other things to us. They were very nice about it, was just a matter of getting them to do it.
Joe: Looking back on your Doom Patrol run would you say it was ahead of its time?
Rachel: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Certainly afterwards Vertigo became less involved in superhero stuff. I do think it was too radical for some people. A lot of people found it hard to get. A lot of comics fans have this idea that the writer should disregard everything beforehand and write something new, which particularly male writers tend to do. Without really thinking about it I wanted to follow up on some of the things that Grant did.
Some people thought I wasn’t enough like Grant, and other people thought I was too much like Grant and then they’d say I wasn’t a good enough Grant. They thought I was imitating him, but I wasn’t good enough. In fact what I was doing was my own take on things, but inspired by what he did. A lot of people didn’t want that. They didn’t like the feminist positions I was taking. They felt it was weird for weird’s sake. Certainly Grant did the same thing. Invisibles was very weird. More so than Doom Patrol, but people still liked it. What can you do, you know?
Joe: Currently DC is relaunching Doom Patrol starting Wednesday September 14th with Gerard Way writing.
Rachel: Which is exciting! Just a few days!
Joe: You’re already a fan of Gerard Way?
Rachel: Yes. Without knowing it or remembering it was him at the time, I read Umbrella Academy. I really liked it a lot. Then you told me he would be writing Doom Patrol and planned on bringing back the weird, I reread the Umbrella Academy stories after that. I love them. I’m really excited he’s writing Doom Patrol. Then he got in touch with me which I was delighted about. E-mail exchanges. I really like his approach. Wanting to bring back the weird. Not just Grant in Doom Patrol, but all the British Invasion stuff, like Peter Milligan’s Shade The Changing Man. I’m excited that Young Animal will be like the old Vertigo. I read the eight-page preview of Doom Patrol too and it’s great fun!
Joe: You mentioned a couple of comics projects you’re interested in before. Are you looking to get back into comics?
Rachel: Yes, yes. There’s an anthology project that I hope to do one or two stories in that I’m very excited about. I was also approached by someone I know who is launching a line of comics for women readers and I was asked about contributing to it. I’m planning on doing a story for it that I had in mind for a long long time so I’m hoping that it’ll work out.
Joe: Do you feel your contributions to comics like Kate Godwin are important to this generation of queer comics fans?
Rachel: I can tell you for a fact that they are. I went to a literary festival in Winnipeg recently kind of expecting that no one would know who I was since I haven’t written stuff on that subject since the 90s in my more activist years. It turned out that when I got there that to my surprise I was kind of a hero and one of the main reasons was Doom Patrol. A lot of young people doing webcomics were there and they were all Doom Patrol fans. They were all thrilled that someone had done this back in the 90s.
I recently did an interview for a website highlighting trans women and they included an article they had about trans characters in superhero comics. They had some previous attempts at trans characters on the list, but stated if you’re looking for a good example of a trans superhero look no further than Rachel Pollack. I was very honored. A new generation has been finding my work and viewing me as a role model. It’s been very exciting for me.
Joe: Before we wrap things up, anything else you’d like to add?
Rachel – I hope people read the new Doom Patrol coming out. Gerard has some great plans for the book and if you’re a fan of my run there will definitely be surprises in store for you. You’re gonna love it!
Oh, and one thing that I’d like to end with is that I’m glad I got to do some stories based in mythology for Doom Patrol. They were some of my favorites. There was the Teiresias story which I loved doing. And the last story I got to do involved Kabbalah which was something I had been interested in for some time and it turned out to be the perfect ending to my run. It’s interesting that things happened that way. I loved that I got to have a 15th century Kabbalist be one of the characters! I’m sure many Rabbis would be horrified.
Joe: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me about your comics work, and I hope we get to see new comics work from you see!
Rachel – Thank you for reaching out! It was very enjoyable. I had a good time.
Last week, DC Comics released a free preview of its new Gerard Way-curated imprint, Young Animal, with the tagline “Comics For Dangerous Humans.” Outside of the credits listed on the inside front cover and a couple appearances of the new DC logo, it’s made to look very different from what DC puts out. This sixteen-page preview is digest sized, in black and white, and has no ads for anything other than Young Animal titles.
The wraparound cover feels is a silver age throwback. Older iterations of the Doom Patrol are prevalent, as are Cave Carson and Shade The Changing Girl. This reminded me how both Doom Patrol and Cave Carson were co-created by Bruno Premiani. Hopefully they’ll showcase this in the credits of the comics. Bruno Premiani is an underrated artist in the grand scheme of things and more people read comics today should know who he is.
DC has been doing a good job as of late crediting creators in their comics so it’s very possible we’ll see that. Shade The Changing Girl is based off of the original male counterpart created by Steve Ditko, adding to the decades long tradition in comics of rebranding Steve Ditko creations for more profit than Steve Ditko made.
Once you open this preview zine, the interior cover has a letter from Gerard Way. In it he discusses not only the contents of the preview zine but how different Young Animal is for him than his previous comics outings. He inspires confidence in the reader, as well as the importance of collaboration and how everyone working on a Young Animal comic believes in the power of these characters and the power of the stories they’re telling with them. For me, this letter did exactly what it was intended to do: inspire confidence in the reader and make me more excited to read these comics than I was beforehand.
After Gerard’s letter we get a character profile of the lead from each of the four Young Animal comics. This includes Shade The Changing Girl, Cave Carson, Space Case from Doom Patrol (presumably the lead), and Mother Panic. Like in the old DC Who’s Who (edited by ComicMix’s own Robert Greenberger), these profiles are full of information that helps flesh out the characters and make us care about them before the first Young Animal comic hits the shelves. Good call on Gerard Way’s part.
The rest of this preview is filled with black and white, unlettered pages from the four different titles. The art for these titles does look top notch.
It all ends with a page showcasing the creative teams on the titles. Sixteen people in total. I had mixed feelings here.
On the one hand we have seven out of sixteen creators being women and that’s great. One of which, Tamra Bonvillain who I previously mentioned is also working on Alters for AfterShock, is trans. I don’t know how much queer representation we have on the creative teams beyond her, but it’s something. It’s especially promising that she is on Doom Patrol, a series that has dealt with queerness to some extent with Grant Morrison and even more so with Rachel Pollack, but not so much since then.
To have just shy of half the creators being women and having three of the of the four titles focus on women is important. We also get to see more of Todd Klein’s lettering and who would ever say no to that?
On the other hand, there was something missing: people of color. Seeing the creative team being all white or at very least all white with a couple or so white-passing (I don’t have DNA samples or their ancestry.com logins) made it stand out even more to me that the characters in all the books are white or white presenting. Yes, Shade The Changing Girl is an alien, but she looks white.
In all my online poking around, the only character of color I could see in preview images was Joshua from Grant Morrison’s time on Doom Patrol. Rebis might count technically, but was either referred to as Larry, the original cis white male host of Negative Man, or Rebis. The character’s blackness was completely erased save for one scene early on.
This is not anything that I feel is malicious or even intentional. Clearly Young Animal is trying to tell interesting stories and attract new readers or bring back old readers who enjoyed the early comics at Vertigo. They want to appeal to women as well. However, not all women are white.
That sounds harsh, but there isn’t really another way I can put it. I think Gerard Way is doing something great with what we know so far of Young Animal. I enjoyed Umbrella Academy. Each one of these titles look interesting to me and I will be giving them all a shot. I even plan on buying extra copies of Doom Patrol #1 to give to people to get them into it too. And every single interview I’ve seen or statement I’ve read from Gerard Way fills me with confidence in this project at a time where I’m not easily made to feel confident about a mainstream comics endeavor.
That being said, I do hope we see more characters of color in the comics than we’ve been seeing in the previews so far, and that as Young Animal hopefully succeeds and grows that we’ll see more creators of color joining the fold adding more comics with characters of colors moving the plots forward.
I’m excited to get in on Young Animal at the ground floor and I hope many others out there are as well.
Of course I always like seeing more queer representation too. Especially for titles like Doom Patrol. I heard a rumor that Rachel Pollack still has more Doom Patrol stories to tell and that this time she’ll get the recognition she deserves.
Last week it was announced that Aftershock Comics will be launching a new superhero series in September named Alters. The series will be seasoned comic writer Paul Jenkins’ second title with Aftershock, and it’s drawn by Leila Leiz. Though it will feature a few different kinds super powered humans, referred to as Alters in this world, the central character currently getting all the buzz is Chalice.
The gravity manipulating Chalice will be joining the ranks of characters like Coagula on the incredibly and embarrassingly short list of trans superheroes in comics. The hook for Chalice is that while Chalice presents as female, her civilian alter ego presents as male under the name Charlie Young. At the start of the story, Charlie is a college student who is currently transitioning in secret to Charlie’s family, though some friends may be aware. We just don’t have all the details on that yet.
Paul Jenkins himself is a straight cis white man, which he will readily admit. His mother who raised him is an out lesbian and he’s stated before that diversity is important to him, though in this case we should be careful not to conflate sexual orientation and gender identity. Mr. Jenkins in particular had in mind to put a trans character in this series from its onset. According to his own account, Chalice didn’t fully come into being until he met Liz Luu at a convention panel who suggested the idea of a trans superhero who had not yet transitioned and who could only present as the gender they identify as when in superhero attire.
With that in mind, I can’t help but be cautious about the idea. Before even delving into the concept behind Chalice, the initial reason I have for being cautious is that this is a character, though created by well-meaning allies, that did not have a trans creator involved. That is not to say that people can’t create characters outside of who they are and what experiences they have personally had over the years. However, we have seen time and again characters that have been created (or retconned in many cases) to represent the LGBTQ community that haven’t had LGBTQ input over the years with mixed results. Examples include most queer characters in 90s TV and movies, as well as Iceman’s coming out last year at Marvel, despite Brian Michael Bendis’ best intentions, which I wrote about here and here.
Now let’s go into the character of Chalice herself. As I started to explain earlier, Chalice is a super human trans woman that can only be herself when she’s Chalice. Otherwise, she’s Charlie Young and presumably goes by male pronouns. The hook they proudly stress is that she can only be herself when she’s not herself. I have a problem with that.
Look, I understand issue #1 hasn’t even hit the shelves yet. However, Aftershock Comics and Paul Jenkins are certainly making it a point to do the rounds and build buzz for the book, and they’re working to get reactions from people. Positive reactions ideally, but still. The idea of a trans character that can only be herself when she’s in her superhero costume lends itself heavily to the tragic queer trope. It’s been done. It’s been done a lot. It was also done in comics like with Batwoman in 2013.
Being queer is not tragic. Being trans is not tragic. Having a character whose tragedy in life is rooted in their queerness is lazy writing and shouldn’t be acceptable to audiences in 2016. Yes, plenty of characters have tragedy that lead them to being superheroes. Spider-Man losing his Uncle Ben, Batman losing his parents, Superman losing his home planet, and so forth. None of them had something tragic about them based on them being cisgender or heterosexual. And to be clear, I don’t mean to be conflating gender identity with sexual orientation with that previous statement. My intention was to address queerness broadly and to stress how those characters mentioned are cis het.
Even characters in teams like the X-Men or Doom Patrol that don’t like the side effects of their powers aren’t burdened by their sexual orientation or gender identities. Hell, Coagula is an out and proud trans woman in her first pages of Doom Patrol twenty years ago. That’s not to say that Aftershock Comics or Paul Jenkins are consciously supporting the tragic queer trope, but that doesn’t change the fact that when you make the central internal conflict of a character their queerness and promote the comic with that as the hook, that you are feeding into that trope.
Beyond the queer is tragic trope, it’s also made clear that this story will involve the character of Charlie Young transitioning in secret from her family. Popular media is obsessed with transitioning. Whether it be Caitlyn Jenner, TV shows like Transparent, or movies like The Danish Girl, the media can’t seem to get enough of it. That’s not to say that Charlie Young’s transitioning will not be relatable to someone out there in the trans community just coming out or planning on doing so. However, people like Caitlyn Jenner are interviewed and analyzed by cis reporters, and shows like Transparent and movies like The Danish Girl star cis actors in the lead roles, and characters like Chalice are being written and illustrated by a cis creative team (the colorist is trans, but that’s not a position with creative control in a narrative sense) which means we see these more popular glimpses into the trans community and physical transitioning safely through a cis lense.
Trans people and the trans community do not exist to transition for our entertainment. Not to mention that not everyone in the trans community transitions, has the same goals in their transitioning or transitions in the same way. Not everyone is concerned about “passing” as one gender. Some people in the trans community are non-binary as well.
They are more than their transitioning, and we need to stop acting like that’s the only story worth telling with trans characters, or even the most important story to tell. Characters who are often played by or written by cis people in the first place, only adding to how cis people use trans people for entertainment, oscars, and pats on the back for being oh so progressive.
Aftershock Comics, Paul Jenkins, Leila Leiz, Liz Luu, and other people who are working on Alters in some capacity all seem to be creating characters like Chalice with the best of intentions. They all appear to have a vested interest in increasing diversity in comics, and it’s certainly nice to see how many women are working on a book like this when the mainstream comics industry still sorely lacks hired female talent, which is something important to Paul Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins also have a history of writing quality comics.
That being said, if you want to tell more diverse stories with rich characters of different backgrounds, then you need to hire people with those backgrounds. We need more diversity behind the pages just as badly as we need them on the pages.
I’m hoping that Alters will be a deeper, richer story for Chalice than the press hits lead on. I’m hoping a character like Chalice may be around long enough to develop and grow into something more than a tragic queer trope and a way to continue feeding these obsessions with physical transitions and people “passing.” Mostly, I’m looking forward to the potential that a character like Chalice could bring to getting more comics publishers to green light more projects with trans characters.
And hey, maybe they’ll even get a trans writer or illustrator on it too.
This past weekend was Emerald City Comic Con. It’s one of the up-and-coming cons that seems to be getting exponentially bigger and more important to the industry every year. I have yet to have the pleasure and privilege to attend ECCC, but it’s on my bucket list.
ECCC has increased in importance to the point where some major announcements in the comic world are now made there. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, announcement made was from DC Comics. They announced a new DC imprint headed by Gerard Way titled Young Animal. The flagship title of this new imprint will be Doom Patrol; the first issue of which will be hitting the shelves in September of this year. I know he’ll be writing or otherwise involved in all the titles Young Animal is putting out including Shade, The Changing Girl, Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye, and Mother Panic, but today I’m focusing on Doom Patrol.
Gerard Way has stated the plans for Doom Patrol will be to pay homage to all the previous iterations while creating a unique story. In this interview, it’s discussed how Way has read every run of Doom Patrol and that there are great elements in all of them (that may be overly generous, but that’s not the point) which this run will make nods to.
In particular, it looks like this run will be heavily influenced by Grant Morrison’s run considering Flex Mentallo is one of the characters who appears to be in the preview art. And keeping in the tradition of the other runs, Robotman appears prominently as well. Gerard Way continued to reveal more on Twitter. Way tweeted that there are “special plans” for Dr. Caulder, which seems to reinforce the idea that Grant’s run having made Caulder a more complicated character will continue.
The most interesting thing about Doom Patrol that was revealed on Twitter (and I’m incredibly biased here) is how much Gerard Way loves Rachel Pollack’s run on the series. Way even specifically mentioned love for Coagula in an exchange. You can read that here. At least one other person I saw tweeted at him about Rachel’s run too which was nice to see. Though it’s not explicitly mentioned that Way would bring back Coagula, this is certainly the most positive statement in regards to the notion that’s been made since Rachel Pollack’s run came to an end.
I won’t delve too deeply into Coagula as that was what I dedicated my second column on here to. Please feel free to read it if you haven’t. In short, she’s DC’s first and only trans superhero. Not that they haven’t had trans characters in comics that aren’t superheroes, or that they haven’t printed other books with powerful trans characters, but they weren’t DC properties (Grant Morrison’s Invisibles is creator-owned for example).
Coagula, and Rachel Pollack herself, are important parts of history at DC Comics. I’m not going to say we need Coagula now more than ever. We’ve needed her ever since she came into existence. What I will say is that it’s not too late to make things right.
I understand how many people might not realize how big this is, but this is a big deal. In the decades since Rachel’s run, multiple failed attempts to revive the series have taken place. All of which got cancelled sooner than Rachel’s run and all of which have tried treating the Doom Patrol as a superhero team. That’s a mistake. They aren’t. Arnold Drake and Murray Boltinoff with Bruno Premiani created this team and set the groundwork for things to come. Grant Morrison with Richard Case understood that groundwork. Rachel Pollack with Linda Medley and Ted McKeever understood that too. No one else has understood that in the same way for decades until now.
I had the opportunity to talk to Rachel Pollack after my brief Twitter exchange with Gerard Way. “Wow! Times have changed.” she said. She went on to say that she’s a fan of Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy. Who knew?
I’ll be honest, I was skeptical at first when I heard DC was bringing back Doom Patrol. Not because I doubted Gerard Way’s ability to write or craft a story, but was it going to be done right? Obviously right in this context is subjective. Like the feeling I get whenever I meet a Doctor Who fan and they tell me that their favorite Doctors aren’t either Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, or Peter Davison. Sure, they may like Doctor Who, they may have a great reason for liking the Doctor they like, but it’s not my Doctor Who.
When you’re a big fan of a work, your strong attachment to it tends to be linked to aspects of that work. For me with Doom Patrol, it’s the weirdness, it’s the absurdity, but it’s also the heart. It’s not just revealing a contradiction to defeat the Scissormen (thanks Glenn!), or stopping the men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. from exterminating eccentricity, but it’s Robotman risking life and mechanical limb to save Crazy Jane by going into her mind and riding with the Conductor to find her. It’s Robotman learning about Coagula and discovering more about himself through his initial bigotry to become a better man than he was before. It’s about heart, love, and acceptance. It’s about life and its power to take away from you and how sometimes it can feel like everything has been taken away, but sometimes you crawl from the wreckage, get back on your feet and slide in the wreckage and before you realize it you’re shining through the wreckage of your life.
Gerard Way gets Doom Patrol. It’s been decades since someone has gotten it quite like this. More than any other comic coming out this year from the big two, I am looking forward to this one the most. I’ll be buying multiple copies of issue #1, giving them to people who will take it, and spreading the good word. Doom Patrol means something to me. Maybe it’ll mean something to you too. And DC might have finally got it right again.
I’m looking forward to the ride. I’m thrilled that we’re being led by someone as talented as Gerard Way who understand this property so well and is a genuine fan of the series. And I’ll gladly follow Way’s run on Doom Patrol to the gates of hell, which in all likelihood is probably already on the team’s agenda. Maybe this will help finally get Rachel Pollack’s run reprinted too. Because honestly, who doesn’t love Coagula?