This week, Marvel published Marvel Voices: Pride #1, in what they call a celebration “of inspiration and empowerment… featuring the greatest LGBTQ+ characters and creators in comics!”. Our staff at AIPT have gathered together to give their verdict on the issue — exploring some of the stories that took their interest, and their overall thoughts on the anthology.
The introduction to Marvel’s Voices: Pride #1 features an illustrated history of Marvel’s LGBTQ+ characters told through the lens of David Alleyne aka Prodigy and his encyclopedic memory. It conveniently leaves out some of the rockier parts of Marvel’s LGBTQ+ representation, but maybe rightfully so as this issue seems to mark their greater commitment to move forward.
A Wiccan and Hulkling snippet leads the stories after this, “The Vows” written by Allan Heinberg, providing a sweet insight into something notably missing during Empyre. The art by Jim Cheung harkens back to the debut of Wiccan and Hulkling in the first Young Avengers series, using the visual throwback to show how far they’ve come now. Considering the amount of page time they’ve had recently in other Marvel comics, the brevity of their section makes sense, and is a perfect way to leave more space for other characters and their often less explored stories.
Victor Borkowski aka Anole’s story in “Good Judy” written by Terry Blas with art by Paulina Ganucheau shows Anole in a light different to the one we’re currently seeing in New Mutants. It also delves into a topic that probably wouldn’t be explored in a main X-title otherwise, tackling themes of LGBTQ+ friendship and self-confidence all through the community of mutant utopia Krakoa. It’s nice to see that even in a place where every mutant is supposedly equal and safe that they still struggle with their non-mutant identities. This intersectionality is something that hasn’t been touched on much in the new wave of X-comics, and its presence in this story is incredibly interesting. I truly hope that not only Anole and the rest of the LGBTQ+ X-community continue to be given greater spotlights, but that the intersectional nature of their mutant and human identities continues to be explored.
The debut of mutant Somnus aka Carl Valentino in “Man of His Dreams” written by Steve Orlando is stunning. Orlando gives this new character such life and depth right off the bat by weaving the theme of dreams with Carl’s powers and backstory in a tight and impactful manner, while also bringing a new dimension to Akihiro. Claudia Aguirre’s art is expressive enough to help convey that emotion, yet still soft and flow-y to represent the story’s theme of dreams. It’s going to be very interesting to see where Somnus will fit into the existing mutant landscape.
With stories too short, but incredibly sweet, Marvel’s Voices: Pride #1 provides a compelling showcase for (some of) Marvel’s LGBTQ+ heroes. I just hope they follow through with this spotlight.
Anthony Oliveira, Javier Garrón, and David Curiel’s “Early Thaw” packs more emotional resonance and fun into five pages than a lot of comic books do in their entire page-count. The story is equal parts relatable and wish fulfillment, with a pained young gay man finding comfort in the words of an elder fellow outsider. The catch? The characters in question are Silver Age Iceman and Magneto.
Let’s start with the art. Garrón’s composition choices do a great job evoking the story’s mood, with Bobby consistently off to the side of his heterosexual peers or, even if technically in the foreground, shadowed in opposition to others more freely enjoying their time in the sun. Both Bobby and Erik’s facial expressions are top-notch, and contribute significantly to the story’s success.
In terms of actual plot content, the events don’t fit with how I’ve personally ever envisioned Bobby’s level of awareness about his sexuality back in the O5 days, but frankly, I don’t care. Just take the story for what it is — a glimpse at a sad gay kid being comforted by a wonderful rendition of Magneto that exemplifies everything that’s lovable about the character — and you’ll have a good time with this comic.
I’m probably going to be the party-pooper here, but I’m frankly underwhelmed by the book as a whole. Going into it I already had my misgivings conceptually — much as I like reading comics with gay characters, the way for Marvel to do that while feeling respectful, to me, is not to just throw out an annual anthology that’ll make up a large portion of that year’s queer content just by nature of how few crumbs the company gives us to begin with.
With that said, I’ve read various similarly themed anthologies (DC Festival of Heroes, the IDW/DC Love Love is Love, etc.) and this one feels weak even going by the standards of a format that necessitates brief comics with little room for deep exploration. Within the larger actual context of Marvel as a near-century old company and now part of Disney, all the timeline and historical “celebration” reads almost insulting when you remember how little of Marvel’s landscape these characters actually take up.
Then you have the stories themselves which, naturally, your mileage will vary on. I like the Iceman piece, but even it fits in line with the rest of the pieces thematically. There’s very little room for variance, and when this is Marvel’s big gay book of the year, it’s annoying that nearly every comic just treads the same “Love is love, accept yourself and others” ground. Did plenty of gay people get paid for this? Yes, and good for them. Does the collection still read like the Disney-approved-for-straight-audiences anthology that it literally is? Also yes. So, while there are individual moments throughout that I like, I wouldn’t be able to honestly recommend this book without feeling like I was licking up a plate of leftovers given by editorial and corporate figures with full course meals of their own.
Mystique and Destiny have had a long and complicated history filled with censorship and moments that were never allowed to be anything more than subtext. Most people by now know that Chris Claremont wanted the two to be together, even going as far to try and make Irene Kurt’s mother and Raven his father — obviously, that didn’t happen with the Azazel reveal. But in 2011, Claremont and Simonson finally revealed those years of subtext were in fact now canon, using the words “fell in love” to describe the two’s relationship. In 2018, in History of the Marvel Universe, we saw the two’s first on-panel kiss.
In 2021, Raven and Irene’s relationship plays a pivotal role in the X-Men comics, though Irene is still dead. The pride anthology story is from their early days –giving us the second on-panel kiss for these two women ever. While the story itself is nothing to marvel at, it is a story about devotion and the intense love Irene and Raven have for each other.
Raven’s an interesting character — she often is characterized by her misdeeds or cruelty, but around Irene, she melts. Irene is her heart, and it’s great to see that in action in this story. Even now in X-Men comics, Raven’s love for Irene is being painted with a bit of a sinister tone — she’s gonna burn down the island for her — but this story has no such undertones. It’s just about their love, pure and simple. I’d even go as far to say that Mystique and Destiny are one of the great romances of the X-Men comics full stop, and stories like this continue to prove why.
No, there’s nothing spectacular about this story, but it is sweet in its own way.
The She-Hulk/Titania story raised eyebrows when it was announced — after all, most readers are aware that neither She-Hulk nor Titania are canonically LGBT, so what are they doing in a Pride anthology? Writer Crystal Frasier cleared the air by revealing that the She-Hulk in this story was trans, something that threw the internet into surprise. She’s right, the She-Hulk in this story is trans, but the She-Hulk in this story isn’t Jennifer Walters.
This is my favorite issue in the Pride anthology, if only because it’s clear Frasier poured a lot of her heart into it, and boy does it show. Frasier’s tweets indicated that She-Hulk was a favorite of hers as a kid and in this story, a trans woman shares her story of growing up touched by Jen’s story. This story has so much heart and it’s all about how superheroes touch the hearts of people who need them most. Jennifer Harris in this story even named herself after She-Hulk, dressing up as her at conventions. It’s a really touching story, and a really important story to tell.
Titania and Jennifer’s dynamic is really amusing, and it’s very cute to see Titania just listen to Jennifer tell her story like this. It’s an adorable story that will surely resonate with a lot of trans readers, giving a voice to a wildly underrepresented portion of the LGBT community.
The Pride anthology itself is a mixed bag. Some great moments are included, like using Jessie Drake again and featuring the first time Tommy Shepherd identified himself as bisexual on panel, but it also feels a bit hollow. Reading this anthology, one can’t help but think “are some of these characters ever going to be used again?” Anole and Greymalkin get stories, but they certainly aren’t being used in the X-Men comics — Akihiro, Kyle, and Northstar’s series just got canceled as well. Somnus is a neat character, but where does he go from here? Which book will be his home? It’s reasons like this that this anthology feels a bit hollow at times.
Prodigy’s (David Alleyne’s) and Speed’s (Tommy Shepherd’s) relationship has essentially been born from the passion of fans, and the efforts of queer writers at Marvel to follow up on said passion. The two first appeared together in Kieron Gillen’s, Jamie McKelvie’s and Matthew Wilson’s 2013 Young Avengers series, and it took until 2020’s Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulkling (Anthony Oliveira, Chip Zdarsky, Manuel Garcia, and Triona Tree Farrell) for the pair to be canonically depicted as a romantic couple. In this short story, Gillen has returned to write Prodigy and Speed once more in “Colossus”, along with artist Jen Hickman, and colorist Brittany Peer.
Upon first reading, I very much enjoyed “Colossus”. The very premise of exploring more of Alleyne’s and Shepherd’s characters — especially together — was admittedly enough to hook me in an instant. I am a bisexual 24-year-old who basically grew up with the Young Avengers series. I have a signed copy of Gillen and McKelvie’s Young Avengers #1 mounted on my wall. All Marvel had to do was say “Prodigy and Speed”, and I was already there. Beyond this, it is a well-written and illustrated look into how two bisexual young men perceive their sexuality — one that maintains the fun dynamic of the couple while also reflecting on the lived experiences of sexuality. Moreover, it specifically looks further into Alleyne’s backstory, and how it relates to his own sexuality.
However, what “Colossus” categorically fails to do is acknowledge David Alleyne’s experience as a Black bisexual character. Alleyne’s voice comes across as more of a homogenized microphone for an individual, white bisexual man. This is punctuated most by the line, “I had a lot of great mutant representation coming up, but not nearly enough queer rep”. While the intention here is possibly to underline the pressing lack of queer characters in the X-Men line-up, it instead comes across as if Gillen does not actively recognize being Black as part of David’s intersecting identities. By making David’s race an afterthought, Gillen essentially makes whiteness the default framework upon which to understand bisexuality. While this is likely not intentional, and what Gillen has to say about men’s experiences of bisexuality is important, the narrative is symptomatic of the white positionality in discussions of queerness.
Written by Vita Ayala, illustrated by Joanna Estep, with Brittney L. Williams and Brittany Peer on layouts and colors, “You Deserve” follows classic New Mutants strongholds Karma (Xi’an Coy Manh) and Magik (Illyana Rasputin) in a brief snippet at the Hellfire Gala. On the surface, it is a fun tale about Magik wing-manning Karma. Yet, despite its brevity, “You Deserve” makes an important exploration into the themes of sexuality, guilt, and self-forgiveness.
I grew up Catholic. Feeling guilty for everything is sort of Catholicism’s thing (please speak to your local masked Catholic vigilante for more information). Acknowledging my own sexuality inevitably meant confronting many of the negative religious associations with queerness that I had spent my life surrounded by. In doing this, I realized that guilt has an implicit but intrusive existence in basically all aspects of society—one that intersects and extends beyond the categories of sexuality and religion.
“You Deserve” identifies the salient presence of guilt and examines how it exists in the character of Karma. Indeed, it makes sense that guilt is prominent in Karma’s life — she is queer; she has survived a great deal of trauma; she was given a lot of responsibility at a young age. That is not to say that her guilt is founded and legitimate — more than it is a very natural and recognizable psychological response. This perspective is conveyed through Magik. Where Karma argues that she does not deserve a chance at love and happiness, Magik responds with some thoughtful sentiment that will certainly resonate with many readers.
Ayala’s script certainly stands out as one of the best in the Marvel Voices: Pride anthology this year. They benefit greatly from the fact that their story is an insert into a pre-existing ongoing (New Mutants). The narrative has continuity, and can be further explored in further issues. The same cannot be said for a lot of the character pieces in this issue. For example, trans mutant Jessie Drake makes her first appearance in 27 years. While her feature is welcome, her security in the Marvel universe certainly feels precarious. Whether Marvel actually cares about her as a character, or simply want to use her for the sake of performativity, will be proven by future appearances.
I am repeating a lot of what has been said by my fellow writers when I say that Marvel Voices: Pride #1 comes across more like a corporate presentation than a genuine celebration of queer characters and queer creators. There are a good bunch of stories in this issue, and it is nice to see queer voices spotlighted. However, it all feels rather hollow. There are so few LGBTQIA+ stories being told in the Marvel universe — and those that are tend to be framed under a white, cis lens. As such, Marvel Voices: Pride is a spectacle of performance. Between the almost three-decade absence of Jessie Drake, and the fact that three of the X-Men stories in this book come from characters in X-Factor — a book that Marvel recently cancelled — there is very little evidence that Marvel cares all that much about telling queer stories. The same can be said about the intent to platform queer creators. Indeed, very few of the contributors behind this anthology have an ongoing place in Marvel’s lineup.
Most people that know me know in turn that I am a bit of a Marvel diehard. I have grown up on Marvel comics. When I first started reading Marvel, back in the early 2000s, there were very few openly queer characters in the universe. In fact, you could probably could the number on one hand. Since then, queer representation has expanded massively. I can even point to teams such as the Young Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, and proudly state that they have a majority queer cast. But broad, reductive numbers simply are not enough. Representation is not about quotas. “Queerness” is not a homogenized experience, nor is it something that can be conveyed simply by putting queer characters on a page. Marvel, along with many other storytelling companies, fail queer people by framing them simply as a consumer base that can be represented via optics.
Better queer storytelling comes with an ongoing platform. Moreover, it comes when queer people are treated as individual subjects with intersectional and varied experiences. This specifically requires vastly greater representation of trans characters and queer BIPOC. Until Marvel begins to explore queerness in its multiplicity, events such as Marvel Voices: Pride will continue to feel shallow.
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