On June 12, 2016, a hateful man killed 49 people and wounded 53 at The Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, Florida. This was a terrible day for the LGBTQ community, and I was just plain sad. A couple weeks ago, I had celebrated getting a job and moving to a new city with a few friends at a couple gay clubs in my old home of Richmond, Virginia so a thought went through my head, “It could have been me.” Even though I am relatively privileged as a white cisgendered, relatively straight passing bisexual male, I had no queer friends in my new home to turn to and confide in after the events in Orlando. But what got me through was the queer comics and comics journalism community, and my Facebook inboxes and Twitter DM’s were filled with messages of hope and understanding. I may have felt alone in my current situation, but these beautiful people, many of whom I have never met in the flesh, got me through the tough days after the Pulse shooting.
The Love is Love comics anthology project from IDW Publishing with assistance from DC Comics, Archie Comics, Aftershock, and the Will Eisner estate gave me a similar feeling of the comics community coming together to mourn after The Pulse shooting. While reading the graphic novel, I simultaneously felt sadness and hope and remembered that despite the scandals that the comics industry has some great folks, whose excellent work appears in this comic. I enjoyed how well-represented all genders, races, sexualities, and religions were in Love is Love along with the different art styles and color palette. On a pure aesthetic level, most of the stories in Love is Love hit two of my favorite genre sweet spots: superhero and autobio, which made it a great read on both an emotional and intellectual level.
Honestly, I could write a book about the brilliant one to three page stories, poems, and pinups in Love is Love, and maybe I will one day. For the purpose of this review, I will hit on a few that affected me personally; those stories that through words, art, colors, and letters gave me comfort as I thought back to Orlando.
Paul Dini‘s Harley and Ivy story is insanely adorable and nails their romantic relationship in a nutshell with each one making compromises for the each other. For example, Harley goes vegetarian while Ivy is subjected to a Three Stooges marathon. Bill Morrison‘s art is very similar to the style of Batman: Animated Series and peppered with all kinds of background details to add to the humor. Another funny story (Albeit darker than Harley and Ivy shenanigans.) that provided some great comic relief in the midst of the emotionally headier material of Love is Love was a Deathstroke one by Taran Killam where he switches out his arsenal of guns for karate after the Pulse shooting. Gallows humor is a great way to stave off pain.
As someone whose sexuality is still not accepted by those close to me and was afraid to come out until I was 19, Love is Love‘s portrayal of homophobia is harrowing, yet all too relatable. Early, in the book, Daniel Beals and David Lafuente do a splitscreen story where two young boys see the same news coverage of The Pulse, but react in vastly different ways because of their parent’s homophobia and empathy respectively. Then, there is a nuanced story from Jeff King and Steve Pugh where a girl is sad about the shooting and wants to go to the memorial service, but her dad is uneasy about men kissing men. Later, he realizes how thoughtless he was and apologizes. I know Pugh from his superhero work on Fantastic Four and Detective Comics, and this appeal for forgiveness was just as fictional as Batman or Reed Richards in my own life.
The stories that bypassed my head and went straight to my heart strings were ones that focused on queer clubs as sanctuaries. In six pulsing panels and two pages, comics legends Grant Morrison and Jesus Merino capture the beat with alternating colors and skeletons in the background. Without a word, an image engulfed my mind and reminded me of fog lights, cute boys, and too many Long Island ice teas. In a similar vein, Emma Houxbois and Alejandra Gutierrez looked at the escapism of a queer club experience complete with cuties and the sad realities of the morning after. (Full disclosure: I worked closely with Emma on the Fantheon podcast and at the websites The Rainbow Hub and Pop Optiq and she has contributed to this site.) The comic had a soft color palette and intelligent narration while still connecting to my personal experiences and of other LGBTQ people. And it was followed by a silent comic by Brian Michael Bendis, his daughter Olivia Bendis, Michael Oeming, and Taki Soma that captured the joy and energy of a queer night club with people dancing with they wanted to and bright colors everywhere courtesy of Soma.
Many of the creators, who were from Florida, had very personal stories to share about the LGBTQ community of Orlando, which were sad and enjoyable, like Scott Snyder, who wrote a prose piece with a spot illustration by Jock about working at Disney World, and how some of the queer employees, who played various Disney characters, would invite him to a gay bar every Thursday and accept him.
Love is Love gave me an opportunity to listen to the stories of some queer comics creators that I have admired for quite some time, like James Tynion and Phil Jimenez. Tynion’s story was drawn in black and white by artist Molly Ostertag except for splotches of rainbow in the bracelet that he got as a youngster. It skips time frantically in a two page story as he comes to terms with his sexuality cutting from him spending time with his friends at Pride to facing the fact that he is a bisexual boy at an all-boy’s Catholic school. Jimenez did his comic with his writer friend David Kim and talked about how they had grown up from using codenames to show that they are dating men to being out and proud DC Comics creators. The comic is filled with snatches of conversations they had about relationships and even superhero oddities as they reflect on their friendship after the events in Orlando. Jimenez also excels at wispy, life drawing as well as superheroes, Amazons, and the Invisible College.
The queer DC Comics character that means the most to me is definitely Midnighter, and I was happy to see him featured in a couple of the Love is Love stories. The first one is by Dan DiDio and Carlos D’Anda and acts as a crash course in DC’s LGBTQ characters. It’s pretty amusing and features Midnighter and Apollo doing shots of tequila and getting on the dance floor with Batwoman as Renee Montoya snarks from the sides. The other one was my favorite story of the entire Love is Love collection from Tom Taylor, Emily Smith, and Michael Garland. Midnighter was angry after The Pulse shooting just like I was angry, and Garland punctuates his anger with a red background. He’s just punching aimlessly when Apollo shows up and says that he is not alone and will be safe with him. This kind of solidarity between queer people in the face of death and tragedy truly empowered me as Taylor makes good use of Midnighter’s vulnerable side that is the emotional center of Steve Orlando’s current work on his title.
Other highlights of Love is Love included Tom King and Mitch Gerads doing a rainbow-tinted Batman tale, Sterling Gates returning to Supergirl and writing about how she failed to save the day, married couple Amanda Seibert and Cat Staggs showing Batwoman comforting a child, whose mother died at The Pulse, and much more. There’s even a wonderful, yet vulnerable riff on Beauty and the Beast from Marguerite Bennett and Aneke where Bennett, and an LGBT-inclusive riff on DC’s old romance comics from project creator Marc Andreyko with art from George Perez, Karl Kesel, and Laura Allred. A full list of collaborators on Love is Love can be found here, and I definitely plan on delving into their other work.
Love is Love is personal, beautiful, and tragic collection of comics that really affected me despite their being more “ally” creators than LGBTQ ones. I hope it will make the world a more loving and inclusive place even in the shadow of the election of two homophobes to the office of president and vice president.
As Batman says in King and Gerads’ story, “Today, I will get up. Today, I will face their hate… And I will again fight for my love.” Visual and verbal moments like that are why I love comics.
Story: Various Art: Various
Story: 9.5 Art: 10 Overall: 9.8 Recommendation: Buy
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review