#SquadGoals: The Odds on Who Survives Suicide Squad

This piece was originally posted on Panels.

“Welcome to the Suicide Squad. Hope you don’t survive the experience!” – Amanda Waller if she read X-Men comics, probably.

The team subject to an upcoming movie did not earn its name because of its commitment to mental health (as the ableist language around Joker can attest); it’s named as such because those who “join” rarely, or so it’s posited, make it out to the other side of the mission.

If the film is to live up to its name, there’s going to be a lot of carnage and casualty on Amanda Waller’s team of criminals and supervillains. Who lives? Who dies? Let’s look at some livelihood likelihoods.

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Amanda Waller
(played by Viola Davis)

The Wall. The puppetmaster behind Task Force X. Batman’s biggest nightmare. She is both the unstoppable force and the immovable object. She and Viola Davis will not be moved.

Realistic Odds for Survival: 95% (subtracting 5% for Hollywood’s history of bad decisions)
My Hope: Waller ascends to the Iron Throne.

Deadshot
(played by Will Smith)

As both the character and the actor are among the highest-profile in the movie, I don’t think either are going anywhere. Deadshot has both the emotional stakes and history to carry him through this movie and into other ones. He also has a shot to reappear as an adversary in other DCEU films.

Realistic Odds for Survival: 90%
My Hope: He allows Will Smith to break out of Will Smith’s “he’s just playing Will Smith” problem.

Boomerang
(played by Jai Courtney)

If the trailers and other promotional material aren’t throwing us for a curveball, Courtney’s Boomerang looks to be one of the film’s comedic centers. I imagine this renders him relatively safe, as he could be the next, slightly less furry and child-beloved Rocket Raccoon.

Realistic Odds for Survival: 80%
My Hope: We never actually find out what Boomerang’s “pink unicorn fetish” means; alternatively, we do find out what it means, but it leads to a wacky scenario where voice actress Tara Strong replaces him on the team.

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Rick Flag
(played by Joel Kinnaman)

This relatively unremarkable character from the comics has been getting much more promotion than I’d have expected—his actor is regularly billed as one of the main names. That larger role is the only reason I’m giving him even a chance of survival. Otherwise, I only expect to see this Flag leaving the film in tatters.

Realistic Odds for Survival: 35%
My Hope: He’s the fridged emotional stakes for the movie, saving every other character from that fate. Especially—

Katana
(played by Karen Fukahara)

Instead of laying out what will realistically happen to Katana (which would especially unfortunate given Mercy Graves’ fate in Batman vs. Superman), let me just plead for why she should survive:

  • She has a mythos that wholly belongs to her and it involves a reverse fridging, which is definitely at least new.
  • She’s a badass woman-of-color—superhero franchises desperately need more of those.
  • She could return in the rumored Birds of Prey movie! Fukuhara has already done herresearch!
  • Katana’s been on an aggressive push for prominence across all DC media: comics, television, DC Superhero Girls. Continue the push!
  • She’s the groups only overtly heroic figure.

Realistic Odds for Survival: 50%
My Hope: Not only does she survive, but her meteoric popularity lands her multiple solo films.

El Diablo
(played by Jay Hernandez)

El Diablo—from the few issues I read of the super uneven New 52 Suicide Squad run—is actually a pretty cool (hot?) character. He’s one of the more morally centered squad members and he’s obsessed with redemption. Forgive me if that characterization changed, as I only made it a few issues into the series.

I expect he’s probably of the easy emotional losses in the film. Establish him as a (relative) good guy, get to know him, and then he’s cannon fodder. His absence from various group scenes in trailers doesn’t bode well either.

Realistic Odds for Survival: 20%
My Hope: He’s somehow able to use his fire powers to burn out the bomb in his neck and jetpack out of the movie right before his flames get extinguished.

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Killer Croc
(played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje)

My primary exposure to Croc is through Batman Eternal and Gotham Academy; in both, he’s portrayed in a varyingly sympathetic light. In his character trailer, we hear him declare “I’m beautiful” and, from set visits, we find his cell is decorated with his artwork.

He’ll still obvi be a violent criminal, but maybe he’ll be endearing and high-profile enough to keep around. Or maybe not.

Realistic Odds for Survival: 50%
My Hope: He escapes to haunt the sewers beneath a prestigious Gotham school, where he befriends a bunch of meddlesome teenagers.

Enchantress
(played by Cara Delevingne)

In what’s been presented so far, we never once see Delevinge’s character with the Suicide Squad proper team; we’ve only seen her with Flag or Waller individually. The final trailer also sees her standing at a magical, thundering ring that Squad is sent to infiltrate—all signs point to her as an eventual antagonist, probably alongside the Joker.

And if the protagonists are set to endure some losses, I imagine the antagonists would have to as well—and that’s sure not going to be the Joker.

Realistic Odds for Survival: 15%
My Hope: Before she’s inevitably killed as one of the film’s presumed antagonists, she has a serious conversation with a different costumer.

Slipknot
(played by Adam Beach)

Good news: an indigenous actor has been cast in a superhero movie! Awful news: he’s a villain in the franchise of Suicide Squad, playing one of the lowest-profile characters and he’s gotten the least press time out of everyone.

Slipknot, I hope you can navigate your way off the ropes you’ve been tossed on.

Realistic Odds for Survival: 5%
My Hope: He uses his superior rope skills to lasso onto El Diablo’s leg as he escapes this movie; they go on to star in DCEU supervillain romantic comedy.

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The Joker
(played by a monster Jared Leto)

Leto’s abusive method acting antics and the wild overexposure of the Joker have rendered him my least anticipated part of this movie, franchise, comics, life. He will outlive us all.

Realistic Odds for Survival: 100%
My Hope: Harley Quinn takes her iconic mallet and sends the Joker straight to the moon. Out of method acting, Robbie does the same to Leto.

Harley Quinn
(played by Margot Robbie)

If you check out the Warner Bros. Youtube character trailers, you’ll find that Harley Quinn’s is the most popular with almost 150k views over her biggest rival: the Joker. She’s been described as DC Comics’ “fourth pillar” franchise (next to Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern) by chief creative officer Geoff Johns. She’s a character whose meteoric popularity started and grew primarily outside of comics.

The concern for Harley is not whether she survives, it’s whether or not she kicks her abusive relationship to the curb.

Realistic Odds for Survival: 100%
My Hope: After sending the Joker to the moon (see above), Harley goes on to lead the plot of the rumored Birds of Prey-esque movie, falls madly in love with a botanist redhead.

LGBTQ Hide Month: DC’S Rebirth Demotes Queer Characters

This piece originally appeared on Panels.

Last week, DC Comics released to press a splash image promoting Rebirth, its purported new and optimistic creative force for its main continuity comic line-up. In an interview with Newsarama, DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns said “Rebirth is the compass, here’s where we’re going.”

The splash image, according to its accompanying press copy, is “a visual Who’s Who of the DCU.” If you want to know who matters in the DC Rebirth, well, here’s your guidemap. It’s linked below.

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In the preceding image (illustrated by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Hi-Fi) you will find the Trinity, Raven sans avian attire, Captain Boomerang, and two Wally Wests—one white, one black.

What you won’t find in this image, this veritable directory of DC’s plans over the next weeks, months, years, is much queer representation. I’ve edited the image to highlight the company-acknowledged-as-LGBTQ characters present.

Queer Rebirth

What’s pictured: Batwoman, Harley Quinn, and Constantine (bottom center, if his muted colors lost you).

What’s not pictured: transgender characters, non-binary characters, gay men, queer people of color, any of the several queer characters created since the New 52. No Bunker, Black Orchid, Virtue, Operator, Porcelain, Ya’Wara, or Starling. Even some of DC’s most noteworthy or headline-nabbing queer characters failed to make the cut.

At last April’s Emerald City Comic Con DC Entertainment: All-Access Panel, DC Co-Publisher Dan Didio claimed that Midnighter, star of a critically-acclaimed recent solo series and one of the most famous gay male superheroes, was “still an important part of the DC Universe.” Not more important than almost 70 other characters, apparently. Not more important than Captain Boomerang.

At May 2012’s Kapow Comic Convention DC New 52 Panel, Didio promised that an established hero would have their sexuality switched to something more queer, becoming one of DC’s “most prominent gay characters.” That character would Alan Scott, an alternate Earth’s Green Lantern. He does not appear in this splash presumably because his home, Earth-2: Society, is one of DC’s two main-continuity series (with Gotham Academy) to not take part in Rebirth promotion, denying him and his other diversified peers thousands of eyeballs. If this Rebirth’s hourglass teaser is to be believed, Scott may also have to compete his “classic,” “previously straight” self, a situation familiar to that of black Wally West. DC_Rebirth_catalog__00036-1

Even Batwoman, arguably DC’s most iconic LGBT character and pictured above for her upcoming role in Detective Comics, was recently victim to a forced, year-long sabbatical. In a glowing piece from the Advocate in May 2015, DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee said of Batwoman, “there are great characters and sometimes you have to give them a rest to bring them back.” Meanwhile Deathstroke has no time for naps, as Rebirth’s giving him his third series in nearly five years.

And though it seems unfair to quibble over a piece of promotional artwork, it actually does represent what Rebirth’s presented of DC’s queer characters so far. Constantine has a solo series, Batwoman is an ensemble lead inDetective Comics, and Harley Quinn swings both ways with a solo and a leading team role in Suicide Squad. And that’s it. As is with the promotional image, there are no other yet-acknowledged queer characters in significant roles.

If these concerns seem somewhat incongruent with a portion of DC Rebirth #1, consider invisibility. Spoilers for the issue (written by Geoff Johns with art by Ivan Reis, Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez) follow.

Across his two-panel appearance, Jackson Hyde (more popularly known as Aqualad of the Young Justice animated series) comes out as liking guys, framed by his mother’s homophobia. In and out and out. He doesn’t appear again.

It’s hard to believe that DC would give him a broom closet’s worth of real estate in one of their most important comics for nothing; it’s just a matter of finding where. Unfortunately, fans hoping up to follow his story currently have nowhere to turn. He hasn’t appeared in any DC Rebirth press material—not in the announcement, in interviews, on series covers, or even in the above splash page, which was included inDC Rebirth #1.

Amidst tearful reunions and a supposed more optimistic return to storytelling, the one corner granted to a queer character is one of prejudice and no clear future.

Queer invisibility (onset by hetero/cisnormativity) is precisely why LGBTQ folk are burdened with coming out. If cis+straight weren’t made the default, then there’d be no impetus to come out. Fitting, then, that DC leads a creative charge that positions cis+straight characters so aggressively as the default. No wonder Jackson’s mother is a homophobe; the universe DC’s Rebirth is building is one where LGBTQ people barely get to exist.

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Numerous interviews with Johns, Lee, and Didio reference “core readers,” previous runs, the past. The event’s name pays homage to Johns’ Green Lantern: Rebirth, which returned Green Lantern Hal Jordan to the publishing foray.

By centering so much on the past, DC eclipses its diversity gains—particularly recent years’ genuinely forward-moving queer representation—in favor of yet again restoring its straight (and white and male) characters to glory.

Black Wally West gets less definitive alongside White Wally West. Jaime Reyes and Ryan Choi, the Mexican-American Blue Beetle and Chinese-American Atom, get to return to comics only if chaperoned by their white male contemporaries. If the “classic” (all-white, based on that teaser) JSA truly returns as they were, they’ll be full-on rendering their Earth-2 counterparts as derivatives.

At the end of the day, there is only finite space. There is only finite space on a team’s roster, in a comic’s pages, in an event’s promotional material, in a publisher’s slate, on the shelf of a comic book store.

There was no room for Bunker on Teen Titans (there barely was even when he was on it), Operator in Birds of Prey, any queer character on the Justice League, an Authority book starring Midnighter and Apollo, or a leading transgender character anywhere. Queer characters have been pushed out. It’s sad, then, that the most hopeful and inclusive places for queer fans and characters is not the “core readers’” present day, but in the past—the lone series of DC Comics Bombshells, an alternate universe, digital-first comic set during World War II.

And, at the end of the day, there is only finite space in fans’ budgets.

Fat Chance: 7 Superheroes Who Could Use a Size Upgrade

This piece originally appeared on Panels.

Every good superhero needs faith. Every good superhero publisher needs Faith—or, at least, someone like her.

Valiant Entertainment made waves several months back by announcing a miniseries starring longtime Valiant superhero Faith Herbert, a.k.a. Zephyr. Faith, for those unfamiliar, is a “psiot” whose powers include flight and psionic shield creation. She’s known for buoyant personality, geeky interests, and unique body type: she’s fat.

Faith #2 by Jody Houser, Francis Portela, and Marguerite Sauvage. Cover by Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic.
Faith #2 by Jody Houser, Francis Portela, and Marguerite Sauvage. Cover by Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic.

Valiant’s superhero stable has been around for a few decades, but their characters have yet to reach the notoriety heights DC or Marvel’s crop of heroes. If public reaction and early sales mean anything, Faith may be poised to break that barrier.

If you judge a book by its cover (a valid purchasing tactic), Faith stands out from all other heroes visually because she’s fat. She’s not thin like most heroes are (they don’t all need to be). She’s not coerced into a sexual gaze, not particularly the reigning and narrow standards of beauty female heroes are so often trapped in.

Faith is fat. And happy, based on almost all of her miniseries’ covers. Andrelatable, to those new to Valiant who went out and bought her four-issue miniseries. According to Comichron,Faith #1 sold over 22,000 in initial physical copies to the direct market, twice that of Valiant’s next highest-selling series. That same issue would go onto get four additional printings. In February, Faith#2 still reigned as the publisher’s highest-selling at 12,266. Into the next month, Faithonly dropped to 12,114—a measly 1% drop. None of this takes into account digital sales or trade pre-orders, markets pre-disposed to favor lead characters like Faith even more than the direct market is.

As a result of the character’s incredible success, Faith is now getting an ongoing series starting in July. A little bit of body diversity has drawn in thousands of readers where there weren’t any before; now it’s about time that other superhero publishers consider a some body positivity to be, well, a positive. Here are seven superpowered characters who could do with a little extra.

Poison Ivy

Pamela Isley’s most famous (and offer better) designs often evoke a retro, pin-up inspiration. Those same glamorous styles of design are also ones that have historically been more accommodating to women of curvier body sizes.

I’d say it’s about time we model Ivy after model Tess Holliday.

Tess Holliday for Monif C.
Tess Holliday for Monif C.

Plastic Man

According to my haphazard research, there is no known limit to Plastic Man’s body-stretching powers. First: what a Mary Sue. Second: even so, if Plastic Man were naturally fat, he would have even more raw body material to work with to help save the world.

Young children had it right the entire time: infinity + 1 is greater than just regular, skinny infinity.

Mystique

Recent iterations of Mystique have portrayed the shapeshifter’s abilities as ones that fluctuate mass and shape on whim. There are no heights, weights, hair colors, and other physical characteristics that are off-limits to Ms. Darkhölme.

Now imagine the body positive message Mystique could convey if she simply just chose a default form that’s simply more round. And sure, she’s a villain, but that hasn’t stopped The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula from becoming a positive fat (and queer) icon for many.

Colossus

Good ‘ole Piotr Rasputin is already a large, broad-shouldered human citadel, so why not just fortify him further? His mutation is what’s responsible for his super-strength, stamina, and durability; added girth would only bolster that more.

Let’s build a steel fortress out of a brick house, y’all.

Starfire

If I’ve learned anything from reading comments about superhero comics, it’s that straight men love championing Starfire as a sexually liberated icon.

Since empowerment is so embedded in this alien princess’s being, I see no reason why she can’t also be an empowering symbol for body diversity too. And, just like many modern fat athletes, Starfire is strong, nimble, and resolute. She’d be a natural fit.

Amanda Waller

How delightful! Jerry Bingham illustrated a great design for Amanda Waller on Suicide Squad #10. Get on that, DC!
Jerry Bingham illustrated a great design for Amanda Waller on Suicide Squad #10. Get on that, DC!

Follow me here: Amanda Waller should be one of the most intimidating forces in all of superhero comics. She’s not the type to care about conforming to patriarchal standards of beauty. Even better, we can give her an nickname the ties into her imposing size and her name: the Wall.

And Everyone Else

Honestly, almost every Big Two character could be a candidate for a more body-diverse character design. There are fat Olympian athletes. There are curvy award-winning dancers and choreographers (check out The Royal Family and Tricia Miranda’s dancevideos for my faves). People with body types beyond those of Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition models have been doing heroic and/or physically demanding feats for centuries. It’s time for comics to recognize heroes of all shapes and sizes.

Up Past Midnighter: Why Can’t I Stay?

This piece originally appeared on Panels.

We all have our self-insert characters, either in our fiction or in others’. Characters that, in many ways, are us—but with different colored hair, a more tragic backstory perhaps, or a really badass scar across one eye.

When women have self-inserts (or female characters who are generally just competent), they’re called Mary Sues. When (often cisgender heterosexual white) men have self-inserts, they’re called protagonists. In comics (and elsewhere), male protagonists’ flaws can be usually described as “is just a little too quippy” or “probably sleeps with more women than what’s socially acceptable, that scamp.”

As a gay man, self-inserts don’t exist for me in mainstream media. So I’ve turned to my personal fiction.

But, for far more years than I’d care to admit, all of my self-insert characters would subconsciously veer towards the same path: he, a supporting character to the female lead, would sacrifice his life in a bid of heroism, loyalty, and friendship. Remember, this was my obvious self-insert character, my Best Case Scenario.

Years of seeing myself in two specific media roles—that of the supportive Gay Best Friend with no interior story worth telling or the tragic corpse dangling on the reel as awards bait—conditioned me to see my Best Case Scenario as “dying as a secondary figure, but nobly and by choice.”

“Choice.”

I can’t find many heroes for me, so I turn to comics: the world of immortal heroes, both in power set and market value. Every month, I scour solicits for roles—superpowered or otherwise—that I might get to occupy.

I get to be the ensemble member on the team with more members than I have lines. I get to be subject of a national-headlines-grabbing event, only to be sidelined for months (or years) later. I get to be a hero whose humanity gets virtually exterminated by a cosmic force. In Secret Wars, I get to disappear. In Future’s End, I get to die three times in the first several issues. In an Image comic, it’s a surprise—I have an even chance to be a space explorer or an abused, suicidal student serial killer-turned-series-villain, a wrestling champion or a predatory serial public masturbator (who literally turns into a behemoth pig). At DC, I get to be the lone gay male hero to get a solo ongoing series in the publisher’s 80-year history. At Marvel, I’ve still haven’t had that chance in their 77-year one.

In Midnighter, I got to lead and I got to live. I got to be Wolverine and Batman. I got to be happy and alive. I got to be a survivor. I got to be smarmy. I got to be handcuffed to Dick Grayson.

For a year and no longer. That is my entire leading lifespan. In the DC Rebirth, I’m not—through any character shown at that presentation—visible anywhere.

Meanwhile, the industry’s Dudley “How Many Are There?” Dursley gets to lead: Invincible Iron Man. Aquaman. International Iron Man. Deathstroke. Moon Knight. The Flash. Spider-Man/Deadpool. Green Arrow. Amazing Spider-Man. Red Hood/Arsenal. Amazing Spider-Man 1.x. Swamp Thing. Spidey. Superman. Hyperion. Batman/Superman. The Astonishing Ant-Man. Action Comics. Star-Lord. Superman: The Coming of the Supermen. Venom: Space-Knight. Superman: American Alien. Karnak. Batman. Doctor Strange. Detective Comics. Doctor Strange: Last Days of Magic. Batman Beyond. Hercules. Green Lantern. Daredevil. Batman ’66 Meets the Man from U.N.C.L.E. Old Man Logan. Art Ops. Deadpool. Lucifer. Deadpool & the Mercs for Money. Jacked. X-Men: The Worst X-Man Ever. Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham: The Silver Age. Darth Vader. Obi-Wan and Anakin.

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Don’t worry, Dudley, you have a full 42 just next month and just as many in the months following. And me? We’ll see how these next eight decades go.

5 Queer-Friendly Comics Publishers You Should Know

This piece originally appeared on Panels.

Brutal fight sequences, unrealistic melodrama, heart-wrenching loss, and cartoonish, over-the-top villains are comics staples. And by “comics,” I mean the industry—forget what’s on the page.

Trusting companies is tough and ill-advised; trusting companies with matters of LGBTQ representation is why I wake up screaming at night. Between fits, however, I have found solace. Several comics publishers, by fostering queer talent and keeping an eye towards diversity, have earned my trust as a queer fan. Here are several I’d recommend.

Rosy Press

Fresh Romance #1 cover by Kevin Wada
Fresh Romance #1 cover by Kevin Wada

While decades-old publishers are still struggling with baby steps towards queer representation, Rosy Press—which launched just a year ago—has been inclusive from the get-go.

Janelle Asselin, a queer woman herself, is the publisher of Rosy Press and architect behind Fresh Romance, a monthly, primarily-digital romance anthology. Many queer comics creators—Kate Leth, Sarah Winifred Searle, Kevin Wada, Trungles, Taneka Stotts, Marcy Cook (full disclosure: a writer at Panels)—have had or will have work featured inFresh Romance.

“School Spirit,” by Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Amanda Scurti, and Taylor Esposito, follows several high school students, two of whom are girls in a clandestine romance.

Fresh Romance is now currently crowdfunding a Kickstarter-exclusive print collection of its first stories, which include “School Spirit.”

BOOM! Studios

Lumberjanes #1 cover by Noelle Stevenson.
Lumberjanes #1 cover by Noelle Stevenson.

Throw a rock in any given direction at BOOM!’s publication slate and you’re bound to hit a book starring queer characters (metaphorically, please don’t throw rocks at people IRL).

There’s Lumberjanes, a series starring girls (at least three of whom are queer) exploring friendship and supernatural shenanigans at their summer camp. There’s The Woods, another comic about (primarily) queer teens trying to survive supernatural woods on another planet—and to much more lethal stakes. There’sCognetic and Memetic, two separate but thematically-linked miniseries about queer leads navigating unique and unnerving apocalypse scenarios.

Help Us! Great Warrior, Bravest Warriors, The Spire, and We(l)come Back join this already impressive list.

These stories would not exist were in not for queer creators and editorial members—including Noelle Stevenson, James Tynion IV, Shannon Watters, and Grace Ellis—who breathe them life.

Northwest Press

Anything That Loves edited by Charles "Zan" Christensen, cover art by various.
Anything That Loves edited by Charles “Zan” Christensen, cover art by various.

With most publishers, fans have to rely on word-of-mouth to find queer stories by queer creators. Reading a solicit or looking at a cover won’t necessarily always tell prospective audiences if the character staring back at them is queer.

Since the business of Northwest Press isqueer comics, that’s no concern.

In its relatively short lifespan (it was founded in 2010 by Zan Christensen), the publisher has produced several queer anthologies, anti-bullying stories, and multiple award-winner comics. It’s highest-profile project is Anything That Loves, an anthology exploring sexual identities beyond the gay/straight binary.

Hard to Swallow, an anthology containing ten years of gay male erotica, earned over $20,000 in funding last month on Kickstarter.

Oni Press

Wet Moon vol. 1 reprint cover by Annie Mok
Wet Moon vol. 1 reprint cover by Annie Mok

In truth, Oni Press was not really on my radar before 2015. I’d heard of it and was actually reading one of its series, The Bunker, slowly over trade. Otherwise, we were two ships passing each other in the night.

Then, in early 2015, the publisher announced that it’d be opening up toopen submissions—with a special focus on diverse creators and stories. Months later at San Diego Comic Con, they alsoannounced several new (unaffiliated with the open submissions) series—Another Castle, The Mighty Zodiac, Over the Surface—that appeared diversity-friendly with creators, characters, and tone.

This newfound goodwill has prompted me to better notice Oni’s present and future queer offerings. Scott Pilgrim and Hopeless Savages are past critical darlings with (supporting) queer characters; current and future series Another Castle, The Bunker, and Merry Men all feature LGBTQ diversity either on or off the page (or both!). Upcoming print editions forWet Moon and Fresh Romance (in partnership with Rosy Press) provide the same.

Hiveworks

Agents of the Realm vol. 1 cover by Mildred Louis
Agents of the Realm vol. 1 cover by Mildred Louis

Any conversation about queer comics that leaves out webcomics is a sham. While traditional publishers tend to their dinosaur farms (that wasn’t meant to make them sound cool), independent, otherwise ignored voices have been forging ground on the digital frontier.

Hiveworks is a publisher—albeit not in the usual sense—of webcomics. Independent webcomics creators choose to align their series with Hiveworks and, in turn, get focused support without editorial interference. Webcomic owners no longer have to go it alone; through Hiveworks, they get mentorship, advertising, and boosted visibility.

Many of the webcomics supported by Hiveworks feature a mix of queer stories and queer creators. Sister Claire, Agents of the Realm, Sfeer Theory, Balderdash, Go Get a Roomie!, Knights Errant, andSparkler are just a few. Mildred Louis’s Agents of the Realm recently concluded its volume one Kickstarter where it raised over $30,000.

Series Announcement: Oni Series “Merry Men” Interprets Robin Hood as Gay Outlaw

This piece originally appeared on Panels.

Robin Hood is a man of many hats; he’s been a centuries-old folklore legend, the star of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, and a fox (both in the anthropomorphic sense and as a compliment).

Starting this June, Merry Men from Oni Press will present the iconic archer in a different light: as a 13th century gay outlaw and former lover to King Richard. In response to Prince John’s criminalizing of homosexuality, Robert Godwinson (nickname: Robin) and his band of friends and lovers live in isolated lives in the Sherwood Forest. That is until a stranger approaches these merry men beseeching aid against the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Writer Robert Rodi (Astonishing Thor, Codename: Knockout), interior artist Jackie Lewis (Lion of Rora), and colorist Marissa Louise (Semiautomagic) have banded together to create Merry Men, which is launching on June 1st.

Panels is excited to present an exclusive preview of the comic and interview the creative team. 75c1e3e4-d057-4b5f-bcc5-2852e3df1dbb

How did Merry Men come to be and how has it evolved since its inception?

Robert Rodi: I’m a bit of a history buff, with a special love of English medieval history. And one day a few years ago I was ferreting around the various blogs and websites devoted to the subject when I came upon a discussion of whether Robin Hood was gay. Well… of course Robin Hood can’t actually have been gay, because Robin Hood wasn’t real. But there was some discussion, based on a few papers by a few academics, that possibly the origins of the Robin Hood story were rooted in sexual outlawry — that the historical figures who inspired the legend of Robin and his merry men, were people who were ejected from society and forced to live in nature because of their homosexual practices.

As a gay man I was of course very interested in this, and read as much as I could; and, well, it’s all about as persuasive as any other theory about the origins of Robin Hood, which is to say, about as persuasive as you want it to be. Given the lack of any hard evidence of any kind, everything about Robin is more or less conjectural.

“Whatever people think Robin Hood is, Robin Hood is.” That’s an awesome quote. Beyond his station a sexual outlaw, who is this version of Robin Hood to you?

Robert: Well, any version of Robin Hood has to be a man of the people … a man who stands up for the little guy against the monolithic authority that would otherwise crush him. But when we meet our version of Robin in our first issue, he’s not got there yet. He’s just a guy who’s been in the Crusades and returned home and tried to settle back down to his old life. And it’s a humble life, too; unlike the later Robin Hood legends, where he’s a nobleman named Robert Lockley, in our story he’s a lowly village burgher, Robert Godwinson. He’s an outsider: a Saxon in a Norman world. He just wants to live quietly and peacefully.

But that all goes to hell, and he finds himself in a refugee in Sherwood Forest, with a band of friends and lovers who look up to him and basically make him their leader by proxy — because he’s a man of the world, he’s seen the world, he’s been a soldier. He’s not entirely comfortable with being the guy who makes the decisions, but he recognizes he’s the obvious choice and so he goes along with it. But then as our story progresses, he gets pushed into being something even bigger — something almost mythic.

Jackie Lewis: I think Robert has hit the nail on the head with this one. However Robin Hood is interpreted, presented, or performed, the cornerstone of his character is that he’s someone who fights for the underdog. He represents something bigger than “steal from rich to give to the poor.” He represents the will to stand up for what you believe in, whether it’s protecting peasants or struggling for equality. He’s the quintessential protagonist. While Robin is usually portrayed as a nobleman whose main story arc is that he opposes Prince John’s claim to the throne, I think Robert’s take on him adds many, many layers to the Robin Hood legend. The struggle of queer people is woven throughout world history, and using the platform of this incredibly well-known cultural icon to tell this story is brilliant, in my opinion. 8d1db570-db97-4f25-b0f8-79e39ecfaad5

Jackie and Marissa, how are you approaching your work on Merry Men? Can you share your specific priorities and inspirations?

Jackie: My main priority, when designing the characters that we’re more familiar with, was to break away from “classic” representations, but still pay homage to them. Take away Robin Hood’s pointy feathered hat, but leave the slightly-curled mustache. Little John has to be big and burly, but make him a bit more subtle. Basically, keep the characters in the realm of recognizability, but make them unique to this project.

I also did a TON of research. I now have so, so many books on the early medieval era. I start every new project by researching contemporary clothing, weapons, technology, really anything that will help me visually flesh out the world. I’ve even gotten supplies for and made medieval era-appropriate arrows, just to get a really good sense of how to draw them. I also watched a few different Robin Hood movies that I grew up on, not only to refresh what stands out to me, but also to make sure I avoid designing anything too close to past interpretations. What’s great is that I still love all of them for various reasons, and I want to bring that love to this project. I want readers to fall in love with the characters and Robert’s new take on the Robin Hood mythos.

Marissa Louise: I was very excited to receive this project. I knew right off the bat I’d be setting up moods for fights, forests & romance! Those are all very different moods so to integrate them is very appealing. The speckled light of a forest can really amplify any mood in very interesting ways.

Like Jackie I do research, a  little less extensive though. Jackie sent me some fletching information. That was really neat, but I haven’t made arrows yet. There is a sword fighting community in Portland, Oregon, that I stop by some time. I highly recommend learning that. Most of my research is going through old illustrations or movies I like to find palettes & lighting the evoke the mood I’m looking for. Then I compile this on a Pinterest board and do color studies.

Robert, you mention Robin’s band of friends and lovers. Who are these Merry Men, and do they all have roots in previous Robin Hood stories?

Robert: Most of my cast is drawn from previous Robin Hood stories: Little John, Much the Miller’s Son, Will Scarlet, Arthur-a-Bland, and Alan-a-Dale. Joining them are two all-new new characters. Kenneth Lester is an older man (and one of Robin’s ex-lovers); I wanted Robin to have someone wiser and more experienced on hand, that he could use as a sounding board. And then there’s Sabib al Hassan, a Saracen page Robin rescued in the Holy Land.

The two obvious absences from this list are Friar Tuck and Maid Marian. To explain that, I have to clarify how I approached the series. I wanted to clear away all the narrative and thematic layers that have accumulated over the centuries — to go back to first principles (the earliest Robin ballads, from the 14th century) and start over from there. I felt free to pick and choose from everything that came after. And I did not choose Maid Marian. Partly because she’s such a late addition to the legend; she doesn’t appear in any Robin Hood ballads until the 16th century. And she actually had her own folkloric tradition before that. It’s sort of like, if a couple hundred years from now, people only remembered Wonder Woman as Superman’s girlfriend. In a way, I’m just giving Marian back her freedom; she’s not stuck being somebody’s love interest anymore. And that’s the other reason I’m not using her: because she wouldn’t fit that role, anyway. In our series, Robin’s love interests are all male.

As for Friar Tuck … that’s a bit complicated. The first Robin Hood ballads were set in the fourteenth century, but later he got retconned to the early twelfth — which I vastly prefer, given the nice, juicy über-villain we then get in Prince John. But in the early twelfth century, there were no friars in England; the mendicant orders came much later. And I’m trying to keep this series as historically accurate as possible, to compensate for any liberties I might take for narrative purposes. I do have plans for Tuck, and you’ll get an pretty good idea of them before our first arc is finished; but he won’t be a friar, and might not be recognizable in some other respects, as well. 1b361d87-ba02-48f7-af84-d9956d79445c

The synopsis mentions homosexuality (through Prince John’s laws against it)—can readers also expect to see other shades of queer identity in Merry Men?

Robert: Yes, they can, Jon. Beginning right in issue #1.

Jackie and Marissa, can you share a little bit about your process when you receive a Merry Men script?

Marissa: When I get the script I read it and try to pick out important emotional beats. Once I get the line art look it over to plan lighting and figure out how the emotional color beats would work best with the line art. Then I send the pages to a flatter. When I get those back I color correct and render.Then I usually set it aside for a bit and look back at it to refine the rendering, light and eye flow. The covers are a little different. I really try to tell a strong story with just one image. So I tend to push my colors a little harder on the covers than I do on the interiors. It is necessary for it to blast off the shelf, but also not rely on the same tricks as the covers around it.

Jackie: First thing I do is read the whole script. I’ll look for anything that might come up throughout it that I need to include early on; any costume or environmental elements, even a plot element that occurs later on that I can elude to in earlier pages.  Then, I print out the script and sketch out rough compositions for each panel on the script pages themselves (something I used to do when I did theater). I plan the page layouts based on how much real estate I wanna give each panel according to importance, amount of dialogue, etc.

Luckily, this isn’t hard, because Robert’s dialogue and descriptions are so lovely and give me room to flex. From there, I do thumbnails and pencils in Manga Studio, then print out the blue line on bristol and ink over that. All along this process, I check for continuity errors and any anachronisms I might have accidentally included. Also, I constantly refer back to the script to lead me on acting cues and anything else it calls for.

Can you tease what readers can look forward to in the first several issues ofMerry Men?

Robert: In our first story arc, you’re going to see the Sheriff of Nottingham’s campaign against “merry men” spread, and our band of heroes evolve from forest-dwelling refugees into a small guerrilla army. You’ll see love affairs tested—some survive, others may not. You’ll see new versions of classic Robin Hood villains, including Prince John, the Bishop of Hereford, and the depraved Guy of Gisbourne. You’ll see a flashback to the Crusades, with Robin and Richard the Lionheart as warrior-lovers in the Middle East, and you’ll witness the travails of an abandoned wife in 12th century England (there will be women in our cast; most definitely so). Above all, you’ll witness Robert Godwinson becoming Robin Hood—with lots of action and adventure along the way, and some reflection on the choices we make, and why we make them. And of course you’ll see lots of gorgeous artwork, gorgeously colored. Sounds like a deal to me.

Jackie: An excellent script that cleverly draws parallels between the world of Merry Men and current social/political issues. Great fight scenes, hard choices, and characters that you’ll get to know in a whole new way. Also, stone-cold hotties.

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Merry Men, by Robert Rodi, Jackie Lewis, and Marissa Louise, debuts June 1st, 2016. It will be available to pre-order in the April PREVIEWS catalogue, and it’s final order cutoff date is May 9th, 2016.

Interview reformatted for clarity.

Art Roundup: Finn/Poe of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This piece originally appeared on Panels.

Welcome to Art Roundup, where we pick a comics character Star Wars ship and spotlight its awesomeness with rad fan creations. In honor of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this spotlight is dedicated to its most popular ship: Finn/Poe a.k.a “Stormpilot” a.k.a “Puffin.”

What better way to start than with this piece by Phil Noto? And sure, it’s not super romantic, but consider: Phil Noto.

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Here’s an adorable “prom pose” illustration by Iledra.

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Poe Dameron’s jacket is no doubt an-indemand cosplay item. What exactly is it made of? Luckily, Tumblr user Lava-Alley has the answer.

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Oscar Isaac sings and plays the guitar to “Star Wars”; it only makes sense that Poe should share his talent. Thanks to Noelle Stevenson for this piece.

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[Edited] When trouble strikes, Finn runs, as seen in this Daryl Toh piece.

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In response, Poe takes Finn for a fast-paced ride in this piece by Leaf Puppy!

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Ugly sweaters are a cultural force that span all universes—at least these, in this pieceby Tumblr user Deadpai, are especially cozy.

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If someone breaks out the mistletoe for Life Day (Is there mistletoe in the Star Wars universe? Can there be?), it’ll look a lot like Cquaer‘s very adorable piece.

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Disney, I need you to contract Reed Black for a BB-8 Has Two Daddies all-ages picture book NOW.

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