A Look Back at Sina Grace’s run on Iceman.

Back in June of this year, Sina Grace shared a blog post about his experience working at Marvel. The post has already been subject to plenty of media coverage and online discussion, including on the GeeksOUT Podcast. For those of us familiar with the historical treatment of marginalized voices in publishing, the experience he described is equal parts frustrating, familiar, and disappointing. With that new context in mind, I decided to take a look back at his acclaimed run on Iceman.

Before I dive in, I should cover some of the history for those who didn’t the saga from the beginning. The Iceman solo series came about after the problematic outting of Iceman (aka Bobby Drake) in the All-New X-Men #40 back in 2015. The issue has become the subject of widespread criticism due to the way it was handled. In the story, a time-displaced younger version of Bobby Drake was prodded to admit that he was gay by his teammate, the telepath Jean Grey. After coming to terms with it, the young Bobby then confronted his present day older self. This left the adult Bobby Drake of the present day timeline to grapple with a reality he had been hiding from for his entire life. This is where the solo series picks up.

Thawing Out — Collecting Iceman (2017) #1-5 by Sina Grace, Alessandro Vitti, Edgar Salazar, Ibraim Roberson, Ed Tadeo, and Rachelle Rosenberg.

The first volume of Iceman dealt with a lot of familiar queer themes. It centered around Bobby’s already strained relationship with his mutantphobic parents, where he tried to make peace while trying to figure out the best way to come out to them. There was also some nice awkward conversations with his ex-girlfriend Kitty Pryde, and a storyline where he tried to rescue one of his students from the charming and deceitful Daken. Bobby’s efforts to smoothly navigate his new reality as a gay man did not go as planned, but the messy results lead to some raw and powerful character moments. It was refreshing to see who Bobby was beyond his projected overconfidence and affinity for dad jokes. 

Absolute Zero —Collecting Iceman (2017) #6-11 by Sina Grace, Rober Gill, Ed Tadeo, and Rachelle Rosenberg.

The second volume opened with Iceman and his friends mourning the death of Black Widow, which occurred during the Marvel Secret Empire event. The series of events took Bobby and his friends to LA, where he met Jonah and ended up going on his first date since coming out. The story hits all of the beats of a first love story nicely, with the added complications of Bobby’s X-Men lifestyle thrown into the mix. This volume also ties up some of the loose ends from the first volume; namely the storyline with Daken and Bobby’s former student Amp. Daken’s actions ended up making a mess of things, but the second volume ultimately shows some important growth for Bobby’s character.

Amazing Friends —Collecting Iceman (2018) #1-5 and Uncanny X-Men: Winter’s End by Sina Grace, Nathan Stockman, and Federico Blee.

The original run of Iceman was canceled after 11 issues, but was renewed for 5 more in 2018. The third volume picks up after yet another timeline reset of the Marvel Universe. There is now only one Bobby, who has absorbed the memories of his younger self and gotten himself a new Iceman costume. The main arc of the story dealt with the Morlocks, an underground group of mutant misfits who are unable to pass as human and live beneath the streets of New York. It also featured an excursion with Ema Frost where Bobby helps her rescue her gay brother, a team up with Spiderman and Firestar that pokes fun at the perils of superhero dating, and a face-off with classic X-Men villain Mr. Sinister. This collection also introduced the new drag performing mutant Darkveil (formerly known as Shade) to the Marvel canon. The closing issue also saw Bobby finally confront Jean Grey about the way she outted him and why it was wrong. 

Reading through the series, I was reminded once again how refreshing it is to have queer stories in set among familiar worlds and characters. While it would have been nice to see an Iceman story that wasn’t so tied up with the ongoing Marvel canon, Sina Grace’s run tells a unique story about an omega-level mutant learning to be emotionally vulnerable for the first time. The themes and situations may not be new, but their context within the popular X-Men franchise is.

For many of us, Bobby Drake has been coded queer for quite some time. I can remember how validated I felt while watching X2: X-Men United back in 2003, just months after I had come out of the closet myself. When Bobby’s parents asked him if he had tried not being a mutant before ultimately turning against him and his friends, it hit close to home. It was the first time that I could recall seeing my own experience represented in a mainstream film.

The X-Men have always been layered in queer themes. From the ostracization of a group of people rejected by their own families, to portraying the fears of mainstream society as a villain. I don’t think it’s what Jack Kirby and Stan Lee intended when they created the series back in 1963, but the queerness is right there it’s premise. That’s a big part of what makes it so disheartening to read about Sina Grace’s experience with Marvel. Stories like this are important and uniquely empowering. I want to see more of them, and I want to Marvel do better.

Review: Letters for Lucardo: Fortunate Beasts

Letters for Lucardo: Fortunate Beasts is the second book of the acclaimed Iron Circus graphic novel series by Otava Heikkila. I wrote a review of the first book for Geeks OUT back in 2017; you may want to start there if you’re thinking of reading the series. This review will contain some unavoidable spoilers for the ending of Letters for Lucardo. Fortunate Beasts was funded through Kickstarter in late 2018.

Fortunate Beasts opens with a brief passage set seven years in the future before cutting back to the aftermath of Letters for Lucardo. When Lucardo confronts his father about sending Ed away, things quickly escalate. The ensuing fight pulls back the curtain a little bit more on the true nature of Lucardo’s family and the Night Court. Lucardo ignores his father’s warnings and immediately begins searching for Ed. It isn’t long before Ed’s quiet new life is disrupted. Lucardo then brings Ed back to the Night Court in the most boisterous and public way possible, setting the stage for a showdown with his father.

One of my favorite this about this series is how the sex is a natural part of the story. It really goes against the grain of puritanical notions about sex that are embedded in our society. Heikkila is also particularly adept at including some delightfully awkward and funny moments that make the sex scenes feel really lived in. If you were to take away the erotic scenes, you would still be left with a touching story. But that story would be missing a pivotal part of what drives the relationship between these two men.

Fortunate Beasts is a more than worthy follow up to its predecessor. It added even more emotional depth to the characters, revealed more about the world of the Night Court, and left me really excited for the third book in the series. Both books are available now through the Iron Circus store.

Review: My Brother’s Husband

My Brother’s Husband is an all-ages manga series by Gengoroh Tagame. It was recently collected into two volumes by Pantheon Books, the first of which won the 2018 Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia. It tells a powerful and heartwarming story of grief, family, homophobia, and forgiveness.

The narrative centers around Yaichi, a single dad who lives in Japan with his daughter, Kana. After learning of the death of his estranged twin brother Ryōji, Yaichi finds himself preparing to welcome his brother’s Canadian husband into his home. He is uncomfortable to say the least. Ryōji’s husband, Mike, has traveled all the way from Canada to meet his late husband’s family. Although he is charming and carries himself with a cheerful demeanor, he is clearly still struggling with his own grief. He is there on a mission of his own; to fulfil a promise he made to Ryōji.

My Brother’s Husband is a relatively simple narrative that builds its strength through quiet moments and strong characters. Through Kana, Tagame shows readers the ways in which homophobia is learned. While her father is preoccupied with figuring out how he feels about his having his new brother-in-law around, Kana has no such qualms. She never struggles with accepting that her father’s brother was gay. In fact, she’s thrilled that she now has a Canadian Uncle.

The story also addresses the culture clash between the Western world and traditional Japanese beliefs. Where Japan by and large is not outwardly homophobic, there is a quiet indifference and an unspoken shame linked to queerness. While it is a stark contrast to the overt hatred displayed toward queer people in other parts of the world, it’s not exactly harmless. That last point comes into sharp focus Yaichi evolves throughout the course of the story, and he begins to see the role that he played in his estrangement from his brother.

My Brother’s Husband is ultimately a story about having the courage to change. It examines cultural barriers and family dynamics that harm queer people. It shows the power of self-examination, forgiveness, and growing beyond the prejudices of our past. It uses powerful imagery from seemingly quiet moments that allow the larger themes of acceptance and empathy to really have an impact and gravity to them.

Even though it begins with the tragedy of Ryōji’s death, and doesn’t stray from conventional storytelling, it is a well-crafted and beautifully drawn queer story that we need to see more of in the world. The full series has been collected into two volumes and published in North America by Pantheon Books.


Review: The Red Threads of Fortune

The Red Threads of Fortune by nonbinary queer Singaporean author JY Yang picks up four years after the events of The Black Tides of Heaven and centers on the prophetic twin Mokoya. Where Black Tides was a coming-of-age story that takes place over several years, Red Threads is a story of grief and redemption told over the period of a few days. The sharp contrast in structure between the two novellas enables the exploration of different themes and accentuates the contrast between the twin protagonists.

 

Through much of book one, Akeha’s perspective of Mokoya’s life was that she was lucky. She had her prophetic visions, a beautiful loving partner in Thennjay, and a purpose in their mother’s protectorate. Early on in book two, it is revealed that the prophecies were always more of a curse as far as Mokoya was concerned. She was able to see visions of the future and yet nothing she did in the present could ever change the outcome. Ultimately it just made her feel helpless; as though she lacked any agency over her own life. In spite of all of that, after the accident and her daughter’s death, she finds herself missing the prophetic visions that no longer visit.

 

At its core, The Red Threads of Fortune is a story about the complicated and often contradictory ways that people deal with grief. The loss of a child is a particularly acute form of trauma, and four years after Mokoya still has not really moved on. She used Slackcraft to graft her daughter’s soul onto a raptor whom she aptly named Phoenix. She left Thennjay and spends her days recklessly hunting naga. She is paralyzed by unpredictable and overpowering memories that seem to come and go at will, much like her prophetic visions once did. It is within this context that she meets Rider.

 

Rider is a practitioner of Slackcraft from the Quarterlands who rides a tamed naga. When Mokoya meets them in the Gusai Desert, they are on a secretive mission of their own. When a massive naga attacks the Mechanist stronghold city Batanaar, both Mokoya and Rider are pulled into the thick of the conflict to save the city. As their unique bond develops, Mokoya is forced to confront her own feelings of helplessness that have plagued her since childhood.

 

The Red Threads of Fortune takes an unflinching look at grief and its lasting effects. Mokoya is in many ways a prisoner of her past, and before that she was a prisoner of her prophetic visions of the future. While the story takes some unexpected turns, the plot itself is resolved in the end, and the underlying themes left me with some resonating questions: How much control should we allow a past we can’t change to hold over us? How many of us believe we are powerful enough to change our fate? They are the sort of questions that individuals must answer for themselves, just like Mokoya had to.

 

It’s with this powerful theme, built on the world-building foundation of Black Tides, that The Red Threads of Fortune elevates the Tensorate series to a whole other level.

 

Next up: the third novella in the series: The Descent of Monsters.

Review: The Black Tides of Heaven

 

The Black Tides of Heaven by nonbinary queer Singaporean writer JY Yang is an impressive feat of both subtly and depth. While fantasy isn’t usually known for its brevity, Yang manages to deliver a richly textured world packed with fascinating characters in a single 236-page novella. Thankfully, this is the first of three  in the Tensorate series.

 

The story focuses on the twins Akeha and Mokoya, and spans 35 years from beginning to end. Akeha and Mokoya are the children of the Protector, a ruthless matriarch who rules her Protectorate through intimidation and bloodshed. The plot begins to take shape when Mokoya has a series of prophetic visions, which prompts their mother to try to use her child’s gift to her own advantage. While both twins are featured heavily in the early chapters, the narrative is driven primarily by Akeha’s journey. With all the attention on Mokoya, Akeha eventually flees their mother’s protectorate to forge his own path.

 

One of the most fascinating details of this world that Yang has created is that children are not assigned genders at birth. We see this play out in a number of unique ways throughout the story. Some children choose very young, others wait until much later, and others still choose to remain somewhere in between. Both Akeha and Mokoya, for instance, each use gender neutral pronouns for the first two parts of the book.  The cultural norm is to recognize gender as something that comes from within, and that in and of itself is a beautiful thing.

 

Beyond its fluid beliefs on gender, the society within the Protectorate suffers from massive wealth inequality. The greatest source of power in this world is the Slack, which draws its energy from different parts of nature. The way people wield this power is reminiscent of the Force in Star Wars, but as the story goes on, Yang gives a sense that it’s much more complex than an energy that binds the universe together. While most secrets of the Slack are kept secret by the Tensors, they are facing an uprising from the resistant Mechanists. The seeds of this war are sewn in the early chapters and gradually take route throughout the story.

 

Although the book is short, the story itself is large and expansive. The details are intricate yet never overwhelming.  Yang has managed to bring to life a vivid world by only showing us exactly what we need to see. Lucky for us, there are two more novellas after this one: The Red Threads of Fortune and The Descent of Monsters, coming in July from Tor.

Review: Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1

It’s 1953. The U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities is running full steam on their public interrogations of “subversives and deviants.” Snagglepuss is a successful Broadway playwright with a secret. This is how the stage is set in the latest Hanna Barbera Beyond title Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepus Chronicles. Writer Mark Russell is at the helm following his recent success with the Flintstones reboot, and he is joined by artist Mike Feehan. This is the first of a six-issue limited series.

Issue #1 opens with a human couple (Alice and Henry) out on a date. They talk like people do in 1950s sitcoms, with exclamations like “Hot Spaghetti!” and “Oh, Crumbs!” All we really know about them is that they’re excited for the show they’re about to see. While seemingly disconnected from the larger plot, the issue continually circles back to their story and uses it as the framework for the first issue. Spliced in between their small scenes is the meat of the story.

Snagglepuss and his wife, Lila Lion, attend the closing night of his play “My Heart is a Kennel of Thieves.” There, he talks confidently to the press, and leaves after the show receiving a thunder of applause. In the car, he congratulates Lila on her performance for the press, and once she is dropped off, he orders the driver to take him to the Village. As Snagglepuss himself says: “You can only know a man by seeing the parts he doesn’t show you.”

When he enters Stonewall, we are introduced to his partner Pablo. With the TV playing live coverage of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the background, Pablo tells Snagglepuss of his escape from Cuba. When Snagglepuss attempts to dismiss such a police state happening in America, Pablo calls him out on his wishful thinking before delivering, what is perhaps the most pointed line in the entire issue: “Every nation is a monster in the making. And monsters will come for you whether you believe in them or not.”

In the first few scenes, the seeds of the forthcoming conflict are planted. Snagglepuss is shown as a confident writer at the peak of his fame. His sharp wit and careful planning have yet to fail him. The anxieties of the outside world have yet to catch him off guard. But will his wits be enough for when the House Committee begins to take aim at him? Will they find a way to expose his secret and end his career? If the final page is any hint, they are certainly going to try.

Exit Stage Left is a thoroughly researched story set in America’s past, but it provides a biting social commentary of both our history and our present. The Alice and Henry scenes touch on the conviction and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Snagglepuss himself channels the late Tennessee Williams, while his novelist friend Huckleberry Hound is modeled after William Faulkner. He is also revealed to be friends with playwright Lillian Hellman, as well as writer Dorothy Parker of Algonquin Round Table and Hollywood Blacklist infamy. Even Gigi Allen, the villain introduced at the end of the issue, appears to be ironically named after the controversial American singer GG Allin–but I’m only speculating on that one.

Taking a 1950s cartoon and reinterpreting it through a modern lens, with both past and present political anxieties on full display, is bound to produce some bizarre results. Russell and Feehan manage to weave together both the familiar and the weird, and present a world that is equal parts subversive, unique, and cohesive. This first issue is perfectly paced, giving just the right amount of brewing conflict and character development to whet our appetites for the rest of the series.

The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1 is available in comic book shops today!

Extracting Beauty from the Darkest of Places

Seven years ago, I started working on a comic book with my good friend Reed Olsen. It would go on to become the series Dream Crasher, which we are now self-publishing through Kickstarter. Dream Crasher is a 12-chapter story about a group of children who survive a bizarre cataclysmic event and find themselves navigating a strange new world filled with angry ghosts, strange beasts made from human parts, and interdimensional parasites that feed on their dreams. At its core, Dream Crasher is also a story about overcoming trauma, the fight for autonomy, and creating a world where we all have a chance to define our own destiny.

One year into our new comic creating process, Reed and I were on fire. Kickstarter was just beginning to reveal itself as an vehicle for indie comics. Chapter one was drawn and painted, and the work on chapter two had already begun. I had found my voice in writing, and had found a brilliant creative partner in Reed. We had momentum. I was excited for what the future held.

Running parallel to all of this, I found myself very much in love for the first time in my life. Blair changed my jaded views on that four letter word. He challenged me to be a better person. He made me smile every time he laughed at his own jokes. He gave me confidence in the creative choices I was making. He was also a talented writer and musician in his own right, and he encouraged me on this project when it was still in its early stages. To say my life was perfect would be a lie, but I was the happiest I had been in a long time.

All of this changed when Blair died in the summer of 2011. My whole world fell to pieces. The unexpected trauma, the weight of the grief, and the subsequent depression and healing all took their toll in various ways. I’ve written extensively about the grief and the healing over the years since. This tragedy permeated every aspect of my life, and the still-unnamed Dream Crasher was no exception. Comics were put on hold. I scribbled ideas in notebooks and thought about the project from time to time, but in the end it took more than six months before I sat down to work again. And even then, the work was slow. It took another year after that before I finished the script for the third chapter. It felt like starting from scratch and learning how to write again. In hindsight, this was in no small part due to a fresh perspective I had on my main character, Amalie.

I had been following Kurt Vonnegut’s sixth rule to a T. I was being a sadist and making awful things happen to my main character, but I hadn’t given a second thought to how it was affecting her. I hadn’t thought about how she processed the world around her, or who she was because of it. Through my own grief, I suddenly understood her on a whole new level. In many ways, Amalie is a representation of how strong I wish I could be. She’s lost everything she once held dear but has never given in to despair. She’s not unshakeable–she’s persistent. She’s not fearless–she’s brave. She’s a survivor in every sense of the word.

In his own writing, Blair had a knack for extracting beauty from the darkest of places. His example inspired me to do the same. I began to think of this bleak new world as less of a graveyard and more like fertile soil. I realized that it’s not a story about the world that’s been destroyed, but rather the new one that is taking its place. It’s about the children who have an opportunity to shape it and truly make it their own. As dismal as the world can seem sometimes, there are still dreams worth fighting for. Beneath its dystopian exterior, Dream Crasher is a story about finding the last bit of light in a world that’s gone dark and protecting it with every fiber of our being. Even when the powers that be are stacked against us. Even when the cause seems hopeless.

As devastating as Blair’s death was, I didn’t let it stop me. That in and of itself is a cause worth celebrating. Reed and I both had numerous opportunities to put this project down and quietly walk away from it, and no one would have thought less of us for doing so. We didn’t. I’m grateful to say that, in the face obstacles we never could have anticipated, we persisted.

Today, we are on the cusp of completing the first arc of the series. That first arc, which parallels my own story of grief, captures the resilience of a character who has outgrown my original idea of her. A character who grew and inspired me in ways I never expected. I have never worked harder on any single piece of art, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with the world. Like many up-and-coming creators, we have launched a Kickstarter Campaign. With it, we hope to raise funds to cover the cost of printing, lettering, and designing the book itself. We’re offering a variety of rewards to any backers, ranging from digital chapters for as little as $4, the physical book for $25, and several pieces of original artwork from the series for $100. We’re off to solid start. and we’ve already made it farther than seemed possible just a few years ago. The campaign runs until October 6, 2017.

Photo Credit: Blaise Allen.

The Dynamic Queer Characters of Bone Street Rumba

“I first discovered Daniel José Older when he appeared on the excellent When Toxic Masculinity is a Villain panel at Readercon in 2015. I was inspired enough to immediately to pick up my own copy of Half-Resurrection Blues and started reading it on my way home. One of the most satisfying elements of the series is its consistent inclusion and thoughtful execution of some truly badass queer characters. With the final installment released in January–and news that the series has been optioned by Anika Noni Rose–it seemed like the right time to take a closer look at his Bone Street Rumba series and highlight some of the excellent queerness within.

The narrative of all three novels and one shorty story collection features a rotating cast of characters. Some of them are living, some of them are dead, and some of them are in-between. Almost all of them are people of color, and numerous characters fall all over the LGBT spectrum. The setting is Brooklyn, but not the part of Brooklyn most living folk can see. The sprawling narrative initially centers on the half-dead protagonist Carlos Delacruz and his missions for the Council of the Dead, then the second book changes things up by adding the points of view for both Kia Summers and Reza Villalobos. Throughout all of it, Older has his finger on the pulse of each of his characters. He knows what makes each of them tick, and translates their uniqueness and vibrancy beautifully on the page. And it’s his talent for doing this that makes the series so compelling.

Half-Resurrection Blues is the first book of the series chronologically, though it was written after most of the stories in Salsa Nocturna. The story moves at a lightning-quick pace. The only point-of-view character is the half-dead Carlos Delacruz, who has no memory of his life before his death. The book sets up a nice vibe reminiscent of classic X-Files; with with our protagonists working as investigators for the nefarious and untrustworthy Council of the Dead. The most prominent queer character is Baba Eddie Machado, the owner of Baba Eddie’s Botanica who is described as a “consummate santero extraordinaire.” As one of the living characters in the book, he is able to see and interact with the dead. He is also an expert on spiritual matters and plays a pivotal role in keeping Carlos half-alive. His sexuality is indicated by the presence of his husband, Russell, and is but one aspect of his radiant and powerful presence throughout the series. When you’re dealing with an ancient, half-dead sorcerer who literally wants to open the gates of hell, Baba Eddie is a good ally to have on your side.

Midnight Taxi Tango is my favorite of the series. Call it Bone Street’s Empire Strikes Back. Carlos is still a protagonist, but we also get the addition of Kia Summers (who appears on the cover) and Reza Villalobos as POV characters. While Kia herself is not initially presented as a queer character, her missing (and initially presumed dead) cousin Gio is. As Gio’s story is told, at first through Kia’s memories and then his own words, he becomes an integral part of the story. Kia remembers her older cousin as an passionate, anime-loving ballet dancer. After witnessing his high school crush get abducted by demons with pink cockroaches for skin, he disappeared. Seven years later, Gio returns with disturbing news: the roach demons are back and they want him and Kia dead.

Then there’s Reza. Reza works as a muscle protecting sex workers for the illegal side business of a legitimate of a car service in Brooklyn. When the book opens, she is dealing with fresh grief over the mysterious disappearance of her partner Angie. After Angie’s death is confirmed and linked to the same pink roach demons, Reza’s story quickly becomes intertwined with that of Kia, Gio, and Carlos. One factor distinguishing her from her co-protagonists, Reza’s story is one of revenge. She’s been through some shit, and has survived by following a simple philosophy: never be out-gunned. I absolutely loved every Reza chapter, and would strongly advocate for her to get her own spin-off series.

Originally published before Half-Resurrection Blues, Salsa Nocturna has since been reprinted with two new stories. All of these are set between books two and three of the trilogy. The majority of the stories center around Carlos and Gordo, but there are plenty of exceptions (including Reza’s “Date Night”). In the book’s preface, Older recalls a phone call with his editor Kay Holt where she called the book out for being a damn sausage party, after which he got his shit together. This thankfully gave us Krys, a mohawk-sporting phantom who works for the Council of the Dead and caries a rocket-launcher named Greta. She is the central character in the queer themed stories “Magdalena” and “Victory Music,” and goes on to become a POV character in Battle Hill Bolero. While the stories in this collection don’t seem to fit together with the larger narrative at first, they are enjoyable on their own and gradually begin setting the stage for the looming showdown in the final novel.

Battle Hill Bolero features a sprawling narrative as things finally come to a head between the corrupt Council of the Dead and the Resistance. Carlos continues to be the main POV character, but is joined this time by Sasha Brass (a mainstay from book one), Caitlin Fern (introduced in book two, and our first villain perspective), and Krys. Like all of the other books, the action starts right on page one and never slows down. As tensions heat up, Krys is introduced to Redd, a former slave whose soul was released from captivity in the Salsa Nocturna story “Red Feather and Bone.” Through context and an awkward conversation, it is revealed that Redd was not born a man. This was done tastefully and, through the failings of one character, provides a great lesson on what questions not to ask and the overall complexities of gender. As the war rages on, Krys and Redd grow closer, and it’s beautiful to see two ghosts who died young finding one another after death.

Even though the book series has concluded, it still has a lot of promise for an adaptation. We need more queer characters in our shows and movies; specifically characters that aren’t desexualized and don’t devolve into tokenism. There also needs to be better representation of people of color within queer themes and stories. Bone Street Rumba is present and unapologetic on both of these fronts. The noir, urban fantasy world lends itself to some terrifying and beautiful imagery. Some smart casting could give these already vibrant characters a whole new life (no pun intended). The genre of fantasy is more popular now than ever, and it is past time to bring some much needed diversityinto the fray.”

Review: Letters for Lucardo

Iron Circus Comics has been steadily publishing a slew of critically-acclaimed anthologies and graphic novels primarily created by women that focus on queer themes. Among their titles are the collected print edition of the acclaimed webcomic The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal and the sex-positive “by women for everyone” erotica collection Smut Peddler. Their latest, Letters For Lucardo by writer and artist Noora Heikkila, was [successfully Kickstarted last fall and began shipping this spring. It tells the story of an interracial, inter-generational queer Vampire/Human couple, and does so with the tenderness its subjects deserve.

I’ll be the first to admit that vampires are not what drew me to backing this Kickstarter. While it isn’t a subgenre I read regularly, it didn’t deter me either. I didn’t realize there were vampires in it at all until after the book arrived. Though the vampire mythos is impossible to miss once you start reading, the word vampire (to my knowledge) is never spoken. Instead, what we get is a fully realized world in its own right, distinct from the well-known genre tropes. The religion centered around the Silent Lord and ruled by the Night Court is as creepy as it is fascinating. What really drives the plot, however, are the two central characters Ed and Lucardo.

Ed is a 61-year-old scribe working for the Night Court, of which Lucardo is a member. Lucardo hails from a powerful family of ageless aristocrats, and develops strong feelings for Ed in spite of his family’s misgivings. While this is erotica, and the sexual tension is present right from the first scene, the story takes its time to build up to the sex scenes. Each one is approached with a mix of tenderness and raw primal force that is often brought out by love and mutual attraction. It’s through these scenes that we see both characters at their most vulnerable. They help set the tone for dramatic turns outside of the bedroom, making them all the more resonant and powerful.

At its core, this is a story about loving someone in spite of societal boundaries. While the world that Ed and Lucardo live in is not a direct parallel to ours, they experience many struggles resembling those interracial queer couples face. Lucardo’s place on the Night Court grants him a life of privilege unlike anything that Ed has ever known. He starts out largely oblivious to Ed’s struggles, only to realize through the cruel pranks of his siblings and disrespect paid by his father, just how powerful those societal pressures can be. Without dropping any spoilers, it is these very pressures that come to a head and leave the reader eagerly anticipating Book 2.

The physical copy of the book is available now for pre-order, and digital copy can be purchased now from the Iron Circus Store. You can also check out a 10-page preview on the Iron Circus Tumblr.”


Solarpunk: Fighting the Trajectory of our Dystopian Future

“Badlands” by Reed Olsen.

Most of us are pretty familiar with bleak dystopian landscapes at this point: The Walking Dead, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Hunger Games are some recent examples, but the subgenre has been around for ages. Just a few weeks into Trump’s first term as president, it’s beginning to feel like we are living in (or on the cusp of living in) our own dystopia. Amazon sold out of George Orwell’s 1984 (originally published in 1949) during his first week in office. Others have been arguing that we should be paying closer attention to the warnings of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (originally published in 1932) instead. Either way, the outlook isn’t great. If the future they have already warned us about is here, then what hope is there for a better future? The answer might lie in the genre of solarpunk.

“City Landscape” by lavaria-chan.

Wikipediadefines solarpunk:
Solarpunk is a relatively new eco-futurist speculative movement focused on envisioning a positive future beyond scarcity and hierarchy, where humanity is reintegrated with nature and technology is used for human-centric and ecocentric purposes.

Solarpunk first came to my attention after a panel at Readercon 2015, and the movement is still very much in its early stages. There are already examples of people publishing anthologies and webcomics in the genre. In times like our present, it is easy to see the appeal of such a movement. Named in a similar fashion to the more well-known cyberpunk, it envisions a starkly different future. Not a dystopian hellscape nor an escapist fantasy, solarpunk looks to create possible worlds where humankind has achieved harmony with the world we all live in and depend on. Optimism is not a new concept, but it is rare in contemporary science fiction and fantasy. Solarpunk offers the opportunity to show the world some different ways to move forward.

“Green City” by Nick Pedersen.

Solarpunk doesn’t necessarily preclude a utopia. However it does offer a unique chance to create worlds that are free from our present social justice struggles. What might a world look like where LGBT acceptance is as commonplace as religion? What implications would that have on future understandings of gender? What new social problems could emerge once we figure out the conflicts of the present? Once you start digging in, the possibilities are endless. Some of the ideas I’m particularly fascinated with are: what does it look like when having an egalitarian social order conflicts with free will? What happens when a present day counter culture movement becomes mainstream? For anyone who thinks a utopia wouldn’t have enough conflicts to make an interesting story, it might be less challenging than it seems. A more perfect world doesn’t mean it’s a perfect world.

“5:45 to Santa Monica: now boarding!” by cienias.

In the US, we now have a president who denies the existence of climate change and is seen by most as a threat to LGBT rights. It is easy to feel powerless and lose hope. Solarpunk could be a powerful tool for inspiring a future worth fighting for; it doesn’t need to be an exercise in wishful thinking. Rather than using the fear of a grim future to scare people into action, solarpunk can use fiction to give people hope. It can help push the boundaries of what we believe is possible. It can give us a roadmap to work from. Mind you, this is all coming from someone who is currently writing a post-apocalyptic webcomic series. In my defense, the underlying theme of it is about fighting for free will against the institutions that try to shape us, but I’m not here to do a pitch. I’m using it as an example to say: painting a hopeful future isn’t exactly my forte. That doesn’t mean I can’t take up the challenge that solarpunk offers, and I am hoping other writers will heed the call to lend their unique voices to the movement.”