Saturday, February 20, 2021

Process XVII

"Hello, Cleveland."
Alters #4
(Aftershock Comics, 2017)
We’re reading the Paul Jenkins/Leila Leiz comic Alters for class this week, the third notable comic to take place in Cleveland, Ohio, after American Splendor and Howard the Duck. It is also notable in that the protagonist is a trans woman superhero, named Chalice.

Last week we took in the Iceman comics which delved into his life as a gay man, which was queer as in strange (as they say.) It is often an odd fit when an long-established character is rewritten to have a sexual orientation contrary to previous expectations.

So, yeah. We’ve moved onto queer superheroes. When I was a teenager, reading X-Men was in its full flower, working as an aggressively overwrought metaphor for any marginalized group. This came to its obvious conclusion in the X2 when (coincidentally) Bobby “Iceman” Drake reveals to his parents as being a mutant. The metaphor is played for comedy.

His mother asks, “Have you tried ... not being a mutant?”

In the Iceman comics he has to come out to them a second time, this time as gay. No more symbolism, this is attempting to reflect the real life experience.

Alters had the advantage of starting fresh, a new “universe” with a different power dynamic between superpowered humans, which I enjoyed more. In spite of its unique and sympathetic protagonist, and leans harder into the lives of marginalized people - not only trans, but disabled, homeless, people of color - it still falls into a several traps, including a queer-coded arch villain and the cringey depiction of a single black mother anmed Sharise.

Is she realistic, are there people like Sharise? I guess. But knowing it comes from the mind of a white, male writer, the situation and vernacular were a little difficult to take.

And then there’s the Cleveland thing. Just as Steve Gerber, who never visited Cleveland, chose our hometown as the setting for the adventures of Howard the Duck, the British-born Jenkins made this Chalice’s home without really knowing anything about it. Where the hell is “the city center”? The least bit of research could have made it more believable. As it is, Cleveland is simply a stand-in for “Not New York.”

As for me, I am spending this weekend creating a twelve-panel comic adapted from my short play The Negative Zone, which takes place in a comic book shop in the mid 1980s.

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