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Sunday, 16 February 2014

Best of 2013: Spandex

Writer: Martin Eden
Art: Martin Eden
Publisher:  Self published and Titan Books

What's it about?
Spandex tells the story of a group of 8 queer superheroes and their enemies, living in Brighton, UK.  For those of you that don't know, Brighton is an LGBT friendly city on the south coast of England.  The members of Spandex are Butch, Diva, Glitter, Indigo, Liberty, Mr Muscles, Neon and Prowler.  Spandex generally has 7 members at a time, and their costumes are coloured according to the colours of the rainbow.  Butch wears green, Diva wears red, Glitter is orange and so on.

Between them their power set covers unbreakable skin, light based powers, teleportation, a danger sense called gaydar, ultra strength, ability to absorb other gay people's powers and skills.  All members are on the LGBT spectrum.  There are recurring characters such as the pink ninjas and the 50 foot lesbian.

The Spandex team have a range of adventures - rescuing goods stolen from the Queen of England, fighting off the grey nadir that removes all colour and joy from the world, dealing with the aforementioned 50 foot lesbian and the gay bashers, a trip to Japan, and because this is a superhero story, betrayal from within the team!  It all ends with a twist I promise you won't see coming.

I've marked this as for mature readers and teens as there are some sex scenes in it as well as general nudity, so is not suitable for little kids, but is an important thing to get into the hands LGBT teenagers. 

What's good about it?
This comic is a great big barrel of fun!  There's a charm to this series that makes it very readable and very engaging.  It starts off simply enough but gets more complex and more interesting as it goes along.  I get the impression that the creator was settling in to his writing and becoming more confident as the story progressed.  It's certainly far more innovative and creative than a lot of work from Marvel and DC.

I think my favourite issue is issue 3 - the threat from nadir.  What a great visual metaphor for the dangers of suppressing LGBT people and LGBT culture this is.  The world has been overcome by grey - colour has disappeared, people's lives are secure, but monotonous and there is no longer any joy or fun in the world.  A few members of Spandex are the last remaining few people free from nadir and it is up to them to save the world.  Issue 3 is probably when I fell in love with the series.
I like that this is not just a gay comic, but an LGBT comic.  It's good to see bisexual and trans people included in queer literature.  I get the impression there are no straight superheroes in the world of Spandex.  I kinda love this idea.

Politically, this is a darn important comic series.  Entertainment wise, it's a cracking read and well worth your time, even if you think you aren't interested in 'gay stuff'.
What's bad about it?
Some people have criticised the series for pandering to stereotypes (see the comments here) and the press releases, cover blurb and costumes do seem to reinforce this idea.  However, upon reading the book it is clear that the stereotypes are more of a knowing in-joke and are references to UK gay subculture, not the defining points of the series.  This is a book about an LGBT team of superheroes, so the queerness is very much in-your-face, that's the point of the book, and if you want a gay story where the sexualities and gender identities are not relevant, this isn't the story for you.  If you want a celebration of UK queer culture and an alternative to straight superhero teams, you may enjoy this.

What's the art like?
This is a tricky one to handle.  The easy way to evaluate art (in any medium) is to look at the drawings of people or objects and consider how sophisticated they are.  Do they look like real people? How difficult would it be to replicate the style?  Could I do that?  If you use that criteria to evaluate Spandex, you will come to the conclusion that the art is bad because the people are not very well drawn and they do look a bit amateurish.
That was my first view but as I continued reading the series I noticed there was something else there, something that made me appreciate the art and really enjoy it.  I think it's that despite the lack of sophistication in the pencils, the emotions and actions of the characters are clear.  The panel layout and the sequence of the art makes it obvious what is going on and in this way the art carries the plot forward as much as the dialogue.  It does exactly what comic art should do and the relative crudity of people's figures is irrelevant, because there is so much more to it sequential art than fancy pencil lines. 
More information
Issues 1 to 7 and the special are available here.  Hardcopies cost of issues 1 to 7 cost £3.20 and the special costs £4.  Each issue is at least 28 pages long.  Alternatively you can buy pdfs for just £1 each.
Titan Comics have released a hardback collection of the first 3 issues, available here for £14.99.  The cover picture at the start of this post is of the Titan edition.

You can check out character biographies here.

If you want to read more LGBT comics you can either try our LGBT tag or the Spandex website has a short list of recommended series.  Check out the website for details of Eden's other comic work, including The O Men.

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