In Search Of A Battle Cry
Once upon a time – several years ago actually – Martin Eden set about with the idea to create comicdom’s first all LGBT superhero team in the self titled Spandex. Only it just quite wasn’t. No need to search your memories or your collection as it was an obscure, short-lived group that beat Eden to the punch with its debut in the pages of an indy title back in the 1990s. Obscure enough that a I don’t think I own a copy. It was an idea I’d read bandied about once or twice over the course of time on GLA’s email list. But there was a significant difference from those ideas and Eden’s execution which I’ll mention in a moment. As you might expect from a team sans even a token straight character, Spandex is a balancing act between light hearted and campy fun and drama. There are seven members, each of whom represent a color of the rainbow and the (original) Gay Pride flag with their costume. Now the difference between those email posters’ infrequent fantasies and Eden’s creation is this: theirs were all male and Eden has diversified his characters with a three lesbians and a drag queen leader. That probably conjures up all sorts of images in your mind, right? Well, no, not Liberty, as is her code name. Eden’s character bio calls her extroverted but I think she’s fairly reserved. Even her costume covers everything except her face. In contrast, teammate Glitter is about as naked as the cliched jaybird that cranky grannies spout off about any time they see a woman with her ankles uncovered. The remaining members are Mr Muscles and Butch who are twins, as it were, the be-tailed Prowler, Indigo, Neon (who happens along later), and Eden’s Wonder Woman analog Diva. Now Liberty, Diva, and Glitter (who went through his own orientation retcon before Alan Scott) are characters from Eden’s previous, long form, self-described super soap The O Men. Not to worry about history and such though. They seem relatively free of continuity baggage (well, they do meet but not till #5 I see), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a little friction between teammates and then more friction, if you know what I mean.
The first chapter gives an introduction to the team via a meeting to discuss severl prison break outs and an assassination before dealing with an “Attack of the 50 Foot Lesbian” who’s destroying Brighton’s new pier and otherwise wreaking mayhem during her mute path of destruction in the city. Liberty is the leader whose demure nature does not hide her manipulativeness from the blonde and vibrant Diva who has here own terrible secret about a banished woman who looks astonishingly like her. Indigo is a teleporter who has an accessible cache of weapons; she has her own priorities which don’t usually match up with the team. Butch and Mr Muscle are the powerhouses. Mr Muscle and Glitter were lovers once and Muscle’s twin sister Butch will feel justified throwing this back at Glitter. But someone in Butch’s life could lead to disastrous consequences unless Butch herself is involved. Prowler is capable of absorbing any knowledge, talent, or power from other LGBT in his immediate vicinity – though perhaps not his teammates. He also seems to have an innate ability to fly and Eden teases a tragically ended love affair. Glitter is the guy with light or energy powers. And then there’s a nod to Jarvis with Arthur, who may be Martha working in the same capacity but neither appear very long and there’s rather a lot of other stuff happening to save clarification for a later date. And what of this 50 foot woman? Well, she is summarily dispatched, perhaps a little too quickly if superhero sensibilities are mired in Bendis scripts where slog fests go too long. And the giantess? Well, she’s in league with a group of villains, Les Girlz, so of whom were in those prison escapes mentioned in the beginning.
Eden’s plotting and pacing brings to mind the super-compressed 6 – 12 paged stories in the Superman family titles edited under Mort Weisinger. Things happen because they need to happen. Chapter one’s main story seems quick because Eden wanted to show glimpses into each member’s personal lives along with a short scene with tragic ramifications, some of which serve as impetus for tension between Glitter and Butch in the middle chapter, “Pink Ninjas”. Someone has broken into Buckingham Palace and stolen some of the Queen’s possessions and makes short work of Spandex. Oddly though, they’re returned to Spandex headquarters the next day along with a calling card and a Corgi. Yes, well, the Queen loves her little Corgi dogs, so it serves as an apology. But the card reveals clues and shortly they’re all whizzing off to Tokyo in the “Spanjet” where Prowler instantaneously learns Japanese from nearby gay people (Oh, hush! You loved Silver Age Hawkman’s Asorbason!) and Neon, the thief, is soon encountered, followed by a band of ninjas in pink uniforms with nasty swords. They look to be overwhelmed until Prowler deducts a clue to save them, but he still has to deal with the erection he had when lovely Indigo fell right on top him. It’s nice to see that kind of situation presented and dealt with in a comics story. And the thief? Well, there are extenuating circumstances and Neon becomes Spandex’s newest member after accepting Liberty’s invitation. Liberty does as Liberty wants it seems and Diva is none to happy about her controlling and manipulative methods. The agitation here or between Glitter and Butch never rises above loud albeit restrained talking. If this were an American comic you’d have grimacing, glowering, and threats of physical violence. Even so, the plot and Liberty’s motives require a bit more suspension of belief than I’m able to muster or perhaps I just can’t enjoy it as it is.
The last chapter, “…If You Were the Last Person on Earth”, is the most dire of the three when the androgynous Nadir comes to conquer Earth by instilling an overwhelming sense of ennui, a resignation from the joys and spontaneity of life. It is also the story that creates the most satisfying character moments, many of which involve a somber Glitter trying his best to hold together himself and half his remaining teammates. That’s some growth, part of which comes from an event at the close of chapter one, from a character who tried to convince Liberty they needed to add roller skates to their costumes. There’s a love scene between Glitter (Luke) and Neon (Miochi) that would be nice to see continue and could be the source of more tension with another member if it would.
My “In Search of a Battle Cry” refers to Eden’s humorous, little running gag where he has the team try out a few different phrases in search of the perfect one.
Eden had his plate full with making Spandex. He did everything, including learning Photoshop for coloring. Everything it seems except for making the paper itself. That’s determination I think. Eden’s art style relies on solely on the contour drawing technique and color palette is bright and colorful excepting appropriate passages in the last chapter. Shading is simplified with blacks or simple color shifts to complement Eden’s naive style. Panels vary from rsther small to large or the occasional splash page and are sometimes drawn gutter free. In some of these gutter-less instances it’s done presumably to make more room for individual panel elements. Sometimes the results feel crowded to my eye, or as on page 11 of the second issue, on unintended focus on linear composition is the result. Lettering is a skill that most of the time shouldn’t call attention to itself. Todd Klein comes to mind as a letterer who was a master of the craft even in the days when all lettering for comics was done by hand. The lettering in Spandex is nearly all done by hand, though Eden mentions in the afterword he started to letter with a program and changed his mind. It does lend a charm and perhaps the computer font looked out of place with Eden’s art style. Charm aside, I wonder if word balloons and their placement might have been a bit tighter otherwise.
Spandex should appeal to readers who enjoyed So Super Duper, or those who would have liked it if the series hadn’t been super decompressed with plots and characters a notch more complex. As Eden said in an interview: “…that’s the whole point of Spandex – if you can’t laugh along with it, it’s not for you.”