Rich has covered SPANDEX before, briefly, but I don’t think Bleeding Cool has actually talked about it much. Since we’re in the midst of superhero coverage, I thought I’d chime in, since I finally got round to reading it.
It’s been awhile since I wrote a column about comics, because I haven’t actually had anything to say about comics lately, especially superhero comics. For all the attempts DC and Marvel make to hype their big events, there’s a sense of same-ness about it all. With a few exceptions, the problem I have with the majority of superhero comics is how joyless they are, going through the motions as if superhero stories have become completely routine, and being miserable is the lot of the superhero if some of these comics are to be believed.
When superhero comics stop being for children and cater to an adult audience, as DC and Marvel do now that they’re finally ignoring the toothless Comics Code Authority, they tend to be as much about what they work hard not to talk about as what they deal with on the surface. And what they deny a lot is Sex. Superheroes’ costumes are practically stripper outfits, leaving nothing to the imagination, yet the stories themselves are extremely squeamish about sexuality, and when characters actually have sex or relationships with each other, it usually turns out to be bad, the girl becomes a ball-buster or victim of crime (and if she dies, that frees up the hero to be single again, even if he has to go through the motions of feeling bad about it for a short time first) revealing a male, adolescent fear of women, sex and intimacy. I still laugh at the notion that in the GREEN LANTERN comics, the Star Sapphire is supposed to symbolize Love and the costume is a cleavage-bearing thong. With costumes like those, you’d think superheroes would be having sex all over the place, all the time, but noooo, they have to fight Evil. Yeah. Right.
Maybe it’s because DC and Marvel comics are corporations owned by bigger corporations, and being American, they don’t want to be accused of being obscene or borderline-pornographic. They have to sell toys and lunchboxes to children after all.
It’s not surprising, then, that it would be an indie superhero comic like SPANDEX to show us how it’s done. For those who don’t know, SPANDEX is about a British LBGT superhero team. They operate out of Brighton and the villains are also often LBGT. They’ve had to fight a 50-foot lesbian on a rampage, visit Japan to battle pink ninja and lead a resistance against a telepathic alien that enslaves the world by feeding on people’s emotions, reducing them to grey, dull, depressed drones. Above all, they have active sex lives like any adult does, without shame or embarrassment, unlike their American counterparts. Their sexuality is part of their characters, not something to be denied or ignored.
Martin Eden is a lifelong Marvel fan with a day job working for Titan Magazines. When he has time, he writes, draws, letters and colours SPANDEX, has them printed himself and sells them at UK comic cons and the better British comic shops like GOSH and Forbidden Planet as part of the thriving (but largely unknown to Americans) UK indie comics scene. He’d previously created and self-published THE O MEN, a British superhero comic that lasted 10 years before stopping it to create its LBGT spinoff SPANDEX, both of which have been nominated for Eagle Awards and critically acclaimed by magazines like SFX and received coverage in the mainstream media like METRO and even The Sun. Eden has read and understood the storytelling dynamics of Marvel comics, especially how the best ones keep soapy, character-driven subplots going alongside self-contained plotlines, the master of which was probably Chris Claremont during the height of his run on UNCANNNY X-MEN. Claremont’s X-MEN had, other than the political allegory about discrimination that can be read as racial or gender, as Bryan Singer emphasized in the movies, a subtext that’s entirely about Sex. There was always a sexual undercurrent in the characters’ relationships and interactions in Claremont’s stories, and sometimes they almost became explicit with Emma Frost and Jean Grey in bondage gear and hints of the Hellfire Club indulging in orgies. That was what made the stories feel sexy, and Martin Eden has clearly absorbed this ethos and made it his own.
Some people might think the art in SPANDEX is too basic or not pretty enough if they’re used to the high-end hyper-slick look of Marvel and DC comics, but the deceptively simple drawing style is part of its charm. That he does everything himself makes the comic highly personal: he’s doing what he loves, and creating a love letter to the comics and pop culture he adores. Eden understands the nuances of facial expressions and body language better than a lot of the slick artists who draw for the big comics. His characters feel like people you might know or have dated. His real strength is in storytelling – his sense of panel layouts and composition, timing and position of dialogue is sometimes even more sophisticated than the bombast of Marvel and DC superhero comics. He manages to tell more story and reveal more character details in a single issue than in most three issues of current superhero comics. There are references to pop music and pop culture that don’t feel intrusive, no declaring how clever he’s being, that they’re part of the fabric of the world his characters move in. There’s a British sense of irony and humour about the stories, but that doesn’t mean they’re merely camp. No, they also have a certain British ruthlessness when things get serious, and the violence and repercussions are frequently unflinching and brutal. But above all of this, what SPANDEX manages to be is FUN! There’s a light and breezy wit in the storytelling that feels effortless and typical of good British Pop as it revels in the joys of the superhero comic, in the fabulousness of its out and proud characters and their colourful costumes and lives, it takes for granted a world where racism and homophobia aren’t even an issue, its existence is its own political agenda. It doesn’t wallow in misery like too many comics and TV dramas like to do. In fact, it feels like a show Channel Four should be making after its other superhero show MISFITS.
Never mind Gay or Straight, SPANDEX is just good superhero comics, the type Marvel and DC have largely forgotten how to make.
You can order SPANDEX directly from Martin Eden from the official website.
Still won’t wear spandex at firstname.lastname@example.org
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