Ever since the DC Rebirth one-shot last year, we waited to see Aqualad surface. After all, he was briefly introduced in the issue, along with confirmation that he was a new gay character for the DC Universe.
Now, with Teen Titans #6 this week the erstwhile character returns, and we have his home-life, history and relationships further expanded while still leaving enough mystery to keep the reader interested.
This issue, by Benjamin Percy, Khoi Pham, Wade Von Grawbadger and Jim Charalampidis, is essentially a set up issue, but not in a bad way at all. It sets up the new location, relationships and personalities of the core Teen Titan group, a new mystery for the team and also the new character, Jackson Hyde a.k.a. Aqualad, who we learn is a pretty positive, openly gay young man who has constantly faced push back for these natural things about himself (he’s a water-powered hero living in the desert, he’s gay but dates a guy that has to hide it etc.)
One interested element is the slight change in representation of his mother. In the DC Rebirth one-shot, Jackson Hyde’s mother, in the brief time we see her, comes across as deeply homophobic, telling her son what he does with other boys is ‘unnatural’. However, in this issue, her concerns about her sons sexuality seem more nuanced: she is concerned about him pushing his differences from other people and drawing attention to himself. From his powers, the markings on his skin, he already has many peculiarities to draw perhaps unwanted attention to him. Jackson’s sexuality, in an area where being different and being LGBTQ in particular is viewed negatively, is an extra element that could draw this unwanted attention to her son.
As such, her reaction feels more like a mother’s concern. Obviously a little too aggressively overbearing and perhaps unintentionally homophobic, but still a sign of her fears and care for her sons safety.
It’s a choice in direction I’m still grappling with. Personally, I liked the idea of a hero character having to overcome the homophobia and bigotry of his own parents, something that many LGBTQ+ people sadly still face every day. I feel like that could have been very beneficial and inspiring to readers going through the same things, to see an awesome hero overcome it. However, I do like this more nuanced direction too. It adds more depth to Jackson’s mother’s character than simply ‘big, ol’ homophobe’ and adds an extra wrinkle to their relationship to be explored.
Part of the mystery set up is naturally who Aqualad’s father is. Of course, if you’ve seen Young Justice and the previous Aqualad, along with recent DC solicits, it may seem obvious. And what few clues there are so far would seem to support it. But maybe we will yet see a surprise.
Khoi Pham er al.’s artwork is great for the series too. The characters seem young and fresh, and the linework is wonderfully clear. The amount of emotion the characters show on their faces and stances is great too, as it stretches past the generic and into the interesting to look at, and at times fun too.
The issue as a whole presents a lot of set-up for what promises to be an exciting arc, and a powerful and intriguing introduction of a new character, let alone a new element of LGBTQ+ representation in the DCU. I for one look forward to seeing more of Aqualad and what the future holds for this character.
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