Spandex: Fast and Hard (Titan Books, $19.95)

Martin Eden (w/a)

I wanted to like Spandex, which collects the first three issues of a self-published British comic book about an all-gay super-team. Unfortunately, I found it supported negative gay stereotypes instead of refuting them.

There are some clever bits. For example, there are seven letters in the word Spandex, seven members of the team -- and seven colors in the rainbow, which is the symbol for gay pride. So, yep, each letter in Spandex and each member of the team is color coded. (In fact, one member of the team is actually named a color -- Indigo -- and when one member of the team is killed, a replacement member is found who wears a costume of the same color.) 

The author notes that he is especially proud of "the Indigo Room," a place (a non-place?) where the teleporting character Indigo keeps all her weapons, costumes and whatnot, and apparently only she can go to. 

The team is comprised of three lesbians, three gay men and a transvestite (who is the leader). Two of the team discover they may be bisexual. All are in their twenties, although one seems to be secretly middle-age but transforms herself into a younger character when she activates her powers. One of them is French.

And virtually all of them are sexually promiscuous. I'm far from a prude, so I have no problem with sex whether in large doses or small. But that's one of the knocks intolerant conservatives make against homosexuals, especially gay men, so why play into that stereotype? 

Further, there's a lot more sex than there is of anything else, so despite this book claiming to be a superhero book and a gay pride book second, it reads more like soft-core porn than it does either. This is especially enhanced by the Eden's insistence on outlining every male character's penis through his spandex. Gay or straight, I find that unnecessary, distracting and simply prurient.

And it really couldn't, as people say as an insult, get more gay. One character sparkles. Another is named Glitter, wears glitter, and, uh, glitters. One of the lesbians calls herself "Butch" (I'm surprised Eden didn't go ahead and call her "Dyke"). For one lesbian character whose one act in the book is to perform cunnilingus, Eden doesn't even make a gesture toward subtlety or cleverness -- he names her "Pussy." Oh, and there's the title: "Fast and Hard." Ha, ha. Get it? A sex reference! Whodathunk?

And in the third story, the entire world is conquered by a supervillain who can make you replay your worst times in your head until you become numb, emotionless and, literally, gray. However, the world is saved because -- SPOILER! -- her power doesn't work on Glitter, because, as he explains, "I've faced more insults and put-downs and nasty looks and judgements [sic] than anyone should have to put up with in a lifetime. I've faces so much shit. So I can certainly face whatever the hell you are."

Now, look, I'm sure growing up and living gay is no picnic. There are a lot of bigots in the world, and I'm sympathetic, I really am. But are you telling me that "insults and put-downs and nasty looks" have toughened this guy up more than anyone on Earth? That he's had it worse than starving children in refugee camps and women who endure rape-gangs in Africa and political prisoners in torture chambers with car batteries hooked to their genitals? Really? This guy is the only one on earth who has suffered sufficiently -- from "insults and put-downs and nasty looks" no less -- to be the only one who can resist the supervillain? 


So the upshot is that I didn't enjoy this book. Instead of refuting gay stereotypes, it reinforces them. Instead of being a reaffirming book about superheroes who happen to be gay, it's a book about promiscuous and over-the-top gay people who love the nightlife, baby -- and, oh, happen to be superheroes. I'm dismayed and disappointed, but more importantly, I'm not entertained. I'm guessing if you're gay it's hilarious or something, but as a straight guy I didn't find anything to keep me engaged.

But, let's be generous. I can see an argument that this book might be going overboard on the gay stereotypes and porn and silliness in an effort to reclaim those things, much like rap stars who say they use the N-word for that reason. I don't really buy that; I think this book is far too gleeful, persistent and immersed in those tropes for it to be some sort of deliberate, calculated, political statement. If that's the case, I still wouldn't find reason to enjoy it -- I don't enjoy poorly done political screeds any more than I like poorly done softcore porn -- but maybe you will. 

That's the best recommendation I can give, and that's too bad.

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