'Love Is Love' Comics Anthology Offers Raw Expressions of Grief, Rage — And Defiance

Dec 29, 2016

This is not a review.

It started out as one: I fully intended to offer a considered critique of the new comics anthology Love is Love, in which various creators both within the comics industry (Gail Simone, Matt Millar, Jim Lee, G. Willow Wilson and more) and without it (Matt Bomer, Patton Oswalt, Morgan Spurlock, John Ross Bowie, Taran Killam and more) produce dozens of brief — one-or-two-page — reactions to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

I went in equipped, as always, with the Three Questions every critic keeps scrawled across their frontal lobe: What does this project set out to do? Does it accomplish that task? Is that task worth doing?

Ten pages in, I realized how very much, for this particular project, those questions were completely beside the point.

Some background: Love is Love is the brainchild of comics writer Marc Andreyko, whose work on books like Batwoman and, especially, the excellent, much-missed Manhunter helped populate the superhero universe with rounded, flawed, matter-of-factly queer characters. He reached out to dozens of comics writers, artists, and comics-adjacent celebrities for work that would speak to the Pulse shooting. The book is published by IDW, with assistance by DC Comics, who also lent permission to use some of their characters — as did publishers like Archie Comics, Devil's Due Publications and others.

All proceeds from sales of the book go to support victims of the shooting and their families, via Equality Florida.

The contents of the book — a mix of memoir, fiction, poetry and imagery — grapples with the tragedy from diverse perspectives. Queer creators tell personal stories; straight writers and artists struggle with how to explain the shooting to their children. Several vignettes attempt to imagine the events inside Pulse on the night of the shooting, some more tastefully than others.

Many works feature art that's urgent and colorful and kinetic while others are so carefully, quietly composed as to be elegiac. The notion of gay bars as refuges to gather and dance and flirt and more — and the horror of seeing a safe space violated — emerges as the book's major theme.

Inevitably, there is kitsch, here: expressions of grief that lean so floridly into the stark, unremitting horror of the event that they steal focus, and become more about their creators' self-conscious affect than the event itself.

But so what?

The shooting is an open wound on the country, and these men and women, each in their own, highly personal ways, from dozens of different directions, are attempting to stanch it with their words and images.

It's too big, of course. Too unfair, too shattering. They can't succeed. They won't succeed.

But so what?

It's the attempt to do something — to create, to make change, to comfort each other — that matters. It's all we ever have, in the wake of tragedy. It's all we can do.

That dogged attempt is Love is Love's true subject: These pages are filled with rage, and sadness, and frustrated helplessness, and sympathetic concern, and a defiant determination to take action. It's real and it's raw-throated and it always risks going too far, and spiraling into maudlin kitsch.

But again: so what? If it didn't take that risk, it would be safe, and tasteful, and not remotely worth doing.

One last thing: It seems only fitting that the most effective, most moving, most galvanizing page to be found in a comics anthology that contains so many diverse narratives and colorful imagery should be its final one, a page that contains no comics at all.

It's a list of 49 names.

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