Spandex #1–3 by Martin Eden
Published by Titan Books
Before receiving this review copy, I have to confess to knowing very little about this book. I had skimmed some articles about it on Bleeding Cool, but that’s about it. However, since the title featured in the pages of the Metro (a free newspaper distributed widely and daily to commuters in the UK) and on the Sun website, the book received a lot of attention, which has led to the publication of a hardcover collection of the first three issues of the self-published book by Martin Eden.
Spandex is the name a team of superheroes, based in Brighton (the unofficial gay capital of England), all of whom are LGBT. The leader is Liberty, a transvestite with a (female) power suit and ‘Gaydar’, a kind of Spider Sense. There is Diva (described as a lesbian Wonder Woman), Glitter (who has light-based powers), Prowler (who has the power to absorb the abilities of any gay person in the vicinity, and he also has a tail), Indigo (a French teleporter), Butch (a female Luke Cage, as it were, with unbreakable skin) and her twin Mr Muscles (who is very strong). From their HQ in an abandoned nightclub, they protect the world from mainly LGBT villains, like the 50-foot lesbian who attacks Brighton in the first issue to the pink ninjas in Tokyo in the second issue (they fly there using the Spanjet).
The first thing that strikes you about the book is the art. It looks quite basic, the sort of style you might see from a teenager, with very simple linework and not much pizzazz. It’s not to my taste, but it is deceptive: Eden has very good storytelling instincts, with good panel transitions and an ability to get the point across on the page. It uses very straightforward and bright colours, which seems appropriate for the material: this is traditional superhero soap opera with a gay twist. The inspiration seems to be The X-Men (Eden admits to loving the X-Men, Grant Morrison and superhero books in interviews; there’s a splash page in the book that is a homage to Leinil Yu’s cover to New Avengers #27), which seems natural when you consider the soap opera feel and the subtext of sexuality and prejudice against minorities, even if it does play more like a gay Avengers. There is also a darker undercurrent to proceedings: there is something suspicious about Liberty and the way the team is put together; and there is also violence, death and remorse in the book, which are dealt with in a serious tone.
The book is also for adults: there is swearing, nudity and sex (although not in a pornographic sense) throughout, although it just feels like a British sensibility instead of an attempt to shock, and the male characters do not have flat genital areas when wearing their spandex as occurs in mainstream American superhero comics. The third issue also deals with the concept of depression (as Eden explains in an afterword for the story), albeit via the means of ‘Gay Zombies’ and a hermaphrodite villain turning the world grey and dreary. I found this issue particularly haunting and moving, as it uses a superhero comic to talk about the difficulty of life for people sometimes. There is certainly more going on in the book than appears on the bright and flashy surface.
Although this is only three issues, it gives a good indication of a well-written book with lots of love and thought put into it (Eden has a day job working for Titan Magazines, so it’s obviously a labour of love). It may seem like a silly gimmick to catch the headlines – the first all-gay superhero team! – but it allows for a wealth of different stories, which are told with a light but controlled touch, with flashes of humour (such as the innuendo of the subtitle for this collection) and infectious joy (he has a character celebrate their victory in Tokyo by exclaiming ‘Yatta!’, as famously uttered by Hiro in Heroes). This is not a book I would have normally read, but I’m very glad that I have, and I would recommend it superhero and non-superhero fans alike.