OCG Pride Opinion Part #1: “Date Night”- The Significance of a Quiet Night Out
This is a piece that I’ve been waiting to write for a very long time.
Dreamer is a character that means a lot to many people within our community. A character born off the page, her debut in the tv show Supergirl garnered a vocal and vigorous fan following, especially amongst the transgender community. A hero who inspires empathy and hope, Dreamer gave a voice to thousands of fans who, to this day, remain without consistent and respectful representation within the pages of DC comics. It made it all the more disheartening when news of the show’s cancellation reached fans, with the show’s imminent end leaving Dreamer’s fate up in the air.
It’s an uncertainty that a lot of transgender fans are accustomed to. As far as representation goes in most media, it usually always comes down to a matter of “just wait and see”. In a spirit much like that of their hero, a lot of Dreamer fans held onto a glimmer of optimistic hope,,,the idea that maybe, just maybe, Dreamer could follow in the footsteps of characters like Harley Quinn and Red X and make the jump from the screen to the page. With the show ending, could comics be the next home for a breakout hero that inspired so many?
Well, this week that finally happened, and it was none other than Dreamer herself, Nicole Maines, who had the honor of penning the debut of this new hero within the pages of DC Pride #1. It’s a debut that has been greatly anticipated, especially by me. It was almost three months ago when the news broke and I tweeted out, “Today was a good step forward…and I hope it is a sign of better things to come from DC in terms of transgender representation.” After that, it was only a matter of…just waiting.
And now here we are, three months later, and the wait is finally over. Now, in the aftermath of what I had waited so long for, I find myself having to ask, “Was it worth the wait?” In a current DC line-up where transgender representation is scarcer than Ambush Bug one-shots (and I wish that was a joke), it is a question that many transgender fans will ask themselves after reading.
Well, what did I think? Was it worth it?
To be honest…(I didn’t think it was at first…)
This story has so much working for it. From the art perspective alone, Rachael Stott and Enrica Eren Angiolini do a marvelous job bringing this character to life. She is the highlight, and this team does a beautiful job of making it feel like there is a literal spotlight on her at all times. Her costume (one of the most beautifully designed hero outfits of recent memory, if I may be so bold) translates perfectly to the page and it almost glistens with majesty. As a hero, her movements are elegant yet powerful. The way this team really manages to highlight the combat here with action which is far and beyond anything seen in the show (one of the many benefits of not being restricted by an effects budget, I’d imagine) is nothing short of gleeful bliss. In such a short time, this story paints Dreamer to be the absolute [email protected]$$ I was hoping she would be and more. Not many heroes could go toe-to-toe with the League of Shadows on their own and make them all seem like a group of rank amateurs!
Yet, the highlight of this story’s execution has to come from Dreamer’s voice. Allowing Nicole Maines to tell this story certainly accentuated exactly what I hoped it would, and gave us some truly faithful and—in a way—realistic bits of dialogue. No one on this planet understands Dreamer like Nicole Maines, and it’s evident here. She’s a woman who had to build this character out of thin air, pulling words off a page and giving them life, emotion, and SASS! She did it on the show, and she’s done it again here.
If nothing else, I believe this story will serve as the perfect template for the character going forward in whatever capacity DC comics wishes to utilize her in the future (which, btw, they should…they really, really should). I think that’s important. This is Dreamer’s soul, and it’s now a permanent addition to the wide and varied tapestry of stories that is the DC comics universe.
Yet, despite all this, it became clear to me after I read through the story multiple times in the story that there was going to be…hesitation from the community regarding the plot. Not because the story was bad, per se, nor because it was even a bit controversial in any way, but just because it was—simple.
The best way I could describe this plot is “simple”.
Let me clarify, this story is one you’ve seen before. It’s fun, it’s worth reading, but you’ve seen it before. At first glance it’s your bare bones superhero plot to a “T”. Superhero fights creepy ninjas? Check. Hero stops the bad guy from poisoning the water supply? Check. Superhero’s super heroics get in the way of date night? Check and check. This is a tale that, at first glance, has nothing unusual or abnormal about it. “Date Night” feels like a vanilla superhero story with some blue and pink sprinkles on top, and for a character’s first appearance, especially for a transgender character in a Pride-themed issue, that initially struck me as odd and lacking.
Even though I couldn’t admit it at first, I was disappointed.
Initially I must admit that I wondered if this was a sign of something I’d been concerned about since the story’s announcement: Nicole’s seeming inexperience with writing. To my knowledge, this story isn’t just her comic book writing debut, it is her writing debut period. There was a concern that I, and others, had about a rookie writer being able to not only tell a cohesive story but also a worthwhile story, and although Nicole did a brilliant job giving Dreamer her voice (“Oh, what in gay hell” is a line I’m going to be mumbling to myself in sticky situations for a long, long time…probably until I die), and although the story flows quite naturally with a smooth and even pace, I had to wonder if that inexperience was why this story lacked what I had hoped for: a bit of depth.
As a transgender woman, I think I was initially expecting a very specific sort of story at first. Of course, I was hoping that this would be a chance to get to experience some of my own personal struggles on the page. I, personally, think there’s a lot of very natural and common parallels between superhero-ing and the transgender experience that would make for quite interesting and unique storytelling opportunities! There are very common, shared motifs like this sense of duality–having to hide a part of yourself behind a mask–and common ground in the personal strength required to overcome obstacles both internal and external. There’s the idea of having to deal with persona; losses, fractured relationships, and broken families, and I guess I was hoping that maybe getting a taste of that here would give me something I felt I’d been missing from DC comics. I was hoping that would help give me and others just a bit more to relate to, and help people to understand and normalize our struggles as a community and as individuals just a little bit more.
Yet, this story doesn’t really touch on that at all. The word “transgender” isn’t within this story’s lexicon. There is no grandiose monologue about pain or dysphoria. There is no moment where bigotry rears it’s ugly head to cast stones at our fearless hero. The fact that Dreamer is transgender doesn’t seem to matter, and at first, I was a bit taken a back. After all, isn’t this a Pride issue? Isn’t that what Pride is about? Our struggles? Our achievements? Our resilience? Isn’t this the place where Nicole could just unleash everything she’s felt in her life, that she’s seen forced on this community, and channel that into this character…lay her truth bare on the page for everyone to see?
The answer is yes, she could have…but I actually am really glad that she didn’t.
See, after thinking on the story for weeks, I realized that there is another side to this that I wasn’t seeing. Looking back, I understand why I didn’t. I am a transitioning woman who has only been fully out for two months and who has many, many years of transitioning and uncertainty ahead of me. Right now, pain is my reality. Discomfort is my reality. So often it’s easy to forget that the start of one’s journey is only part of the transgender experience, and that this part of myself that feels so heavy right now, that feels so cumbersome and awkward and frightening, won’t always be the case. Transitioning is not forever, and there is more to us than that. I had to see past that bias and past this moment in time.
I had to look at the bigger picture.
It was Nicole’s actual words from a Variety interview about a week ago that helped me contextualize this in a way that I had been unable to before. She said, “For a long time we were seeing trans people where their transness was the end-all, be-all of their story. Now we’re starting to see trans people portrayed as three-dimensional characters who make good choices and bad choices, who have wants and needs, who make mistakes and are people.”
This is a story of a superhero doing superhero things, and, at the end of the day, that’s all transgender people are, too. There are struggles in our lives, hardships to overcome, but once we let our truth out there, are we really any different than anyone else? I think that the simplicity of this story plays into that. It’s just Nicole writing a fun superhero story because hey, why can’t it just be a fun superhero story? The world can be dark and mean, so why not have a little fun?
Why not just be who you want to be?
We are all dreamers. Cisgender people, transgender people, straight, gay, we all have these wishes and desires. We all want acceptance and love and fulfilment and bliss. We want to make a difference,
We all want to be normal.
This is a message highlighted my the last page in the story, my favorite page in the entire special, where normalcy takes center stage and in a world where transgender people are so often demonized or fetishized, where we’re constantly placed under labels and scrutiny, the simple message that we are just like anyone else is perhaps the greatest message this story can impart.
I don’t think a lot of people understand how much they take the simple things in life for granted. The ability to walk the streets, to play their favorite games, or to just use the bathroom. The ability to be brave, to stand tall, to act, to love…these are all things that can be harder than some people will ever realize, because most people will never have to think of them as anything more complicated than breathing.
And that’s why this story of a superhero gal, who does superhero things, and who gets the guy at the end of the day means the absolute world to me.
I think this won’t land with everyone, and I think some might be disappointed or let down, but I think that if you give it the chance you’ll find a surprisingly heartwarming tale. I think it’s more than enough action to bring in some new fans, and to keep the interest and demand for this character alive. In this story I see all the potential in the world, and the worst part about it is the fact that it simply ends. The lack of a “To Be Continued…” feels like a crime, and I hope it is one that is soon rectified.
Although the plot is nothing revolutionary, I will stand by the idea that it is a feature not a bug, and it is a feature that actually serves to elevate this story to a level that many transgender people will be able to appreciate and respect.
My favorite character and my favorite story in the book. Dreamer means a lot to me, she means more and more every single day that passes, and I hope that, in time, she’ll mean a lot to all of you as well.