I am going to start out this review by saying that The Movement is not a comic I buy when it comes out or that I otherwise financially support. And that fact is in no way an indication of my feelings about the series (or maybe it is, just not in the way you think), so read below the cut for some spoilers and a lot of thoughts and feelings about this series:
First off, thank you, thank you Gail for coming up with and writing this comic and keeping it going.
The Movement is something that only came across my radar a ways after it debuted in the context of asexual characters in the media and which I was interested in reading largely for that reason. I was not sure if I would like the series itself since it did not seem personally appealing and it is hard balancing out wanting to see and support representation, especially when it can be quite difficult to get any at all, no less good and verified in canon, and spending resources (of which time is one) on something you are not actually interested in and enjoying.
I was pleasantly surprised though, and my only problems became waiting for the next issue and the fact that I simply cannot afford to support the series, even though it is the “right” thing to do and/especially because it is a way of telling the publisher that you would like to see the series continue. But guilt and guilting are both terrible and, honestly, my stance (which I do have to remind myself of on occasion) is that you should get your comics through whatever means you can and, if you can, financially support the comics you like to see via single issue or trade paperback purchase. Otherwise, use the power of the library, people you know with copies, or the magic and community of the internet (if that is something that is available to you) to get stories that you like, that make you feel represented, that you identify with, that help put and keep spoons in your jar.
Now, as to the actual review, I think one of the best things The Movement has going for it ‘is’ how much it can evoke feelings of representation and identification for readers, especially since it goes beyond certain limits that can crop up when different groups are represented in not just comics but other fictional and non-fictional media. There ‘is’ some merit to giving dominant groups assurances and reassurances that “We’re just like you” in order to make headway and progress (and to get listened to in the first place so that you can try to make that headway and progress), but it is also dangerous because it erases and excludes people from your group and politics if they do not fit into the “We’re just like you” imagery and rhetoric. And those approaches and problems crop up in educational and legislative efforts and public discourses (and also things like television and print advertising) and also in fictional media, which in turn influence one another and further perpetuate those divides in divisions.
All of which is to say, including queer people in comics (and advertising and tv and movies and …) is great, especially when the execution of the portrayals is good, but it also needs to move beyond showing typically white, typically middle to upper class, able-bodied, monogamy, marriage, and kid minded (often male) homosexual characters and couples. And the same is true of representing other minority groups (who, guess what, often intersect in terms of identities and backgrounds). Showing only the “nicest” or most “convenient” people is not actually progressive and promoting of diversity and acceptance and it leaves people feeling further isolated, judged, and under- and mis-represented (because, of course, to better show off a “good” ____ person, you show one or more “bad” ____ or to show that you’re a “good” ____, you contrast yourself with “bad” ____s).
This gets really exhausting, especially when you do happen to be messy and intersectional (and don’t actually or necessarily feel safe in safe spaces and welcome in the feminist community or queer spaces or …), and that tired feeling continues when you do not get to see yourself and stories and experiences like yours represented and represented well or when you see people like you written off as “bad” female characters, as trope-tastic and thus not deserving of narrative space, as possessing “too many” identities, as being an attempt at political correct-ness or tokenism or pandering.
All of which makes the main cast of this series a breath of fresh air, since out of a group of seven (although Sarah Rainmaker is not in every issue, at least not yet), The Movement (so far) has:
- Five women
- Four people of colour (from diverse backgrounds and all of whom are women)
- Two characters with disabilities
- Four queer characters (asexual woman Tremor, lesbians Virtue and Rainmaker, and one gay man who is yet to be revealed but whose existence has been confirmed by Gail)
- And a diversity of backgrounds in terms of economics, family and family dynamics, trauma history, and religion (although these take longer to explore and are exposed more gradually, because that’s how storytelling works)
This is really darned cool because while it is not unheard of to have a majority of the team on a team book be queer or be POC or be women it is unusual, and even more so to have all three of those apply and with added diversity and intersectionality in those overall categories and with other elements of who these characters are and where they come from and what they have experienced.
Christopher is very freshly out of a highly abusive home environment and is still both devoutedly a believer of the faith he was raised with and convinced that what his family did was right (the name he originally goes under in the series is Burden, so that should give you some indication of his self image) and we get to hear his story in his own words. This is very important because it is not someone else telling his story for him and putting their own spin and edit and judgement on it. Christopher’s story is ‘his’ story and belongs to him, just as the stories of the other members of the Movement belong to them. And this means that we can see (or hopefully see) how deeply wrong Christopher’s treatment by his family was, how convinced they were that they were doing the “right” thing and what was “best” for him and how convinced Christopher was and still is that they were doing what was “best” for him and the family, how he thought and still thinks it was all his fault and that there is something deeply wrong with him, and how much he still loves his family and his faith. That is messy and contradictory and ‘real’. And it will only get more so, since while he has now introduced himself as Christopher instead of Burden (due to a spoiler-y temporary and touching solution to him viewing himself as demon-possessed/Burden), his “white sheep” brother (as Gail herself terms him) will be arriving in a future issue and it can be really difficult to get away from harmful situations and dynamics and to see them for what they are, especially as different people will have different experiences of the same situation and especially when you are different in one or more ways and live in a society that heavily pushes family and reconciliation at all costs and that those with difference are a burden to those around them.
And I hope that readers realize that Christopher’s treatment is not some kind of horrible anomaly that occurred solely because of his family’s specific religious affiliation and that is does not somehow translate or equate to his parents not loving him, because contrary to the way abuse often gets talked about and represented, it can and does exist side by side with love. That in no way makes it okay, but it makes it harder to get away from and acknowledge ‘because’ it is talked about in a way that makes it seem like love and abuse are mutually exclusive and, especially if the abuser(s) is/are family members and/or care givers, then you are ungrateful and unappreciative if you at all object to their behaviour. And I also mention this because it is ‘not’ okay to make sweeping judgements about groups of people, including different religions and subsets of religions, so, please, read with thought and care.
And also, going back to why it is so important that Christopher tells his own story, think carefully when you see discussions about different disabilities and people with disabilities because often, especially with certain conditions, the narratives and the thrust of charitable organizations ostensibly meant to help people with specific disabilities are actually focused on their family members and caregivers (who are sometimes family members, sometimes not), not on the people themselves, may not even include people with that specific disability in their governing and other boards, and may, at the heart of their campaigns, move for the people they ostensibly speak for to disappear from existence. This is really, really toxic and means that those groups get the most public and media attention and money and that narratives are shaped around people with disabilities being burdens and problems and on how much they make their families suffer and also to the exclusion of input by and narratives from the disabled people themselves and what their wants and needs are. And this applies to a lot of different groups and narratives, where the people ostensibly being helped are not asked for or allowed to give input, are talked over, and even misrepresented in terms of who they are (doing lots and lots of reading on sex work and sex worker rights and representation leads to frequent Hulk moments over so called “equality” minded non-profits).
And Tremor, my original point of interest, is so important because there are so few asexual or possibly asexual (the latter is more likely) characters in the media at all and those representations do ‘not’ tend towards the good and accurate, especially in mainstream media. The listing of “asexual” characters on TVTropes is a wincefest of stereotypes and misconceptions and lack of understanding and comprehension and those representations of asexuality do a whole lot more than result in people talking under their breaths at computer monitors (sex drive is separate from sexual arousal is separate from sexual attraction and sexual orientation, by the way).
That goes doubly so because while progress is finally beginning to be made as far as acknowledging and educating about asexuality (although I don’t want to overplay that progress either) and the progress of the internet is helping, the internet can also be a pecan cluster (no swearing here 😉 ) of misinformation, hate speech, and terribly triggering writings, ‘including’ from other queer people, and information outside of it can be hard to find, sparse, and, again, not necessarily helpful or accurate. And the first time you come across someone like you may still be a fictional character and it can be a horrible blow when they turn out to reinforce your every worst fear about yourself or play out tired stereotypes and misinformation. Or both.
Now, Tremor’s asexuality has yet to be explicitly stated and discussed in the comic but I have not gotten any feelings of trepidation so far, Gail has explicitly stated that Tremor’s asexuality is canon, and I am able to have some baseline faith based on observing her interactions with and answers to (as well as questions for) fans that Gail will handle Tremor’s sexuality well and in a real feeling way and that she will also be open to hearing and acting on input if she does misstep. I do not want or need perfection, just someone who will both listen and act, and I think that this comic does have that. And I also think that Gail has no interest in and would not go for a cure narrative, which is something that I have unfortunately seen happen (and the creator of the piece of media I shall not name is actually a queer person).
I thought about giving each member of the Movement a write-up like I have for Christopher and Tremor, but there is the question of incentive to read and also, more importantly, how many spoons I have and how much I want this review to actually be done and posted, so I will try to wrap this up. 🙂
… Read this comic. Seriously. According to Gail herself, the series was very “packed” at the beginning so there was less time for in between moments, so if that throws you off at all, keep in mind it is only temporary and that the series really starts to pay off in term of plot and character developments and nice moments that give us more insight into and background on characters and/or that are not directly related to the plot at all (something that can be hard or harder to find in DC right now, from what I’ve read out in the wide world of comics-discussing internets). Including the very cute letter writing sequence in issue #5?, which catered to my personal tastes quite well (especially if the letter writer using princess with a capital “P” was intentional on their part) and also mixes well into the high stakes plot stuff going on, since it would feel inauthentic for a personal plot line like that to get neatly played out and dealt with on its own and then have the dangerous stuff pick back up/get dealt with. Especially if you’re a grassroots movement made up of lower income, young, and other/otherwise vulnerable people and up against a corrupt authority who has literally bought the police force and can also hire sexy assassins (yes, really, that is how they are described and that’s about how creepy that authority figure is) to hunt down your leadership, things are going to get messy.
So, again, this series is doing really cool things that are rare at best in comics and other media and, while I respect people’s rights to their own opinions, including an opinion I came across a while back that was basically upset with the series for being about poor and otherwise disadvantaged people and having them at the lead characters (because it made it “depressing” and comics are supposed to be “happy” and “uplifting”), I ‘love’ that there is a (mainstream) comic book about them. About us. So thank you Gail and other people, please check out her comic and financially support it if you can. 🙂 Also, Katharsis will come in the night for people who use the term “special snowflake” or make rude comments about people on public assistance. 🙂