Queer stories that fill you with a warm and fuzzy feeling are important—the blissful normalcy of slice-of-life romance with the promise of a happy ending is rewarding and uplifting, and sends a message of hope to the real world while providing a cute escape into the fictional. It says that queer love is perfectly capable of being sweet and life-affirming enough to be the subject of a romantic dramedy, a genre that’s been pretty exclusively heteronormative for all of print and Hollywood history. Sometimes you want to sink into the comfort zone of sugarcoated romance tropes, and it’s important to have a version of this that everyone of all identities can see themselves in.
Sometimes, though, you also want to see queer identities saving the world, fighting aliens, and kicking ass and taking name in genre fiction. Why should superhero adventures, sci-fi cityscapes, and zombie survival action-comedies be solely the realm of cis, straight people? Well, these three comics are here to help fill that void.
As with the cute romance recommendations, consider this not a review post but simply some suggestions of works I’ve found and found enjoyable. Happy Pride Month, everybody!
Elliot is an average 23-year-old who spends his time playing in a garage band and harbouring a big dumb fanboy crush on one of the city’s many resident superheroes. Danny comes from a family of said resident superheroes, but spends his time studying science instead of kicking butt in a mask and bodysuit. A mutual friend tries to set them up by sending Elliot to deliver fried chicken to Danny’s lab, leading to Elliot a) realising that Danny is really cute (as was the friend’s plan), and b) falling into some Science Experiment Goop and gaining superpowers (which was not the friend’s plan).
Actually, if only it was that simple—Elliot gets Science Experiment Goop on him, reacts badly, and dies, and Danny brings him back to life using a magic circle a la Full Metal Alchemist and the assistance of an interdimensional being known as the Witchmother. After returning from his brief foray into the spooky and surreal afterlife, Elliot has to work out what to do with both his newfound abilities and his feelings for Danny, and the rest of the world—superheroes and supervillains and aforementioned interdimensional beings—have to work out what do with Elliot.
The genre-blending between superhero sci-fi and monster-infested kooky fantasy is fascinating and bizarre, but the comic owns this weirdness with enough gusto that you just nod your head, accept it, and dive on in. I think one of the aspects that holds this strange and shifting world together is the humour, which is spread seamlessly across the day-to-day interactions between characters, the shenanigans taking place at the intergalactic superhero mission control, and the pocket Hell dimension. It has a real Scott Pilgrim vibe with the combination of comedy, witty banter, supernatural elements and off-the-wall action sequences (and the band, of course), so if you liked that series Sharp Zero is most definitely going to appeal to you.
And, of course, if you like superhero movies but want a take on the genre that isn’t entirely populated by white guys named Chris, this will also call to you. There’s a dark-skinned gender-fluid superhero who’s installed rocket boosters in their prosthetic legs, because why the hell shouldn’t there be? Reading all these genuinely and delightfully diverse web series is legitimately making mainstream cinema look so boring.
We all know the zombie apocalypse genre. Shoot Around knows that we know, and doesn’t waste much time setting up or even demonstrating the wasteland of the undead that is its setting—it says “look, it’s zombies, it’s all the same business you’ve seen before, so let’s just use that as a backdrop and focus on the really interesting stuff: the characters who have to survive this shit”. In this case, it’s a girls’ high school basketball team and their coach, who all get stranded together at the end of the world when zombies attack during practice. They are… quite pragmatic about it for the most part, which leaves said coach a mix of proud and horrified.
Like Sharp Zero, humour (sometimes dark, but mostly genuinely peppy, if sarcastic) carries this comic and prevents it from getting too dour and grimy, as a lot of survival horror series can. The banter between the team and their coach not only adds spice and life to an undead nightmare of a world but fleshes out the different relationships and dynamics throughout the group, some of which are adorable tight-knit friendships, some of which are something more. I’m generally bored with the zombie survival genre, but the promise of sweet-natured monster-slaying lesbians with interesting character growth called me right on back (if you’re curious, yes, this kind of thing can generally drag me back to any genre I’m bored with).
As I said, the zombie element really only serves as the backdrop for the interpersonal drama, so instances of actual undead horror are few and far between (which, in a way, makes them much more moving and terrifying when they do appear). The living are the ones to really watch out for, and as the story progresses and the team encounters more and more people eking out a living post-apocalypse, the character-based tension amps ever so slowly up. It’s creepy without necessarily being overdone, it’s light-heartedly funny in a way that works for the end of the world, and the relationships—be they romantic or platonic or familial—are revealed and explored with the right pacing to be a neat balance of intriguing and rewarding. And, might I add, the key romances feel 100% like a natural progression of a pre-existing dynamic and crush, as opposed to being a “boy, all that post-apocalyptic adrenaline sure is making you look sexy” thing, which is a nice bonus to anything in the action genre.
This one is not as action-packed as the first two on my list–you could almost go as far as to classify it as “slice-of-life that just so happens to take place in a distant, technology-riddled future”. In the world of Almost Human, body-altering nanobots called Mods are commonplace, able to do everything from improve your memory to change your hair colour. Though they’re often used to make fashion statements (be it aforementioned hair palette changing or adding glowing dragon wings to your back), it’s not as though Mods are an exclusive, frivolous trend: they’re also used for health purposes, from everything from hayfever to cancer prevention. Basically, being able to rummage around and adjust yourself at a cellular level is an accepted, integrated part of this reality, which is why Sunati finds it so odd that the girl she sees at the train station every day doesn’t seem to use any.
Smitten as well as curious, Sunati ends up tripping in to a relationship with the girl, Austen, after an awkward first conversation where Sunati offers her some Mods to stop her sneezing, only to find out from the distressed and annoyed Austen that she can’t use Mods. The two meet up again later and Austen apologises for snapping at her, and explains she has a rare immune disorder that means her body rejects Mods and can’t process them. This accounts for not only her “natural” looks but her unenhanced memory and unprotected body, meaning schoolwork is a lot harder and she’s susceptible to things like sunburn and allergies that Sunati had long since forgotten about. It’s a quiet examination of what technology and healthcare makes us take for granted when we’re privileged enough to have access to it, and also a deliberate and nuanced exploration of disability through a sci-fi lens.
The Mods–and other fun sci-fi elements like virtual reality and hover scooters–are really only the backdrop to propel the sweet but messy relationship between Sunati and Austen. They have a lot of things to work out, and the comic makes the effort to give them genuine conflict in their dynamic, which they then work out through honesty and communication. It’s a rare treat to have a) queer romance in sci-fi, and b) romantic leads stumble so realistically and flawedly through their sugary love story; so having them both front and centre in this comic is kind of magical. Also magical is the art, which is colourful, soft, and utterly gorgeous… and it’s set in Australia, complete with accurate portrayal of wildlife, so of course for that I have to give it another proverbial ten points.
Each of these story worlds, be it infested with superheroes, zombies, or nanobots, is engrossing and diverse, delivering rewarding romances as well as fun and engaging sci-fi/fantasy plots. And asking those all important questions: why can’t a superhero be bi? Why can’t a kickass zombie survivalist be trans? Why should there be only one accepted shape for the hero of a fantastic adventure story, and why should that shape be so darn straight when there are so many other identities out there that deserve good representation, and hey, who just want to have a bit of fun with wacky fantastical hijinks they can see themselves in?
What other fantastical, heroic, and action-packed LGBTQ+ content (web or otherwise) have you guys been reading these days? I’m always looking for more!