Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic book of significance. This week it’s The Movement #12. Written by Gail Simone (Batgirl, Red Sonja) with art by Freddie Williams II (Brain Boy, Captain Atom) and Chris Sotomayor (Birds Of Prey, Cyclops), the series’ final issue makes a declarative statement about changing the current climate of superhero comics by introducing more diverse characters and applying a compassionate point of view.
Last month at C2E2, Gail Simone participated on the GeeksOut Gay Characters And Creators panel to talk about LGBTQ representation in comic books, a cause she has fought for in books like Birds Of Prey, Secret Six, Batgirl, Red Sonja, and The Movement. During the panel, Simone talked about how superhero comics have been regularly populated by straight white male characters since their conception, so when she has the chance to create new characters, she introduces people from groups that aren’t as well represented in the medium. At a time when there’s an active crusade to raise awareness of the huge range of comic-book readers with projects like Rachel Edidin’s We Are Comics blog, Simone’s philosophy is one that more comic creators and publishers need to ascribe to if the industry wants to thrive.
During her time working at DC Comics, Simone has created the gay antihero couple Creote and Savant (a relationship erased by the New 52); Scandal Savage, the lesbian daughter of immortal tyrant Vandal Savage (also erased by the New 52); and Alysia Yeoh, Barbara Gordon’s transgender roommate (created in the New 52 and still alive), among others. When given the opportunity to create a team of new teen superheroes in The Movement, Simone went all-out on the diversity, assembling a line-up of characters from a variety of different races, sexual orientations, and social classes: An African-American lesbian leader, a Laotian-American female brawler (loosely based on comedian Kulap Vilaysack), an asexual Indian-American woman, a recovering substance abuser whose muscular dystrophy keeps her in a wheelchair, a gay white man, and one straight white homeless man with a behavioral disorder.
Along with a progressive cast, The Movement debuted with an ambitious concept, pitting teenage heroes against corrupt law enforcement and the wealthy figures financing that corruption. Initial publicity for the title connected it to the Occupy movement, and the entire series was built on the idea of disenfranchised youth organizing to topple a system that screwed them over. The Occupy similarities didn’t end there, though: The Movement couldn’t survive without continued support, and low sales led to the book’s cancellation after 12 issues. It was an admirable effort, but the cards were stacked against it, and just like how Occupy couldn’t gain sustainable momentum in the current economic climate, The Movement wasn’t the kind of title that gets attention in the New 52.
The Movement debuted in May of last year with The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires, another doomed superhero title that starred wealthy teens who buy their way to a superhero lifestyle. (The Green Team was canceled after eight issues.) After four issues, The Movement and Green Team both skipped a month of publishing when DC had Villains Month, replacing their regular titles with one-shots showcasing different rogues. It was a devastating move for two new books that needed to maintain a regular presence on the stands if they were going to last in a crowded superhero market, suggesting a general lack of interest in the books’ success from an editorial perspective.
How difficult would it have been to let Simone write a one-shot introducing some new villains for The Movement? The storyline that began immediately after Villains Month introduced a new group of villains for the team, so it would have been nice to get an origin story for the antagonists instead of four different books about bad guys who appear in the background of Justice League. The Movement was steadily gaining momentum over the course of those first four issues, ending with the development that different factions of the team were popping up all over the world, but losing that month did damage that severely hurt the title’s future.
Reading the final issue of The Movement, it’s hard not to draw connections between Virtue, the team’s leader, and Simone, two people who tried to change the system but were ultimately overpowered by the reality of their respective situations. At the beginning of #12, Virtue is met outside her civilian workplace by Captain Meers, her ally on the Coral City police force, who asks her why she started The Movement now that their base of operations has been destroyed. Her response is a perfect summary of this book’s mission statement:
I had this silly little dream. I thought that we might be part of something better. Where people cared about each other. Where compassion wasn’t seen as weakness. Where those in power helped people, without judgment. I thought maybe we could remind people, you know? That it’s okay to care. But then I remembered, I live here. In the ’Tweens. And they were never going to ask us to join the club that lives on Mount Olympus.
To highlight the tragedy of her speech, the text is paired with images showing the ideal future for The Movement: fighting supervillains with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and standing triumphantly as the superstars of the DC universe soar in the background. Series artist Freddie Williams II and colorist Chris Sotomayor, who have worked on every issue without fill-ins, do their strongest work to date with these dramatic visuals. Williams replaces his sketchy linework with smooth ink washes to provide a more polished look, and toning down the detail in the inks allows Sotomayor to add texture and dimension through bolder color choices.
Williams’ grittier line works to capture the title’s urban environment in the present-day sequences, but the style of those fantasy pages is more distinct and eye-catching. In hindsight, the entire run of the book should have been done in that style, because The Movement needed to stand out if it was going to succeed. It never participated in any event crossovers and had a limited connection to the rest of the DCU (Rainmaker of Gen13 was a recurring character and Batgirl appeared in two issues), so it didn’t get much publicity after the debut. DC could have released a trade collecting the first six issues to help boost the book’s presence while it was running, but that first volume won’t arrive until the end of May, after the book is already dead and buried.
Simone and Virtue share the same dream; unfortunately, they both have to wake up from it at some point. It may not have been Simone’s intention, but Virtue’s comments about the reality of living in Coral City in the crumbling neighborhood of the ’Tweens could be read as a commentary on working at DC Comics during the tween years of the 21st century. The main themes of the New 52 are death and dissent, creating an environment of constant danger for superheroes who don’t trust each other. Looking at the Justice League, Batman, and Green Lantern families of titles, a majority of the stories have involved the groups experiencing schisms that distance individual heroes. The Movement tried to create a story about bringing people together to help each other, which has somehow become an antiquated notion for a lot of contemporary superhero comics.
Virtue had a dream that one day her team would be fighting alongside the Justice League, and those lofty aspirations to join the big guns ultimately held this book back. It doesn’t do much good to ponder hypotheticals, but what if The Movement had debuted at Image Comics, where it wouldn’t have been tied down by editorial mandates and would have had lower sales expectations? It probably wouldn’t have skipped a month, and would have released a collection after the first issue was released to reach those readers who wait for the trade paperback. The smaller print runs at Image also means a higher likelihood of selling out, which leads to more publicity to help the book gain traction.
There’s always the possibility that The Movement would have failed at any publisher, but this book was barely promoted at DC and the importance of advertising can’t be denied. It’s a noble effort on Simone’s part to try to change the face of corporate superhero comics, but hopefully she pursues the creator-owned route for future projects because she’s a writer who does spectacular things when she has freedom to play around. (And that’s exactly what she’s doing with Leaving Megalopolis, her Kickstarter-funded project with Secret Six artist Jim Calafiore that is being published by Dark Horse Comics later this year.)
DC has been receiving criticism over its portrayal of female characters since the start of the New 52, and The Movement offers an alternative to the hyper-sexualized New 52 versions of Catwoman, Starfire, and Harley Quinn. (This criticism recently exploded into some extremely shameful displays of misogyny in the superhero comics community when Janelle Asselin was attacked for her Comic Book Resources piece decrying the cover of the upcoming Teen Titans #1.) In this book, Gail Simone spotlights four female characters who fight crime in costumes that cover their entire bodies, and while they are certainly sexual beings, those aspects of their personality are far from the focus of Simone’s story.
Virtue is dating Rainmaker and Katharsis has had the occasional rooftop fling, but Tremor is asexual and Vengeance Moth is single and fine with it. Those elements of their characters are treated very casually, and the unimportance of their sexual preferences allows Simone to explore other areas of their personalities. Not only is Simone representing a variety of sexual orientations, she’s approaching them in a manner that makes any choice a completely normal one for the individual. Some of the characters like Burden, a gay teen from a cultish religious background, struggle with their sexuality, but once they accept who they are, they don’t receive any pushback from their teammates. The Movement is about accepting everyone, and eventually the rest of the superhero industry will have to adjust to that mindset.
Pitting a teen superhero team against social injustice gave Simone the opportunity to tell emotional, relatable stories with her characters, and focusing on the personal motivations and ideologies of the cast helped strengthen the relationships between teammates by showing how those individual views interact with each other. There was a sense that these heroes had dense histories Simone was only able to scratch the surface of over the course of these 12 issues, but the fact that their stories were told for even a brief time is a victory, however small.
At the end of The Movement #12, Captain Meers tells Virtue that her team is never going to change enough to fit in with heroes like the Justice League, but that was never her plan. “Sooner or later, Captain… they’re going to have to change to fit in with us,” Virtue says as the issue closes on one final shot of her makeshift family walking arm in arm into the future, and while they may not appear on comic stands next month, The Movement’s message of diversity and compassion is one that should never be forgotten by the comics community.