THIS WEEK: Dreamer makes her long-awaited DC Universe debut in Superman: Son of Kal-El #13.
Note: the review below contains spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdicts.
Superman: Son of Kal-El #13
Writers: Nicole Maines and Tom Taylor
Artists: Clayton Henry
Colors: Marcelo Maiolo and Matt Herms
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Travis Moore and Tamra Bonvillain
Dreamer as a character holds more significance to me than just about any other character in fiction. Superman and Supergirl have been keystones to my ideals and fandom for most of my life, but Nia Nal gave me something else entirely. Nia Nal gave me a young trans woman trying to find her place in the world of superheroes. Nia Nal gave me the excitement of being able to see myself as a superhero for the first time in my life.
Sure, there had been Coagula in Rachel Pollack’s Doom Patrol, but that was a series that really didn’t interact with the DC Universe by that point and within two years it would be canceled. Then Coagula would be forgotten for seven years before John Arcudi would bring her back for a single issue just to kill her off. Because really, that’s what trans representation was like in the early 2000s. Even when we got to be heroes, trans people would meet a tragic end. And that’s if we weren’t just joke characters or actual monsters.
Dreamer changed that. Here was a character in a mainstream superhero television show, portrayed by a trans actress – Nicole Maines – who first and foremost just got to be a character. Queer people get told all the time that our identities are being shoved down the throats of others, just because we’d like to be able to see ourselves once in a while. That what should matter is the character not their identity. But what those people don’t understand is that character and identity aren’t separatable. Without being trans, I am not me. At the same time, we also don’t want characters to only be their identities. And that’s what Nia Nal was able to bring to the table. The audience knew the character was trans because the casting call told us, but for those people that just watched and didn’t pay attention to things like that? They wouldn’t find out that Nia was trans until her second episode. No, first we got to meet her as an up-and-coming reporter who had recently worked for the White House Press Office, with a bit of a narcolepsy problem. She got to be a character first, and not just token representation. And that’s how it was for the entire time she was part of the series. She grew as a person and a hero, but being trans was always a part of who she was because our identities are core to our being.
I’ve been excited for Superman: Son of Kal-El #13 for months now, even getting to have a fun interview with Nicole Maines and Tom Taylor last month. To be quite honest, I probably hyped myself up too much for it. Here was this character who had meant so much to me, both in my life and my career, and she was joining the main DC Universe where she could now interact with the characters who have been inspiring me for decades? I was over the moon.
Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of this issue that I love. Maines is very good at helping Taylor to inject Nia’s personality and voice into the character. This Nia read exactly like she spoke on screen, right down to her introductory line in the issue of “Howdy boys.” I could hear Nicole Maines’s voice read that line. I loved that Nia’s dream gauntlets were a gift from Nura in the future. I loved that they actually made that connection canon, that Nia does have descendants that carry her legacy. I love that a trans woman got to help write this story, and I love that another trans woman (colorist Tamra Bonvillain) got to participate in the issue by helping bring Travis Moore’s fantastic cover to life.
However, Nia’s actual involvement in the story? Well, that mostly amounts to being a plot device. She breaks into the Fortress of Solitude, just to give Jon a vision of the near future in hopes that he can prevent it and then asks him for a ride home. There’s no action for her to be involved in, she’s only there to deliver exposition. I want to see the superhero who represents me actually get to be a superhero. That will definitely come in Maines’s upcoming graphic novel, but I hope we see more of Dreamer in the near future too where she gets to actively participate in averting her prophecies instead of just delivering them.
All that said, despite wishing that there was a bit more agency for Nia, a bit more for her to do, her personality shines through enough that I give this comic my recomendation.
- Gosh, what a fun time Cloonan and Conrad’s Batgirls series is. I say it every month, but I always have a blast reading it. And even though I wear my Dick Grayson ‘ship preferences on my literal sleeve (as my Discowing and Starfire tattoo sleeve), I can’t help but enjoy the work being done with Dick and Babs in both Batgirls and Nightwing. As long as Dick is happy, I’m happy.
- I’ll admit that Dark Crisis: World Without A Justice League – Superman was better than I thought it would be. Tom King did a good job of establishing a much different version of Superman in this, one that felt like an analogy for isolationism in times of global crisis. Only in Superman’s case, it’s universal crisis, and instead of just turtling in his country, he’s turtling on his planet. It’s a world with a Superman, but a universe without one, at least until Jon can’t take anymore inaction and goes off on his own.
- A fun and unexpected cameo happens in I Am Batman #11 that has me very interested in what comes next in the series.
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