REVIEW: The Lavender Menace! Tales of Queer Villainy edited by Tom Cardamone

The Lavender Menace cover art by Joe Phillips

If you’re going to be expelled into the darkness, you might as well flaunt it.

Before I say anything whatsoever about the content of this book, I want to quickly discuss the title: The Lavender Menace was, I believe, originally a lesbian feminist collective, and I personally think that the term ‘queer’ covers a lot of non-heterosexual identities. So I was expecting a wide variety of villains. However, this is actually an anthology of gay, male villains. It is, I want to stress, a good anthology of gay male villains, but that is what it is, and I feel this book would have benefited from being more accurately titled. I don’t feel particularly upset about the mis-titling, because sometimes these things just happen and I like to give people the benefit of the doubt rather than getting insulted or worked up.

Now, onwards to the review!

 

I am never certain of what to do with short story collections. Do I read them through in order? Dip in and out? Perhaps read them all backwards? I can never really make up my mind.

With this anthology, I read straight (hah!) through in a single sitting. I was captivated by the variety of the stories and characters, and I am now left with a pastiche of images and sentences that roll into one another. Each writer did something completely different and fascinating.

There was a host of unforgettable characters: a terrifying dictator missing half his face; Mr Positive and Mr. Negative, looking back over their lives as they write the introduction to a book aimed at helping adolescent supervillains; Psilence, a sort of telepath who falls into villainy through desperation; Armeggon and Mirror, flying over a ravaged London; Daytripper, applying to hero school; Muse, who really does want to give Dr. Schadenfreude a birthday present but ends up on a date with El Fantasma que Sangra. My personal favourite was the Fiend (I’m not telling you anything about the Fiend because it will completely ruin the story. Go read it).

What I really enjoyed about this was the mixture of story types; the writers all found very different things to do, which is impressive seeing as they all had the same brief. There were some adventure type stories, a memoir, a second-person back and forth pastiche, some comedy and some angst. There were stories with love interests, stories with no love interests, stories in which the sexuality of the main character was central and stories in which it was barely mentioned.

The quality of the writing was also very high throughout, and it was clear that the contributors to this collection had been well chosen. What is brilliant about this collection is that, although it is overtly an anthology of gay villains, it is actually a great collection of villains all on its own, and the homosexuality is just there. It would have been very easy to make an anthology of gay villains who were all queens (I think there’s one) and over the top and ‘dah-ling’, but that is not what has been done. This collection is filled with short gems in the superhero/supervillain genre in which there happen to be gay characters.

For the most part, the stories feel like fantastic stories in which there are gay characters, rather than stories that have gay characters just for the sake of them being gay. A reactionary superperson attacking a far-right christian America? Interesting. Someone who can move thoughts inside another person’s mind and who is desperate to be loved? Tell me more. A violent socialist possessing other people’s bodies for suicide bombings? A boy realising that his life’s timeline makes no sense? A psychiatrist in a very specialist prison with something of an agenda? All brilliant premises that more than deliver.

There’s a definite sense of glee to this collection; it feels in some ways as though the writers have taken the metaphorical mask that many non-heterosexual people feel they have to wear, made it literal and empowered it. It’s like sticking a middle finger up at a society that often subtly (and not-so-subtly) demonises non-hetero identities by saying “You want us to be villains? We can be villains. And we’ll be great at it.”

Once I realised this was all just gay men, this was a great read, in equal parts disturbing and hilarious. I recommend it.

On another note, I’d really like to see some more bisexual villains, but I guess we already have Mystique (YAY comic-canon.).

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tom Cardamone
    Nov 07, 2014 @ 11:36:43

    Thanks so much for the very thoughtful review! Much appreciated. Can I ask a favor? Please correct the spelling of my last name: it’s Cardamone. Drop me an email if you’d like some free audiobooks of my other titles, I think you’ll like my short story collection, Pumpkin Teeth, it has a gay female super hero story. Keep reading, keep writing!

    TC

    Reply

    • Meredith
      Nov 08, 2014 @ 16:03:06

      It’s been corrected; sorry about that! It was a total pleasure to read, and I’m glad that you enjoyed my review. Pumpkin Teeth sounds great (also, fantastic title); I’ll drop you an email later on today. Thanks for the encouragement, MD

      Reply

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