Author: April Daniels
Year of release: 24 January 2017
Part of Series: First in the Nemesis series
Genre: Young Adult, Superhero and Fantasy
Publisher: Diversion Publishing
Purchased via Amazon
(Content Warning: Contains discussion of transphobia
and mild plot and character spoilers)
Danny, a trans woman with a love for superheroes and for years has been hiding her identity from her father and best friend until the right time to come out. However, by a chance of fate, she becomes her favourite superhero, Dreadnought after they fall to the ground dead right in front of her, resulting in her inheriting their superpowers.
This also transforms her body into the body she has always wanted, but this also means having to come out to her father, who doesn’t approve of who she is and her best friend, who now wants to date her. All the while, an evil cyborg wants to destroy her home of New Port City and must be stopped.
Danny is a positive protagonist and a fine example of how to write a trans woman. Her love for superheroes and comics is incredibly adorable and her issues with her own gender feels very genuine. This also applies to her use of her powers and becoming her favourite superhero, it all feels relatable and very fun.
Her father can come across as very bigoted, but sadly one that is also very realistic. Many within the LGBTQ+ community will know the type of friend or family member who think they are helping when they do horribly phobic things and trying to deny your sexuality and gender. It’s heart-breaking and you see how badly this affects Danny and it is done masterfully to be realistic, while not getting to close that it is offensive.
At the same time though, his actions can be upsetting for some trans women and people from other non-binary groups. He can be incredibly hurtful and while it is there to show the reality of the situation, it is very understandable that it can be too much for people to handle and would not want to see this in their fiction.
One theme of the book is that of pressure, especially that of the pressure that is thrust upon Danny. The pressure of having to find her favourite superhero’s killer, the pressure to be someone you’re not, the pressure to live up to your predecessor’s legacy. It resonates deeply within the book and is vital for Danny’s development.
The other important theme of the book is that of rejection which is also important to Danny’s development. The rejection Danny faces from her father, her best friend and the rest of the superhero community is heartbreaking and gives you the want to see them proven wrong.
One issue that should be acknowledged is one that has been brought up elsewhere in the LGBTQ+ community, most noticeably when the novel was originally announced on TheMarySue. Is the use of what is essentially magic in the novel to give Danny her perfect body a detraction from the work or an acceptable inclusion given the novel’s tone, themes and subject matter?
However, The story fully acknowledges that trans women who do not have the powers that Danny have exist and are women regardless of their bodies and that Danny’s case is a unique one that is very unusual. The novel goes to great lengths to show her feelings and reactions to the change that come across as very similar to those trans women who wish to be able to just transition like that, while also show the drawbacks and hardships that this sort of transitioning can have.
One could argue that the novel could have done a little bit more to show the feelings of other trans women in this world. But at the same time, that could have also hurt the story’s pacing and focus of the novel and may detract from Danny’s journey.
Dreadnought is a very interesting and fun novel that while might go into melodramatics in some areas, is overall very touching in its writing and use of trans issues. It’s not the heaviest of reads in terms of sheer page size, but it doesn’t have to be and uses its 300 pages very nicely.
One could hope this can go through the mainstream comic industry and people in charge of superhero related media. Superhero media is very lacking when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation, with Loki’s admittedly problematic portrayal of gender fluidity ignored in the MCU, lesbians and bisexual women noticeably hetronormalized such as with Cassie Sandsmark aka Wonder Girl and DC only in the past few years having their first ever trans woman in there comics with Alysia Yeoh. Having more positive portrayals is very welcome and could encourage companies like DC or Marvel to include more in their works.