THE AVANT GUARDS #5 by Carly Usdin, Noah Hayes, and Rebecca Nalty
The team is at it again in THE AVANT-GUARDS #5. This time they're facing major threats to the entire league. However, writer Carly Usdin and artist Noah Hayes focus on another important event: teammate Jay's art show and a visit from their partner!
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As a nonbinary person and hopeless romantic, I would like to personally thank Carly Usdin for giving the world THE AVANT-GUARDS #5. The fifth issue of the hit BOOM! Studios sports comic gives readers a breather with a delightful nonbinary love story. The comic shifts attention from the budding-but-complicated affection between teammates Charlie and Liv and focuses instead on the stoic introvert Jay. The players on the Avant-Guards are students at the Georgia O’Keefe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics. Perhaps it goes without saying that they’re all very artsy. Jay is no exception. In THE AVANT-GUARDS #5, Jay gears up for their art show and a visit from their partner Tyler. And, of course, they try to save the team from losing everything at the last minute!

In typical AVANT-GUARDS fashion, Noah Hayes lines this issue with vivid artwork. Alongside colorist Rebecca Nalty, Hayes captures each character’s delightful quirks. From Charlie’s laid-back nonchalance to Jay’s quiet composure, the artwork gives readers a strong sense of character. (Hayes even finds a way to subtly build Tiff’s witchy-ness, when she inexplicably poofs away in a puff of smoke!)

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

A Shift in Focus?

Usdin ended THE AVANT-GUARDS #4 on an intense cliffhanger. The basketball league in which the Avant-Guards plays lost its funding! Naturally, the team’s high-strung leader Liv is frantic during issue #5. As a result, readers might find the sudden switch in perspective a little jarring. However, by switching to Jay’s narrative rather than Liv’s, Usdin signals that THE AVANT-GUARDS is truly about a full team of characters. Moreover, Jay’s story is both introspective and grounding. The comic addresses the importance of queer relationships of all kinds and the power of being true to yourself.

The shift in perspective also serves to give readers a chance to get a little worried. What if the team can’t pull it together? What if Liv and Charlie never do end up together?! In terms of drama, taking some time to build the excitement is an effective strategy. Additionally, the pattern is consistent: the comic will (hopefully) give each teammate the spotlight for at least one issue. Ultimately, we can be excited for which characters’ stories will be told next! And, despite the mounting drama, THE AVANT-GUARDS #5 is as tender and delightful as previous issues.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Theirs and Theirs: A Love Story in THE AVANT-GUARDS #5

Although Charlie and Liv’s romance and the team’s fate are addressed peripherally, THE AVANT-GUARDS #5 focuses on Jay’s art show and a visit from Tyler. Usdin carefully crafts a cute college romance in just a few pages. A nonbinary power couple, Jay and Tyler are methodical go-getters. THE AVANT-GUARDS #5 shows that Jay is more than a (talented) jock. They’re also a thoughtful and inspired artist. Moreover, they balance art school, basketball, and quality friendships with being a dedicated partner to Tyler.

If Jay isn’t cool enough yet, wait until you hear about Tyler. Jay’s partner is an inspired business person whose many diverse and astounding accomplishments are eagerly lauded by Liv and the other players. Moreover, Tyler neatly balances Jay’s introverted nature, giving Jay the space they need to create and the support they need to promote their art. THE AVANT-GUARDS develops the pair’s sweet relationship and gives readers a refreshing look at nonbinary narratives. It’s both light-hearted and groundbreaking. It is thrilling to see nonbinary characters — especially nonbinary characters of color — portrayed so lovingly.

Why Does Nonbinary Romance Matter?

Readers might think I’m making too big a deal out of this kind of nonbinary representation. However, BOOM! Studios consistently delivers quality queer representation (THE LUMBERJANES, FENCE, HEAVY VINYL, GOLDIE VANCE, MISFIT CITY, and ADVENTURE TIME, to name a few). Seeing them delve into the world of nonbinary characters is not necessarily surprising, but it is exciting and worth celebrating! Indeed, in terms of nonbinary representation, audiences don’t have a lot to work with. Stevonnie from the series STEVEN UNIVERSE comes to mind. But like Stevonnie, most nonbinary characters play minor roles. With THE AVANT-GUARDS centering a whole issue on Jay and their partner, Usdin clearly asserts that nonbinary people do, in fact, exist. And, moreover, that nonbinary people are just as worthy of leading roles.

Additionally, a tender nonbinary romance gives readers a new vision for what romantic relationships can look like. Indeed, a nonbinary romance refreshingly proves that romantic love can exist outside the gender binary altogether. But what’s even more refreshing about Usdin’s portrayal of nonbinary characters is that being nonbinary isn’t the only cool thing about Tyler and Jay. Both characters are exceptional people with many interests and talents. Tyler is wonderfully femme and her bespectacled hipster look is completely darling regardless of preconceived ideas about gendered attire. Jay is a little more androgynous, and together they prove that nonbinary people come in all shapes and sizes — with many different skills and passions.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Art Meets Character in THE AVANT-GUARDS #5

As I mentioned, Noah Hayes has a knack for capturing character through his artwork. Indeed, while past issues have been deliberately chaotic — mirroring Liv’s high energy and Charlie’s anxieties —  THE AVANT-GUARDS #5 feels a little slower and a little calmer. With Jay as the focus, the comic is a little more methodical and takes its time. Hayes’ art matches the pace beat for beat.

Additionally, the comic focuses on artwork. It may seem like a silly inclusion, but Hayes makes sure that Jay’s artworks are as exciting as the art opening guests think it is. As a result, the comic feels thoughtful and reflective of the vast possibilities of queer art.

As always, the bright colors, enthusiasm, and charm of THE AVANT-GUARDS shines through. THE AVANT-GUARDS #5 pulls the team closer together than ever before and will make readers feel excited about the coming issues.

THE AVANT-GUARDS #5 is available here.

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