Here’s an unexhaustive list of things that I love: monsters, shapeshifting monsters, queer trans monsters, monster uprisings, found families, inter-universal travel, complex political dramas. White Noise is a comic that has all of these things.
So, the question goes, why don’t I love it?
The main problem, although not the only problem, with White Noise is that I just have not the remotest idea what is going on. There’s some kind of war going on? Or actually it’s not a war, people are trying to prevent a war, but agents from one of the countries (worlds? universes?) are operating openly and attacking and killing people in other countries (???), even though that’s usually considered an act of war. Oh and also their head of state has no idea that this is going on, I guess? There’s talk of “Aetheri” and “Earth” but I’m still not sure if Aetheri is a country or a world, or what the mechanism for travelling between worlds is, or what world any given scene takes place on. It’s a mess. Author Adrien Lee is clearly trying to do the whole show-don’t-tell thing where you let the reader pick up details of the setting from context clues, but there are simply not enough clues. I find myself screaming for a little exposition.
Like, ok, take the main characters: Hawk and Liya, brother and sister. She has healing powers, he has giant bird wings and can fly. My best guess is that they’re… not from Aetheri, whatever that is, because they get separated at the beginning of the story when they get randomly and so far inexplicably attacked by Aetherian agents of some sort. Liya gets taken prisoner and brought to Aetheri, Hawk is left for dead, each thinks the other one is dead.
But as soon as Liya arrives in Aetheri, whatever that is, she gets welcomed by the government there like nothing happened. She even asks “Am I a prisoner?” and everyone’s like “Nooo, ha ha ha” and the conversation NEVER GOES FURTHER THAN THAT. And then they set her up with a job and a place to stay, with repeated admonitions to be good – so that she doesn’t get deported.
I don’t know about you but if I was kidnapped by people who killed my family and brought to their country (universe???) against my will, I would be pretty keen on being deported myself. Just saying.
So the plot and setting make no sense, but we can still salvage this, right? There’s cute gays and trans monsters and people fighting against their government right?
Well, yes, but.
There’s trans representation in White Noise, but it all kind of misses the mark. Helygen is a nonbinary humanoid plant person who uses ne/nem/nir pronouns, which is great, right? But when this is explained, one of the characters is like “well, ne’s a tree, so ne’s not really a man or a woman” or something like that, as if trees inherently don’t have (binary) genders, but everyone else inherently does. I appreciate the sentiment, but you couldn’t have gone with, like, “Trees don’t have a cultural concept of gender, so it doesn’t make sense to use gendered pronouns for nem”? Maybe that seems like nitpicking but to me that’s the difference between understanding these concepts and not understanding them at all. Nice try I guess?
Or there’s Teige (pronounced “tiger”, apparently) a trans boy who can, wait for it, shapeshift. He’s a shapeshifter. Yet the way we discover he’s trans is a scene where we see him wake up in a hotel with his binder on.
Just let that sink in for a second.
The first question is obvious: why does a shapeshifter need to wear a binder? We actually see him change shape immediately in this scene, which only drives home how utterly absurd the notion is. Can’t he just, like, shift his chest into a shape that doesn’t make him dysphoric? I guess it’s possible that he only has a few shapes he can change between (this is not explained, but we only see Teige in a handful of forms in the comic so it’s possible), but for some reason each of those shapes has the exact same secondary sex characteristics, despite some of them being closer to specific animals (like a goat) who don’t even have that kind of anatomy. Whatever the explanation, I’m baffled and irritated by it.
The second question is also obvious, at least to people who bind: how the hell does he sleep in a binder. No one sleeps in a binder. If you bind 100% of the time, like this character apparently does, you’ll severely hurt yourself and probably, like, die or something. Please don’t sleep in your binder. Honestly people.
But there’s also a scene where a bunch of oppressed monsters use their powers to kill some military cops and rescue some other monsters from being sold into slavery, so I guess I’ll keep reading for now.
Final verdict: Read it if you don’t care if the plot is a mystery and the setting is baffling as long as there’s some genuine and touching characterization that’s fun to read. Alternately, read it if you want to see some trans characters and have low standards for trans representation. (And honestly, don’t we all?)