So, in case you were stuck in a cave with no wi-fi access these past few weeks (and after getting a connection you decided to skip everything else and come read my blog), you probably heard that author James Robinson has recently announced with DC comics their decision to take Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, and make him gay in this Earth-2 series, to the surprise of many. And, since then, the internet has been going through a huge discussion on the implications of this decision, with many readers being for and against this event.
The people against this change typically fall into four large categories (with some sub-groups). First you have the complete scum of the Earth who are offended by the very idea that some men may prefer the cock over a nice pair of tits. There's no hope for these people, and they should be shunned at any and all times, and if you don't like that idea please stop reading and leave without commenting, I do not want to hear it.
Next up, you have the people who can can't help but whine about how comics are undergoing a form of Affirmative Action, and are doing so much in the name of diversity that the books are suffering from it.
Then you get the more or less straight ally group, who have no problem with his sexuality, but instead debate whether or not it's right to change him from a straight, married man with two children into a homosexual, as they feel that it isn't right to make a character into something that contradicts his original creation, which is a fair, if complex, issue.
Finally, there's the group who dislike the change for similar reasons to the above, but are mostly against the fact that they feel Earth-2 was always meant to be the world where all the Golden Age heroes got a chance to have their adventures continued. Of course, this isn't exactly true, but we'll get to that later.
Now, I for one am feeling a bit neutral to positive about this change, mostly because of the creativity behind it. James Robinson is a fantastic and well received writer, his work on Cry for Justice not withstanding, and is well known for revamping several gold and silver age characters, such as Starman, and making them much more popular and relevant then they were before. Not only that, but as he's pointed out, he was also one of the first comic writers to actually show a gay couple sharing a kiss in one of his books, which right there adds a little optimism to how much respect he'll give to the character as he's writing him.
Of course, the only thing that's really keeping me from fully getting behind this change is the two-page preview that was released so far. Now, I really liked issue 1 of Earth-2. I thought that in a single issue they told a story much more complete, satisfying, and emotionally wrenching than the first 8 issues of JLA, which in itself is a huge accomplishment. The new origin for Jay Garrick, and how it ties in with Wonder Woman lore, really picked my interest, and the designs I've seen of Alan in costume look incredible at the moment.
None of that is the problem. My first issue with it is the fact that those two pages I've read... were ok at best? For someone that keeps claiming that the fact he's gay is only going to be an aspect of that character and not something that defines him, Robinson certainly didn't hesitate to use an over-sized panel very clearly displaying Scott as a gay man as he lovingly kissed his boyfriend, which to me goes against the idea of just having it be a normal, everyday thing. I would have been more accepting of this if it was a normal panel, a brief glimpse of them showing affection without any fanfare, to clearly show that yes, we've reached a point where two men can publicly declare their love without making it a big thing.
But admittedly I'm getting INCREDIBLY nit-picky.
My other issue was also with the writing, which seemed overly flirty in a way that really felt kind of forced, which again is distracting when the author is claiming something to be not a big deal, and then making this such an up-front part of those pages that it's hard to just put in the back of your mind and keep reading, you are basically forced to pause for a bit and go "yeah, I get it, they're gay" and keep going with that mind set until they are finally off panel.
Of course, I am jumping the gun a little here, since I haven't read the whole book, but it has put me in a bit of a cautiously optimistic state of mind, rather than full on acceptance and maybe even excitement. Time will tell if it holds up.
One thing I do really enjoy about this change is the fact that Alan Scott is by all accounts the leader of the JSA, something that is pretty much unheard of in any medium. Since when is the gay man the fearless leader in any mainstream piece of fiction? Sure, he's probably not the first, but this is pretty high profile, and it is pretty damn impressive in and of itself.
And honestly, the world needs this. When you look at gay characters in comics throughout history, most of them haven't gotten the best treatment. There were several good articles floating around the internet about the exact same thing, so I won't delve too deep into this, but in general if you were to make a Women in Refrigerators sort of blog about all the LGBTQ characters who have been killed, were villains, or were negative stereotypes, you would be able to see quite clearly how much more likely it is for a homosexual to suffer some terrible fate than a straight person would.
Of course, these past ten years have seen HUGE steps forward in terms of inclusion and equality. Renee Montoya's coming out was both shocking, tragic, and well received, as has the creation of Kate Kane, the current Batwoman. Apollo and the Midnighter, while a bit silly due to how much they flirt with each other, is still fairly entertaining in it's simplicity (it's Superman falling in love with Batman, if you haven't realized the whole joke), and even minor characters like the cop and doctor in Scarlet Spider get believable and non-offensive relationships.
This isn't to say that things are perfect though, which is why I feel this change is necessary. Let's for a second look at DC's only other openly gay character that emerged after the reboot, Bunker from the Teen Titans.
I keep hearing people praise him as a great character, and that he's somehow a positive example of a gay teenager. And this isn't just random commentators, IGN ran an article last week about LGBT characters in comics that gave him a positive write up, which is strange considering I've heard on the IGN Assemble podcast how much the writers and editors for the site DESPISE the DCnU Teen Titans.
But Bunker really isn't that good a character. So far, we've seen him as a quip machine with a saucy Latino accent, and that's really it. He comforts all the girls when they feel bad, they all open up to him and use him as a rock while he deals out sage advise, and Skitter even seems attracted to him for a time even though he's gay. He wears freaking purple, for god's sake.
Do you see where I'm going with this, Don't you?
Come one, do I have to spell it out for you?
He's the Gay Best Friend.
And I can say so much about this subject, but as usual, Patton Oswalt says it best:
If you couldn't be bothered listening to this, I'm gonna just paraphrase two lines that really sell the whole issue I have with the trope:
"It's 2011, I might as well put on Blackface and tap dance"
"In movies, all gay characters are these magical, intelligent quip machines which, if your gay, has got to feel really dehumanizing after awhile"
And that, friends, is the heart of the issue. He's a stereotype. He's a CLICHE. He is not a real character, he's a caricature of what Scott Lobdell might feel a real gay character would be like. And that's not cool at all.
There's another term for this phenomena. It's called the Pet Homosexual. And if you can't tell what that means and why it's bad just from the name than, well, carry on then.
Now, some people might argue that he's not a "negative" stereotype per se, but look at it this way. If you say all Black men have big dicks, or that all Asians are smarter than other races, it's not a "negative" thing to say about someone, but we'd sure as hell still call you racist for saying these things.
And that's why I feel it's important to include a powerful leader figure into the DCU in some way or another, because let's face it, we really need these types of characters as opposed to... others.
Which segue-ways quite nicely into one of the bigger arguments against turning him gay, the notion that this is somehow affirmative action.
Now, this isn't the first time DC were accused of this over the course of the reboot. When JLA was announced, people got upset over the inclusion of Cyborg in the team which, I gotta say, is in some ways justified. There was no real reason why Victor Stone had to be but on the team over Martian Manhunter other than being black, which DC pretty much admitted, though in the end I let it slide since, despite everything, Cyborg has proven himself in the past to be a worthy hero in his own right, and his role as tech expert for the team fills a position that Manhunter could not, as he was basically just psychic Superman.
But despite this, I keep seeing whenever a gay character is introduced to a team or a black guy shows up in a book there's always a group of people who just shriek that companies are being "too diverse". In fact, I've even heard some people claim that some companies were being "too tolerant", though I have a deep suspicion that those particular people are just crazy racists.
To this I have only one reply: Gays make up just around 7 % of the population. Asians make up over half the world. Hispanics outnumber Caucasians in certain states. How many of these individuals do you see in comics? I'd say if you were to combine all those groups I named, you would barely equal 5% of the amount of white superheroes, even if you were to remove all the aliens. Stop complaining because the little guys get one more representative.
Now, as for the idea of making established characters gay, the whole issue gets a little murkier, and it gets harder to explain my own thoughts, so bear with me for a while.
The first thing that I thought of when I read the news was the whole controversy that came up when Peter David decided to make the character Shatterstar bi-sexual and put him in a relationship with Richter in X-Factor (which you should be reading, by the way). Rob Liefeld, Shatterstar's creator, immediately spoke out against this decision in a not so open-minded way. Now, I'm not calling Liefeld a homophobe. I've never met the guy, and he did have a bit of a point when he claimed that he always intended Shatterstar to be completely asexual, and that making him "queer" was not something he intended for this character, but that's the thing with company owned characters. Liefeld gave his creations to Marvel, allowing them to do what ever they wanted to, no matter what. Grant Morrisson's Animal Man run deals with this exact idea, where a character can be changed completely as they got passed from writer to writer, and as a result complete shifts in continuity could be made just because some man with a typewriter decides so. Since Liefeld relinquished control of the character, he lost the right to really be upset if someone did something to him that he doesn't agree with. At the same time, Shatterstar's sexuality was something that, when introduced, felt much more like the evolution of the character, and was something that fit in nicely with what was previously established. I am reminded of a comment I read on some comment section somewhere about this topic, where someone noted that Liefeld's reaction was like that of a parent whose child just came out to them: he never intended for his "son" to be gay, no one does, but it happened, so you've got to move on.
Plus, who the hell cares if a Liefeld character got changed? It's not like he's known for creating original characters with DEPTH (Cable and Deadpool don't count and you know it).
In this way, Alan Scott is similar to Shatterstar in many ways, but of course there is a key difference. Namely, the fact that Alan Scott was already clearly defined as straight for almost 70 years, unlike Shatterstar, who was only vaguely defined for less than 15 years. And this is something where there is no right answer. Going back to the Morrison run I mentioned before, the idea that huge changes can be made to a character based on a writers whim is one that I happen to agree with, especially after a reboot, but that raises many questions. If I say that sure, someone can go against decades on continuity and make Alan Scott gay, can I still get mad at how Scott Lobdell changed Starfire into a vapid, mindless bit of eye candy (at least at the start, though she hasn't quite been redeemed just yet)? It boils down to what the change implies, and how you, the reader, personally feels. I still claim that the change to Starfire is one of the biggest offenses in recent comic book memory, since it changed her from a lighthearted alien princess who preached about love in all it's forms into a large chested nympho who slept with Roy without recalling his name, forgot about her friends, and slaughtered a man who dared show her mercy, but somehow I'm completely ok with making the old, wise, straight Green Lantern into a younger gay man in a new world. You have to decide yourselves which is a good thing, and which isn't.
As for the idea that Earth-2 should be the place where the JSA get to continue their adventures (which applies to earth 2 as a concept and not just The homosexuality debate)... I never understood this argument. Earth-2 was "invented" in the 1960's as a way to explain how the original golden age incarnations of certain heroes could have existed while their newer counterparts also co-inhabit this supposedly shared universe. That's all it was. By the time we had any idea Earth-2 existed besides a single Flash comic, Wolfman was already destroying it, combining the world with Earth-1 to make things easier to understand. For a time, the JSA didn't even exist, then it existed side by side with the Justice league, before again being separated back into a multiverse, and so on and so forth. I don't know where this idea that it's a sacred ground came up, where it's the safe haven for golden age characters to continue their adventures, but this idea can't be more than 10 years old, and i think people need to just let it go.
So those are my thoughts. In the end, until I read the issue, I can't confirm if the new change will be a good decision or not, but at the same time there's no reason to take up arms whenever a company gets ballsy enough to shift the status quo, popular opinion be damned. Most of the people complaining are straight males, don't pretend for a second like your lives aren't blessed just by virtue of being born with the most advantageous gender and sexual orientation, and let writers tell what could very well be a great story. At least give it a chance.