Why DC Comics Just Can’t Win…

Okay, look – the flames are completely in line with the history of the character. It’s not… It isn’t… Okay, yes, he’s flaming. Ha, ha, ARE WE DONE NOW?

As you may have heard by now, DC Comics is re-introducing an old character with a twist. In the upcoming issue of “Earth-2,” Alan Scott is being re-imagined as a gay man.

For a little background: Alan Scott is Green Lantern. No, not that one. Or that one. Or the other three. Prior to the reboot of 2011, Alan Scott was the original Green Lantern, with a ring that was much more mystical than scientific. He served in the Justice Society, a WW2-era superhero super-group, and had two kids, Obsidian and Jade, who were superheroes in their own right. Over the years, Alan got older and younger, then older – and then younger again, but he was considered to be one of the moral pillars of the superhero community. He had been doing it longer than anyone, and commanded great respect amongst his fellow heroes.

“Earth-2” is a new series that starts in the modern age with the destruction of the Justice League. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are dead, leaving a void in the world of heroes. The first arc will, as far as I can predict, follow the emergence of a new, modern Justice Society. We’ve already seen Al Pratt (the Atom) and Jay Garrick (Flash), as well as the news-making Alan Scott, and word is that this Earth is going to lean a little more towards the mystical than the scientific in terms of how our heroes get their powers.

All that aside, now, let’s look at their decision to re-imagine Alan Scott as a gay man and why DC Comics can’t win.

Here is the problem that DC is facing with this: there was no choice they could have made that would have avoided backlash from some sector of their fan base. Their options were:

Create a whole new gay character: And no one would have cared. It’s diabolically hard to introduce new characters into comics and have people like them. That’s why some of the most popular characters today were also popular 20, 30, 40 years ago. If they had tried to make a new character, the odds are that he would have sunk into obscurity within months. Every new character that becomes a success does so on the corpses of dozens who didn’t.

Make an existing hero gay: Which is what they’ve done, of course, provoking a chorus of complaints from fans that they’re “dishonoring” a great character. Set aside the fact that these fans probably hadn’t given Alan Scott a second thought until this news hit the web, they’re basically insisting that if DC is going to make a gay character, it should be an original one. See the point above.

Make an existing hero gay – in an alternate universe: Now they can say, “Well yes, Alan Scott is gay, but if we need to we can just say it’s not the ‘real’ Alan Scott.” If things go horribly wrong, they could just let “Earth-2” finish its run, wait for people to forget, and then re-introduce Alan into the mainstream DCU with a playboy bunny on his arm. But now, for those of us who are fine with re-envisioning Alan Scott as gay [1], there’s the slight worry that him not being the “real” Alan Scott is a bit of a cheat.

Well, there goes society. G’nite everyone.

Mixed in with all of that is the complaint that they’re just doing this to be hip and trendy. President Obama has voiced his support for gay marriage, DOMA is being chipped away at left and right, and gayness in general is becoming more acceptable to the population at large. Over at Marvel, their mainstream gay hero, Northstar, is getting married soon, and a lot of people think that DC is just jumping on the gay bandwagon. That part, at least, demonstrates a high level of ignorance over how fast the comics-making process works. While I wouldn’t put it past DC Editorial to get on the red phone to Robinson and say, “Make Alan Scott gay, dammit, we have to beat Marvel to the queer kids!” that isn’t what happened. Word is they’ve had this one in the works since late last year, when “Earth 2” was being set up as a way to make up for the Justice Society having been lost in the reboot.

From what I’ve read, it seems as though DC is acting more-or-less in good faith here. They’re just as attention-hungry as anyone else, so there is still a non-zero chance that they’re doing this to get attention, and will let Gay Alan vanish into comics history at some point. But the writer, James Robinson, has a history with Alan Scott, so I trust he will do his best to make the story real and complex and interesting.

I plan on giving them the benefit of the doubt. Even though fans may bitch, and even though DC doesn’t have a great track record with the whole “sincerity” thing, I’m going to support them with this, Earth-2 and all. Comics needs more diversity. There needs to be characters that readers of all stripes can identify with. There needs to be someone on the page for some gay kid reading comics to look up to and imagine himself being. There’s no reason the DC Universe – either one – can’t resemble the real world in at least some small ways.

Interviews with Robinson look good, too. He says, “The reality is the world is filled with fantastic gay people that contribute to society in every aspect you can imagine from medicine to arts to serving in the military. It’s nice to put one in a super team and acknowledge that there’s a gay character there too. But I want to reiterate, it’s just one aspect. He’s a gallant, heroic, green knight that would die for the Earth and its people and fight to his dying breath. There are so many other fantastic attributes to Alan Scott and I want people to see that he’s gay and he’s also everything you’d want in a hero.”

The artist, Nicola Scott (no relation), says, “Alan strikes me as an incredibly open, honest and warm man, a natural leader and absolutely the right choice to be Guardian of the Earth. His sexuality is incidental. Every time I draw him I love him even more.”

The take-home is that the people who are building the new Alan Scott have great affection for him. They want him to be a hero, not just a gay guy with some flashy jewelry.

Plus it pisses off the “One Million Moms,” and anything that does that can’t be all bad.

Bonus Round: Predictions

And hello to you too…

Well, one prediction and one bad feeling in my gut, and both of them have to do with Alan’s boyfriend, Sam.

1) Sam will become Obsidian. Why? That panel right after we see Sam for the first time, Alan says, “Sam! What are you doing lurking in the shadows?” Emphasis mine, of course. This may be Robinson tipping his hand. The original Alan Scott had a son, Todd, who could manipulate shadows. Also, Todd was gay. And slightly insane, depending on when he was being written.

2) Sam will be fridge-stuffed. At least this’ll be in the tradition of new Green Lanterns, anyway. You see, back in the day when Kyle Rayner became a Green Lantern, he had an awesome girlfriend, Alexandra. She was cool, she was supportive, she helped him decide to keep the ring and use it right.

Then she was murdered, folded up like a paper crane, and stuffed into Kyle’s fridge. Just to piss him off. Much like Peter Parker and Uncle Ben, this gave Kyle the momentum to become the hero that he did. It’s unfortunate that she had to die to do it. Now the term “fridge-stuffing” applies generally to characters (usually female) who are killed in order to give the protagonist (usually male) a reason to continue the heroic journey.

It would be all-too-easy to kill off Sam as a way to kick-start Alan’s heroic career. Even worse, it would then allow the writers to ignore his sexuality altogether for the rest of the series. After all, if he’s mourning for his poor, dead love, he’s hardly going to start dating again anytime soon. So we don’t need to worry about trying to write a gay romance and kicking any more hornets’ nests.

And despite the title of this entry, it is possible for DC Comics to win this. All they have to do is write a fantastic comic book, with grounded, complex, interesting characters. Make Alan and Sam people who are important to the reader, and let us believe in who they are and what they want to do in the world.

Do that, and victory is yours, DC. I look forward to it.

—–

[1] *raises hand* Hi.

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Slade, I’m Afraid We’re Going to Have to Let You Go

RAAAWRR! I HAS A GUN!!!

The above line would probably be immediately followed by the distinctive and musical sound of a large sword through my throat.

I’m trying to put together tonight’s story, but my brain isn’t cooperating with me, so let’s prime the pump somewhat by talking about comics. Specifically, the current state of the New 52 in DC Comics, which is now entering its third month. More specifically, the ones that suck.

The first one to get cut was Deathstroke, after only two issues. Now why did I drop Deathstroke like it was a flaming turd in my hands? Hmmm….

Guys [1], remember when you were a kid, and you’d play super-heroes with your friends? One of you would be Superman and one of you would be, I dunno, Wolverine, and after you finished arguing about how Superman and Wolverine can’t fight each other because they’re from totally different comics and that wouldn’t make sense, you would start basically listing off your attacks:

Li’l Superman: I’m gonna hit you with my heat vision! BZZZAT!
Li’l Wolverine: I use my claws to reflect your heat vision back at you! FRINNNG!!
Li’l Superman: Well I can just let it bounce off my chest. Ha ha ha!!
Li’l Wolverine: I’m gonna throw Kryptonite at you! WHAM!
Li’l Superman: Yeah, well I’m gonna take these special metal-eating Kryptonian cockroaches and they’re going to EAT YOUR BONES! HA!

And so on. Point is, each kid would find reasons why his hero was utterly undefeatable and how there was no way the other one could possibly stand against him.

You'd think his codpiece would be bigger.

That’s what it’s like reading Deathstroke.

And that’s a shame, because they have a really interesting opportunity here. Most of DC’s metahuman characters are like football players in their prime years – their twenties and thirties. They’re still fit and clear-minded, they’re still hip and with it. Their careers are fresh and new and their best years are still ahead of them in terms of kicking ass and taking names. But Slade is older. We don’t know exactly how old, of course, because time in comic books is a plastic and unreliable thing, but he probably has a couple of decades on the Justice League at the very least.

Super-soldier or no, time takes its toll. You have to keep learning new skills, keep up with the newest technology and weaponry. You have to continue to improve and adapt yourself to the world, and that gets harder as you get older. So the first issue sets this up very nicely: Slade’s handler Christoph basically comes out and says: “They don’t think you can cut it, Slade. Not anymore.” There. The issue is out in the open, ready to be dealt with. It suggests that Slade isn’t what he once was, that he can’t hold his own against the newer, younger crowd. Like an aging prizefighter, the time has come where perhaps he should think about bowing out gracefully and leaving the ring.

We could then have a really interesting storyline that explores the perils of age and obsolescence, where perhaps Slade tries to accept this new reality but is not allowed to do so. Perhaps he gets his ass kicked in the first issue and has to figure out new ways to defeat his enemy. Or he goes the “old gunslinger” route, where he has to deal with the young up-and-comers who want to make a name for themselves by killing the greatest assassin the world has ever known. Hell, maybe he looks back on his life of murder and bloodshed and sees that there’s more time behind him than before him. Maybe he stops and asks, “What’s it all about, really? What have I contributed to the world?” And despite an earnest desire to make good, to maybe give up his lifetime of violence, he gets pulled back into it, Unforgiven-style. There is so much that can be done to expand this character and make him vivid and believable and interesting.

RAWR!

Instead, they go for a gore-festy fight sequence that is basically the writer with his fingers in his ears screaming, “LA LA LA DEATHSTROKE IS A BADASS I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” He cuts through a whole slew of assassins and soldiers as if he were a young man of twenty, never once having to deal with the fact that he isn’t. And everything that tries to stop him is cut down with absolutely no significant effort. It is proven in bloody detail that Slade Wilson cannot be stopped – not by ninjas on motorcycles, not by guys in ridiculous armored suits with wheels on them, not by the ravages of time itself. He has no doubts, no fears, and no competition.

And that, friends and neighbors, is utterly and fantastically dull.

I swear to you, this was real.

This was actually one of the problems with Superman back before the character was first rebooted in the 80s – he was far too godlike. There was literally nothing that Superman couldn’t do, no battle he couldn’t win and no enemy that could give him more than a moment’s pause. With nothing that can challenge him, there’s really no point in writing stories for him.

So when John Byrne gave him a new start, he brought down his power levels a bit and created new conflicts that would force the Man of Steel to adapt and improve. And, again, he succumbed to power-creep over the years, to the point where J. Michael Straczynski actually decided that it would be more interesting to see him walk across America than punch out giant robots. He had grown so powerful that physical conflict was beyond him, and he needed to start dealing with social and political problems. [2]

He could also use a haircut.

In the New 52, Superman was de-powered again. In Action Comics – which takes place several years before “now” – he’s probably at his “weakest” since he was introduced back in 1939. He can’t fly, he can still be injured and get worn out during a fight. Even in Justice League of America, which is a little closer to “now” in comic book time, he suggests that he has limits to his powers and he knows what most of them are. By putting limits on what Superman can do, the various writers are forced to make the character work harder and be more creative in dealing with problems. The reader knows that it’s possible for the character to fail, and so we are more interested to know how he deals with the problem at hand.

No so with Deathstroke. The writer, Kyle Higgins, is doing his best to eliminate any chance that Slade Wilson could be defeated by anyone – even himself. He slices through his enemies in a single panel, makes bored quips about how pathetic they are, and the artist, Joe Bennett, makes sure that the closest thing we see to an emotion on his face is bemused detachment.

Yawn.

By the time I got to the end of issue 2, I was pretty much convinced that there was nothing holding me to this title. There were no characters that I cared about, no plot elements that interested me. All they had given me was Slade Wilson, Badass With a Sword, and I have no reason to read that.

Well.

That was certainly more than I thought I’d write on the subject. Next up, let’s tear apart Green Arrow. But not right now – I have a story to write.

————————

[1] My analogy here is more geared towards my male readers than my female ones, but I’m sure there was an equivalent for little girls and I’d love to hear about it.
[2] Which, from what I could gather, was such a dumb idea that Straczynski himself got bored with it and went on to do other things.

The New 52 – 4th and Final Week

Well, it’s been a busy month for all of us comics readers. 52 titles, some good, some… less good, and overall a whole lot for us to take in. It is tempting, of course, to paint the whole reboot with a broad brush and complain about the changes – or the lack of changes – simply so we can be aggrieved fanboys who have something to complain about.

What’s important to remember, I think, is that as much as we may be fans of these characters, they don’t belong to us. Hell, they only belong to DC in that picky legalistic sense. These characters belong to our shared culture, and if we want them to persist – and we do – then we have to accept that they’re going to change as times change. If you think that the Christopher Reeve Superman is the best and only Superman out there, then stop reading comics and watch those films over and over. If you think that nothing good has come out of comic books in the last twenty years, then stop reading comics, collect those back issues, and revel in the Good Old Days.

Change is part of the medium, and it’s important to accept that. Our job as readers and fans is to encourage the creators to take risks, explore new avenues and, most importantly, give them the freedom to screw up from time to time. And they will, oh trust me they will. But if they don’t take those chances, then we’ll just end up with the same old safe, boring storylines again and again. And no one wants that.

Okay. Off soapbox number one, onto soapbox number two. Spoilers abound….

Read on, if you dare

The New 52 – 2nd Week

Well, since I had such fun last week, staying up late and burning pixels into my retinas, I thought I’d do it again! The second wave of #1 comics was released this week, with a few gems, a couple of head-scratchers, and an overall sense that the kids over at DC have some interesting tricks up their sleeves. Spoilers will be aplenty, of course, so read at your own risk.

But enough of my yakkin’.

Let’s boogie.

The New 52 – It Begins Here!

Before we begin, let me just say that I’ve really been looking forward to this. I know it’s unsettling to see our favorite heroes and villains completely revamped, especially since DC has a habit of doing universe reboots every few years as it is, but any chance to get a fresh look at old stories is fine by me. And so, here’s what we have so far and, more importantly, my thoughts on it. Fair warning, there’ll be spoilers involved here.

More inside…