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.

You keep Jesus, I’ll take Hal Jordan

So. I got the job that I talked about in a recent post, the one working at Ritsumeikan High School in Uji. And I don’t mind telling you that I had myself tied up in some pretty entertaining knots over this. It got to the point where I’d flinch when new email came in because I was sure it was either an offer or a rejection, and I didn’t know which was scarier.

That’s no way to go through life, so I decided to do something about it. Enter the Green Lanterns.

In the DC Universe, the Green Lanterns are a kind of space police, armed with a power ring that is able to project a green energy field that responds to the user’s willpower and imagination. It’s a hell of a thing, very possibly the most powerful weapon in the universe, and I can honestly say it’s probably best for everyone that mine doesn’t actually work.

Not just anyone can be a Green Lantern, though. There’s a very special quality that is required of a potential Lantern.

In order to master the power ring, the Lantern has to master their fear. If they cannot do that, they will never be able to successfully wield the ring and take their place among the protectors of the cosmos. It used to be that a Green Lantern had to be without fear entirely, but later and more worldly writers realized that such a quality would be more of a detriment than a benefit. Fear is necessary to our lives – it keeps us honest and, often, alive. Without fear, we are less than animals, because even they know well enough what to be afraid of.

What makes a Lantern, then, is the ability to overcome it. Later in the comic, Dr. Natu finds the corpse of another Lantern and repeats to herself, “I am not afraid.” But that’s clearly a lie – she is. What eventually cements her to the Green Lantern Corps is not that she is unafraid, but that she can overcome the fear that threatens to make her give up her new calling. She chooses not to let her fear rule her, and in doing so becomes something greater than herself.

Anxiety about starting a new job is hardly fear on the level that is traditionally depicted in Green Lantern comic books. That kind of danger is cosmic in scale and very often fatal. But it was pretty damn real to me. Every time I considered the possible future ahead of me, my gut would clench and that little whispery voice in the back of my head would start its litany of all the ways that I would probably fail. What was I, anyway? A NOVA teacher? Assuming that I could handle real academics? And teenagers no less? From day one I would be overwhelmed, beaten and humiliated, and all I would be able to do was crawl back to my eikaiwa job in ignominy.

To that, I would finger the ring I was wearing and say to myself, “You have the ability to overcome great fear.”

And I did.

So here’s to the future. I start my new job on April 14th, provided I get all the necessary paperwork done before I leave for Spain. It’ll be a challenge, and I’ll no doubt make mistakes. But when I was offered the job, I said “Yes” without hesitation, and I must always remember that.

It’s not re-igniting the sun or saving the universe or doing battle against a living planet with a mad desire to kill me. But I had fear and I overcame it.

Let’s go.