I’m Not Mad, Just Disappointed
|June 2, 2012||Posted by Jess under Comics|
I was livid when this was suggested, but holding off a response until it was confirmed. And now that it’s been confirmed, I’m just disappointed.
Now, let me say this first: I am not upset by the fact that Alan Scott, the character, is now gay. I would not be upset if the entire JSA was gay. I would not be upset if Batman was gay, or Wonder Woman, or Supergirl, who is my very favorite character in comics. She can kiss girls! I’m down with that! Hooray for more diversity!1
However, this is not more diversity.
Pre-reboot, Alan Scott had two kids: Todd “Obsidian” Rice and Jennie-Lynn “Jade” Hayden. (They were twins separated from their father and each other at birth, hence the plethora of surnames.) Todd had shadow powers; Jennie rocked the GL powers without the ring (and I’ve ranted about her poor treatment in this space before).
Todd was also gay. Writers danced around the issue for 20 years, giving him brief, troubled romantic relationships with women; in the mid-90s JLA, Todd’s best friend Al asked him flat out if he was gay, leading Todd to ask why everything had to have a label. It wasn’t until 2006 that Todd was allowed to “come out”; he joined the supporting cast of Marc Andreyko’s brilliant Manhunter series and was shown in a committed, loving relationship with one of Manhunter’s coworkers. It was lovely, seeing a character who had been tormented and confused from his first appearance shown as stable and happy; it was a comic book version of the It Gets Better Project.
Post-reboot, no one in the DCU is allowed to be older than 35, so of course Alan can’t possibly have kids. That, according to Earth 2 writer James Robinson, was the impetus for turning Alan gay:
I really believe in this idea of relaunching the Justice Society and making them younger. But I thought it was a shame that we lost Jade and Obsidian, who are Alan Scott’s children. Obsidian has been in the comics for years and was a positive gay character.
And then, in the way that one idea can spring forward to the next, I thought, well, let’s make Alan Scott gay. And to DC and to Dan DiDio’s credit, when I ran the idea past him, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. He was like, “Yeah, that’s great. Let’s do it.”
Robinson’s rationale was what made my reaction change from anger to exhausted disappointment. I’m not privy to what goes on at DC, but I’ll take him at his word; after all, he did write “the first gay kiss in comics” (I’m going to assume he means “mainstream superhero comics by Marvel and DC”) in a 1998 issue of Starman. (On the other hand, he also killed off two gay characters in Cry for Justice, but, uh, let’s all agree to disavow Cry for Justice entirely, shall we?) So I’m willing to believe that he was confronted with a situation where, as a writer, there could be no Todd, and he repaired the damage that caused to the DCU as best as possible.
This is problematic because, of course, it implies that gay characters are essentially interchangeable, as if there’s a big spreadsheet hanging up at DC where as long as you can check off things like “Gay Dude,” “Black Woman,” and “Telepathic Green Martian,” you’re all good. Which, no.
But it also speaks to the way DC has shot themselves in the foot by erasing their own history. Not only have they eliminated tons of women and minorities and queer characters, most of whom haven’t been around as long as their straight while male compatriots, they’ve eliminated any kind of age spectrum. We can’t have characters who are old enough to have adult kids anymore. Heck, we can’t have characters who are old enough to have young kids anymore! That’s why the JSA and Oliver Queen and Amanda Waller are young and hot now; that’s why we lost Todd and Jennie and Connor Hawke and Wally West and anyone who “ages” their parent or mentor out of the Hip Young Thang demographic. DC once had a vast history from which to tell any number of stories; now all we have is four dozen origin stories at once, and that’s reductive from a storytelling point of view as well as a representational one.
It’s particularly frustrating because Earth 2 used to be the place where writers could try experiments that wouldn’t fly in the regular DCU, like having the characters age out of the young and taut years. Like marrying off Superman and Lois or giving Batman a daughter. Like giving Green Lantern two kids. If you can’t use Earth 2 to make a world that’s notably different from Earth 1, why even have it? After all, the point of the reboot was to simplify the DCU for new readers, and Earth 2 does the precise opposite of that.
The simple truth is that DC has lost ground here. They have not increased GLBT representation, just held steady, and they’ve lost three female characters (Jennie, plus Alan’s first and second wives, Rose Canton and Molly Mayne). And make no mistake, in a world where you can barely get Wonder Woman on a piece of DC promotional material, decreasing women counts as decreasing diversity.
It would have helped if Alan was, as DC claimed, truly iconic. But Green Lantern isn’t iconic, let alone the fourth or fifth best-known one.23 Like. This is the conversation I expect to have a dozen times in the next couple of weeks:
Person Who Knows Nothing About Comics: Hey, I heard they turned Green Lantern gay.
Me: Yeah. Well, one of them.
Person Who Knows Nothing About Comics: One of them?
Me: There are a bunch. Did you see the Ryan Reynolds movie?
Person Who Knows Nothing About Comics: Of course not.
Me: Fair enough. Well, that’s the main Green Lantern, but it’s not him. A different one.
Person Who Knows Nothing About Comics: Oh, the black guy from the cartoon?
Me: No, not John Stewart either. The gay Green Lantern is Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, who has a different kind of ring and comes from an alternate universe…
Person Who Knows Nothing About Comics: *has already walked away, because seriously, no one normal cares about this sort of thing*
I’m glad Robinson said, “Whoops, no more Todd. That’s a shame. Why not make Alan gay?” But I refuse to celebrate it as some sort of bold new stride towards a more diverse DCU. Representing the world as it is – with a spectrum of sexualities and genders, races and ethnicities, ages and outlooks – doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, and underrepresented populations shouldn’t have to suffer because of DC’s poor planning.
DC is showing a commitment to diversity by making Alan – who may not be iconic, but is one of their longest-running characters – gay and to stand strong against the truly appalling responses of their more bigoted “fans.” It’s a good first step, and leagues beyond their old – by which I mean “less than a year ago” – stance of “we’ll add new gay characters, but won’t make existing ones gay.” Now they need to figure out how to take a step forward without taking three steps back first.
I believe you can do it, DC. Now prove me right.
P.S. Sad-larious panel lifted from this great post on ComicsAlliance.
- I would be upset if Superman was gay, but only because I believe in the power of his romance with Lois, not because I have a problem with an icon like Superman being gay. Let’s make him bi! I’m good with that! ↩
- I’m willing to debate this point, but to me, “iconic” means that people who know nothing about comics can conjure up a basic idea of the character’s look and shtick. DC’s iconic characters are Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Catwoman, the Joker, and arguably Two-Face, the Penguin, Supergirl, and Batgirl. Marvel’s are…Spider-Man, Captain America, the Hulk, and Wolverine? It’s a pretty limited field. ↩
- Oh boy, here come the angry comments. ↩