Was anyone else left feeling a little uncomfortable by the recent announcement by Dan DiDio regarding a character from a forthcoming DC book being revealed as gay? There have been reports in papers and across the web about the subject, there have been discussions all over Twitter and Facebook and in all the other places geeks gather to chat on the internet, culminating in the revelation of who it is at the end of last week.
I can’t help but look at these announcements a little cynically. The door on gay comic characters has already been opened. It’s been open for a while; there are already openly gay superheroes in the Marvel and DC pantheon; there’s going to be a same sex marriage later this month courtesy of the X-Men line…
So, why is it newsworthy that there’s another hero being outed? I’m not saying there shouldn’t be gay characters in comics; I just question the need to use the prospect as a publicity stunt. We shouldn't be expected to react to an announcement about sexual orientation like they're the next multi-book apocalypse or alien invasion, because those things are stunts. Tremendously entertaining stunts, maybe, but they're designed to sell extra books or attract new readers, and treating minority identity or sexual orientation the same way is baffling to me.
Wouldn’t it be more forward thinking to just let this be revealed within the comic’s storyline and then wait for praise or reaction instead of creating a news whirlwind around the idea and turning a gay superhero into an event? A character should just be allowed to be gay without all the whistles and bells and speculation, shouldn’t they?
I think that as long as this sort of thing can be seen to be newsworthy and deserving of hype then there will always be controversy over gay characters. Having gay characters is great – it promotes diversity, normalises alternatives, and ensures gay readers don't feel excluded from the party – but the perception of strutting across the internet announcing how awesomely tolerant you are? That’s a different thing altogether. No matter how inclusive or representative the comic companies say they are, as long as this subject is treated as a circus then they really aren’t doing themselves or any of their readers any favours.
Green is the new pink
I’m even more cynical now that it’s been – sort of – revealed that DC’s new gay character will be The Green Lantern. Not the more well known one from last year’s film. No, it’s going to be Alan Scott, better known as the original Green Lantern. In something of a cop-out, Scott is only gay in an alternate comic book universe, called the Earth 2 series. The original Green Lantern has always been heterosexual in the past, twice married and with children (one of whom was gay strangely enough). The character was well received to begin with but by the end of the 1940s he was reduced to the role of sidekick. After that, he drifted into obscurity and was eventually replaced by a new and improved Green Lantern that fans know today. Scott has been seen recently as a member of the JSA but can’t really be considered a headline character; he’s more a team player and certainly not the “major iconic DC character” DiDio said it would be.
By choosing the original Green Lantern, not the one that most comic fans love, DC is playing a cynical game: it can proudly say it’s being inclusive and representative without risking comic and toy sales or fans of Hal Jordan. And the fact that it’s not a prime version of the character, but an alternate universe version, makes the revelation look a little weak and doesn’t seem worthy of all the hype generated.
You could say it’s a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, but announcing a gay character smacks to me of pandering and headline grabbing. It’s also a little funny that DC’s Dan DiDio’s teasers about a gay character and then news that it’s going to be Alan Scott coincided with announcements of Northstar’s upcoming nuptials in June's Astonishing X-Men #51 due out in a few weeks? Is it really just one-upmanship on DC’s behalf or a genuine reaction to the marriage equality debate and the need to be more representative?
Something else I’ve noticed as well; since DiDio said that the character being revealed as gay will be a “major iconic DC character” the debate doesn’t seem to be specifically about the fact that the character is gay but more about the fact that a previously established character is going to be retconned or revealed as being gay, and the speculation as to who it might be and why people don’t want it to be this character or that character. News that it’s likely to be the original Green Lantern will probably turn the discussion to “has DC gone far enough?”
I’m not a big reader of Marvel or DC, so I can’t claim to be overly bothered about retconning a character’s sexuality, but I can understand why some fans would be unhappy with the idea, and for reasons which in general will have nothing do with homophobia (though it would be interesting to see how loud the howls of outrage would be if Northstar suddenly decided he was straight.) People can be very protective of the characters they follow and this would be a big change if the character in question turned out to be a long established one.
And again, this is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. DC wants to be seen as progressive and inclusive and all that. But they really don’t want to risk losing the long term fans by taking such a big chance. As such Alan Scott is a pretty safe choice, but also kind of a cop out and having it be an alternate version even more so. But DC is not going to risk alienating fans by changing one of the more popular characters. And you really can’t blame the company for that because at the end of the day, they are businesses and their job is to sell comics, so they’ll only be as progressive and inclusive as the profit margin allows them to be.
So what do you think? Are Marvel and DC doing a good job of being representative of society? Should they be applauded for their gay characters or is it no more than pandering and one-upmanship? Do you care whether an established character is going to be revealed as gay or not? What do you think about the news that the character will be Alan Scott?