You may have heard that henceforth, Green Lantern is gay.
And if you think that’s a worthwhile change in the service of inclusiveness, I agree. But it doesn’t quite mean what some people imagine.
The most prominent character called "Green Lantern" is Hal Jordan, the test pilot-turned-space cop portrayed by Ryan Reynolds in the recent live-action movie. The second most prominent is John Stewart, who wielded the power ring in the "Justice League" animated series and is a member of the same intergalactic peacekeeping force. But Hal, John and the 3,598 other members of the Green Lantern Corps aren’t the only characters to bear the name, nor are they the first.
The first Green Lantern was Alan Scott, created by Martin Nodell in 1940. After some tinkering in the initial stories, Nodell and his collaborator writer Bill Finger gave Alan abilities that were essentially the same as Hal’s. But Alan’s ring derived its powers from magic, not alien superscience, and he was one of a kind, not a member of a GL police force or army.
Alan’s series ended in 1949, when sales of superhero comics were in decline. A decade later, editor Julius Schwartz decided to resurrect a number of DC's Golden Age superheroes including Green Lantern, but in updated form. Under his supervision, writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane created the Hal Jordan incarnation of the character in 1959.
DC’s superhero revival was a hit, and eventually someone (Schwartz again, I believe) decided it would be fun if the Silver Age incarnations of the characters met the Golden Age originals. At first, the underlying premise (the reason they hadn’t run into one another hitherto) was that the different versions of the characters inhabited alternate universes. Later, when DC junked its multiversal cosmology, the concept became that the costumed champions of World War II were simply that, the superheroes of a previous generation, in some cases still youthful thanks to their powers.
Whatever the rationalization du jour (DC is notorious for retcons of its retcons of its retcons), Alan returned to active duty in the DC Universe in 1963 and (except for a period trapped in an extradimensional limbo) has been flying around shooting green rays at evildoers ever since.
Last year, DC relaunched its entire line and, in the process, again embraced a multiverse. In the new continuity, the Golden Age characters inhabit Earth-Two, a different reality than the main DC world where the Justice League of America hangs out.
But the Golden Agers’ saga doesn’t begin on the eve of World War II. It starts in 2012, yet the central characters are young and just about to assume their superhero identities. And it’s the new twentysomething incarnation of Alan Scott, who hasn’t even acquired his power ring or suited up as a superhero yet (though he’s on track to do so next issue), and who operates in a whole other universe from DC mainstays like Superman and Batman, who’s gay.
Kudos to writer James Robinson for using the freedom a fresh start provides to embrace diversity. Still, Alan isn’t Hal, and this isn’t quite the bold breakthrough moment that, if you only heard "Green Lantern is now gay," you might have imagined it to be. DC already had gay and lesbian superheroes including Apollo, the Midnighter, the Question (Renee Montoya, who took over for Vic Sage, the original), and Batwoman. In fact, since Alan is merely one hero in a team book and Batwoman stars in her own solo book, one could argue that where inclusiveness in DC Comics is concerned, she’s a bigger deal than he is.
Still, Alan’s status as the C-list Green Lantern suggests an interesting question. With the relaunch, DC started everything over. (Well, in theory at least. The company is notorious for endless reboots partly because they’re incapable of one that achieves a clean, glitch-free break with the convoluted continuity of the past.) So if they want to embrace inclusiveness, they actually could have made an A-lister like Hal gay. Would that have been a good idea?
As a declaration of principle, maybe, but as a step toward a successful comic book, probably not, and not because comics fans are homophobic. The lynchpin characters of the DC Universe are simply too well established as their familiar straight selves. Creators may succeed at revitalizing a series with a reboot, but fans still expect to see the classic themes and relationships play out within the context of the new stories. If Hal Jordan isn’t chasing Carol Ferris, Superman doesn’t love Lois Lane, or Batman isn’t carrying on his kinky whips-and-lassos flirtation with Catwoman, we just won’t feel like we’re still reading about the heroes we love.
Thus, if DC is ever going to have a LGBT character with the star power of Green Lantern, Batman or Superman, they won’t accomplish this by tinkering with an existing character. They’ll have to create a new one, and then the new hero will have to take off in a big way.
Unfortunately, this may be impossible, and again, not because of LGBT content. We no longer live in either the Golden Age or the Silver Age of Comics, and superhero comics don’t attract the audience they used to. Superhero movies do, but only when based on classic characters.
So we shouldn’t expect DC to give us a gay, bi or lesbian superhero of real prominence (meaning, people who aren’t comics geeks understand who the character is) anytime soon. But this has more to do with the state of the marketplace than a lack of willingness on the company’s part. In fact, they deserve some credit for the LGBT characters they have added to the DC Universe in recent years.
Especially Batwoman. She and her comic kick ass!
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