But the extreme nature of this narrative move raised all kinds of hackles about the treatment of women in comics, and got people seriously thinking about who comics were being written for -- just those who can take part in the male gaze, and its horrifying bastardization into violence, or were there women looking to see their own experience in the pages they read? What audience did the comic companies want, anyway?
It was enlightening to read Green Lantern 54 just as DC announced that the Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott is now gay, thanks to last summer's reboot. (There are a lot of GLs running around out there, so if this name-dropping thing gets confusing, check out this handy guide.) My recent reading granted me a healthy dose of cynicism with which to approach their new take on Scott, and gave me the space to ask what I think are necessary questions about the recent character reveals DC and Marvel have been pulling in the name of both normalcy and diversity in the past year or so.
Comics have reached a point where they no longer fulfill Major Force-like fantasies on a weekly basis (while there's still major issues with the depiction of women, it's harder for companies to get away with this unscathed, thanks to Internet community efforts), but there's still the all-important question of readership, and making sure people with different viewpoints get honest representation and coverage in books. And in 2012, free from my memory lane trip into the big-breasted, uber-brutal comics of the last decade, I think it's worth asking: what audience do DC and Marvel want now? And how are they going about getting that audience with their publicized gay couples or people of color characters appearing in alternate universes?
Let's take a look at both DC's introduction of Alan Scott in their new Earth 2 book, and the treatment of long-term gay character Northstar in Marvel Comics, who just proposed to his boyfriend not too long ago, and we'll see if different representations might yield a wider, welcomed audience.
But I digress. The more important thing to look at is those two pages I flashed earlier. Now when DC announced somebody in their tier of reintroduced characters would be gay in May, much speculation abounded. But pretty much everyone involved in comics blogging figured out that Alan Scott would be DC's newest gay character before it was announced. That being said, after reading Earth 2, issue 2, I was puzzled. If we all knew Alan Scott was gay -- in fact, if we were prepared for it four days in advance (thanks, publicity department!), then why did Robinson and company feel the need to shroud who exactly he's meeting at the airport in mystery?
The first page of Alan's introduction as a gay man starts with his chauffeur pointing out a friend is waiting at the airport for him, that he was given the option to meet Alan at the penthouse (Alan's a big deal business guy, so of course he's got a penthouse in Hong Kong), but he refused. Alan begins to look around before finding Samuel, his "friend," leaning against a nearby wall. Alan marches over to him, saying, "Sam! What are you doing lurking in the shadows? Get over here ..." We then cut to the second page, in which Alan and Sam share a reuinted lovers' kiss.
Now this is all very tasteful and familiar (everyone's met a loved one at the airport, gay or straight), but it begs the question: why take Alan out of the closet here? Why literally have his chauffeur shade the actual relationship he shares with his "friend"? Is it so Alan can heroically out himself by kissing his partner? The way he charges towards Sam, you'd think he was charging into battle.
And that seems to be the point. Robinson and Scott have positioned Alan as purposefully outing himself -- not to the entire tarmac -- but to the audience, to the reader looking at the issue. See! Green Lantern is going to kiss his man, and he'll do it with just as much swagger as he would while holding a power ring! This is a guy you can get behind! Who are you talking to, DC? Was this moment crafted for skeptical heterosexual fanboys, who think if their heroes are gay, they won't be as take-charge as the straight vigilantes? Or was it meant to be a moment of inclusion for gay readers? If it was meant to be a "Welcome home, gay readers!" series of panels, it sure doesn't feel like it to this gal. Rather than demonstrating a character's sexuality from the beginning of his arc, Robinson chooses to reveal it, and no matter what you think about that choice, and no matter how much Robinson claims his sexuality's only one facet of Scott's identity, the character work here points to the man's sexuality either as his single, defining trait or a selling point for readers. And is either a fair way to promote diversity among characters and readers?
Certainly DC's been tooting its own horn about this reveal for months. But is this new sexuality (GL seems to be replacing his own, now-vanished gay son in this regard) fully part of Alan Scott yet? It's too soon to tell in just one issue. And narrative should always be about discovery, about the storyteller's audience discovering new information about characters through the choices they make. So I'm reluctant to do more than analyze HOW Scott's homosexuality is revealed here. But it raises red flags, if Robinson is both trying to write a book about a gay character who's out and proud and enjoying his civil rights to love anyone he chooses, but also trying to introduce GL's readers to the concept of homosexuality in the first place. Can you do both at once? I'm skeptical. Art has always fostered looking at other life experiences; certainly theatre has done a lot to introduce straight audiences to the gay experience. However, individual plays don't receive publicity campaigns that trumpet a company's diversity and modernity for even including a gay character in its story (check this blogger out for his opinions on that). I worry that DC and Robinson will think that simply by having a gay character appear (a guy who used to be married in the previous universe; who knows where his wife is now!), they've done their jobs.
The end of this issue doesn't give me much hope. On a bullet train to happiness, Alan Scott gets down on one knee and proposes to his boyfriend -- JUST AS THE TRAIN BLOWS UP. Cliffhanger ending! ... Wait. What? You introduce a character and then potentially KILL HIM and his SIGNIFICANT OTHER at the end of their first few scenes together?! Now knowing comics well, I figure Alan won't be dead at the start of issue 3. But looking back at poor Alexandra DeWitt and her brief narrative function for Kyle Rayner, I have serious worries about Samuel's breathing ability come July.
I've never even read much Northstar, and I'm already invested in the growth of his relationship based on issue 50 alone. Liu is a sharp writer, who's pointed out that growth is key to any comic book relationship, just as it's key to any real-life relationship. Marvel has always worked to make their fantasies down-to-earth experiences, where heroes have to pay bills and struggle with their significant others, just like us weak mortals. Sometimes this drives me crazy, because it means the drama inherent in comics becomes more soap opera relationship troubles and repeated Phoenix-like deaths, to make up for the bill-paying (and even Marvel's possibly publicized their diveristy a bit largely in the past). But often Marvel gets things just right, and lets the characters do the work of diversity by living their lives and adding a different perspective, both teaching old audiences something new, and allowing new readers to find someone like them reflected in comics, increasing the odds they'll become regular subscribers. So today, on Northstar and Kyle's wedding day, I raise a glass of champagne to their future, and hope that no aliens crash the ceremony!
All this to say that DC hasn't done its job in the past creating narratives from every walk of life -- particularly gay narratives. The new Batwoman, for instance, was brought to bear on the world without the flash of announcing her lesbianism. She simply was a lesbian. And we as readers didn't discover that in an earth-shattering way; we learned it as part of her behavior (thanks, Greg Rucka!). And her being out had real consequences. She didn't get blown up for the sake of false drama, but she did get dishonorably discharged from the army because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
POST-SCRIPT: Man, I feel like DC and Marvel have been in a race lately to top each other on development announcements! Green Lantern's out-and-proud identity was announced a day before Northstar's proposal was brought to light. The Justice League movie was announced as back in production, and Marvel countered with Black Panther being the next movie on their docket. DC shot back with announcing that Wonder Woman was headed back into production, and went even farther by making something unprecedented take place in Batman's life! Once I find the time to read the issue, I'll see whether it rates a post about the greater world at large, but in case I don't, check out Scott Snyder's thoughts on the whole story. He's a pretty smart chap.