Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Insert "secret identity" joke here

There’s a part of me that has fully processed the fact that science-fiction and fantasy have become genres in which it is acceptable for well-adjusted adults to be interested, and that movies and books and tv shows about superheroes or wizards or aliens are just as likely to be consumed and enjoyed by a broad cross-section of humanity, and not just the smart-yet-socially-awkward. But there’s another part of me that continues to be surprised at how pervasive this mainstream acceptance has become; for instance, looking at the front page of the site and seeing economic reports from Europe and professional sports playoffs scores and recaps of specific Marvel comics given equal real estate on the computer monitor never fails to throw me off.

I know I tend to fall back on “you may have heard” as a rhetorical transitional device a lot, but I always mean it; I only employ that phrase when I think there’s a fair-to-middling chance that you will in fact already have come across the information I’m about to delve into. And I could have led off this post typing “You may have heard that Green Lantern was recently revealed to be gay,” and it would have been fair usage because it is a story that got some national media attention. But I wanted to take a step back for a moment and acknowledge how deeply weird that is to me, to assume that the minutiae of superhero character development is something that might be common knowledge. Yet here we are.

Reversing the sexual orientation of a fictional character that I personally have a sentimental, fannish attachment to, though? That’s not deeply (or even shallowly) weird. I think it’s pretty cool. For the record, just in case you only caught half the gist of the story or if I am in fact breaking the news to you, there have been many Green Lanterns in the comics and here we are not talking about the one who got his own movie in the summer of 2011. We are talking about this one:

The WWII-era man of mystery whose ring was always presented as more of a magic wishing artifact (which happened to manifest its powers as sheets of green flame) than a cosmic peacekeeping weapon. This Green Lantern was the forerunner of the legacy introduced more or less at the dawn of the age of superheroes, and he faded away as they all did, and then his codename was borrowed for a corps of space cops who would induct many Earth-men over the years, and then he was written back into the (fictional) history of that (fictional) world and even given explicit canonical connection to the other, sci-fi Green Lanterns (it is a very long story) and by the time I was a tyke reading my first comics there was an established tradition of teaming up the sleek modern ring-slinger Hal Jordan and his more flamboyantly attired predecessor, Alan Scott, so I got the best of both worlds. I’m as much a fan of Alan as pretty much any other part of the whole Green Lantern mythos; I own a t-shirt based on Alan’s red-yellow-and-green togs, and I have two different action figures of him in my dorkatorium Green Lantern shrine.

So the character has more history than any other Lantern, and part of that included marriage to his long-time love interest and part of it involved dalliances with at least one supervillainess which may or may not have resulted in illegitimate children. Asserting at this late date that Alan Scott is gay would seem to either blatantly contradict what was previously known, or possibly set up a dark exploration of a seriously conflicted closet-case, and either of those might be cause for concern about the integrity of the object of my fandom … except not really. Comics change and reinvent their history all the time, and always have. It’s a necessary evil, because superhero comics are set in an idealized world of perpetual “now” in which the very concept of a past has to be as elastic as possible. Some superheroes started out as Nazi hunters or Commie smashers, but to chronicle the adventures of those characters today as anything other than octogenarians means that they were born long after those were going concerns. Origins get altered, sometimes tweaked in subtle ways, sometimes rewritten outright by divine (editorial) fiat.

And DC Comics, the publishers of Green Lantern, recently chucked all of their invented history out the window and asked anyone picking up their comics from here on out to assume nothing about the past except what was revealed in flashback as of last August. Same basic concepts, same essential elements of the characters that made them work as inspirational and/or fascinating totems of power fantasy, but restarted from square one. And the farther and farther one gets from those essential elements in defining each character, the more things were open for reinterpretation. Alan Scott had a previously established sexual orientation because he was portrayed as a human being, but did the nature of that orientation, whether he was into chicks or dudes, reside anywhere near the crux of what made the original Green Lantern the hero that he was? Not so much.

Basically every entertainment we have in modern society could stand to be more diverse, to speak to more people and more accurately reflect our human experience in the world. We need more women, more non-white ethnicities, more LGBTs, more non-Western political and religious outlooks, on every tv channel and in every movie studio and across the pages of every novel and comic book. We get a little better about it all the time, occasional setbacks notwithstanding. Superhero comics are not exempt from this just because they were created by a bunch of white urban American males seven decades ago, and my favorite comic book characters are not exempt just because I’ve spent a lifetime knowing them a certain way.

And someday (no doubt someday soon) I will explain all the intricacies of the multi-generational Green Lanterns to my little guy, and see how far I can go answering his endless questions armed with the insane amounts of trivia I’ve memorized over the years. And if it comes up, I’ll tell him how Kyle is the serial monogamist, and Hal is the womanizer, and Alan is in a long-term same-sex relationship. And it will not be a big deal. Because slowly but surely, it is becoming acceptable for well-adjusted adults to not be freaked out by gay people, and I look forward tremendously to becoming less and less surprised at how pervasive that mainstream acceptance becomes.

1 comment:

  1. All true.

    That said, it is a little weird they chose the hero who: (a) has a power rooted in "flaming," (b) wore giant poofy-sleeved red blouses for decades, and (c) has a weakness for wood. A weakness for wood. Oh come on.