Monday, May 21, 2012

On the introduction of a very specific change to a major character

Of all the announcements from this weekend's Kapow! Comic Convention in Britain, the one that has set the most lips flapping is the announcement that DC plans to retcon one of its major characters to be gay.  As opposed to their initial plan to only create new characters to be gay, they've chosen to take an existing one and re-introduce them in the DCnU as gay. They've not said who, they've not said when, just that they plan to do so. Indeed, it's only been inferred that it'll be a character that has not yet been seen in the New 52; the way Dan Didio made it sound, using phrases like "would be" suggested that it'd be a big part of the character from the get-go.

Allow me to make one thing clear from the same get-go - I am totally cool with this. Having more gay characters, more black, Asian, what have you characters only serves to make the DCU more similar to the real world in how many different sorts of people are in it. From a narrative viewpoint, if they'd tried this in the old DCU, any character they wanted to do this to would have had a whole bunch of stories that would likely need tweaking or explaining should they make such a change.  Here in the New 52, there IS no backlog or adventures, or at least not as many.  If you want to re-make a character, this is the time to do it. 

There's any number of characters in the DCU which hasn't gotten a lot of time spent on their private lives. Most of the time is spent in the costume. Even though they have the opportunity to start any character from scratch here, if they choose to use a character who very clearly was heterosexual beforehand, had a lot of male/female relationships, they might get more pushback than if they'd chosen to go with one where it was never really addressed.  If they were to use, say Ralph Dibny the Elongated Man, I'd be disappointed, as his married relationship was a major part of the character.  If they used, I dunno, Aztek or Agent Liberty, characters whose personal life is more of a blank slate, it might be easier to swallow.

DC has done new versions of their characters with new ethnic backgrounds and other major changes of late.  Almost every one of them has been met with...oh, let's call it "reticence" with a facet of the readership, who tend to describe it as ramming an ethnic character down our throats.  And as a rule, that's a shame, because many if not all of said characters have been exemplary.  Batwoman, once they finally got the book off the ground, has been an artistic masterpiece.  I've gone on about how much I adored the new Blue Beetle, though I must admit the New 52 iteration has been a bit too dour for me.  The Renee Montoya Question was another very good character - not as much a chance to get used as many would have liked (myself included) but what there was was cherce.

Considering that homosexuality is much more a hot-button for people than mere ethnicity is, I expect there to quite a hue and cry once said character is announced. The way they're saying it, this won't be a new version of the character, but the same character as in the pre-DCnU, with the big difference that he/she will be gay. And judging from Dan's statements, their being gay will be a bigger part of the character, becoming as he put it, “one of our most prominent gay characters.”

Now I gotta admit, I don't know how I feel about the being gay becoming a "big part" of the character.  I think it's going to depend totally on who's writing the character.  Marc Andreyko had a large number of gay characters in his version of Manhunter, and never did the characters feel forced, nor did their predilections get overly mentioned in the narrative.  Rarely, if ever, was their gayness relevant or important to the plot; they were just gay.  And that's EXACTLY how it should be played.  I've gone on about how well the new Doctor Who has integrated gay characters into the stories - some characters are gay, it's mentioned, it's not made the center of the story, and nobody comes away learning an important lesson about tolerance.  There's gay people, and it doesn't mean a hang about their goodness or evilness, they're just there.  Perfect. 

Personally, of all the gay characters DC have had, the one I thought was done the best was Pied Piper early in the Wally west Flash run. He'd gone straight (you should pardon the choice of words, but even HE made the joke) and was working with Wally on many cases. Having a conversation, Wally starts a very guyish "Are any supervillains gay" discussion. Piper admits he isn't aware of any villains who are gay...except himself of course. Wally does a total double take and reacts the way any average guy finds out his friends is gay - he runs off to watch football or box or do something mannish. By the end of the issue, he realizes it doesn't make a damn bit of difference and their relationship goes back to what it was, and it's barely made a Thing of again. Of course, Countdown, that place where oh so many things went wrong, had him played like being gay was the only thing he'd ever done, and all the other Rogues constantly going about it and generally acting very out-of-character towards him. But Countdown is one of those books we wish we could all just forget and ignore, so no need to make a big frooferau about it.

It's neat that DC is trying to create more diverse characters. As long as they get played as fully formed, and not just one-trick ponies, all will be well. How well the general readership accepts them will also hinge on how well they're written, and who's writing them. If you create or introduce a character specifically to BE gay, and that becomes their biggest characteristic, there's a real likelihood they'll stay two-dimensional.  The new Teen Titan, Bunker, got introduced with much fanfare, and all told, his gayness hasn't made too much of a difference, because they've been far too busy fighting for him to go on about how wonderful guys are.  There's been no "can I trust this guy to have my back, as he is gay" plotlines, thank god. 

So not counting the moaners and groaners, the hot topic has been to try and guess who the character is going to be.  It's taken as read it won't be one of the big three (And let's be honest, while Wonder Woman would be a far more obvious choice than many would care to admit, they've already had mention of her dating Steve Trevor, so it's likely it's not her.)  Having it be any of the back-up characters in any of their stables is also a slim chance. Most of them have enough history that such a change would require a fair amount of history fixing.  So it's likely a character we've not yet seen in the DCnU yet, or one whose personal life we've seen very little of.

I think there's a VERY good chance it'll be one of the Earth-2 characters. They're in the process of re-inventing all the Earth-2 versions of the characters in a new timeline.  Making one of them be gay would be an easy move, as they're all effectively new characters,  Also, James Robinson, writer of the Earth-2 book, has had a lot of success writing gay characters, and making them three-dimensional characters who don't exist solely to be a token tip of the hat. 

I'll put my bet on the table - Alan Scott; media mogul, and Earth 2's Green Lantern.  They've said the character would be a major character.  James has already said that his GL would pretty much be the most powerful character on Earth-2.  Alan Scott likely already has a fair amount of notoriety as a head of a major media company; he could easily be in a position to be a positive role model. 

So let the guessing commence - Who's gonna come out of the closet instead of the phonebooth?

Postscript - so far, both MTV Geek and Bleeding Cool have come out in favor of my guess, both reporting various insider information and rumor.  But we know where they heard it, don't we?


  1. Interesting.

    I only follow a (literal) handful of blogs. One of them is written by a person whose views I usually have no trouble dovetailing with. But, as with so many of us, he does possess a few raw nerves, and gay characters in comics is a hot button topic I've long since learned to tiptoe around (if not scream and outright run away from) with hi. Needless to say (for example) he and I have Exchanged Words concerning Archie Comics.

    He apparently hasn't yet heard of this recent development from DC Comics, so your announcement sort of serves the same purpose as seeing a large spiral formation develop in the Atlantic. I'd best put up the storm windows. Regardless of how underplayed DC runs this, there're going to be howls of "shoving the homosexual agenda down our throats".

    (Right now I could make a comment to the effect that I'd be content with a life where the worst thing that got shoved down my throat was homosexuality . . . but my Zen Master says the lesson for today is Simplicity.)

    Ah me.

    Since circumstances have required the dropping of most of our DC reading, I cannot make a reasoned guess as to who the Character In Question will be. And, even if I was able to read each and every title, I'm not that much of a gambler. All I can go on is whatever instinct for commerce (and survival) that I possess and, along with that, employ a process of elimination. For instance, if it turns out to be either Superman or Batman then I hope DC's invested in some good fire insurance (as well as personal bodyguards).

    Another reason I wouldn't gamble: my head's sort of wanting to play a wild card scenario here and go with John Constantine. And yes, some people will tell me that Constantine's married. And I'll reply yes and we're talking about J*O*H*N C*O*N*S*T*A*N*T*I*N*E.

    Your choice of Alan Scott's a lot safer and more sensible (two things which I've seldom been accused of being).

    On Ralph Dibny: I've never quite forgiven DC for taking perhaps the sweetest marriage in comics and flushing it down the toilet.

    On Blue Beetle: a Hispanic version didn't bother me so much as the location ("He's in El Paso so let's make him Hispanic"). It's rare for me to trumpet the area where I'm currently living, but South Carolina possesses an extremely healthy Hispanic (and Brazilian) population. Texas, on the other hand, still has a rather lively German community, but I doubt you'll see a comic book character from Texas named Schmidt or Friedrichs.

    And it's cool. I'll gingerly pass this blog back over to you now, Vinnie. Everybody calmly sit down. Smoke 'em if you got 'em. Save the Texas Prairie Chicken.

    1. Do NOT get me started on what happened to Ralph and Sue, we'll be here all day.

      I really liked the Blue Beetle book, specifically the issues written by Jon Rogers, and I don't know enough about the area to know if making him Hispanic was a logical move or not. I've got to assume there IS a lot of Hispanics down there, tho.

      About the only reason I wouldn't think Constantine would work is first off, he's primarily in the Vertigo titles. They've practically said that the John in JLA Dark isn't the same one as in the Vertigo books, but surely people consider them the same. And I'd think John's such a rascal and rousdower that he's likely had sexual exploits that make mere homosexuality seem tame.

      No, I think it'll be one of the proper heroes, not just a supporting character or anything.

      But while we're on the subject, would it be so bad an idea to re-introduce Maggie Sawyer, easily the most positive LGBT had for years? And that was twenty damn years ago, when it was REALLY taking a risk to do so.

      But yeah, I think it'll be at least a solid B-lister, as i think all the A-listers on New Earth have already appeared. But doing it on Earth-2 gives them a chance to really experiment with the idea, and not have it affect past continuity in any way.

  2. OK . . . second guess: Mercury from The Metal Men.

    And yes, bringing back Maqgie Sawyer wouldn't be a bad idea either. She made an excellent "Commissioner Gordon" type for Superman.

    (Which brings me to my third guess: Amanda Waller.)

    "I've got to assume there IS a lot of Hispanics down there (El Paso), tho."

    Oh, one or two. A few at least.

  3. I agree that it might be one of the Earth Two heroes. It will give DC editorial an out (so to speak) as they can easily retcon the whole place next reboot (2014, isn't it?).

    I dropped most of the New 52 with after the initial issue or two, so can't really speak from direct knowledge on the characters. Making Ralph gay would be a complete mistake and a slap in the face of old fans. Again, I don't mind changing a character in such a fashion, but Ralph & Sue were the one married couple that had such a good marriage. Bad enough doing what they did with Dr. Light and that whole thing. Wouldn't you think Dr. Mid-Nite or Hourman might be chosen rather than Alan?

    1. As I said to Mike, I can, and have, gone on about that whole mess with Ralph and Sue at length, and often. 52 did a good job of putting a happy ending of sorts to the story, but I'd be happy to make it have never happened.

      The way I see it, the new Earth 2 characters are indeed brand new, as opposed to the classic JSA some of us (raises hand) were expecting. So even though Alan Scott had a wife and two kids (Jade and Obsidian) in the old DCU, no such history exists here. Hourman had a son who became the second Hourman, so by that argument, he too would be out of competition.

      If they want to really make the change a major part of the story, this'd be a good way to do it. I envision Scott to be like Richard Branson or even Steve Jobs in this world - a celebrity, as well as an actual shrewd businessman. If sich a character were gay, they could really make a difference with public opinion.

      Besides, did you see Alan in issue 1? He's GORGEOUS!