Great Scott

The big news in comic books this week is that a character based on the Golden Age Green Lantern,  created by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell in the 1940s, is gay. Pundits and groups have decried the decision to reboot Alan Scott, the old man and spiritual father of the Justice Society as a young gay man as nothing more than a publicity stunt. Maybe it is.

But that’s okay, really. As long as a positive message of diversity, no matter the intent, is disseminated and represented as much as possible then that ultimately helps people and lets them know they are allowed to thrive.

Few comic book companies have avoided presenting gay characters in their books though often they were hesitant or clumsy in their presentation (though not so misguided as much as it was well-meaning as most of the depictions of African-Americans in the comics of the 60s and 70s). Among the current higher profile gay characters are of course Archie’s Kevin, Marvel’s Northstar, who has been out for years and DC’s Batwoman. The latter two being good examples of characters the respective companies have been mostly at a loss since their creation as to how to portray them.

A few groups had issue with the news of Northstar getting married to his long-suffering boyfriend and the re-introduction of Alan Scott as gay. They claimed an agenda on the part of the comic companies and the usual tired old argle-bargle of the negative influence of comics. They have been mostly dismissed and marginalized by those motivated to be vocal about the issue. I’m cynical enough to believe that the only agenda Archie, Marvel and DC have is to make money. It is from the increased national discourse on homosexuality and the demands for equal human rights that companies like DC can comfortably exploit (and I mean that in the best way) sensitive political and cultural issues. That their savvy marketing direction can also positively add to the discourse in however a small way is a benefit.

In the 1970s Marvel  successfully tapped into the sentiment of the young on many hot-button issues, a trend that benefited the bottom line well into the 1980s. From the 1960s through the 1970s DC was the company that had the most precedent, albeit steeped in subtext, in exploring gay issues though this was found mainly in the pages of the various romance titles amd one had to read between the lines and ignore the conclusions to most of the tales to see it. Marvel, however, reveled in being relevant and routinely tackled social issues such as class and race. This was all about what the audience would accept and want. The same company that railed against “The Man” in the 70s was fully behind the institution of authority a decade or so earlier even in the progressive and socially conscious 1960s, when mainstream comic companies adhered to the idea of Camelot and the Cold War.

Both Marvel and DC had comical, if not insulting, missteps along the way concerning homosexuality. Marvel infamously managed to draw a lot of criticism over the stereotypical depiction of sexual predators as being gay in an issue of The Rampaging Hulk magazine. DC most recently appeared to be at loss of what to do with Batwoman after the initial PR interest in her being a lesbian faded. The Golden Age Alan Scott had a son who was a gay superhero/villain but he was rarely utilized and often was often depicted as nothing more than a menacing shadow haunting the headquarters of the JSA. Take that how you will.

DC also missed an opportunity to introduce the first openly gay Green Lantern back in the 1990s. When Kyle Rayner (whom I always thought of as bi-sexual) was injured he sent his ring for safe-keeping back to Earth to his intern Terry, a gay man. My expectation was that Terry would spend the next several issues using the ring, going through a steep learning curve and maybe experiencing some interesting character growth. That didn’t happen. The next issue Kyle reclaimed his ring and continued his adventures as if nothing had happened and it seems DC either dropped the ball or felt they dodged a bullet.               

However progressive a comic book might be it isn’t going to change the world in and of itself. Alan Scott being gay and Northstar getting married won’t change anyone into a homosexual anymore than the Teen Titan Spotlight book featuring Starfire ended Apartheid. What it might do, hopefully will result in, someone feeling better about themselves in spite of what the cranks, superstitious, evil and simply backwards have to say to the contrary. Being gay is not different. Being gay is not evil. Being gay is not wrong. It just is.

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You’ve gone too far, DC

I don’t care what you do with every other character post-Flashpoint, DC. Stupid 90s costumes, re-worked “contemporary” origins attempting to lure in young readers and discarding decades of world-building. All that I could care less about.

But THIS better be undone by the time you do the reboot.

Flashpoint #3 (Sept 2011).

Jonah Hex alternate ending script revealed!

As promised here is my script for an alternate ending to the recent Jonah Hex film. Previously, I playfully chose my favorite Jonah Hex comic book stories that if used could have made a better movie and may have made enough cash to allow a sequel.

While the inclusion of those classic tales would have resulted in a substantially different movie my script makes no changes to the plot of the film as it was released theatrically. This alternate ending embraces the supernatural aspects of the story that confused and disappointed so many fans. The ending makes perfect sense in the manner in which Jonah would exploit his powers and I believe my ending to Jonah Hex would have completely redeemed the entire film. Read it and see what you think.

So go ahead, keep this script in your mind and mentally edit the final scene to include my ending when you watch the DVD. It will undoubtedly be released as soon as possible. Y’know, pard’ner, I’ll slap leather using my version up against any deleted scene or alternate ending the DVD might possibly include. I bet I shoot the straightest.

Click the script and get yer spectacles on…Thar’s word-readin’ involved!

And that, pard’ner, is how you do it.

Jonah Hex and characters copyright DC Comics. Idea and story by Sleestak.

Wanted: Experienced Proof-Reader, Apply DC Offices

Was a racial slur inadvertently inserted in the recent DC Comics title Justice League – Generation Lost #4?

I am one long-time reader who is disappointed by DC Comics apparently turning back the clock on the diversity of their characters even though I kind of understand it. It is fear, perhaps, that any lasting change to the formula that basically carried the company over 60 years will meet with disaster. Fear, perhaps based in reality, that nostalgia is all they have going for them and the shrinking fan-base of continuity-addicts snubs with negative consequences financially to the company anything that resembles true progress.

From all the internet press it is clear that DC is very aware of the recent outcry that there is the perception they are relying on the tried, true, nearly antique and primarily Caucasian models of the Golden and Silver Age of comic books. While the retro models of the characters may represent their perceived and steady market-base they are are not truly representative of the diverse population of both the real and fictional worlds. That mentioned, the creative teams and editors of their books should be a little bit more aware of how their products published after the controversy could and would be examined for every perceived slight, hidden message or racial and political agenda. Every beaten woman, murdered Asian, gap-toothed Southerner or jailed Middle-Easterner in their books, movies and games will be picked apart and commented upon by the rational and irrational fans seeking a pattern, proof of a corporate policy of hostility to a diverse populace.

As example, read this scene in Justice League – Generation Lost #4 (July 2010) which hit the stands this week. Preview images have also been available for public perusal on various websites for a while.

The comic book industry has as one of its primary tropes word-play in the form of acronyms that are explored to sometimes ridiculous lengths. Indeed, major story arcs and even some titles have been pitched and launched merely by how cool or interesting an acronym can sound. It is a tactic of advertising and can pique the interest of a consumer and creates a brand identity that hopefully a buyer will return to again and again. So it is interesting that an industry that enjoys and even exults in word games can depict an African-American (or decidedly non-Caucasian) scientist involved in a super-powers project designated as Nanobyte Genetic Enhancement Research.

If you want to put together and sound out the acronym, go ahead, but I suggest you only do it in your head.

I personally am not the most sensitive or observant person and I noticed and made a connection to a word that sounds like a racial slur that denigrates African-Americans and the character, however tenuous, right away. Unless DC states otherwise I have little doubt that the acronym as it appears was merely careless and unfortunate. It would be career suicide and fiscally irresponsible for anyone to try and sneak an intentional slur into any of the popular entertainment media designed for a wide and diverse audience in this era. Of course it is not beyond the realm of possibility as there are a lot of confused, angry and backwards people out in the world.

There is no proof that someone at DC intentionally included a racial epithet into one of their comic books nor am I claiming that they did. However once something is seen you can not un-see it. It does not matter how unintentional or coincidental the word or how it sounds may be. It is there, however inadvertently and the perception of the individual reader is what will likely hold sway. There are websites that just leap on things like this and run with it. That is important because no one can really conclusively say that the acronym was not intentional and that cavalierly killing off the ethnic and obviously brilliant character in the next page was a mere innocent plot device. Take into consideration in the story it was a secret project and some could infer that killing an African-American who was creating a process that could give the disenfranchised super abilities just looks bad even if it is much-ado about nothing.

Helping create a quality product is one of the jobs of an editor and one could expect that the staff of DC, already under scrutiny by some of their customers and critics, would have paid a little bit more attention to the proof-reading. Some will undoubtedly assert the slur was intentional as a clever flip of the finger to those who complained about the back-stepping of diversity in DC comic books. Some will maintain the incident was just an unfortunate and innocent coincidence. Others will claim there is nothing to be found at all.

Regardless, I expect that in the future trade edition of Justice League – Generation Lost that particular phrase will probably be re-arranged to provide a different result. Given the scene I would submit that an initiative that is all giving super-powers to average people would read better if it was labeled “Project: E.N.R.G.”. It would be a lot more fitting if the acronym sounds like “Energy” when spelled out, instead of that other word.

Wouldn’t make the back page in Metropolis

It must be difficult to make a living as a photographer in the DC Universe what with the sky opening up every other day, star ships crashing into parks, demons running around and people flying about. The competition for a news-worthy photo that would catch the interest of a public used to giant star ships hovering and 100 foot tall men striding through the city must be fierce. In the real world this photo would be a Pulitzer-winner. But in the DCU even the most spectacular photo, even one that caught a buzzard getting disintegrated by the impact flash of a meteor would barely rate publication unless it was in some dusty desert burg.

From DC Super-Stars #15 (July-August 1977) and of course Bob Kanigher wrote it.