Comic Publishers

May 31, 2012

Gay Characters In Comics: Diversity? Or Publicity?

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Written by: Boyblunder
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With all the news coming out recently involving diversity in comics, specifically the inclusion of gay characters and/or their marriages, one has to wonder if this is the industry’s way of ushering in more diversity, or if it’s simply a ploy to sell more books. Whether it be Marvel’s marriage between Northstar and boyfriend Kyle, or DC’s announcement that one of their “iconic” characters would be revealed as a homosexual (Insert Martian Manhunter joke here), no matter what good intentions the companies have, I personally can’t help but feel that maybe this is less of a way to expand the range of their characters, and more of a way to receive publicity for “groundbreaking” strides in comics. Is such obvious, tacky promotion a necessary evil of inserting diverse characters into comics? Or is it just a desperate cry to boost a book’s sales?

I’ve been beginning to think that unfortunately, the latter may be the case. For example, Northstar and his boyfriend getting married in Astonishing X-Men. This is a book that has traditionally not been a big seller, it’s one of Marvel’s fringe books that is nowhere near the heavy hitters in its own line of mutant books, let alone Marvel as a whole. So knowing that you have an openly gay character at your disposal, having him get married may seem like an easy way to boost the sales and notoriety of said title. Not an awful idea from a business standpoint, but something about it seems a little exploitative. Then again, what if the marriage was indeed more of a creative decision? Is it wrong to promote it in a way that will boost up a book with declining sales?

One could even argue that characters get married in comics all the time, regardless of their sexual preference, and it can be equally as self-promoting. We don’t necessarily view such mini-events as exploitative when the characters are heterosexual. But let’s be honest…do many people even give a crap about Northstar? Or do they just care that a gay character’s getting married? If you switch it to a lesser-known straight character getting married, I doubt there would be an increase in promotion.

Marvel’s far from the only company using such ploys, though. After DC announced that they would be making one of their previously existing characters gay, the internet was abuzz with speculation. It’s all but been confirmed now [Editor’s note: By the time of this article’s posting, it has been confirmed.] that the character in question will be the New 52’s version of Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern. If this is the case, this choice seems particularly back handed. This is an easy way to stir up some discussion, and open up discussion in outlets even outside just comic book news, reaching the rest of the world in mainstream media. Of course you’ll see headlines shouting “DC Comics Makes Original Green Lantern Gay!”

One can’t help but argue that this could be DC’s way of taking a character with a recognizable name like Green Lantern, who isn’t in fact the “real” Green Lantern, and turning it into a “bold controversial decision,” without having to suffer the back lash of making an actually “bold controversial decision.” Alan Scott is not Hal Jordan, but he is a Green Lantern. So it’s a bit of a technicality. DC pleases the main stream audience and gets the notoriety, while delivering a much less controversial change to comics lore. Plus it doesn’t hurt that the series Alan Scott will be appearing in doesn’t even take place in the main DC continuity! It’s in a book that’s literally called Earth 2, and holds no bearing in DC proper. There’s no arguing that this is a smart move financially for DC…but is that all this is? A financial move? Of course DC Comics is a business first and foremost, but they are also a house of artists. I suppose we won’t know the answer to that until we see the actual quality of the work.

My qualms with these creative choices have nothing to do with the characters being gay. My favorite female super-heroes are gay (Batwoman and The Question), and one of my favorite villains happens to be gay (The Pied Piper). My problem is the overwhelming sense that the main reason these companies are doing this has little to do with expanding their collective universes. Maybe it’s naive of me to think that it should be, like I said these are businesses, and the goal of a business is to make money, but there’s something lingering that I can’t quite put my finger on that just makes such decisions seem a little skeevy. Seeing how appropriately and respectably companies have dealt with gay characters in the past, such as Batwoman and The Question.

These are both perfect examples of characters that weren’t defined by their orientation, but instead their orientation was a natural progression of their characters. They weren’t gay for gay’s sake, they were gay because it was pure, natural, storytelling, and their sexuality was used as an element, not a whole of who they are. I just wish these characters could be treated with the same dignity, and not the “hey look we got gay characters!” approach Marvel and DC are taking this time.

Then again, this is all very speculative. When these books come out, there’s a very good chance these stories could be intriguing reads that add onto the tapestry of these characters. As always, time will tell. That being said, I’ll be first in line to get that blank cover variant of Astonishing X-men…I just hope whichever artist I give it to has no objections drawing Dan Didio and Joe Quesada tying the knot.

Boyblunder
grady@comicattack.net

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6 Comments



  1. So here’s how I feel about this.
    Regarding DC: This was all around, an epic fail. First of all, there was an announcement when there really didn’t need to be. They made a spectacle out of it, which ultimately makes the whole thing look like a joke (specically because of who it is.) Second, the character choice was a copout. They announced that an “established” character would be revealed gay. What they gave us was the most obscure, unknown established character in all of DC. Most people don’t know he exists and those that do know he’s not important, considering he’s not really a Green Lantern. Couple that with the fact that he’s from Earth-2 and DC has done nothing for the gay community or social progress in any way. They wanted the hype, the publicity, and they got it. What they aren’t going to get are any new readers because of it. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they got positive reaction anywhere.
    Regarding Marvel: They had their gay marriage reveal, they made it a publicity deal, but here’s where that is ok in this situation. It’s a wedding, it is supposed to be a spectacle. If it wasn’t, people’s wedding’s would consist of a witness, a legal document, and no party. They made it a big deal when Superman and Lois got married, Scott and Jean, hell even Green Arrow and Black Canary got their own special. Northstar might not be the A-lister the rest of those characters have, but he was Marvel’s first major gay character, and in my opinion he’s probably one of, if not the, most widely known gay character. And if the X-Men have been anything in their history, they’ve been group for minorities all around to rally behind. So in stark contrast to what DC is doing, I applaud Marvel for making Northstar’s wedding as big of a deal as they have.


    • Todd

      I totally agree with the above comment. DC is just doing it for the publicity and hopefully more sales. Won’t happen. Since they rebooted their entire universe yet again I think they’ve lost some readers any way. I know they have lost me. Marvel on the other hand handled the whole Northstar wedding the right way. It is a wedding and it should have hoopla. It doesn’t matter the characters sexual orientation.



      • well i agree with all you say accept for one thing. DC has actually gained readers since its reboot, even now there readerships staying strong. i honestly just think that theyve been really known as the company that makes “Bold Controversial” descions since the new 52, and I feel like now that the new 52 isnt really new, theyre trying to chase after headlines, and continue that vibe of the “forward thinking company”. it makes no sense. they already have a ton of great charecters that they havent used lately at all….The Question, or Mikaal/Starman….two of my favorite charecters of all time, and it seems like to them that they don’t count because they don’t have a recognizable name like Green Lantern.



  2. I just wanted to add, in addition, that it’s not that I particularly mind Alan Scott being gay in the new DC. In fact, had they done this right, I would’ve have applauded them. DC’s biggest mistake in all of this was making a show of it. They offered it up as a publicity stunt, when it didn’t need to be. They said the were going to have an “established” character come out, but making that an announcement makes it a bigger deal, which deters from the actual reveal. Because like you said, Alan Scott’s coming out could have been a logical, well intended direction by the creators, where ultimately they were screwed over by the higher ups.

    Just take a moment to consider, if there hadn’t been an announcement, and Alan Scott came out. That would have been fantastic. People wouldnt have been spending weeks trying to find out which major character was coming out, and would have instead applauded DCs choice in adapting to social growth. Because lets be honest, Alan Scott is an established character, just not to the degree we were led to believe.



  3. DC wants everyone to see and applaud them for being “diverse” and “forward thinking” so they always come out w/ these “huge” announcements and publicity. This makes it seemed forced and insincere just like most of their other projects. For some reason they find it necessary to make a spectacle of having a gay character or when they “go ethnic” like their announcement about the new Hawkgirl in Earth-2 who will be Hispanic.

    It’s kind of like DC is proud of being extremely late to the party but still want kudos for showing up.


  4. Bill Rivera

    While I’m all for diversity it seems like that all that comics seems to do is try and pander to a demographic rather than develop deep rooted characters that happen to have a particular life style they instead borrow upon existing characters as a publicity stunts which has run it self dry. What we’ve seen all to often is that it only winds up essentially negating the characters significance as their so weighted down by their lifestyle.

    At the end of the day, anyone can be heroic, funny, super intelligent or evil but when we make sexual preferences such a foreground matter it diminishes the interest long term. In other words, they don’t know how to write for the characters aside from sensationalizing their background sexual preferences. That gets old fast. At the end of the day I love asparagus but you can only put so much emphasis around that interest for so long.



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