One week ago, Bleeding Cool first reported the news that a DC superhero would be reinvented as a leading gay character. The rest of the news went ballistic, with all sorts of organisations around the world reporting, rightly or wrongly, as to what was going. This weekend we named the character as Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern from the nineteen forties. And the media cycle began again.
Again, I hear the repeated cry, "why not just create another character intended to be gay? Why change an existing character?" Here's my best answer.
Superhero comics are a conservative genre. I don't specifically mean in a political sense, though the exploits of individuals who take personal responsibility rather than relying on the state, live in an inflexible moral framework and who kick ass a lot, might indicate that.
But there's a cultural conservatism, the feeling that we don't want things to change. New characters are rarely embraced, heritage characters where the mantle is passed down from character to character, the name remaining the same, eventually find the originals returned from the grave to seize it back again. Which means the vast majority of the main characters were created in the thirties and sixties, but now in a world that looks and acts very different – and expects different things. The only way to present a company's characters in a way that looks vaguely representative of its audience and cultural context is to change those very characters.
It's not as it the Alan Scott experience is unprecedented, DC orientation-bended Kate Kane when she returned to DC as Batwoman, another story first uncovered by Lying In The Gutters. And now, through some curious storytelling, and following in the movie and Ultimate universe lead, Nick Fury is now a black man, as is Ultimate Spider-Man, albeit with a different identity. Marvel has a harder time doing this due to its avoidance of reboots, but it does happen.
And Marvel at least has newer icons that have gained public acceptance and recognition, such as Storm. DC has had less luck, though with valiant attempts such as Milestone, Steel and Cyborg. Their base of Wildstorm also helped, with the likes of Midnighter and Apollo, and they have launched books starring Voodoo, Static, Batwing, Mr Terrific, Batwoman and more, with Katana rumoured next.
They didn't however take the chance of the reboot to make more radical changes. A black Superman may have fitted the immigrant narrative well, a lesbian Wonder Woman may have found her Stephanie Trevor in the world of man. But they've had a go.
It's also telling that there were many complaints that the Hal Jordan Green Lantern wasn't black – like the Jon Stewart Green Lantern was in the Justice League cartoon. If the film has starred a black man, could it really have done any worse?
The companies are creating and promoting characters that will make their line more diverse.
One day they may be icons too. But sometimes, you need to push to make that happen. And orientation is a really easy one to get away with, without changing any of the company's IP appearances…