Comic Book Fix: Gays In Comics and Godzilla Reviewed
Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 May 2012 01:57 Written by david golbitz Wednesday, 30 May 2012 07:00
Marvel and DC are jumping on the gay bandwagon, but is it a cynical ploy for your same-sex dollar or a sincere attempt to make their respective comic book universes more inclusive and reflective of the real world? Read more after the jump, including my surprisingly positive reaction to a comic starring a giant green monster, and I’m not talking about the Hulk.
Some months ago Marvel made waves in the comic book media when it announced there would be a surprise in an upcoming issue of Astonishing X-Men, and a few weeks before the issue shipped, it was revealed that the big news was that the Canadian superhero Northstar, a member of Alpha Flight and the X-Men, was going to pop the question to his boyfriend, Kyle. Yes, Northstar is gay, and to Marvel’s credit, he has been gay since his very first appearance in 1979, when he was created by John Byrne and Chris Claremont in Uncanny X-Men #120. Of course, no one was allowed to acknowledge this fact for more than a decade, when in 1992 Scott Lobdell officially outed Northstar in Alpha Flight #106, with the simple proclamation, “I am gay,” thus cementing Northstar’s status as the first openly gay superhero in mainstream comics.
If there was any backlash at the time, I don’t remember any. Much like today, in fact, when the only opposition to Northstar’s impending nuptials is a ridiculous condemnation by the right-wing fringe group “One Million Moms,” whose numbers are substantially less than the group’s name would have you believe. This is the same group that threatened to boycott JCPenny because the department store chain hired Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson. In truth, the utter lack of controversy surrounding Marvel’s announcement has been something of a relief. While comics themselves generally fly below the radar, Marvel’s PR team plugged their first gay wedding everywhere they could, from an article in USA Today to a shout out from Whoopi Goldberg on The View, ensuring that even your mom knows about it.
Not to be left behind, of course, DC Comics announced that as part of its “New 52″ initiative, one of the company’s “major iconic … characters will reveal that he is gay” in June. That is to say, rather than creating an all-new character, DC is taking the opportunity granted it by the “New 52″ reboot to turn a recognizable characters gay, seemingly for the hell of it. This announcement also contradicts a statement made by DC co-publisher Dan DiDio just before the “New 52″ launch:
One of the things we’re very focused on doing for these types of stories is rather than [change an existing] character, we want to make sure that this is the basis of who that character is right from the start. So if we’re going to introduce a gay character in Teen Titans, we want to make it a new character and make sure that is an integral part of who he is, or who she is, right from the start so we can really lean and grow with her or him.
DC of course already has prominent gay characters, such as Kate Kane, aka Batwoman, introduced in 2006, who was discharged from the army under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but perhaps DC felt it needed a more colorful (no pun intended) character to fly the company’s pride flag.
In an effort to keep the identity of this old newly gay character a secret, DC remained coy as to his identity while speculation ran rampant. The comic fandom spit out names like Shazam, Tim Drake (the third Robin, now known as Red Robin), even Batman himself. DC has remained mum on the subject, even as the Bleeding Cool website reported that the gay character will be the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, who was created in 1940 and got his powers from a mystical green flame. The “New 52″ version of Alan Scott is from the parallel world known as Earth 2, which made its debut earlier this month in, what else, Earth 2 #1. Bleeding Cool goes on to report that the newly gay Scott will make his full debut in June’s Earth 2 #2.
While I applaud Marvel and DC for their attempts at being gay-friendly, I can’t help but feel these are nothing more than marketing stunts. Or, at least, that they’re being treated as stunts. It’s wonderful that Northstar is getting married. I will be the first one to yell “Mazel tov” at the wedding; but Marvel isn’t exactly stepping out onto a limb here. Outside of Canada, and to all but the hardest of hardcore X-Men fans, Northstar is a relatively obscure character. Ask anyone on the street who Spider-Man or Batman is, odds are everyone will at least have some idea of who you’re talking about. Ask them about Northstar and they’ll think you’re talking about astronomy. So it’s not like Marvel is really going to offend many people, because Northstar just isn’t that well-known. Him getting married is safe. It’s not like you’re going to see him in one of Marvel’s blockbuster movies anytime soon.
Honestly, what I find even more refreshing than the relative lack of outrage over a gay wedding is that nobody seems to mind that Northstar, who is white, is marrying a black man. Not only is this a gay wedding, it’s an interracial gay wedding, AND NO ONE CARES. If you throw a controversy and no one comes, is it really a controversy?
But as inoffensive as Northstar’s wedding is, Alan Scott’s suddenly being gay strikes me as more crass and opportunistic than what Marvel is doing. There is no rhyme or reason for Alan Scott to be gay other than someone at DC said, “Hey, gay people are in the news a lot now. We should come up with a way to capitalize on it.” I’m not saying that’s what led to this decision, but it sure feels that way. It’s like they threw a dart at a wall covered in pictures of various characters. I mean, why not the Earth 2 version of the Flash? Or Aquaman? Or the regular version of Green Lantern? Lord knows there are plenty to choose from. It feels like an arbitrary decision designed solely to generate buzz. Instead of being something that flows organically out of a story or a character, it’s like a big rainbow-colored stamp exclaiming, “I’m here, I’m queer, now give me your money!”
Of course, this is all supposition until the comic actually hits the stands next month. Maybe it will be handled with a modicum of decorum and class. After all, the writer of Earth 2 is James Robinson, whose epic run on Starman should be taught in writing classes. If anyone can craft a compelling character arc for Gay Alan Scott, it would be Robinson, and I hope he does. I would hate for this be nothing more than a cynical money grab of an apparently newly discovered segment of the population with disposable income.
Gay characters in comics need to be as fully formed and three-dimensional as any other character. Drama comes from good storytelling, not hopping on a media bandwagon. If a character is gay, that’s part of who they are, but not the only thing. But the way Marvel and DC have been marketing these two events, it feels like that’s exactly what they’re doing. They’re screaming, “Come look at our gay characters!” instead of drawing in readers with well-crafted stories.
Also, seriously, did Mike Perkins have to draw Kyle’s reaction to Northstar’s proposal like this? He looks positively horrified, even disgusted, instead of what he actually is, which is surprised and taken aback. It just doesn’t look good is all I’m saying. Comics can do better. They need to do better.
Godzilla #1 (IDW Publishing), by Duane Swierczynski and Simon Gane
I’ve never been much of a Godzilla fan. I knew of the great behemoth from a young age, of course, having seen snippets of his old black & white Japanese movies but they failed to elicit anything more than a mild curiosity in me. Maybe it was the obviously fake rubber Godzilla costume or the poorly dubbed dialogue that made me indifferent. Whatever the reason, the Asian sensation that was giant atomic monsters passed me by, and I gladly let it. I was much more interested in the stunning animation that was being imported from the island nation. My youth was full of Vampire Hunter D, Lensman and, of course, Akira. Godzilla and his (or her; I was never sure about the creature’s gender) gang of gargantuan cohorts meant nothing to me.
Suffice it to say, when IDW first started publishing new Godzilla comics a few years back, I merely shrugged at the news and moved on. But over the last couple months, IDW announced some intriguing announcements regarding upcoming creative teams for the monstrous beast, the first of which, named simply Godzilla and touted as being an ongoing series, was released last week (the second being a miniseries entitled “Half-Century War” written and drawn by James (Orc Stain) Stokoe). The creative team behind the new ongoing series is writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Simon Gane, and I can say without reservation that they knocked this one out of the park.
The first thing that struck me about Godzilla #1 is the art. I had seen Gane’s work previously in an arc of Brian Wood’s Northlanders. Gane beautifully illustrated the siege of Paris by the brutal Viking hordes of Wood’s historical fiction series. I was blown away by Gane’s attention to detail in the crumbling buildings of Paris and the exhausted faces of both its attackers and defenders. When I read that he was drawing a Godzilla book, I was immediately excited to see what sort of destruction he was going to rain down upon whatever poor souls got in the great beast’s way. Gane did not let me down. His Godzilla is exquisitely rendered as the monstrous creature he is, each scale delicately penciled. Gane’s Godzilla is a fearsome sight indeed. And when buildings collapse and crumble all around our intrepid heroes, you can see the terror in their eyes.
Artwork alone, however, isn’t usually enough to get me to buy a comic. If it doesn’t also have a good story, I’m usually not interested. Luckily, Swierczynski turns out to be the right scribe for the job. His stories, both comics and novels, are full of hard, broken, though no less capable, men who are thrust back into action by circumstances beyond their control. (See his run on Cable and the novels Hell & Gone and Fun & Games.) Swierczynski’s Godzilla is no different. The protagonist, Boxer, is British, former special forces, and currently the babysitter of the teenage daughter of a Japanese billionaire. It’s a role tailor-made for Jason Statham should anyone in Hollywood be looking to reboot the Godzilla film franchise here in America.
The plot is fairly straightforward. Boxer and his charge, Gwen Murakami, are in Washington D.C., where Gwen’s mother is conducting business on Capitol Hill, when Godzilla makes landfall, destroying everything in his path. Boxer knows the monster well, having previously lived through its carnage on another job. A job he failed. Determined not to lose another client, Boxer helps Gwen escape the hi-rise hotel they’re staying at. He vows to keep her alive, no matter what the cost. But when the cost comes due, Boxer realizes the price is too high.
Swierczynski and Gane’s Godzilla #1 is a fast-paced, action-packed, big screen spectacle of a comic book. With characters you care about and wall-to-wall thrills, you’ll be on the edge of your seat. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed the first issue of this series, and if the next few issues live up to the premiere, Godzilla may have just found itself a new fan. At least, as long as Duane Swierczynski and Simon Gane are at the helm.
Top Picks of the Week
- America’s Got Powers #2 (Image), by Jonathan Ross and Bryan Hitch
- Animal Man Annual #1 (DC), by Jeff Lemire and Timothy Green
- Batman Annual #1 (DC), by Scott Snyder and Jason Fabok
- Channel Zero TP (Dark Horse), by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan
- Powers #10 (Marvel/Icon), by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming