DC Comics confirmed yesterday that the superhero who'll be rebooted this month as a gay character — is "gayboot" a thing yet? — is Alan Scott, the Green Lantern. The reveal will happen in an upcoming issue of Earth 2. That's "The Green Lantern" as opposed to just "Green Lantern." I know what you're thinking — can't we stop labeling people and just accept everybody for the special, shining lanterns they are? Totally. But here’s why the "The" is pertinent.
Okay, so you saw, or prudently decided not to see, the Green Lantern movie that came out last summer, the one where Ryan Reynolds played hot-dog test pilot Hal Jordan and made out straightly with totally believable aerospace-company executive Blake Lively, right? This is not that Green Lantern. That Green Lantern, who's been an A-list DC Comics hero more or less consistently since his introduction in 1959, is one of a select few humans chosen to join an intergalactic police force called the Green Lantern Corps. In current DC continuity, Jordan shares the title of "Green Lantern" with a few other (presumably hetero) Earthmen, including John Stewart, the first African American Green Lantern. Hal Jordan, it's worth noting, co-starred in some of DC's earliest "confronting social issues" stories — during Denny O'Neill and Neal Adams's brief but influential run on Green Lantern in the early '70s, law-and-order conservative Jordan traveled the country with goateed liberal Green Arrow and learned that there are some problems you can't punch, like racism. Time hasn't been kind to these stories — they're well-intentioned but corny, like Very Special Episodes of Route 66. (Click on "racism" back there, seriously.) But a progressive legacy is a progressive legacy; having Jordan turn out to be the Gay Lantern wouldn't have been a totally left-field move.
That didn't happen, though — partly, we can assume, because it would have screwed up Warner Bros.' marketing campaign for Green Lantern 2, which is undoubtedly already in the preliminary-Subway-cup-design phase. So the character who'll teach a generation of DC Comics readers about the super-humanity of gay people is Alan Scott. Scott, created by Martin Nodell and Bill Finger and introduced in the pages of All-American Comics in July 1940, is the first Green Lantern, a railroad engineer who found a magic lantern after a train crash and fought crime using the supernatural powers it endowed him with. He's a founding member of the Justice Society of America, who were comics' first superhero team, predating both the Justice League and Marvel's Avengers. Scott and the rest of the JSA heroes appeared regularly in comics, up until the superhero genre slipped out of vogue in the early '50s; when the JSA were reintroduced in the modern DC Universe of the '60s (the one with Superman and Batman in it) they were portrayed as older, Greatest Generation–y heroes from a parallel dimension, sort of like the grandparents in Family Circus.
These were comics for children, so obviously Alan Scott's sexuality, hetero or otherwise, wasn't a big part of his story, but it's worth noting that at one point he was married and had a son named Todd, who became a superhero called Obsidian, and revealed that he was gay in a 2006 issue of Manhunter written by Mark Andreyko, one of the more prominent openly gay creators in the still-relatively-straight-dude-dominated comics field. In the new DC continuity established by the company's odometer-zero reboot of all its titles last year, Scott is a younger man — a billionaire media/Internet executive, half Mark Zuckerberg and half Bruce Wayne — and Obsidian doesn't exist. "I thought it was a shame that DC was losing such a positive gay character," Earth 2 writer James Robinson told Entertainment Weekly yesterday. "I said, 'Why not make Alan Scott gay?' To Dan DiDio’s credit, when I suggested it to him, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation."
That's Dan DiDio, co-publisher of DC Comics, who turned this whole situation from a plot twist into a media circus by teasing DC's forthcoming gay-hero reveal during a comic-convention panel in England in May. Now that the gay superhero has turned out to be a second-tier World War II–vintage Green Lantern who's traditionally been portrayed as being old enough to be the "real" Green Lantern's dad — and still lives in a parallel universe — fans have been complaining that DC's not exactly making as bold a statement as they could have. You have to feel a little bit bad for Robinson, who probably didn't intend to have this relatively minor character-development decision pitched to USA Today as a paradigm-shattering landmark. Robinson's dealt with stuff like this before, though: He introduced an openly gay alien superhero in his lauded '90s series Starman, which featured what may have been the first on-panel kiss between two men in a Big Two superhero comic, and later caught flak for writing a story in which another openly gay hero, the Australian were-beast Tasmanian Devil, was killed, and also skinned and made into a rug. (Robinson subsequently brought him back to life.)
Here's Robinson, speaking to Newsarama in 2011:
"I know that whether or not they're allowed to talk about it, you have brave gay soldiers in every army in the world, serving their country. You have gay policemen. One of my best friends in San Francisco is a gay policeman. Gay firemen. Every walk of life where people are putting their lives on the line, there's gays doing it as well as straights. So why not superheroes too?"
Indeed. Anyway, the fact that Alan Scott is neither the first-ever gay superhero nor the first modern gay superhero nor the first modern gay superhero introduced in a James Robinson–penned comic is a hint that DC (which has to compete with Marvel Comics' big gay-wedding issue, also out this month) is maybe making too big of a deal over this. But look: If even one gay ex-railroad engineer turned Internet billionaire with magic-lantern powers who fought in World War II, lives in a parallel universe, and occasionally hangs out with Superman can read this comic and feel a little less alone, that's progress, right?