The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 123 | Appreciating 2002’s The Authority #29 in the wake of Northstar’s wedding announcement

Leaving Proof 123 | Appreciating 2002’s The Authority #29 in the wake of Northstar’s wedding announcement
Published on Tuesday, June 5, 2012 by

These days, it seems like Marvel and DC are perpetually in the process of catching up with the rest of the entertainment and media world in terms of incorporating contemporary social trends in their output. The length of production lead times for print contributes to this current industry disposition: story arcs and line-wide crossovers are mapped out up to two years in advance and scripts and art are completed weeks and months before a comic is assembled in its final form. By the time a comic book is printed, distributed, and placed on retailers’ shelves, the vampire theme that seemed so au courant during the planning stages of the “X-Men vs. Vampires” publishing event is already hopelessly dated and terribly played out.

But even when taking into account the temporal limits imposed by the production process on superhero comics, the glacial pace with which certain aspects of societal change and progress are reflected in mainstream superhero comics can be occasionally perplexing.

Last month, Marvel Comics revealed that gay superhero Northstar would be marrying his partner in a special issue of Astonishing X-Men. A few weeks later, DC announced that the new version of Alan Scott—a Green Lantern—would be redesigned as a gay character in their continuing relaunch and reworking of their superhero comics line. The news has been received largely positively by the comics-reading community, although there is of course the usual “won’t somebody please think of the children?” outrage from people who are patently unaware of the fact that 93% of comic book readers these days are grown men and women. The news from Marvel and DC has spurred some thoughtful discussion of the topic of the portrayal of homosexuality in superhero comics—Alex Pappademas’ Northstar’s Same-Sex Wedding and Comic Books’ Uncomfortable History With Gay Heroes and The Green Lantern Comes Out (Well, “a” Green Lantern) are particularly entertaining and informative reads—but one question that I don’t think is being asked enough is “Why now?”

Without thinking too much about the issues at play, it only makes sense that Marvel and DC produce and push gay-themed stories at this time: In June of last year, the state legislature of New York, the state in which both publishers are headquartered, passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage and debates about sexual orientation issues are especially relevant topics these days. But I can’t help but also feel that a big reason that these stories are receiving a huge push from the publishers is because it’s somewhat “safe” to do so now. It’s not the job of comics to promote causes or argue for or against issues, of course. I read superhero comics to be entertained, not to be lectured at or edified. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it when the funnybooks I read break new ground, push boundaries, and challenge my expectations and sensibilities.

When writer Mark Millar had The Authority‘s Superman and Batman analogues Apollo and Midnighter get married to each other ten years ago only a year after the Netherlands became the first country to grant same-sex couples marriage and adoption rights equivalent to that of their heterosexual peers, it struck me as a bold and even revolutionary moment for the portrayal of sexual orientation diversity in superhero comics, and members of the comics-reading LGBT community thought so, too: The Authority‘s creative team was awarded the 2003 Spectrum Award for “best science fiction, fantasy, or horror comic or graphic novel work with significant positive gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender content” for their work on The Authority #28 and #29 (at the time, The Authority was published by Wildstorm Productions, an independent imprint formerly affiliated with Image Comics and acquired by DC Comics in 1999). By contrast, it’s difficult to shake the cynical feeling that the upcoming Northstar wedding and Alan Scott outing are belated and measured responses, hyped and calculated reactions that are as much about taking advantage of the feel-good fallout from the passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act as they are about celebrating and promoting sexual orientation diversity and marriage equality. This isn’t to suggest that Marvel and DC are being purely exploitative of the current situation or that there is no heartfelt creative sentiment behind the stories. Not at all. In interviews, Astonishing X-Men writer Marjorie Liu, artist Mike Perkins, and Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso have come off as nothing less than genuine in their intent to tell a good comic book romance story that just happens to involve a gay couple getting married. But the ten-year gap between the publication of The Authority #29 and the publication of Astonishing X-Men #51 is the gulf between being far ahead of the curve and being slightly behind it. Those ten years are what makes one comic book an exercise in sticking one’s neck out and saying something that needs to be said and the other comic book an exercise in saying something with the weight of public opinion already on one’s side.

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3 Responses
    • DC’s use of the golden age Green Lantern seems like more of a stunt than Marvel’s Northstar marriage. At least the hyped Northstar event has been in the works for a few years. This isn’t a completely out of the blue retcon.

      Hack/Slash has been toying with lesbianism or bi-sexuality for a while now. Since gay men and gay women are seen in media differently I suppose that doesn’t count.

      This isn’t completely a new phenomenon. Nomad vol 2 (1992ish) featured transgender characters but shied away from homosexuality in the same issue—spoiler, the killer of cross dressers is a pissed off wife reinforcing that some of the men were straight.

      • Yeah, I don’t doubt that James Robinson’s motivations for outing Alan Scott as gay are anything but grounded in the desire to tell good superhero stories that just happen to feature a diverse cast, but the way the thing was announced does seem sensationalistic and “stunt-y” (the whole “surprise coming out” thing has this weird, late 1990s network TV feel to it). 

        • I think that DC was originally going to keep the Alan Scott thing a secret and let the story tell it, but then they felt they needed to “one up” Marvel.  DC’s been hit hard about lack of diversity in their New 52, which I don’t really see.  Batwoman is a lesbian, Teen Titans features a gay character, Static Shock starred in his own series (that the series was canceled is irrelevant), Blue Beetle features a hispanic character.  Mister Terrific starred in his own series (again, irrelevant to this discussion that it was canceled).  OMAC’s secret identity was an asian-american.  The new Ray is asian-american.  Cyborg, an african american character, was giving increased status and a spot on the Justice League.  There’s probably a couple others I’m missing.

          The point is that I think the Alan Scott announcement is cheapened by the timing, it looks like nothing but a reaction to the Northstar wedding.  DC is diverse and should have just let it come out in the story.

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