DC Comics has been teasing the reveal of a major gay character for some time, and they’ve finally revealed who it will be: Alan Scott, known as Green Lantern, a media mogul, will be revealed to be gay in a story that resets his character. When this news came out, I said it would be best if the supposedly-iconic character DC was going to have come out was someone for whom the revelation that he or she was gay helped tie together things we’d always known about the character and their personality, much as J.K. Rowling did with Albus Dumbledore. I’m not sure if a pure reset of an existing character quite does that. And over at Topless Robot, Rob Bricken explains that the move isn’t as bold as DC insisted it would be, in part because Scott is not even the most prominent Green Lantern in comics today, and in part because his arc as a gay man will be taking place in an alternate DC Comics universe, rather than altering our sense of the core universe, where a straight Alan Scott presumably is still going about his business.
DC Comics was never going to turn one of their genuinely iconic characters gay. An out and proud Batman would have been a great joke on moralists like Frederic Wertham, the psychiatrist who saw sexual perversion everywhere he looked in comic books. A gay Superman would have been a fascinating exploration of what it means to feel like an alien in human society. But it’s hard to imagine that DC would have done something so bold simply to demonstrate its commitment to diversity, or to compete in a market where Marvel Comics, and even Archie Comics, are directly selling themselves both to gay readers and to straight readers who live among and love the gay people in their lives.
Checking the box and including a gay character in your universe, whether you frame them as a stereotype or develop them well or not, isn’t really enough to earn a company points anymore. And I actually think the somewhat disappointed reaction to this revelation is a good thing because it suggests that our expectations are getting more ambitious. If companies want credit for doing something different and genuinely brave, rather than simply meeting their basic obligations to represent the world around them, they need to tell stories or highlight kinds of characters that no one else has the courage to represent. The L.A. Complex gets points for portraying gay characters who aren’t white and male, the standard television default. Happy Endings gets credit for showing us a gay man who’s chubby, romantic, semi-downwardly mobile. Maybe DC Comics will do something genuinely exciting with Alan Scott, but it’s fine not to shower the company with gratitude for simply nodding towards a diversity quota, and doing so with the same kind of gay person who’s been acceptable in pop culture for years: rich and white.