For some time now there’s been a schism—both spoken and unspoken—between queers who want same-sex marriage rights and queers who are dedicated to preserving some vestiges of a radical and non-normative past. The schism is one filled with issues of class biases and capital—“Marriage equality has made our city more open, inclusive and free—and it has also helped to create jobs and support our economy,” New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg recently said—and it is a conflict that will have to play itself out in all the arts. Indeed, any literature that cares to address the queer desire to marry among gay men and women will have a lot on its shoulders, maybe even more than literature about AIDS ever did. I might even go so far as to say that while literature about AIDS is generally considered dead, dated, period, literature about the gay and lesbian desire to marry will presumably persist over time.  So it’s with sadness and a kind of I-told-you-so glee that, at this early stage of the game, I must report that Earth 2 (DC Comics) , the comic-book home of the much-heralded gay Green Lantern, doesn’t bode well for the gay-marriage side of things, presenting us as it does with juvenile doses of military boosterism, religiosity, and perhaps worst of all, sentimentality.

Earth 2 is set in a parallel universe in which the world’s “trinity” of superheroes—Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman—are not only ready and willing to sacrifice themselves to save the world from alien invaders, but in fact do so. The invaders are from a dimension that goes unnamed. Given current blockbuster-cinema standards, I guess that alien invaders might not be all that ridiculous sounding. Or wouldn’t be, if it weren’t also for Earth 2’s fictional fact that the invaders are evil “parademons” and that, at least until the trinity sacrifices itself, the evil parademons are locked in a “stalemate” with the good trinity. We are furthered hammered by Earth 2’s simplistic, overwrought 9/11 narrative analogy by the presence of the “Soldiers of the World United,” a military body that backs up the “trinity.”

Enter Alan Scott, a handsome (if hunkier) Anderson Cooper type who anchors spots in which he laments the fallen trinity and the fallen Soldiers of the World United as “heroes all”—“We shall never forget them.” Alan has a lover named Sam, also super-hunky, who dies in a train derail, an accident that Alan manages to survive. On the train, just before the derailment, Alan proposes to Sam, presenting him with a gold wedding ring. In the aftermath, awakening as a bachelor again, Alan is very luckily rejuvenated and imbued with superpowers by a sort of green burning bush. The bush turns out to be Mother Nature herself, protecting herself and her own by supplying the trinity-deprived universe with new a superhero—The Green Lantern. Now, very importantly, the burning bush instructs Alan to identify a conduit for his new powers and so—predictably, sentimentally—Alan chooses his wedding ring, thereby swearing to protect humankind in honor of his dead fiancé. Oy!

EARTH 2

But wait. It gets worse. Much worse. Because, you see, the events I’ve narrated above largely happen in Earth 2 numbers one and two. At the end of Earth 2 number 3, we meet Grundy, a villain destined to do battle with Alan/The Green Lantern. And unlike Alan, who seems to be the embodiment of prosperity, Grundy wears an outfit that looks something like a working-class butcher’s gown—a swath of black leather—which he’s accessorized with a leather harness and leather armbands. What is this? The new gay versus the old? The marrying kind versus the randier working class? What it is, of course, is convoluted, a jumble of 9/11 tropes mixed with the gay 70s, gay marriage in the 21st century and, when you throw in the green burning bush, millennial environmentalism.

*

The last time I went out to buy a comic book was in 1992, the year Northstar, a character in a Canadian superhero collective called Alpha Flight, came out. AIDS was the social issue du jour back then, so not surprisingly, Alpha Flight number 106 comes with a good dose of sentimentality, too. Yet Alpha Flight was somehow a lot more fun, if a lot more badly drawn, than Earth 2. I have to summarize a narrative again to show you what I mean: While doing his duty protecting Toronto, Northstar finds an abandoned baby-girl who turns out to have AIDS. The baby becomes a cause célèbre, which only serves to enrage an already angry superhero named Maple Leaf. Maple Leaf is a hairy bear of a man who hangs out around his apartment shirtless and in hot shorts. Maple Leaf, it turns out, is the sexy recluse he is because he’s grieving his only son, a man who died of AIDS. Moved to villainy by TV coverage of Northstar’s baby darling, the older Maple Leaf seeks out the younger Northstar and their battle scene dialogue is filled with classic AIDS-era agitprop. “My son Michael was a victim of AIDS as well!” Maple Leaf socks it to Northstar. “But he was gay—so people didn’t afford him the luxury of being ‘innocent.’ There were no press conferences, no fundraisers. No nightly news updates.”

“Do not presume to lecture me on the hardships homosexuals must bear,” Northstar socks it back to Maple Leaf. “For while I am not inclined to discuss my sexuality with people for whom it is none of their business—I am gay!” Maple Leaf then calls Northstar selfish and reminds him that as a member of Alpha Flight and a former Olympic athlete, he has a duty to be open about his sexuality.

In the end, Northstar comes out, the baby with AIDS dies, and Maple Leaf and Northstar are united in their grief.

Sentimental? Yes. But at least we get some anger, some catharsis, some reminder that not all of us are enfranchised. Indeed entitlement and class are two of the challenges writing about gay marriage will have to take on. Because if art about gay marriage ends up being all about gay men who can afford to take high-speed trains to romantic weekend getaways and exchange gold wedding rings, as Alan and Sam do in Earth 2, then it’ll leave out as much as a press conference that sentimentalizes a baby with AIDS. Granted, and as I’ve already alluded to, some comic books are pure escapism. We all need escapism. Escapism has its merits. But it helps when it doesn’t take itself as seriously as Earth 2, which takes itself very seriously.

Indeed, the best literature about AIDS and death and dying took death for granted. The advantage of reaching that kind of maturity is of course that you become free to have a sense of humor again. The best literature about gay and lesbian marriage will, I suppose, have to do the same. What else it will and won’t have to do, I don’t know—I suppose it will have to be both another dimension and a parallel universe.

 

Art Courtesy of DC Comics

 

Correction:  The original post incorrectly stated that Alan’s lover, Sam, was white. He was actually Asian.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
  • Michael Craft

6 Responses to “‘Earth 2’: Gay Green Lantern Shines the Light on a Literature Still Wet Behind the Ears and Maybe Even Green about the Gills”

  1. Joe Palmer 3 September 2012 at 11:06 AM #

    Interesting analysis though if you may want to consider reading Astonishing X-Men #48 (I believe) – 52, which is the most recent, and onward for another look at how a straight but gay supportive/ friendly writer handles a gay marriage in superhero comics. Character in question: Northstar.

    It doesn’t change your main points, but Sam the dead boyfriend is Asian.


  2. Neil Ellis Orts 3 September 2012 at 11:31 AM #

    Having grown up on comics and the accepted tropes and having decades of story continuity stored in my head (which shouldn’t matter in this case, as DC is allegedly starting from scratch—but the characters are 70 years old and still have history), I very much enjoyed seeing this commentary from a non-comics fan.

    Because I’m steeped in this tradition, I have to say that I don’t think the majority of your critical points are intentional. Bringing them to light, however, leaves me to ponder anew all the ways so much oppression, or suppression, is unintentional, how much of it is just living out the received tropes, carrying on the continuity we’ve received. Thank you for that.

    But, to echo Joe above, I do believe Sam is intended to be Asian.


  3. Joe Palmer 4 September 2012 at 12:28 PM #

    I suggest you may want to read issues of Teen Titans (from #3 onward) to see how Scott Lobdell, the writer of the Alpha Flight story you discuss, handles a gay teen character, Bunker, who is Mexican.


  4. Pete Hocking 7 September 2012 at 11:50 AM #

    In principle I don’t disagree with the general tenor of your analysis — there are a lot of cliched tropes at play in this series. However, I’m troubled by the fact that, while you allude to comics as a literature, you attempt to critique a short, incomplete story without any knowledge of or research about the medium. You are not treating it as a literature — or even a medium that’s in conversation with its own history. Parademons, for example, don’t come from nowhere, but rather refer to a complex mythology established by Jack Kirby (one of the greats of the genre) in the 1970s. And the universe from which they come? Not unknown, but another reference to Kirby’s work. While the symbolism of the reworked costuming of Green Lantern and Grundy are awkward, and (I agree with you) too easy and problematic, the basic relationship between these characters goes back to at least as far as 1944 — a fact that’s easy enough to establish through a superficial Google search. The basic symbolism of green fire and rotting earth are established tenets of the characters — Green Lantern’s ring symbolizes a life force and Grundy has long been characterized as a zombie. Perhaps their new manifestations are a bit overwrought, but comics have long been a retelling of foundational mythical literature. This series puts the characters into the context of today’s politics. We can hope that the writers might have the intention of complicating the narrative as the story arc proceeds — as many other contemporary comics are doing.

    While you’re clear that you don’t take the medium seriously, I’m surprised that you didn’t do a little research in writing this piece. I doubt you would have taken the same liberties if writing about “serious” literature. I have to say, if such obvious gaps and assumptions were present in one of my undergraduates papers, I’d be hard pressed to give you more than a C.


  5. csb 7 September 2012 at 2:20 PM #

    I certainly don’t mind an actual gay person or persons in the comics. I review comic books on my site.

    I’ve never been ‘upset’ about the lack of gay characters in comic books, but over the many years in our American society it’s obvious that we kind of got ‘left behind’ creatively in comic books.

    Yet, like in the movies I’m more looking forward to Individual writers and artists creating comic books with us in mind, rather than say DC or Marvel. Simply because I love XXX Rated Material. I really like what Straight America doesn’t want.

    I see no reason why we can’t have a monthly gay comic (superhero) on the comic book store Rack… it could be in plastic and taken up to the counter for Age Verification (18+)

    I’m rather beyond the worries of a Corporate setting about sex and commerce and religion like a DC or Marvel.

    It’s really nice to see boys kissing in living color in a Green Lantern comic book… but I’d like to see more… much, much more… I think ‘we/gays’ can do this ourselves someday…

    When we are ready. Community has been said before… I just haven’t felt it yet, is all.


  6. Steven Cordova 8 September 2012 at 11:15 AM #

    Dear Peter, You’r right. Comics are not my strong suit. I was simply using “Earth 2,” perhaps too flippantly, to try and stir up some ideas I have about the nascent literature of same-sex marriage and present-day gay cultural conflicts and developments. In the process I regret I stirred you into giving me a big fat C. I would hope some extra credit research and reading might get me up to a C+. In any case, I admire your passion.



Leave a Reply

Please fill the required box or you can’t comment at all. Please use kind words. Your e-mail address will not be published.

Gravatar is supported.

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>