Outing Characters: Should Only Their Creators Be Allowed to Do It?
Posted by Chris Lang on June 6, 2012 at 8:20 PM

This is my thirteenth blog entry. Perhaps this will be unlucky for me, because I am about to write about a very controversial subject.

I’m talking about gay characters in fiction, and who should be allowed to ‘out’ them as gay.

With homosexuality gaining mainstream acceptance in the past twenty years, there has been an increase in the number of gay characters in fiction. Some may be established as gay from the start, and some may come out of the closet later on.

Among the more visible gay characters in recent fictional works are Marvel’s Northstar, Willow of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dumbledore of Harry Potter, and the new Batwoman and Question of DC.

And at the start of June 2012, DC Comics has announced that in the continuity of their New 52 line, Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott (the one who came before Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and the Green Lantern Corps) will be revealed to be gay. This despite his being clearly straight in the previous continuity, being married to a woman, and having a daughter and a son (the latter of whom was outed as gay, incidentally).

To be honest, I don’t know what to make of this. On the one hand, it’s good that DC is giving us another gay hero. It shows that we’ve come a LONG way from the days when Marvel Editor in Chief Jim Shooter allegedly would not let John Byrne out Northstar as gay, or let Chris Claremont establish that Mystique and Destiny were bisexuals.

On the other hand, this whole thing reeks of ‘publicity stunt’, makes fans of Alan Scott’s super-powered offspring Jade and Obsidian (who apparently don’t exist in the new continuity as we know them) unsure of how to feel, and also is NOT done by the people who originally created the character in the first place.

Granted, Alan Scott was created in 1940 by Martin Nodell. Most of those involved are, by now, probably either too old or too dead to care that their creation is given a different sexual preference in the rebooted ‘New 52’ continuity. But still, this brings me to the question I have written this entry to ask.

Should characters be outed as gay by writers who didn’t create the characters in the first place? Or should only their creators be allowed to do it?

Northstar was created to be gay. It’s just that Jim Shooter wouldn’t let John Byrne (his creator) out him while Shooter was editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.

J.K. Rowling created Dumbledore, Joss Whedon created Willow, and Chris Claremont created X’ian (Shan) Coy Manh of the New Mutants. All of these characters were outed years after their creation, by the people who created them in the first place. I certainly have no problem with this.

But when a writer who didn’t create the character outs them, then it gets a bit … questionable. It veers dangerously close to a ‘slash’ fan fic writer being hired by a publisher and imposing their slash fic ideas onto canon.

And unless the original creator said or hinted that they wanted the character to be gay (but for one reason or another didn’t have them come out while they were still writing the character), it might even be seen as disrespectful.

Granted, back when Alan Scott’s original creators were still writing and drawing the character’s stories, any romantic involvements never went anywhere, and it was only under later writer Roy Thomas (a Golden Age afficianado who restored Golden Age characters to prominence in the early 80s) that his children Jade and Obsidian were introduced. But still, unless the creators said ‘We saw him as gay, but we couldn’t get away with it back in those times’, I’m not sure if it’s right for those handling the ‘official’ version of the character today to ‘out’ him.

I don’t really know what to think here. True, Alan Scott is a corporately-owned character, meaning DC CAN officially out him. But just because they can do it, does that mean they should?

In short, is it okay for people other than the characters’ creators to out them as gay, or otherwise make them different as to how their creators presumed them to be?

EDIT: Since originally writing this column, I’ve discussed the Alan Scott thing with a number of people, both straight and gay. Many of them take Linkara’s view that the Alan Scott of the New 52 is a different character from pre-New 52 Alan Scott. He just happens to share the same name and appearance. As I’ve learned more about the New 52, I am inclined to agree with it.

I really would like your comments on the matter. Feel free to leave them below.


When originally posted, this article received the following comments.

SOJA
7:10 PM on June 6, 2012 Now that I’m more aware of the gay characters in DC; Renee Montoya The Question, Obsidian, Apollo, Midnighter, and hell, even the villains The Brain and Monsieur Mallah, why did they need to come out and make Alan Scott gay? Sure, the Young Justice cartoon introduced The Brain and Mallah but they didn’t make them the gay stereotype which is good. Is that not enough though?

This is why I really like Marvel a lot more. They don’t care about the backlash they get from their characters. They were gay to begin with and their stories are a lot greater. It’s a lot more personal than the DC characters in my opinion. Marvel knows a lot better with its heroes because they don’t have to be gay to have an impact on all of us. They know how to hit a cord with everyone; the bullied, the lower class, the outcast, all the way to the homosexuals:

Spiderman
X-Men (EVERYONE)
Hulk
The Thing
Mystique
Hulkling
Wiccan
I do feel a little manipulated but at the same time I’m glad they turned Alan into a gay character, even if it is a stunt though. As long as his story is good and doesn’t feel rushed, I don’t think I could complain. Clearly these are characters that should have been gay in my opinion:

Superboy
Kyle Rayner
Tim Drake
Wonder Woman
Aquaman
Green Arrow (yes even him)
Moviefan12
6:42 PM on June 6, 2012 Intresting point and I see where your coming from on this issue. I agree with just because they can doesn’t mean they should.
Reply

JotaKa
6:41 PM on June 6, 2012 I also think that this reeks of publicity stunt, and you bring a very good point with the fan fic aspect of it. It looks like a guy that always thought that Alan Scott would be better gay and finally got the chance to do it, and then did it. I would very much prefer an all new gay character, kind of like Northstar, that would be gay since the first day of his creation.

But then again, this new Allan Scott is on a whole new dimension. It has nothing to do with the original one. The original one found an egiptian green lantern on a train tunnel, and it gave him power. This one is part of the green lantern corps.

…I still vouch for a gay GL, but I don’t think it’s really bad to change a character over the years. If Allan Scott was a nazi, he would’ve probably change with the time too.

Ratin8tor
7:43 PM on June 6, 2012 God damnit not having my account work since I now have to type out this damn message all over again.

Anyway, in response to your question: no. Creators shouldn’t have final say. For if they did, then there would be no more Batman and Superman. There’d be no more DC comics in general. Hell over 90% of Shakespeare’s plays would be banned since he uses characters he didn’t invent.

If only creators could have a say about what they work on, then you must remove Kyroptonite from Superman comics. Why? Because it was originally invented by the radio play. Also you must remove Superman’s ability to fly. Why? Becuase that came from the old cartoons. These are things that made their way into the character’s life through people that didn’t create the character.

And on top of this by accepting this argument as true, you must also accept the idea that all fan fiction is wrong and should be banned immediately. Fan fiction does exactly this, some of which goes on to be published (50 shades of grey was orginally a slash fic). For this to work you have to say that no one can add anything to the character.

Hence why I think the Death of the Author (see one of my other blogs for this concept explained) is a good thing. It allows characters and ideas to continute to thrive and survie long after the metaphorical (or physical) death of the author.

For this argument to work, then characters mustn’t be allowed to change. And if characters can’t change, then what’s the point of writing it at all?

(BTW sorry if I appear as an arsehole, I probably sound more sour because this stupid comment didn’t save because I didn’t put in my email address .

Chris Lang
8:13 PM on June 6, 2012

ratin8tor says…
For this argument to work, then characters mustn’t be allowed to change. And if characters can’t change, then what’s the point of writing it at all?

I agree completely that characters should be allowed to change, which is why certain other retcons (such as Dick Grayson being Robin again, Barbara Gordon being Batgirl again, and Peter Parker and Mary Jane having their marriage undone) don’t sit well with me. Those are reversions in their status quo, done by people who never got over the changes and were just waiting for the right moment to change that stuff back.

But while characters should be allowed to change, should they be allowed to mutate into something they never were intended in what is regarded by many as the ‘source’ material? To me, the ‘source material’ for most of DC and Marvel’s output ended a long time ago, and what they’re publishing now is mostly fan fiction. But since what they publish is written by people who actually are paid by those who legally ‘own’ the characters, these stories are more likely to be seen as ‘official’ or ‘canonical’ by the majority.

Some creators are more protective of their characters than others. Tony Isabella is notoriously protective of Black Lightning, for example, and will have harsh words for any writer who writes him out of character. Judd Winnick found that out when he had Black Lightning go ‘Punisher’ on a villain, and was forced to retcon the story so that someone else offed the villain instead.

Others have different reactions to Character Derailment of their characters. Some say they don’t care or just shrug saying ‘I don’t like it, but they own the character, not me, so it’s their call in the end’.

As for me, I’m all for gay characters. The main problem I have with outing Alan Scott is that it’s the final nail in the coffin for Jade and Obsidian. I liked the family dynamic they had there, and wish they had done this some other way.

Ratin8tor
11:39 PM on June 6, 2012 The Joker was originally meant to be a one-shot character. Mr Freeze was meant to be a gimmicky villian. The Doctor was orginally just meant to be an average mad scientest with a time/space machine. Can you say that changes to these characters as bad? They mutated beyond their original creation and look how popular they’ve got. Can we really say that change is bad?

As for the people complaining about Green Lantern turning gay by using this argument:

“Why not create a new gay superhero?”

My response:

“Why is the fact that he’s gay the only defining feature worth mentioning about regarding his/her creation?”

James
12:58 AM on June 7, 2012 I don’t have a problem with Alan Scott being gay, I have a problem with the idea of rebooting a universe. Here’s how they should have handled this: Alan’s gay, he comes out as many men do later in life, and his kids have to deal with it. That’s real and makes sense. You know what doesn’t make sense? Superman without his red underwear.

Les
4:51 PM on June 7, 2012 Hi Chris Lang. All very good points-both in your article and in the comments here. Perhaps a character shouldn’t be changed radically while their creator is still alive, or maybe it’s up to the company who owns the rights to the character. In any case, they’ve done it, and we’ll just have to see if it makes a difference in the comic sales.

@James. Actually…Superman didn’t have his red underwear look when he first premiered……the new Man of Steel film Superman suit is almost completely taken from Action Comics #1. Peace.

—————–

EDIT, July 28, 2014: Well, it’s been over two years now since the New 52 debuted. From what I understand, DC’s show of tolerance to gay people only goes so far. A writer planned a lesbian wedding for Renee Montoya, but the higher-ups put the kibosh on that. They also killed off the new Alan Scott’s gay lover. Which only goes to show that they made a big show of being accepting when they wanted publicity, but after the media moved on it was another story.

(Though the reasons for both of those incidents may be due to DC’s current philosophy of making their characters brooding and miserable, and their stories dark and cynical. The ‘grimdark’ Age of DC began in 2004 with Identity Crisis and has not ended just because they rebooted their universe).

But I digress. In any case, James’ comment inspired me to do another blog post on the DC reboot. I followed this column up with ‘WIJDW: Only Rebooting Some Series in a Shared Universe’.

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