The year was 2001.
I was six-years-old, at the pinnacle of my prepubescent male life. Able to be suitably impressed by the likes of the Power Rangers and Spider-man but also old enough to know I really, really loved the Justice League. Despite the Power Rangers crazy action and Spider-man’s web-slinging cool, it was the Justice League that inspired me.
It was the first time I had seen a TEAM of superheroes who were formed specifically to face threats no ONE HERO could defeat. Big foes– like savage aliens– that would easily overwhelm Batman or Superman if either made a foolhardy decision to individually pit themselves against the looming menace. The concept blew my mind!
The Justice League Animated TV Show got me into superheroes and the entire comic book medium. (I loved Batman and Superman in their solo Television shows– but never on the same scale as I marveled at the Justice League.) The other smart thing that the makers of the Justice League did: Introduce my child’s brain to many of the varied wonders of the different heroes residing within the DC Universe. Suddenly, I knew there was more out there than just the Superman & Batman families.
I adored every character on the JL animated show– from the witty Flash always annoying Bats, to the Martian Manhunter and his much more serious struggle to understand humanity. My absolute personal favorite, apart from the “Big Two”, was Jon Stewart ‘s Green Lantern. Jon was always the extremely cool guy, unafraid to stand up to Superman or to tell the Dark Knight when he was wrong.
THE HAL JORDAN PROBLEM
I understand some people prefer Hal Jordan— but I’ll be honest: In my opinion, Jordan’s got no depth, no dimension. Very 2D. Just another Silver Age hero who sold books because of his cool power and gimmicks. Tons of kids grew up remembering how much they loved reading those comics. I have no problem with that. But do they really remember anything about his character—about Hal Jordan as a “person”?
When writers feel they have no other recourse than to turn an iconic character like Jordan into something supremely evil (Parallax) just to sell books– you know there’s no depth of character present.
I know the above statement will cause a massive outcry from Hal’s Green Lantern fans but please try to understand what I’m trying to get at here: Hal Jordan is a very boring character—despite the fact that several high-profile writers (*cough*GeoffJohns*cough*) keep attempting to change this reality by revolving the entire DCU around him.
The trailers for the upcoming Green Lantern film look to concur with my viewpoint– as actor Ryan Reynolds seems to be playing Hal Jordan as if he’s in the middle of another quirky, upbeat romantic comedy with his new girlfriend Sandra Bullock. You know the type: snarky. Yet, I don’t see fanboys flagellating themselves until they force Warner Bros into reshoots—basically because, deep down, we all know Jordan is two-dimensional. If Reynolds were playing Superman, Martian Manhunter or Batman– there would have been riots and protests after the initial film footage unspooled at Comic Con. (OK, maybe not riots… But face it– there would have at least been talk of boycotting a Ryan Reynolds-led Batman film.)
For my money, Jon Stewart is much more relatable as a man than Jordan. Here is a person who started from humble beginnings, accepted responsibility and became a hero. Yeah, he’s a bit stubborn and a bit headstrong but that just adds to his character depth.
And as much as I feel a character like Jon Stewart is fantastic role model for anyone to aspire to (not just minorities), we all must admit there have been several disastrous attempts at cultural diversity in mainstream comics.
Think of the first portrayal of a homosexual hero– long before the days of Wiccan, Hulkling or even Apollo and Midnighter… The only “gay” comic book heroes seemed to be labeled “gay” just for the shock value and sales potential. For example: Alpha Flight’s Northstar. Clearly another case of a writer saying there’s nothing interesting about a character… There’s no “hook”, no reason for the audience to be interested in him. I know! I’ll suddenly reveal Jean-Paul Beaubier is gay! That will get tongues wagging!
Or making a tough, rough varmint wrangler like the Rawhide Kid gay— for the sake of what seems to be a single one-off joke. Portraying a man who is both a hero and a
cowboy– typically uber-masculine roles— as gay, gave Marvel a great opportunity to breakaway from the traditional stereotypes and show comic readers that not all homosexuals need to be shown in media as screaming hairdressers or other shameful over-the-top caricatures. In fact, this was Marvel’s chance to show Rawhide Kid could be just as tough and badass as any of your favorite action heroes.
Unfortunately, the Rawhide mini-series was a horrid, inept story—nowhere near as diverse as people had hoped. The Kid was pure camp. Stereotypically bitchy about women’s fashion choices (amongst other deplorable characterizations), Rawhide never even admitted he was gay.
Amazingly, this is the same company that made the groundbreaking, bold move in 1969 of introducing the Falcon, mainstream comics’ first African-American hero, in Captain America #117. As originally portrayed, Sam Wilson was a fantastic achievement for diversity. He wasn’t an ex-slave or convicted drug dealer. Hell, he didn’t even have the word “BLACK” in his character name. In fact, Sam’s ethnicity seemed uniquely incidental in many respects—giving his overall presence an even bigger sense of gravitas.
Cap considered him a friend and an equal. The Falcon’s popularity soared to such heights that he even shared the comic book’s title with Captain America for a considerable time… And was one of the first superheroes to have an action figure. His existence was brilliant for everyone– especially given that a Caucasian male from the 1940’s never once thought or discussed race when he initially chose to partner with an African-American.
And everything continued to be great until writer Steve Englehart inexplicably rewrote the Falcon’s history and origin by making him a PIMP… When there had never previously been one hint or indication that Sam had such a past. In this heartbreaking story, Englehart tells us that Sam “Snap” Wilson was a pimp “brainwashed” by the Red Skull (in a very long, drawn out and overly complicated scheme) to kill the Captain. In my opinion, Englehart’s depiction will always be a real blight on comics… Simply because there was no reason for it. The writer sullied a TRUE champion for all—not just African-Americans.
No doubt that comics have come a long way since the days of casual, acceptable racism– much like the world has. I personally owe what I hope are rather worldly opinions of minorities (and minority comic book characters) to both the Justice League’s Green Lantern voice actor Phil LaMarr and Justice League producer (and fantastic comic book writer) Dwayne McDuffie. I am proud to live in an era where comic books can be more tolerant and truly hope we are moving away from the days of the Falcon being saddled with a pimp backstory or the Rawhide Kid being a homophobe’s stereotypical nightmare.
But I am also not blind. I know comics are not entirely diverse these days and I am very aware that many terrifyingly bad writers of stereotypical fiction still exist and work freely in this industry. (There’s a SEQUEL to Rawhide Kid, after all.) We still live in a world where some writers seem to get away clean—even while they depict unconscionable scenes of racism, sexism and rape. (*cough*MarkMillar*cough*).
Personally, I’d like to see more gay characters in comics. I briefly mentioned Midnighter and Apollo before– both great portrayals of characters who are superheroes that just happen to be gay. Their sexual preferences doesn’t seem to define their heroics—it is just part of the natural fabric of their lives… Unlike, say, Northstar’s uneven characterizations through the years.
This was a long way of saying that (among other things) I love Jon Stewart. I wish I could see more of him– rather than just shots of Jon standing stoically behind Hal Jordan… Who always hogs most of the dialog.
Thank you for your time! I wish you all the best. See you very soon!