A character created in 1940 has been retconned as gay. What about this is upsetting fans?
After much teasing and hinting, venerable superhero giant DC Comics has announced that the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, will be gay in his newly-retconned version. There’s been a few shrieks of outrage from old-school fanboys who see this as the colonization of their existing emotional property. Yes, Kate (Batwoman) Kane is gay, and Renee (The Question) Montoya, formerly a major player in the Gotham City Police Department, is gay, and yes, Marvel has had quite a few openly gay characters, beginning with Northstar. But… this is different!
And okay, I want to take a minute to engage with that sense of this being different. Green Lantern was first created in 1940, by Mart Nodell, who also created his secret identity of Alan Scott, broadcaster and all-round square-jawed blond man. He had a ring that made him virtually omnipotent, and used this to fight the Sportsmaster, who committed crimes using tennis rackets and ice skates. (If you think I’m kidding, you have never read any Golden Age comics.) Alan Scott, like every single member of the Justice Society of America except Wonder Woman, was a Normal Guy. “Normal” meaning white, straight, male, educated, and middle-class. You know, like it always means. Yeah, they let Wonder Woman in, but her official position was as the secretary. (Again, not kidding.)
So the upset fans have a point that this character they’ve known and loved and memorized the adventures of has now been thrown out and has a new characterization. Or rather, they have a point if you ignore a rather important caveat: that’s true of every DC character.
The reason Alan Scott is gay now is that they threw out all their existing continuity and rebooted it from scratch. DC does this periodically. They did it in the 50s, when all of a sudden Green Lantern was a guy named Hal Jordan who worked for blue aliens as a space cop. They did it in the 60s, when all of a sudden their 1940s continuity, including Alan Scott, happened on an alternate world. They did it in the 80s, when 50 years of history and all the alternate world were completely wiped out. (Along with Krypto the Super-Dog, Comet the Super-Horse, Streaky the Super-Cat, and Beppo the Super-Monkey. There was a reason they were cleaning house.) They did it in the 90s, hammering together a new continuity in an attempt to make the character ages fit.
You cannot be a DC Comics fan and stay too attached to the existing history of the characters you love. It’s like buying a hamster:you know it’s only got a few years to live, and you have to accept that.
So what’s the difference between this retcon and all the previous retcons? Well, this time it’s about a definition of Normal Guy that’s actually been updated since the 1940s. And surprise surprise, that’s what’s offensive to some folks.