The PopCulteer
June 8, 2012

This week, your Popculteer is taking a brief jaunt out of town.  So this column might be a bit choppy.  Without ruining any surprises, just be warned that the fruit of this jaunt will make up most of next week’s PopCulteer.

But that doesn’t that we don’t have stuff to talk about this week…

More of Those Conversations

That Conversation” is the new, in-depth interview podcast masterminded by Patrick Felton and the first two editions are online now, with a rather dubious third one scheduled to drop sometime today.  We told you about the first installment  first installment of Patrick’s podcast, the subject of which was CYAC founding father Dan Kehde.  Last week,the second episode the second episode, featuring Huntington film director David Smith (“The Escribtionist”) talks about movie making in the Mountain State, including tales of his latest, “Ladybeard,”the trailer for which you will see in the next episode of Radio Free Charleston.

Today, Patrick is threatening to unleash a long, rambling interview with your PopCulteer, which was such a natural, free-flowing conversation that I don’t remember exactly what all we talked about.  I do remember getting a record number of phone calls and having people knock on the door during the interview.  So I’m sure editing it must have been a nightmare, but later today, you can tune in at Patrick’s page to see just exactly what kind of trouble I got myself into.

“But I Thought They Were ALL Gay”

The first image of DC's new gay Alan Scott Green Lantern, and yes, he's flaming in it. You can't make this stuff up.

The big brouhaha in the comics world for the last couple of weeks has been DC Comics retroactively changing the sexual orientation of what they said would be an “iconic,” “major” character.

This ignited a bit of a firestorm among slightly homophobic fanboys and cynical observers who question the overly politically correct timing of DC’s announcement.

You see, DC wanted to get some positive press for their slowly sinking “New 52” line of comics and somebody figured out that they could ride the coattails of June’s Pride Week celebrations, plus stomp all over Marvel Comics gay superhero wedding announcement.

At least Marvel's Northstar didn't have to turn gay, he was born that way.

The Marvel announcement, though overblown, wasn’t quite so exploitive.  One of their characters, Northstar, was conceived as a gay character from the start and has been publicly out for a very long time.  Marvel decided to include him in a gay wedding storyline, which made perfect sense, even if using the full Disney PR machine so that an announcement was made by Whoopi Goldberg on “The View,”seemed a little more hype than you would think the topic deserved.  After all, Northstar is a fairly obscure member of the Canadian super team Alpha Flight, which has a loyal following numbering well into the dozens.

But DC was promising a major and iconic hero who wasn’t previously gay, but somehow caught the gay during DC’s “New 52” reboot last year.  The problem is that when they finally announced who it was, it turned out to be a major fizzle.

DC was not about to have Superman or Batman switch teams, thus endangering decades of merchandising toward children.  Besides, there have been rumors about Batman for a long time anyway and they didn’t want to encourage those.  So who did DC go with?  They went with the Earth 2 version of Green Lantern, Alan Scott.

The first Golden Age/Silver Age crossover

Let me take a moment to explain the parallel universe theory in DC Comics.  When first introduced in the 1960’s, the concept of DC’s parallel universe theory was a simple literary device to explain why there were two generations of superheroes, and why they were not directly related.  You see, the “New 52” is NOT DC Comics first continuity reboot.

By 1956, DC Comics, and the entire comic book industry, was in a serious decline.  Most of the superhero comics that boomed in the 1940’s had fallen by the wayside.  DC was still publishing Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman with a handful of minor characters in backup strips, but they had cancelled most of their other superheroes years earlier.  In 1956, while throwing things at the wall to see what stuck, DC launched an all new version of The Flash.  He had an all-new origin, a new secret identity, a newly designed costume, and even took his name from the original Flash comic books that he read as a kid, because in his world, The Flash was not a real person.

This turned out to be a huge sales success and DC eventually introduced new versions of the Green Lantern, The Atom, Hawkman, and even teamed them all together as The Justice League of America, which revived the 1940’s Justice Society of America.

The 1940’s comic books were considered “the Golden Age,” while the era which started in the late 1950’s was considered “the Silver Age.”

Eventually, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz decided it would be a cool idea to team up the two generations of heroes.  In “The Flash #123”, he had Barry Allen vibrate into an alternate universe where his comic book heroes were real and he got to meet his inspiration, Jay Garrick, the original Flash.  This was a cool concept because of the generation gap.  The Golden Age characters had aged in real time, so they were fifteen to twenty years older than their Silver Age counterparts.  At the time, the Silver Age universe was dubbed “Earth One,” while the Golden Age universe was considered “Earth Two,” for reasons having more to do with marketing than logic.

The first appearance of Alan Scott

And now for the crash course in DC Comics history since then: By the 1980’s, it was decided that DC’s growing Multiverse was a problem that had to be eliminated.  Nobody predicted that for people who grew up reading Silver Age comics the concept of parallel universes would eventually become an accepted mainstream literary device, so DC and writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez came up with the “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” which merged all of DC’s various universes into one big clusteruniverse, which became the standard DC universe until last year’s “New 52” reboot.

Which brings us to DC’s reintroduction of the Earth Two concept, in which a parallel universe has its own version of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and will eventually be populated with its own roster of super powered characters.

And now we get to the fizzle.  You see, DC’s new “Earth Two” comic book is also a complete and total reboot and features characters who just happen to share some names with DC’s Golden Age greats.  In the “Earth Two” comic book, (SPOILER ALERT) Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman get killed in the first issue, leaving the world devoid of superpowered defenders.  In subsequent issues, we will meet an all new version of The Flash, who just happens to be named Jay Garrick.

However, he’s not the Jay Garrick who got his superpowers in 1940 and he doesn’t have the same personality, backstory, or superhero outfit.  He’s a directionless, twenty-one year old kid whose powers are derived from the god, Mercury.

Alan Scott, the Green Lantern, is getting the same treatment.  In this universe, like the original character, he is a media mogul before gaining his superpowers.  Unlike the previous version of Alan Scott, he is gay instead of being a womanizer who had children out of wedlock with a female supervillian. The choice of the Alan Scott version of Green Lantern as DC’s “major,”‘ iconic” gay character is cynical and exploitive.  For one thing, I have not seen the entire new design of this incarnation of Green Lantern’s outfit, but the original Golden Age Green Lantern wore green tights, gladiator sandals (later changed to red boots), a puffy red blouse, and a purple and green cape.  I have yet to meet a gay man in the real world whose sense of style was so impaired that he would attempt to mix those elements into one costume.

I don’t have a problem with DC making one of their major characters gay.  I just think it’s going to be a huge letdown when people find out that a) it’s “only” the Golden Age Green Lantern and b) it’s not even the “real” Golden Age Green Lantern.  Basically, DC Comics has found a way to have their gay cake and eat it too.  They’re not jeopardizing a character that ever had any mainstream merchandising appeal, but they can claim that he’s major and iconic because the famous Green Lantern, the one from the movie and animated cartoon, was derived from the original version of this character, who coincidentally has nothing to do with this new gay version.

Hence, my feeling that it’s cynical and exploitive.

The major pointlessness of this move is that it betrays a huge weakness in DC’s “New 52” reboot, which now that we’re eight months in, is showing signs of having been only a temporary sales success.  Essentially, there is absolutely no reason for the characters in DC’s Earth Two universe to share their secret identity names with the Golden Age superheroes.  They all have different origins and new uniforms, so there’s absolutely no need to burden these new characters with previously existing names.  DC has blown a golden opportunity.  They could have created all new characters and that way, if they’re a hit, they’ve got brand new properties to exploit.

Earlier this year, when Alan Moore was complaining about DC’s “Before Watchmen” series, he remarked that DC was only exploiting his characters because they haven’t created any new concepts in the last twenty five years.  On that point, Alan Moore was absolutely correct.  DC’s “New 52” reboot has been, for the most part, a major disappointment creatively.  Saddled with creators who made their name during the darkest days of Marvel Comics history, DC’s “New 52” is, except for a few bright spots (“Wonder Woman,” “Action Comics,” “All-Star Western”) an unimaginative, post-Image Comics morass of bad storytelling.  I know that I’ve gone from purchasing twenty to thirty DC Comics a month to buying less than ten.

This whole gay Green Lantern stunt is just another example of DC’s sad new tactic of resorting to hype over content.  If they’d subtly created new characters, they could have credible, beliveable gay characters who aren’t competing with seventy years of “straight” history.

The saddest thing about this stunt is the implication that a character can “turn” gay.  If people are born gay, they don’t turn gay.  I can already see the predictable storyline if DC keeps this character around where Alan Scott has a straight fling and then nobly goes back to being gay.  After having sired super-powered twins, of course.

The shame of it is, that DC could introduce new, major gay characters and explore all sorts of cool story ideas, like a gay superhero dealing with a homophobic superhero, or two gay superheroes teaming up to work together, even though they don’t like each other personally.  We’re not going to get storylines like that.  We’re going to get standard, hackneyed, superhero shtick, punctuated by the occasional page that shows Alan Scott kissing his boyfriend.

Weekend Events

There’s quite a few cool things going on this weekend and we’re going to fire them at you RIGHT NOW!

Friday night, Lester Hirsh is at Taylor Books from 7:30 to 9:30, with no cover charge.  Also, for no cover charge, our old friends Blue Million will be at Bruno’s on Leon Sullivan Way.  At Unity of Kanawha Valley, Ron Sowell’s open mic kicks off at 7:30.  Five dollars gets you in the door to spectate, while performers, seniors, and children get in for a mere two bucks.  Santa Cruz will be playing at Timothy’s downstairs at the Quarrier Diner from 9:00 PM to 12:30 AM.  The five dollar cover charge should be worth it just to see how they fit them all in there.  Finally, Big Daddy Love is at The Empty Glass at 11:00 PM for seven bucks.

Saturday, there’s a bevy of cover-free events.  From noon to 2:00 PM, there’s a free open mic at Center Court at the Charleston Town Center. John Lilly will be at Taylor Books from 7:30 to 9:30. Neil Curry performs at the Bridge Road Bistro from 7:30 to 9:30 PM.  At 8:00 PM at the St. Albans City Park Ampitheater, it’s Jim Snyder and Friends, with Andy Park and The Vanishing Act.

The No Pants Players perform at 7:00 PM at the Alban Arts Center on Main Street in St. Albans.  Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for children.  This is a family-friendly show.  Finally, at 10:00 PM at The Sound Factory, it’s Red Wanting Blue with A Theif’s Escape.  Tickets are $13 at the door.

Also tonight and Saturday are your last chances to see Dan Kehde’s original drama “Einstein and God,” presented by the Contemporary Youth Arts Company at the WVSU Capitol Center Theater.  The show is at 8:00 PM.  Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors.

That’s All, Folks

That’s it for this week’s PopCulteer.  Next week, get ready for our extra long FestivALL preview of Radio Free Charleston, plus our usual features and maybe some bonus photo coverage from your PopCulteer’s weekend jaunt.