By: Anton Kromoff
Welcome back readers. I hope the last week has treated you well. When last we spoke I had braved the volatile topic of continuity in comics. As I brought the last conversation to a close I has presented that when a character has a basic theme that everyone from every walk of life can relate to, then that gives the character accessibility to the reader.
What I now intend to do is going to be a little strange, but I asked that you bear with me, and hopefully we can come to some kind of deeper understanding of ourselves and others in the comic community.
How many times has this happened to you? You are at your local comic shop, grabbing a few books and somewhere in earshot someone says something regarding a comic character or event that has happened in a comic that causes you to roll your eyes or turn your head and address them. Maybe you are at a con, and you pass by someone who is having a conversation about Darkseid’s Omega beams and how The Flash “could totally outrun them.”. Maybe you are sitting online and someone posts something in a forum or on a social media site and you find your fingers unable to type out your all cap’s response quick enough telling them just how wrong they are. I wager that if you are a fan of comics this happens quite often to you. Not sure you understand what I am talking about? Okay, I am going to give an example…
How many of you know what this is?
Did you say “The Green Lantern Logo”? Well if you did you are indeed correct. The Green Lantern was created back in 1940 by writer Bill Finger and artist Martin Nodell (All-American Comics #16). The Green Lantern was a Superhero gifted with a special ring that allowed the person who wore the ring to use their willpower and imagination to create all manor of objects made of light and force to combat the forces of evil. Sounds pretty cool right? I know I always wanted one. When I was 20, so this would be 11 years ago I am old I know, a girl who I was really good friends with at the time gave me a really nice silver replica of a green lantern ring that to his day is on my key chain. While it does not give me any sort of super powers it does indeed make me feel pretty damn super whenever I look at it.
Now this was back in 2003, and all my encounters with The Green Lantern had come from comic books…
(Yes, before you throw up your hands and say “NOW ANTON! Justice League Animated has been on TV for 3 Years!! What’s wrong with you! You lose all your nerd cred for not watching it!!!” Let me stop you, I was poor, I did not have access to a television on the regular, and I was in college and working full time, so even when I did find myself around a TV, it never happened to be the time that an episode of JL was on, so put down the pitch forks.)
As I was saying, back in 2003, all my of encounters with Green Lantern had been through comic books. I have always been a huge fan of Hal Jordan, but I was aware of Alan Scott, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, and Kyle Rayner. But to me, the Green Lantern I was always a fan of was Hal Jordan, I had read about him most of my childhood, working with The Green Arrow, protecting Earth, he was just The Green Lantern I grew up with, he was “MY” Green Lantern.
Now It was around this time I found myself in a department store in the toy section that I noticed that there was an African American Green Lantern figure on one of the pull pegs, and it made me pause for a moment and pick it up. The name on the packaging was “John Stewart”, gone was the cool curly hair I had known him to have, but he was there among figures of Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl, and all of them had the Justice League Logo on the box. So I smiled and said “Well this is cool, they took Hal out of the JLA line up I normally thought of as canon and put John Stewart in.”
Even then I was a big fan of everyone feeling like they were represented in comics so a character in an ensemble cast of superheroes who was African American was great to me. This guy had a magic ring… (We can get technical and say it is an advanced technology created by the the Guardians of the Universe but I am, as I have said, an “old man”. Smart phones are still magic to me, so for the purposes of this conversation we are going to call it a magic ring, if you feel like arguing the point by all means, leave comments or what have you.) … and could easily hold his own alongside Superman and Batman making him there equal, so if anything I felt like it would give more kids who were at the time knee deep in pokemon cards and such romping around the comic shop like it was some make shift daycare a reason to feel connection to a character in comics and it would, with any luck, entice more than a few of them to pick up a comic.
I recall crutching, I was still on crutches at the time the whole wheel chair thing had not happened yet, into the local comic shop and saying to one of the many “Comic Elders”… (Old Guys who had been collecting since Golden Age) … “They put John Stewart in the Justice League cartoon, I saw one of his figures in the store, that is pretty cool.”
Rather than my happiness being reciprocated I was met with a stern look, followed by an eye roll, then that sound people make when they suck their teeth, what followed next confused me a bit. The “Comic Elder” proceeded to tell me how “wrong” it was that they chose “John Stewart” for the line up, that it was a cop out on the part of DC comics and Warner Brothers to put a “Black Guy” in the show so they would not catch any “Bad Press” from “Black People” over the fact there was not a “Black Person” in the show.
I was mortified. I thought, this guy who I had talked about all manor of comic theory into the early hours of the morning was being really dumb. I asked him why he was saying these things and he told me he had read them on the internet. I did not have my own computer at the time, so the internet was a magic place that people went to download pictures of naked ladies and argue over episodes of Star Trek, but he assured me this was the reason that Bruce Timm had given at a panel at SDCC.
It was not until years later that in my curiosity I looked into this and found this…
Excerpts from the Justice League Panel at the 2001 San Diego Comic Con:
Bruce Timm: “He’s the most controversial character so far from what we’ve been gathering on the Internet. When the show’s lineup was first announced, there were a lot of people saying, “Why aren’t they using Hal Jordan? No, it’s got to be Guy Gardner. No, it’s got to be Kyle Rayner.” Obviously, we picked the wrong one, but the reason we did choose John Stewart are various—I think they’re all valid. Right off the bat, I’ll just say it: you know we did need ethnic diversity in the Justice League. We felt that the show is going to be seen worldwide and I think having a member of the Justice League who is not just “Mr. White Bread” is a good thing.”
Crazy right, how different the tone is from what this “Comic Elder” had said.
In my humble opinion I do not think it had much to do with members of the African American community scaring a multi million dollar cash machine making cartoons to push countless iterations of plastic toys on kids. I do not think that just going off Bruce Timm’s words there was a demand from the Darkseid level powers of Warner Brothers that they HAD to chose “John Stewart”. If you look at what Mr. Timm had said “…we picked the wrong one…” WE PICKED…. PICKED… it was a choice, they made a choice, they could have gone any direction they wanted with this one, but the people in charge of the show made a choice, and they chose John Stewart because they thought it was a “good thing”.
So, there you have it, a bunch of people not happy because who they wanted to be the animated Green Lantern was not the guy they picked. Meanwhile you have a bunch of people who are now paying attention to a character they may have otherwise overlooked because every kid (and lets face it, most adults.) who watches a cartoon or reads a comic book on some level wants to be a superhero in some way, and an African American guy that can sling buzz saws and beams of light pulling Superman and Wonder Woman out of a tight spot its a positive role model and someone for kids to look up to regardless of his skin color.
Representation works really cool in that way, if you feel like you’re represented you are quicker to gravitate towards and character because they look like you, and maybe they come from the same walk of life you do, or at least on a very personal level, they have to deal with things you have to deal with on a day to day basis.
Now, lets jump ahead a few years to 2010. Warner Brothers announced that they’re going to do a Green Lantern Movie, Superhero movies are making a HUGE splash at the box office, everyone is stoked a Green Lantern flick is coming out and its announced that a guy by the name of Ryan Reynolds is going to be playing Hal Jordan in the Green Lantern film.
I was not a fan of Ryan Reynolds as an actor, but then again I did not think Christian Bale could pull off Batman, and after watching Batman Begins I was the first to admit I was very, very, very, wrong.
So, as normal, I was in a comic shop, and I heard one of the kids… (This guy was maybe 18 years old, but at this point I was 28 and everyone under the age of 25 was a kid to me, I am an “old man” I have said this already, I may only be 31 years of age, but I tend to react like a grumpy old man in almost every situation. This has a few exceptions including but not limited to : New DC comics animated movies, things that involve Gorilla Grodd, and Hershey Kisses.) …come in talking with one of his friends and he said “Its so messed up that they white washed Green Lantern.”
I was confused as to what the term “White Washed” ment, so I asked the kid what he was talking about.
The kid and his friend start launching into a conversation about how Green Lantern is a Strong Black Man, and just like in the Avatar : The Last Airbender movie they changed the leading character of the movie from there ethnicity to a white guy. I was confused, and as normally happens when I get confused, I started to ask question so I could better understand. It went downhill quickly devolving into one of them saying “You’re just a white guy, you would not understand our struggle.”
I responded with “Guys, I am not saying I understand much of anything, but I do know comics, and I telling you, Hal Jordan is a white dude, so they cast a white dude to play him.”
I was then told that by one of the kids that they had to make the Green Lantern one of the “White” Green Lanterns because “White Dudes” would be pissed if they put a powerful Black Man in the lead role of a superhero movie.
I brought up Blade, got laughed at, and the conversation shifted to me talking about how much I loved Blade 2 because of the Del Toro commentary track (An amazing commentary if you have not listened to it I really urge you to check it out, its beyond funny and I do not think I have watched Blade 2 without the commentary on more than once or twice since I got it on DVD just because I enjoy the movie with the commentary so much better.)
But the conversation got me thinking, and this brings me back to the whole Conversation of Continuity. These kids grew up with John Stewart as there Green Lantern just like I had grown up with Hal Jordan as my Green Lantern. To them, there first Green Lantern, and the only Green Lantern they had known in there 18 or so years of life had been an African American. They had gotten into comics after watching the Justice League cartoon, and with the constant reinvention of the characters, they, like so many comic readers, just accepted what was on the page as current continuity and had grown up reading comics, but knowing in there heart of hearts that the green lantern they would call “MY” Green Lantern was not a white guy, but a black dude.
I have written a lot, meandered here and there, and touched on some subjects that may or may not have caused a bit of irritation with some of you, so I am going to close out this post right now. Don’t worry, I will be back next week to continue this conversation, but before I go I want to leave you with something to think about.
Have you ever corrected someone on there comic knowledge? Have you ever gotten angry when a representation of what you would consider “YOUR” version of a character has been changed to something outside your understanding of the history of the character? I know I have, I am not above doing this, there are many things that have happened in comics throughout my life that have gotten me down right angry because they drastically changed a character from the character I grew up with knowing and loving.
I am no one important, I am just a guy writing a column, but I am going to ask you all to do something for me, next time someone says something about comics that you want to correct. Before you jump to the defensive or take the opportunity to “school” someone on how little they know. Ask them why they think or feel that way first. You may learn something knew about comics, about a fellow comic fan, and about yourself.