Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sir! Step Away From the Pulpit!

For this, my 250th post, I have chosen one of my favorite targets. Someone recently interviewed by the "New York Times:

When I get gripes for my need to force my social agenda into comics, I always ask: which social agenda are you complaining about? Is it the gay people? Or the black people or the Asian people?

Why does he remind me of the guy at work who, when I mentioned reading a bad review of Crash, told me the reviewer must have been racist?

Wherein I will probably piss a few people off...

Anyway, even I must admit, this is a skilled answer. This is the answer Judd Winick uses to shame criticism of his writing skill away. It's like saying "How dare you not like my stories, you racist! You homophobe! Your wish for escapism is a really a wish for a white Christian heterosexual only society!" It makes us feel bad and keep buying. It's meant to give him attention. He takes your question, and answers it with a question. He steels himself as the Great Defender of Diversity, and as such doesn't need to entertain the option that he's not a good enough writer to deserve all those GLAAD awards on his wall.

I may be presuming too much, but it certainly doesn't mean what it says. Because Judd Winick does indeed write with a social agenda. He wrote Green Lantern with a social agenda. He's claiming, in the above quote, to simply being inclusive, but there's a difference between a social agenda and being inclusive. Bringing in diverse characters just to have a more diverse cast, and a different range of plot opportunities is being inclusive. Bringing in diverse characters so that you can use them to draw attention to specific unpleasant realities of our society, and attempt to teach tolerance in this manner, is a social agenda.

Holly in Catwoman, Damon and Todd in Manhunter. Josiah and Rupert in the Power Company. The writers using these characters are being inclusive. There are there, they are part of the story, they have not been used to teach anyone a lesson. They are all homosexual, but it's not something that is brought up in every appearance (except for Todd, who counts as a "Significant Other" character at the moment -- his relationship to Damon is his tie to the cast). They are not brought in specifically to point out that they are gay. Their sexual orientations have an effect on their individual plotlines, but as supporting characters their individual plotlines do not overcome the main plot of the book (Batwoman will be different in this aspect). They are not singled out of hurt specifically because they are different from the main characters or the characters in other books. They are individuals, not stand-ins for the entirety of the LGBT community. They are not simply mouthpieces for their creator's views on social injustice.

Terry Berg in Green Lantern. The writer who introduced this character had a social agenda. He was introduced and once outed, he regularly appeared to discuss the difficulties of being a teenaged gay person and teach us about how difficult it is for some kids to be in the closet. Whenever he shows up, the conversations revolves around him and his difference. A few months after his introduction and outing, he is beaten to a bloody pulp to show us the Evils of Prejudice. He's the victim of a Hate Crime, because he's the only character in the book who could be the victim of that particular crime. Once that happens, his plotline completely overtakes the main character's storyline, and is the catalyst for the main character uncharacteristically leaving the planet. This character was brought in specifically to teach the readers a lesson. Terry Berg was not a character in his own right. Terry was a stand-in for all members of his minority. He speaks generically, and so speaks for all gay teens on the planet. He was a throwawa character. A plot device. He was a voice through which the Great and Enlightened Winick could speak and educate us, the poor masses.

Now, there's nothing wrong with stories that teach a lesson. Parables and such. Some of the best stories are ones that teach.

Here's the thing, though. There has to be a story involved, not just a bunch of people bemoaning the state of today's world. There have to be characters there, not caricatures. The story can't just be written, it has to be written with skill and understanding. Winick has written both Green Lantern and Green Arrow, both characters with a history social agenda. In the seventies, Denny O'Neill penned some ground-breaking and downright courageous stories with morals about environmentalism, racial equality, corruption and greed. He even took a shot (and sadly, missed) at writing Feminism. Taking this legacy to heart, Winick has used his pen to draw attention to gay rights, racial diversity, and HIV. He has also sadly missed at writing Feminism, but not to worry, he's missed with all the others too. You see, Judd Winick has nowhere near the subtle preaching touch of Denny O'Neill.

I'm not kidding.

I was talking to the old manager at my LCS about the "Brother's Keeper" storyline, and naturally, it turned into a Judd Winick trash-talking-fest. He was hung up on a single scene. A scene with Alan Scott in a gay bar. Thankfully, this scene escapes my mind. Anyway, apparently Alan was perfectly comfortable. At a gay bar.

Alan Scott.

At a gay bar.

This sounded off to me too.

I can see Wildcat, Dian Belmont, Wonder Woman, or Black Canary at a gay bar. Totally comfortable, dancing, having a great time. They were the cool people.

But Alan Scott or Jay Garrick? The straight-laced, buttoned all-the-way-to-the-top, Mr White America poster boys for the Greatest Generation?

Oh, come on!

And throughout Green Lantern, I noticed a pattern. Everyone, except for Terry's father (who came off poorly and said mean things to Kyle) and the guys who beat him up, were all perfectly alright with being gay.

Hey, no problem, right? I mean, nobody's giving Holly or Damon grief, right?

Well, here's the thing: A) Alan Scott. That's a lot of lost comedic potential there. He couldn't at least have made him a bit stuffy (Andreyko has him calling Damon "Todd's friend" over in Manhunter, which sounds much better) and B) This is, no matter what Winick claims, a social agenda story. He's teaching. He's preaching. If he wasn't, Terry's orientation would be a background thing, never the point of a major plot. There's a reason he brought gay-bashing into this, and it was to affect the reader's attitudes.

And in order to do that effectively, you must first respect, going in, that Other People Have Different Attitudes. I don't mean knowing this. I mean respecting this. You have to understand that people are raised with prejudices, prejudices are difficult to overcome, and ignorance, preconcieved notions based on superficial qualities like sexual orientation, race, and gender do not automatically make somebody Evil. It only makes them wrong about this.

So, you can actually have a superhero who might, due to the society he was raised in, feel uncomfortable in an unfamiliar setting -- like a gay bar. It's all right, it doesn't make him evil, it just means he needs to learn. You might even get a tension-breaking joke or two out at his expense.

And, since this is a social agenda story, you're writing this to teach a lesson. It might help if the people you want to teach can see themselves in the story.

That's where Green Lantern/Green Arrow worked in the Seventies. The two main characters were a hypocrite and a racist. A blatant hypocrite and blatant racist. But they were good guys at heart, and open to learning. As the series moved forward, they changed and grew, they learned. Sometimes the lesson took, sometimes it didn't. But through Hal, the reader didn't get defensive. The hero of the story had the same attitudes to overcome. He clearly wasn't a bad person. The story wasn't about telling him he was a bad person, the story was about becoming a better person. Most stories ended with some small progress made, if only some personal understanding gleaned from the experience. And there was beautiful, beautiful art (depicting a pair of beautiful, beautiful men).

But Green Lantern: Brother's Keeper had nothing to that effect. The closest we had was a grieving, guilt-ridden father who tried to cast blame all over the place and came off as a pathetic broken man trapped by his prejudices. The Hero in that story, solely acting as the writer's voice, treats him to a stern lecture and shakes his head. No one learns anything, because everyone worth anything already knew. The bad guys don't learn anything, they just get beat up. The father doesn't learn anything, he just gets shamed to silence. The good guys don't learn anything, they just feel sad and disgusted with humanity. The reader doesn't learn anything. The reader either already knew, or gets defensive and closes herself to the moral. There is nothing of value to take from the story, because the valuable lesson isn't offered to anyone who needs it.

And the writer gets an award.

And has the nerve, when the value of the story is questioned, to fling the accusation of 'Homophobe!' back at the critic. To shame the critic into silence.

When it wasn't the critic who created a gay character specifically to represent his minority, so that he could be violently beaten and used to teach a lesson that will not be recieved by anyone who hasn't already learned it.

This sort of story is pointless. By polarizing the characters, by turning the issue to a set black and white issue, you polarize the audience. You divide people instead of unite them.

These issues should be black and white. There should be no tolerance for intolerance, but let's face it, as much as we like to label people, people are not black and white. In order to teach, the story much reach the proper audience. The proper audience is varied, and beautiful, and painted by a variety of attitudes that they've picked up throughout their rich lives. Prejudice is present, and it's rarely overcome. It's more often overwhelmed by shame and hidden. It needs to be brought into the open, acknowledged and replaced with real knowledge. It's a complicated process, and if you do it wrong, the prejudice is just buried in denial and shame. People are complex, the situation is complex, and that takes care to handle.

I was told, before I bought the collections, that Green Lantern/Green Arrow was heavy-handed. It wasn't. There was a lot of preaching, a lot of preaching, but the mouthpiece's hypocrisy and humanity was clear to see when it was relevant. He was sometimes right, he was sometimes wrong. There were two sides to every story, with the heroes regularly squaring off against each other, but neither side was overwhelmed with malice. The introduction of John Stewart (which was both inclusive and a social agenda story -- introducing more black characters to the DC stable and telling a story about tolerance at once -- whew!). The basic plot was Black Man and White Man have to learn to deal with each other. The story was black and white, but with shades of gray. There was a good cop and a bad cop. There was an evil racist politician, spewing hideous hatred at the masses, and wallowing in corruption. There were two heroes who disagreed. Both were heroes, one was undeniably racist (though he hoped he'd learned not to be), the other was his student and forced to deal with him. The good cop stayed the bad cop's hand. The student showed the teacher he was up to the task when he proved that the politician was evil. The heroes agreed at the end. Some small progress was made and people's attitudes and involuntary reactions, even those that were in the wrong, were respected as not the extent of their character. The characters got to learn and grow.

If your characters don't learn and grow with your readers, odds are your readers aren't learning or growing. Which makes a teaching story, a preaching story, pointless. Anyone who doesn't see themself in the story will get up and leave. Anyone who can see the story is pointless, and that they already know the moral, and that they won't be entertained, will get up and leave. All that you are left with is people who know the moral, but can't tell the story has no point. They feel they've witnessed a great lesson, and don't understand why no one new learned it. They congregate, and share the great lesson with each other, and wonder why others haven't learned it.

Basically, you're left preaching to the choir.

In which case, you should just close your hymnal and sit back down.

Or better yet, tell something fun and light, that's inclusive without needing to impart the lesson. Take a page from Gail Simone, Marc Andreyko, or Ed Brubaker. Throw a cute samesex couple in the story and get on with the plot!

And don't have anyone beat up just because they're different anymore.


  1. Well, you didn't piss me off. I was going "wow, that makes sense" the whole time. Guess that's because you're a better writer than Winick.

  2. Most fanboyish comment possible to what is probably the most effective persuasive writing I've seen this month:

    I could see Alan being out-and-out uncomfortable at a gay bar, but I imagine Jay trying very hard to be comfortable. He's such an affable guy, but things like gay bars and gay subculture are probably so far outside his frame of reference that he'd feel out of place.

  3. This is a fantastic post. It's got me putting the Lantern/Arrow collections back on my "to buy" list. That list changes by the hour.

    I'm in complete agreement here. I don't need preaching I need storytelling. I want to see growth, not random extreme position and back to status quo. Hence my dropping of Civil War. I was ready to give a go. I read the first issue and thought I can do this, then I started to re-read it and said forget it. I can get this message in many other places and be entertained alongside being informed.

  4. I've not read Winick's work, so I have no frame of reference, but in theory I would disagree with social agendas for the sake of social agendas. Granted, most of comics seem to be an agenda of one type or another these days, and perhaps always were, but masking bad writing with politcal correctness is no clever idea.


    Even in the three scans from Green Lantern / Arrow, I have to disagree with your defense of them as not being heavy-handed. That Speedy accusation monologue is almost laughable. The surrounding paragraphs aren't bad, but the pink montage and related hyperbole are nothing but soapbox material that, as you refer to in Winick's gay storyline, purport to speak for all disenfranchised youth and, worse, implicate anyone who isn't helping as being part of the problem.

    Perhaps there's just no subtle way to include politics in comics, or else no one trusts themselves enough to get the point across without making it the text instead of leaving it as subtext.

    Funny, they claim comics are an "adult" medium, but they still lay the politics on thickly enough to be grasped by a 12 year-old from 40 paces. I guess we can't have it both ways in the same book.

  5. I'm not pissed off, but I am sorely confused. Hal is "undeniably racist"? You and I must have radically different definitions of the term.

    I think stdb has made a great point: Funny, they claim comics are an "adult" medium, but they still lay the politics on thickly enough to be grasped by a 12 year-old from 40 paces.

    This explains both this issue and the previous "Asian-American character" issue. For most of their history, mainstream American comics were written for children. The best that can be said for their current state is that they are "in transition". While it is valid to criticize them for lacking subtlety (something they must overcome in order to make the transition to being true general-appeal literature), it shouldn't be surprising that they do lack subtlety.

  6. Nice post. I agree with most of your points. (I don't think O'Neil's GL/GA was very good, but it was better than recent attempts at relevence.)

    To play devil's advocate, I do have one defense for Winick's statement. I kinda do see where he was coming from when he said this, as I've ventured into the realms of people who object to gay characters existing in comics, except as guys planning to rape Bruce Banner, a world I'm sure Winick is fully immersed. I think he's more reacting to people who think teaching high school students about Harvey Milk requires denigrating heterosexuality and that policies against bullying gay students (or, more importantly, presumably gay students) is a few steps from making The Joy of Gay Sex required reading in the eighth grade.

    I'm not saying that he's right, you break down the problems with Winick's writing and his statement very well. I just think he's reacting to the shrillest critics and forgetting that some of his critics may have more reasoned perspectives. It's hard to get nuance through the kind of seething I'm sure Winick's getting.

    Side note, according the the rumor mill, the Terry Berg story was an idea Ron Marz started that never made it into the book before he moved to CrossGen. I wonder if the story would've been any different under Marz, though I didn't care for his GL/GA crossovers.

    Also, I actually found Crash to be kinda racist.

  7. Lovely post Ragnell, I don't have the ire toward Judd Winick that you do, but the Terry storyline *was* poorly done.

    I'm not pissed off, but I am sorely confused. Hal is "undeniably racist"? You and I must have radically different definitions of the term.

    In early Green Lantern, Hal *is* very clearly racist. ("Pieface", his interaction with John). He's not a card carrying KKK member or anything like that. He doesn't *hate* people of other races. But he definitely begins with a set of prejudged notions and assumptions about people of other races.

    He's also quite sexist early on as well, as is evidenced by a lot of his behavior toward Carol, Dinah, and other female heroes.

    Now the important thing about this is that he got this behavior called on. Ollie, Tom/"Pieface", John, even the Guardians (when Hal expresses skepticism about the choice of John as replacement). Carol or Dinah get to call him on being sexist. And in the end, Hal, not being a genuinely malicious or closed-minded person, comes out learning something by the end of the day. He's just a guy who got taught a few wrong things and is unlearning them along the way.

    But I'd be surprised anyone could look at the scene in which Hal meets Tom Kalmaku for the first time and not see Hal as being undeniably racist.

    That Speedy accusation monologue is almost laughable.

    I think that's her point. As laughable and over-the-top as O'Neil's politicking was, Winick's is possibly even worse. At least with O'Neil you didn't get the chance that he was spending more time trying to think of a way to get another award rather than write his story.

  8. This is a nice rant. Winick's soap-box stories do not deserve defense, but at the same time, I see 2 problems with your argument:

    1. As stdb pointed out, your witness to the defense (the GL/GA stories) is just as bad as the accused (Winick's GL) when it comes to preachiness.

    Those stories were not only heavy-handed, they were also *extremely* tilted toward the far-left sensibility of Denny O'Neil...a member of the Peace movement of the time.

    2. As Daniel pointed out, this is incorrect:

    That's where Green Lantern/Green Arrow worked in the Seventies. The two main characters were a hypocrite and a racist. A blatant hypocrite and blatant racist.

    First off...we're *all* hypocrites, usually on many levels. 2nd of all...Green Lantern was not depicted as a racist. The black guy in those panels points out that GL's never done anything specific for the African-American community. Hal acknowledges the truth of this, and calls himself a dummy for it. He then decides he has to do something to change things.

    That doesn't strike me as racist in any fact, it's heroic - he realizes he can do more, and tries.

    Otherwise, a nice rant. Personally, I think Winick should leave his social agendas at the door...or at least make them multi-faceted.

  9. kalarina:

    In early Green Lantern, Hal *is* very clearly racist. ("Pieface", his interaction with John). He's not a card carrying KKK member or anything like that. He doesn't *hate* people of other races. But he definitely begins with a set of prejudged notions and assumptions about people of other races.

    Wow. Pieface - Tom's nickname - wasn't intended to be deregatory. (Even though that by today's standards, it most certainly is.)

    But back in 1960, it wasn't seen that way...otherwise they simply wouldn't have used it. Let's remember...the guy that wrote that series ended up teaching English in Japan; I doubt he had a problem with Asians. And the larger point is that Tom was a heroic character and a true friend to GL. GL goes out of his way to help Tom help his people. And Tom was the only person he trusted his secret identity with. That doesn't sound like racism - in the least - to me.

    A nickname that doesn't hold up 40 years later aside, the comraderie, friendship and trust displayed between Hal and Tom make the label of racism incorrect in context.

    Also...Hal was not racist towards John in any way either. He expressed a valid concern: That the chip on John's shoulder could make for bad a space cop. Hal even tells John that his style bugged him at first. But that didn't stop them from becoming great friends, though, did it? Obviously not racism.

    In short:

    1. Context is key.
    2. Actions always speak loudest.

  10. I haven't read any of Judd's superhero work. But it's disappointing that the man behind "Pedro & Me" seems to have forgotten how to tell a good story about a social issue without letting that agenda overshadow his plot or characters. It is understandable that these are issues he cares about. But having an axe to grind is hardly a defense for poor writing, regardless of one's intent.

    [That said, I think you took his quote a bit out of context: it sounds to me like he's responding to people who complain about his social agenda being worked into his writing, rather than those critizing his writing skills. It's possible he's equally defensive about literary criticisms of his work, but that's not what that quote sounds like it's about to me.]

    P.S. Congrats on hitting 250 posts. :-)

  11. Thanks Ragnell!

    Yet again you have assured me that I'm not alone in the universe :) I'd go into all the stuff I agreed with you on but I recently posted on a similar subject so I'm pretty typed out on the matter.

    I will say that Denny O'Neil did a much better job with such matters and I love the point you made about haivng the characters grow as to not make the reader feel on the defensive. Readers don't want to feel as if they're bad people and that's how a lot of current comincs seem to approach the subject. Growing with your heroes makes much more sense and gives people the comfort of learning from the characters they empathize with. Fantastic post!

  12. anonymous:

    Actually as I recall, in one of the early issues where "Pieface" got his nickname, he was actually quite angry about it. He ended up tolerating it for the sake of their friendship.

    Later, he even says that Hal is the only person that he will allow to use the nickname, because Hal's moved past his initial assumptions, it's now a sign of their friendship.

    But the fact that Tom is very insistant that only Hal use the name, and his initial reaction...

    Besides, it doesn't *matter* if it's not considered derogatory by the terms of the 1960. It's still a name centered around a racial characteristic. The fact that it was in common use is indicative of "institutionalized racism." It's still racism.

    Which makes Hal an even more powerful character in the end, because he moves *past* it. Rather than how pointless it would have been if he'd never been like that at all.

  13. My problem with the "Brother's Keeper" storyline is that it was about Kyle, not Terry; Terry's nothing but a catalyst for Kyle's story, which is bad enough, and made worse because Kyle's story is really, really boring: He's mad and angry and he goes too far and that makes him more mad but in a different way and, look, Terry's still in a coma.

    Gee, that's some great comics there.

    The story I want to see is the one where Terry faces some sort of less dramatic but more common discrimination or social problem or family dispute and, thanks to the fact that he's been hanging out with a superhero, Terry's able to deal with it creatively and successfully when he wasn't able to do so in a similar situation in the past. Make KYLE the catalyst for TERRY's story, not the other way around. Hell, tell the story in such a way that Kyle never knows what happened, but by the last page, Green Lantern's friendship and trust made it possible for Terry to be a better and stronger person.

    It's not as flashy and it won't get scads of media coverage, but it would be a hell of a better story, and one that would resonate with just about anyone who loves super-hero comics.

  14. Great post. I think Winick is still learning as a writer, but has been heavy handed and the "Terry" story was bad.

    I will disagree and join with those who think calling Hal a racist is a misnomer. Hal's attitude and characterization reflect a different era, but he was never a racist as much as he was blind to certain facts. Much of our lives are based on our experiences and if you are never expsoed to something you maybe ignorant, but that does not make Hal a racist.

  15. If you are never expsoed to something you maybe ignorant, but that does not make Hal a racist.

    That's actually the definition of racism. Ignorance (of a race or culture) mixed with arrogance (that what little one knows is all there is to know). How is that not Hal?

    What's funny is everyone agrees on the characterization. We are just arguing the semantics on what to call it. But let's call a spade a spade here... erm....

    But let's call things by their name here.

    Hal Jordan is a Goddamn racist. FACT.

    And he overcame that, learned his lesson, and became friends with the very people he once mistreated! How cool is that?

    Ragnell's POINT is that it's better for the hero, and thus you the audience, to realize you are the flawed one, to confront your own prejudices and flaws, rather than having the problem be them, those people over there, who hate gays and blacks and aliens. Being told you are good and they are evil doesn't teach anyone anything new. It's preaching to the choir at best and pandering at worst.

    Perhaps the problem is that it wasn't a story that could be told with Kyle. He's a raver kid, he lived in the East Village, two of his neighbors were gay. It would be unlikely that he would have much homophobia to confront. So finding out his assistant was gay, or that he would be attacked just because he's gay, wasn't really news to him or the audience.

    Perhaps the story would have worked better with Guy, or Alan, even John, people who haven't had as much exposure to gay people, men who come from more conservative backgrounds, who might have had unexplored prejudices about gay men. If, say, Guy had learned that his new head waiter at Warriors, the man he took to a Yankees game and got drunk with and had a great time with, was gay, then maybe Guy would have learned something, grown a little, something. (Kalinara, I'll expect you'll correct me if I got my characterization of Guy wrong).

    That said, I should I add that I LIKE Winick's writing a lot of the time. This just wasn't one of them.

  16. Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams stories may be a little heavy-handed--or, let's face it, a lot--when it comes to dealing with social issues, but hey, you know what?

    The Wright Brothers' plane didn't fly so good.

  17. rac·ist [ ráyssist ]



    1. based on racism: based on prejudices and stereotypes related to race

    2. prejudiced against other races: prejudiced against all people who belong to other races

    noun (plural rac·ists)


    racist person: somebody who hates others who are not of his or her own race

    Hal is not a racist. He was never portrayed as judging or hating any group due to their race.

  18. Of course Hal didn't hate black people or Eskimos. Or women for that matter. He knew a lot of them. Some of them were nice people.

    Hal was just didn't think a woman or a black man could make a good Green Lantern, or that Tom would mind being called an insulting name based on his race, or that a woman could run a successful aircraft company.

    But he didn't hate them. So he couldn't have been a racist or a sexist.

    Oh no.

  19. I don't know enough back history on Hal to really know if he was a racist or not, but I do agree with this post. It seems that it's been a growing concern for many fans that Winnick is becoming far too preachy too often in his books. However, I did like his run on Batman and have liked his Green Arrow since One Year Later, but even in that title I can see the heavy-handedness begin to overcome the story and characters.

    I think Judd can be an amazing writer at times and I believe it's well within his talent to write these issues into his stories without these issues becoming the story themselves. When he's on, he's on.

  20. I've often wondered about this Winick story, if he'd have done one small thing (which I thought of after having read it) if it would have made any difference in the story.

    In MY version, before Kyle leaves Earth, he visits Terry. While he's there, one of the guys who beat Terry shows up. The guy looks very shamed and very humbled.

    He goes on to apologize to Terry for beating him. And he says that he himself was recently the victim of someone else's hate (Kyle's, from the attack in the jail) and after he was treated for his wounds, came to realize just hoiw wrong he was to have attacked Terry, simply because of his own prejudices and that he could (just like the guy who beat him did).

    Before he leaves, he says that he's going to accept his punishment from the court for what he'd done and hopes that, once he's paid his debt, he can find some way to help others to learn the lesson he had to the hard way.

    After seeing this, of course, Kyle would not leave Earth. He would, instead, focus on his own actions (that of what he did to the guy in jail) and attempt to come to terms with his own sense of prejudice. Learning that, just because you strike out at one wrong, doesn't make your actions "better" than those you are against.

    I wasn't sure if such a scene would have made much of a difference at the time I thought of it. Now, I'm thinking maybe it might have. What do you guys think?

  21. Regarding "Brother's Keeper" as being Kyle's story.

    COME ON. It's Kyle. When Kyle's around, it's all about him.

  22. Denny O'Neill and Preaching -- Kali's right, that was the point. Those two pages with Roy? Every story has a moment like that. A Soapbox moment. But, in the series, the art, the plotting and the characterization is jsut so amazing that the "Very Special" Lectures that come with it are incidental. The moralization is for the character's benefit as well as the readers. (And although it's hard to get over the Christ-figure in the Enivornimentalism story, it's worth it to see him chew out Ollie for using a gas arrow).

    Definition of racism and Hal -- Please note the term "prejudice" -- pre-judgement. Hal's racism isn't malicious or based on hatred, it exists because he makes a judgement based on racial characteristics. The definition's right there, everyone.

    Context is the key -- How's this for context? A High-level telepath outright telling him he's selling John short for petty bigotries? It's on the fifth panel on the page John first appears.

    He says John has a chip on his shoulder, but note John's actions in his intro story. John did something heroic. He stepped in and deflected the attention of an authority figure who was about to unjustly cause harm on a pair of kids. While I agree that this is probably not the best way to approach a policeman, Hal himself would have done this, and probably had considerably more attitude as he did.

    Story being more about Terry than Kyle -- Well, Kyle is a superhero and really, the worst things in the community should be directly attracted to/caused by the superhero and not the civillians. I'd hate to see a supporting cast member take spotlight for too long, but if Terry had a subplot or a single-issue story dedicated to solving a problem Kyle ahd cause, that would have been considerably more interesting than watching Kyle wring his hands.

    James -- While your suggestion sounds good on the initial part, I dislike it because it highlights Kyle having done a very wrong thing. He beat the crap out of these guys, and Kyle's had a few years worth of training by this point. As it stands, you can get an evil pleasure out of it, he beat up bad guys. But if you go and redeem the abd guys he beat up, well...

    Taking Judd out of context -- Well, that's really all he said in the newstory. "When I get gripes for my need to force my social agenda into comics, I always ask.." He doesn't make a distinction for prejudice. Most of the Winick-bashing I've heard from Brother's Keeper is more about not liking the story, Kyle's characterization, and less about introducing a gay character.

    I think I got all the pertinent ones.

  23. To James Meeley: The add-on is noble in theory, but ironically it would have justified Kyle's violent reaction to a violent problem, which, in turn, could (in the wrong hands) be seen as justifying the original crime.

    AKA: "I beat someone up because I hated what they stood for, but after being beaten myself, I realize we're all equal. So, sorry about that, new gay friend, but at least I learned something. Doesn't knowing I (probably) won't do this again make it all worth it?"

    There's a fine line to walk between expanding awareness and vigilante justification for imposing your ideas on others.

    However, I do agree that having this happen to Guy, Hal or Alan would have made it more compelling than to Kyle. I'm quite sure John is used to seeing the effects of discrimination, though juxtaposing racism with hatred based upon sexual orientation is a fascinating concept that few writers would be able to handle subtly. I can hear Winick speed-dialing the Nobel offices now.

  24. This is what I get for posting at the same time as Ragnell herself. Who knew? ;)

  25. Ragnell and stbd: Thanks for your thoughts. I guess I have only one question left for you two. Would MY ending have made "Bother's Keeper" a better story (IYO)? :)

  26. kalarina:

    Umm....*everyone* called Tom Pieface, or Pie for short...not just Hal. Carol Ferris does, heck even Barry Allen does. It was his nickname. If you have one of those handy dandy Showcase GL #13 (or any other story featuring Tom + others).

    DC changed that in the late 1970s or so.

    Like I said, no one would use such a term now. It's insensitive (although people still use it in England, since there it apparently refers to an overweights person). But it was acceptable in the US back then - just like "Jap" was an acceptable description of a Japanese person then, too. It's not acceptable now, any more than "oriental" is. Different world, back then.

    Which was my point about context. Y'know, 50 years from now all your grandkids kids will read old books and watch movies that use the term "black people". And they might just call the writers / actors racists for using an "offensive" term.

    And they'd be wrong for that, too. Because in the context of the era (say late 20th century) was an acceptable term. Context is key.

    Hal and John: You're reading subtext that simply isn't there. I pulled out my GL trades and reread that story. Here we go:

    1. Clearly no telepathy at work here: Firstly, that implies that Hal was lying in his statement that it wasn't his race that bothered him (and remember, in those days, GL simply didn't lie.)

    More importantly, when the Guardian points out that he's not interested in GL's petty bigotries, GL responds:

    Hey - that's not what I meant. Maybe he's brave...honest...and has the right kind of mind... But it's obvious he also has a chip on his soulder the size of the rock of gibraltar.

    Again, his concern is about attitude. And its a valid concern, too. The Guardian acknowedges it as such, by pointing out that while it may end up being a mistake, it's their decision to make.

    2. Hal tells John not to call him "whitey", pointing out the "he who is without sin casting the first stone". This just reinforces Hal's perspective: John does indeed have a chip on his shoulder in this story.

    (by the by...are we raising pitchforks to call John a racist for using such an offensive term? Of *course* not...he gets a free pass. Wow.)

    3. When guarding the racist Senator, Hal points out that the his racist speech is nonsense, and is in fact the price we pay for free speech.

    That's simply not racism.

    So I have to there a prize for wanting Green Lantern to be a racist? If so...what can I win?


  27. Anonymous --

    Pieface: Just because everyone did it, doesn't mean it wasn't racist. That is why DC changed it, and likely why Denny O'Neill took the stance with Hal that he did.

    For the part about the "Jap" slur, see how Roy Thomas delt with the racism in WWII during Young All-Stars #1.

    These cultural evils weren't always swept under the rug and totally retconned away. They were part of the culture back then and thye were called on it later.

    Era Context. I am putting my analysis of Denny O'Neill's GL/GA into context. I'm taking into account the attitudes of the period, and the attitudes before it.

    Hal and John: I very much doubt that subtext was unintentional in a racism story.

    1) What exactly indicates telepathy to you? As I've seen them, the Guardians have always just automatically had insights for the characters.

    Yes, just as Hal routinely lied about his secret identity throughout his career. Green Lanterns were honest, but not totally honest.

    Hal's response is a defensive one, and it's hypocritical. He's defending his insubordination (of saying John was unworthy candidate) by saying that John is insubordinate, and so he is an unworthy candidate.

    His concern is not entirely about attitude.

    2) Or Hal may have been expecting attitude from John and had that sort of answer prepared.

    (Well, first off, we are not raising pitchforks here. We are discussing Hal's attitude and how he is a sympathetic portrayal of someone who is prejudiced by background, but good-hearted and willing to change anyway. Secondly, we were discussing Hal and not John. John's prejudicial slip was immediately called on in-story, where Hal's prejudice is more subtle.)

    3) Yes, Hal points that out. He would have made the same argument with Ollie. Just because Hal defends free speech and condemns an extremist position does not mean that he doesn't have a slight leaning towards that position anyway.

    To use an innocuous analogy, I know a number of Christians who condemn Christian Fundamentalists and defend free speech, yet they still believe in Christ and the God of Abraham. Does not accepting an extremist viewpoint mean they don't agree on some basic beliefs? Not at all.

    (And no, I don't mean to imply that Christianity is bad and wrong, so don't you dare read it that way. I'm using it as an analogy because its a belief system with degrees)

    And you win nothing, as your arguments prove that you want Hal and his viewpoints to be described as anything but racist.

  28. I've read a bit of Green Arrow and Green Lantern, and I never once got the impression that a "social agenda" was being forced on me. Even though Green Arrow has been a little uneven recently, it's still a great comic and I've enjoyed the stories.

    As for Brothers Keeper, I remember when it came out. Matthew Shepard had just been beaten to death in Wyoming. When Terry Berg was beaten, it was not that much of a stretch. A few years ago, one of my own friends was beaten with a baseball bat, in Los Angeles. He is now partially blind and is still suffering from his injuries. The topic was definitely relevent, and Judd Winnick handled it well, I thought.

    Terry Berg was a developed character -- he had his own funny, sarcastic way of phrasing things, when he wasn't being morose, and I always enjoyed his appearances in GL. It's not like the Terry Berg character was abandoned, though he showed up less and less after Kyle's departure. I wish that when, a few issues later, he asked John Stewart to teach him to fight that he would eventually become a GL himself. Now THAT would have made for a really good story.

    I must say that don't get a lot of the criticism levelled at Judd's work. Your post was well-written and articulate, but I don't really understand the point you are making. Whatever reasons Winnick has for making his stories diverse, the end result is usually good. And I don't agree that the characters are being used as soapboxes -- they all seem to be clearly-drawn individuals who behave consistently.

    Now, if I can't understand why Judd Winnick is being criticized for having a "social agenda" -- a dubious term with Limbaughian overtones -- I have to wonder what the REAL reason he's being criticized actually is. The criticism is usually over-the-top and venemous (check out the GA board at DC), and it's almost always delivered in conjunction with a "controversial" subject he's choosen to address. The only reason I can come up with for all the upset is that some people do not agree with his POV. That's fine, and it's okay to say that. It's just not a reason call his qualifications, abilities and character into question.

  29. Era Context. I am putting my analysis of Denny O'Neill's GL/GA into context. I'm taking into account the attitudes of the period, and the attitudes before it.

    I think this is quite important when reading GL/GA. Of course evertyhing is going to sound soapboxyish. Although we still have a long way to go we have made some progress with regards to social issues. At least to the point where GL/GA should sound a bit anachronistic or a bit like preaching to the masses. But at the time it wasn't necessarily the prevalent view point. (Not that it is now either). They needed to be heavy-handed to draw attention to the issues at hand. Or at least that's the way I see it.

  30. Your post was well-written and articulate, but I don't really understand the point you are making.

    The cast was too perfect. Did not represent the full range of experiences it should have.

    Same problem Kalinara had with Roy Thomas and Young All-Stars.