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.
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.