It’s Not Easy Being Green.
Most of this post is going to have to do with a current “controversy” over the portrayal of Green Lantern in “Justice League 3001”, a “DCYou” post-Convergence book. That’s her in the final panel. I think that she came out great in color…even though I am still far from mastering markers.
The text of today’s post, however, is about things going on at the Edu-Mountain. That seemed like a better way to go, than some forced dialogue about the Guy Gardner Controversy, such as it is. Let’s get into the dialogue first, and briefly then. After that, the research project/essay will ensue about Justice League 3001.
As I mentioned in a prior post, a friend of mine who is a very talented and motivated English teacher interviewed at the Edu-Mountain, with the goal of escaping the school where I used to teach. She is one of the few people that I know still left there, and tells me that the state of decline can only be called “profound.” The interview went well, and there was only one obstacle at the end to the transfer.
A Teacher Initiated Transfer of that kind needs to be signed off on by the Principal of the school that you are leaving. This is to prevent schools from having staffing problems, which it is only to clear that my old school is now suffering. As a result, at the time, the document that would allow her to leave the Negative Zone is unsigned, and a position at the Edu-Mountain remains unfilled. Unless something clever can be done, or happens, things will remain that way, according to the Office of Unfathomable Bureaucracy.
Needless to say, my friend is upset and disappointed, and needs someone like Guy Gardner to fly to the Office of Unfathomable Bureaucracy to fix it.
Bringing us to the point of today’s post, which I have been sort of building up to for months, as the “controversy” unfolded. Justice League 3001 is a continuation/jumping on point for Justice League 3000. Both books are set a thousand years in the furture, where the universe is a mess. Clever scientists come up with a means of putting the DNA of superheroes (the Justice League) into volunteers, but the process isn’t too great. They wind up having the volunteers’ personalities disappear, the memories of the heroes incomplete or wrong, and problems with their powers. All in all, the book is intended to be somewhat humorous.
In JL3001, the process is used to replace the Hal Jordan Green Lantern with the Guy Gardner Green Lantern. Since anyone who has the power ring can be Green Lantern, that’s no big deal…and apparently, there is some way to reproduce the ring. Guy is a character who plays well for comedy, being a stereotypical 80’s archetype: Rambo mentality, super macho, kind of misogynistic. Very easy for the other characters to dislike and have conflict with, despite a “heart of gold.”
Since the DNA process is imperfect, the thought process to play that for comedy was “What if Guy Gardner, this incredibly sexist person, were reincarnated (more or less) in the body of an attractive woman? With all of his memories perfectly intact?” It’s a clever situation comedy idea, and plays pretty simple for humor.
It’s also important to get that the “Superman” in that comic is portrayed as a boorish idiot…sort of a C student fraternity brother with Superman’s powers. His commentary in issue number one sparked a huge internet debate about how the creative team portrayed Transgender people, because it was intended (the team has said this) to convey that the character is in fact, sort of a jerk. That commentary included that “with a tush like that,” Guy had to be a woman, that the biology of Guy’s body completely defines his current gender, and so forth. Let’s take a look at a bit:
So the conversation went as you might expect with idiots, unable to see a distinction between biological gender and mental gender, even a thousand years into the future. Some, however, were perturbed to see such opinions coming from ANY Superman’s mouth, and made their concern vocal on Twitter, including writer M.J. Feuerborn. J.M. DeMatteis, one of the creative team, got involved in the twitter debate, apologized as the intent was not to offend anyone, and reflectively thought about interpreting the character differently moving forward.
That’s kind of a big deal, that the creative team was immediately accessible, and willing to take direct input. DeMatteis was even apologetic about having not mastered the vocabulary of the trans community, which given his age, is definitely not in his day to day vocabulary of usage.
So…I get part of the problem. The intended humor comes from the fact that Gardner’s personality, which is unchanged, is hyper masculine, to a humorous degree. However, Gardner is immediately shown to be highly feminized, with a chest-clutching top, exposed midriff, and extremely long green-painted fingernails. Superman, who proudly accepts the label “jackass” later in the issue, starts the conversation off by openly objectifying Gardner, asserting that their body is too attractive to be male when Flash problematically asks, “You do realize she’s a man?”
Interestingly, even the counterpoint (“she’s a man”) is misgendering (if we are really being sensitive to Guy, it should be “He’s a man”) and seeks only to stop the flirtation rather than correct the misinterpretation of Gardner’s identity.
It’s a subtle point to no trans people, but to the transgender community, it is huge. For the first time ever, I have two transgender students, and they visibly flinch when a wrong gender pronoun is used with respect to them. It’s obviously insulting, in a way that the habits of language (especially for teenagers) don’t easily accommodate. I can see how having that misusage in a published comic by professional, long time writers, might sting when received by fan that is transgendered.
As the comic goes on, we see more of Gardner’s behavior and presentation. He appears to be, despite cloned, the “same old Guy” — aggressive, masculine body language and all. Despite this, he’s drawn as feminine-presenting, from his costume fulfilling comics’ usual superherione stereotypes (gotta bare some skin!), to his long nails. Since these fashion choices are just that…choices…we have a contradiction. Why doesn’t Guy wear his old uniform, with some tailoring? I honestly don’t see him sitting down to get his nails painted green…it would be different if the point were that Gardner was going to identify as a woman after all, but it’s clear, four issues in, that this is not the case. In fact, in a recent issue, we get this:
I think that this is where the book, and the character, are having/causing such a hassle. Guy Gardner is not really transgender, as he has been forcibly body swapped. A critical part of being transgender is choice and agency; if, when, and how you transition is up to you. Guy willfully identifies as male, which would be fine to everyone, I think, if his artistic rendition were not at odds with his willful masculine identification.
A good deal of attention has been paid to dialogue choices. For example…
Is Guy Gardner, a man now in a woman’s body, now changing how he talks due to a gender identity crisis? It doesn’t seem so, because the dialogue toggles back and forth, either willful masculinity or sudden identification with the female gender. Superman saying “Us girls?” is pretty much denying Gardner his female gender, should he embrace it. The implication is ‘you’re no girl’….but the previous dialogue from Superman insists that Guy is a woman, entirely because his body is female.
I’ll agree…it’s an inconsistent mess. I don’t think it was ever intended as offensive though, although plenty of things offend without intending to.
Still…a counterpoint, if I may?
There are precious few transgender characters in comics at all. More often than not, those characters are worse stereotypes than we are seeing here, killed off as a plot point, or a train wreck like the villainous “Dagger Type” in recent Batgirl issues. The last character with roughly the same plotline to headline their own major book was “Mantra” from Malibu Comics, in the early 90’s. The Mantra outfit made Guy’s ensemble above look positively masculine, by the way.
My point is…the execution is muddled, but here we have a real phenomena of forward motion. An A-List Transgender superhero. Green Lantern, in a relatively successful book, for that matter. I feel like that is getting lost in the shuffle of the terribly inconsistent execution.
To me, the writing feels a whole lot like early issues of “Luke Cage: Hero For Hire,” which is why I’m trying to take a long view toward progress with the character and concept. The early issues of “Luke Cage” are great, and I am very fond of them…but they are what they are. John Romita and Archie Goodwin were giving the equivalent of John Shaft with super powers, writing from what they knew as outsiders of the African American culture of the time. There are more than a few stereotypes, and one would be hard pressed to say that the book in that form would be okay today, except as a period piece. It did, however, start the idea that those sort of stories could be told, should be told, and had a marketplace.
This rough start could be that sort of thing. Not a perfect start, but something. I did some research for this post, and the argument could be made that there are really no transgender superheroes at all in mainstream comics, including Guy Gardner. “TheMarySue,” a pretty excellent web site, makes that point clearly in a post entitled, “The Ten Rules for Making a Transgender Superhero.” Most important to my assertion here is rule number ten…although, Gardner’s presentation in Justice League 3001 fails muster on several of these proposed creative rules. Rule number ten is:
“#10: A transgender superhero should be a positive character. With almost no positive representation in the media for transgender people, this is vital.”
Guy Gardner is a superhero. Regardless of gender status, Gardner stands up for the right thing, even in defiance of his own personality, and especially in defiance of the given rules of any situation. The character is Green Lantern, which everybody has heard of, as a space hero of some considerable awesomeness. It seems to me that rule number ten is pretty well handled, and maybe, just maybe, that’s a start.
Of the Green Lanterns, Guy has always been my favorite of the main part of the ensemble cast. Arisia is pretty cool too, but she is really more of a “walk on” character who moves in and out of the mythos. Since the eighties, Guy has been a consistent A or B list character, often carrying a comic book title. That being said, after careful consideration, “Justice League 3001” Guy Gardner is now my favorite Green Lantern.
Marvel Comics showed that diversity can be both done right and be popular – it’s my understanding that Ms. Marvel is not only one of Marvel’s top-selling digital comics, but it’s also one of the highest-selling comics in print. Comics aren’t just white straight dudes punching other white straight dude through buildings anymore…but don’t freak out! No one is taking that away from you, either. There are still plenty of white supermales beating each other down in the streets.
The key problem that I see here, that gets such a strong reaction, is that the times, the fan base of comics, and our expectations of content are changing. Times are changing, yes, but progress is slow, and the publishers don’t have enough internal diversity to always get things right. J.M. DeMatteis is a good guy who is trying to take constructive criticism, but just like the creators of Luke Cage, he is an outside from the community that he inadvertently offended.
Still, the creative team got something hugely right, according to TheMarySue article’s rule number eight. Despite all of the criticism…pretty valid, of Guy’s costuming and grooming choices…it could have been way worse. WAY worse. If the creative team were looking to make A Point about Diversity, they could have cone full TG, and broken rule number eight, which is: “Transgender superheroes should not be dressed in a way that shows they are transgender. Clothing in and out of uniform should be normal, mainstream superhero clothing.” Normal superhero clothing is a funny enough concept, but it means that hey…you don’t need to be Captain Transgender. Your uniform doesn’t have to have the transgender flag colors, nor do you need the transgender symbol on it.
Given the lines of the Guy Gardner 3001 costume, that would have been EASY to do. Put the symbol where the Lantern logo is…and the vest already has division into green strips, which could just as easily be blue, pink, and white color strips…
…we didn’t get that. Thankfully. (Although now, I kind of want to draw it.)
So…it’s not all bad.
Still…to highlight what all of the artistic debate is about, and image comparison. This first image is the costume that was chosen…no turtleneck shirt under the vest, and the vest cropped like a short, midriff bearing bodice or corset. No chunky make power ring, but fingerless gloves to show off her feminine green nails. For a character that is identifying as male, with an infinite wardrobe possibility, this does seem suspect. Let’s look.
How could this have been done, and basically done away with the criticisms of the art…possibly very well founded criticisms? Well, thankfully, we have the Internet. A quick search let me put together a “before and after” image of Guy’s traditional, dated, old school 80’s look, and what that same outfit would look like on a woman, with no changes except, of course, for size. Looking at that in comparison does highlight some of the issue here, because aside from the tailoring, it’s the same outfit…and if Guy is identifying as male, it is sensible that he would choose the same outfit. Lets look.
So…there you have it. It think that the second costume is more likely for a character that says things like “I’m gonna educate you. Right into traction,” and “are you sure you want my attention? ‘Cause one more word — and I will staple your tongue to your forehead.” Possibly that kind of attitude is why I have always had affection for the character.
I think that a recent issue actually addresses the character’s simplicity of approach to the current plot, in precisely the terms that the person who says the things above would use:
It’s… it’s basically just Guy. And whatever effects, influences, pressures upon him that his change is making upon him – he remains Guy. And is determined for that not to change.
That being said, I’m off to paint my nails green, and draw a bit.