For our very last A to Z post, we’re going back a little in the alphabet, because Sam Zhao was Green Lantern‘s boyfriend. And I want to talk a little bit about that sentence.
In comics, there are a lot of characters in supporting roles, defined only as such-and-such’s girlfriend. Especially in the early days of comics, you’d have a hard time getting away from the Hero, Girlfriend, and Sidekick structure. Think Lois Lane, Carol Ferris, or Jane Foster. Some girlfriends and sidekicks have developed their own lives and stories since then, but even I, who hate this structure, am in the embarrassing position of having to Google the term “Thor’s girlfriend” to remember Jane Foster’s name. These characters are totally dependent on the superhero for their identity. The end point is women in refrigerators, when female (or gay) supporting characters are injured and killed in service of the male superhero’s story. Really, LGBT+ characters die WAY more often than they should be expected to anyway.
There’s an additional, related problem when we’re talking specifically about gay characters, in comics or any other media. The first half of the problem is that an LGB character often has to have a romantic relationship to “prove” to the reader/viewer that the character is in fact lesbian, gay, or bisexual. The character’s word isn’t enough. On the other hand, sometimes creators will let a character be openly gay, but never write them in a relationship or avoid the topic whenever possible. I’m sure it sounds like I’m impossible to please on this, but the key is in the creator’s attitude — I don’t want to be othered, but I also don’t want to be ignored.
For a while, it looked like the Sam Zhao subplot had all these problems. DC announced the new Green Lantern (Alan Scott) would be gay, so of course they had to give him a boyfriend… But then they immediately killed off the boyfriend and made Alan’s search for justice his main subplot, staying away from any other “gay stuff” that didn’t fit the familiar narrative. As I said in that post on Green Lantern, I still think Alan was open and confident and great, and I love that series, but I still had concerns about Zhao’s representation.
The main point of this post was to mention those widespread problems, but there’s hope for Sam Zhao in particular… He came back! He’s appearing in the series again, post-death! This is a huge deal, because some characters are perennial in comics with permanent “get out of death free” cards, but love interests and LGBT+ people don’t usually get that opportunity. They’re not seen as important.
It’s too new to be in collected editions yet, so I haven’t been able to read the new stuff, but I know Zhao is different… he’s become an avatar of the white (i.e. air powers). I don’t know if he’ll identify as the same man or if he and Alan will be together again… But that’s exactly what I want. Romantic interests with independent identities! I loved Sam in his brief appearance at the beginning of Earth 2, he’s sweet and relaxed but no shrinking violet by any means. I’ll also point out that Earth 2 has some of the best racial diversity in the new DC titles, and Sam is Chinese or of Chinese descent. I barely got to meet him before he died, but I’m thrilled he’s coming back!
Earth 2 Vol. 1: The Gathering by James Robinson and Nicola Scott (ISBN 978-14012428). And so on through the series.
Check back tomorrow for the A to Z reflection and an announcement!!