Comics · Queer

A to Z: Sam Zhao

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.

Alan Scott Sam Zhao

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.

Sam_Zhao_(Earth_2)_002The 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!

Recommended Reading:

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!!

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30 thoughts on “A to Z: Sam Zhao

  1. Love your point about them having to be in a romantic relationship to “prove” themselves. What a great way to end this series! Thanks for a wonderful set of reads. 🙂

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      1. A lot of these characters I’ve never even heard of–I’ve never been a huge comic book reader, at least not of the superhero comic variety.

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        1. I’m not surprised, although I can’t decide if it’s because these are neglected characters or if it’s just that most people don’t know the majority of comic book characters. (No reason why they should, if comics aren’t their thing.) Probably a bit of both.

          Being me, I actually knew most of them in my initial brainstorming session, but I’m a rabid comic reader and specifically seek the characters out.

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          1. I think it’s probably both–many of the major comic book characters are heteronormative, and many more are presented that way in adaptations despite ambiguity, so if you’re not into comics, you miss that element. I’ve only recently gotten into comics, the past 5 years or so, and I haven’t really had time or energy to delve into the various superhero franchises.

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          2. Quite so. And it’s definitely a time-consuming hobby, not to mention crazy expensive if your library doesn’t stock what you want. I have library cards in two counties with dozens of libraries at my disposal, and even then they don’t always have what I’m looking for, especially the LGBT+ stuff.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. “Romantic interests with independent identities!”

    Wish we saw more of that in all forms of fiction. A character whose only role is “love interest for the main character” is BORING (and I’m not interested in a main character who falls for a boring person, either).

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  3. Asian people are one of the most underrepresented groups in American media–on TV, in books, in comics, etc. Glad to see that DC had intersectionality of race & sexuality with the Green Lantern.

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  4. I think your theme was probably my favorite this year. Congrats on crossing the finish line, and thank you for the awesome posts! 🙂 (although I have since burned through Sunstone and now I hate you a little because I have to wait). There will be a Reflections linky list on the main blog on Monday!
    Cheers!

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

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    1. Thank you very much, and I’m glad I could rec you some stuff (even though you hate me now!) 😀

      I think you’ll be interested in tomorrow’s announcement, as well… Hehe.

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  5. Yes, I will definitely check out Earth 2 ,now. I’m trying ,this year, to commit a lot of my time to projects, TV shows ,books and movies that have some amount of diversity in it. (I’m still reading plenty of Straight White guys,though).

    I’ve always read for diversity, simply because i like variety in my entertainment but I’m making a special effort to support the comics, shows and movies, within the genre, that promote different types of characters.

    In other words I’m taking up, the writer K.T.Bradford’s, challenge.

    Your articles have been very helpful in this endeavor.

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    1. Glad to be of help! I’m in the same boat, trying to diversify my reading and support good stuff. Doesn’t mean a comic about a straight white guy is bad, just means I’d like some more variety!

      Check out the announcement tomorrow if you’re looking for more recs and whatnot. 🙂

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  6. I can totally see where you’re coming from. I’ve read so many books where I’ve been terribly frustrated by how LGBT+ characters are represented. The point you made about characters being forced into a relationships really gets on my nerves. When a character is introduced I want to get to know them, see where they fit, how they develop naturally – not become a token. I’m a little out of the loop in terms of comics these days, so I can only relate it to books. Anyway, before I start going off on a tangent, as I am want to do, I just wanted to say thanks for all the wonderful characters you’ve introduced me to. My list is growing, but I’m really excited at the prospect of getting into comics again, and I have thoroughly enjoyed your theme 🙂

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