Earlier this year, DC Comics, the company behind famous crime fighters Superman and Batman, announced it would re-invent one of its classic characters as a gay superhero. On June 1, the company ended speculation when it revealed a new version of the Green Lantern would fill the role.
The new gay Green Lantern is not the familiar Justice League member Hal Jordan, who appeared in a movie adaptation last year. This Green Lantern is Alan Scot, an inhabitant of Earth 2, an alternate universe that is the setting for the DC Comics series of the same name.
Reaction to the news has been mixed, ranging from outraged, to indifferent and accepting. Activist group One Million Moms has asked supporters to boycott DC Comics until it agrees to change the Green Lantern's sexual identity. But Chris Gavaler, a professor at Washington and Lee University who teaches a course on superheroes, says the company's decision is "not earth shattering." Gavaler is not gay but supports the gay community.
The Green Lantern will not be the first gay comic book character used by DC Comics, Gavaler said. The company already has a host of homosexual crime fighters saving the day. Kate Kane, as Batwoman, is an "out" lesbian. DC Comics also feature Apollo and Midnighter, "comic books' leading gay superhero couple," Gavaler said.
DC Comics has led the way in including homosexuals in comic books, even introducing readers to the first gay comic kiss in 1988. Marvel Comics, another popular comic book franchise, also promotes risqué relationships, such as incestuous siblings Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Marvel recently announced character Northstar would marry his boyfriend in an upcoming June issue of Astonishing X-Men. Marvel's Young Avengers series also features gay teen crime fighting duo Hulkling and Wiccan. Even the popular Archie comic book series now features gay character Kevin Keller.
Julian Chambliss, a history professor at Rollins College, in Winter Park, Fla., makes the case that comic books have a history of mirroring society and that they reflect societal concerns.
"Superhero comic books have a history of creating characters and featuring stories that balance established values while acknowledging changing reader expectations," Chambliss said in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor.
Marvel introduced the first black comic book character in 1966, one year after anti-discrimination legislation passed through Congress, Chambliss said. And soon after President Richard Nixon declared his famous War on Drugs, DC Comics "shed light on the dangers of drug abuse by having an established teen sidekick become addicted to drugs," he said.
Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family, acknowledges that some parents will, correctly, point their children to other more worthwhile reading material. But Daly also says that comic books can be a way to talk about some tough issues with kids.
"Parents might also want to capitalize on this controversial development and use it to initiate an age-appropriate conversation about God's design for human sexuality," he wrote on his blog, Finding Home. "It may sound silly to pivot from the Green Lantern to the Bible, but the key to connecting with our children is to grab their attention and communicate in relevant fashion."
One Christian comic book company has weighed in on the news, pledging to keep its material biblical. Art Ayris, president and CEO of Kingstone Media decries what he says mainstream comic companies are attempting to do: "It is more frontal assault on impressionable kids who are trying to figure it all out."
Ayris promises his company will not follow suit.
"If Kingstone is the only comic book company in America doing it, we will stand for the things God says are godly and stand against things that clearly fall under the category of sin," Ayris said. "Content will always be biblical worldview. Period."
Ayris isn't alone in thinking that comic books are pushing a viewpoint on children.
"Comics join movies, TV, music, and news media as part of the barrage of pro-gay propaganda that targets our nation every day," Dan Gainor, vice-president for business and culture at the Culture and Media Institute, said in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor. "The goal of the media industry, is to overwhelm American morality and bully opponents into complete acceptance of the gay subculture."
James Robinson, creator of the Earth 2 series isn't phased by accusations of pushing forward a gay agenda.
"It was just meant to be - Alan Scott being a gay member of the team, the Justice Society, that I'll be forming in the pages of Earth 2," Robinson said. "He's just meant to be part of this big tapestry of characters."
Robinson also backs his decision to create a gay Green Lantern, saying that the character is more than his sexual preferences: "This guy, he's a media mogul, a hero, a dynamic type-A personality and he's gay, he's a complex character."
Daly hopes that DC and other leading comic book companies will follow through on their claim to accurately present today's culture.
"I do hope that the story lines will thoughtfully and respectfully portray religious opposition to same-sex marriage. It would be a cheap shot to do otherwise," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.