WoQW: Kingdom Dumb

Words of Questionable Wisdom: Kingdom Dumb

By Paul Sebert

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First off I’d like to be honest”¦ I don’t like creator bashing. I do not understand mentality of a certain fans who enjoy ripping into a relatively new comic creators with the ferocity of a rabid wolverine (I am referring to the actual animal, not the Marvel cash cow or Chris Benoit.) Furthermore I don’t understand the sheer hatred that some fans seemingly have for creators be they Rob Liefeld, Chuck Austen or Judd Winick. No matter how much I have may have not cared for certain write’s work on a book I’ve never had a personal animosity against a creator. Not even Daniel Way after Venom. Not even Tom Defalco.

Ok”¦ maybe Tom Defalco.

Still in the darkest recesses of my soul there is a part of me that can’t help but laugh when someone on a high perch within the industry says something stupid and well this year seems to have no shortage of foolishness ranging from Erik Larsen equating Boobies with Free Speech , to Joe Quesada’s tortured justification of Marvel’s idiotic policy on gay characters , to young Robert Kirkman comparing Rob Liefeld to Jack Kirby, to John Byrne lashing out against anyone reading Lost Girls. . Even the family of creators got into the act when Patty Cockrum accused Grant Morrison and half of Marvel’s staff of hating the Jews .

So I suppose it was only a mater of time before Alex Ross joined the rapidly growing club of talents suffering from foot-in-mouth disease. Now don’t get me wrong, Ross is a brilliant beloved talent, one of the most important, and talented artists of his generation, but he tends to sporadically spout arch-conservative views on comics. I don’t mean conservative in the political sense (after all this is the guy who painted George Bush as a Vampire attacking the statue of liberty), I mean this is a guy who simply doesn’t want his comics to change… ever. If Alex Ross was in charge of say Marvel comics, Luke Cage would still be wearing a yellow shirt and tiara while walking around saying things like “Sweet Jumpin’ Sister!”

So depending on how you look at it Ross is either A. a perfect fit for a book as steeped in DC History as JSA or B. completely wrong for a group of characters that have evolved as much as some of the cast has. So it should come as no surprise that when Wizard Magazine decided to interview him about his cover art for the new JSA series Ross would demonstrate some interesting opinions. Everything went along smoothly (which meant for pretty dry reading) until the interviewer asked a question regarding Obsidian.

The last character I’m noticing on the cover of Justice Society of America #1 is Obsidian because you get a table of all these other characters you get to do in full, and all you get to draw for him is his floating eyes. Will you ever draw the full Obsidian?

ROSS: I have no idea. I don’t know that that would be the case. Obsidian being put into the JSA is a lot like—and I’m speaking for Geoff here, which he may not agree with—but it’s him grabbing a character that’s just going to get molested further in other write’s hands. So he’s grabbing him and putting him in the group so he at least can be shepherding this character that belongs in this association. Maybe he’ll make sure that no other writers get any “fun, creative” ideas with him.

Pretty bold words. So just why does Obsidian need shepherding? And what did Ross mean by saying that Obsidian was going to be molested by other writers?

Well for those not too terribly familiar with Todd Rice, formerly of Infinity Inc. only two major creative teams have really dealt with the character in recent years. Geoff Johns who (with assistance from co-writer David Goyer) wrote a JSA storyline in which Obsidian became a temporarily insane villain threatening to plunge the entire world in Darkness several times before ultimately being redeemed and rendered powerless. The other writer is Marc Andreyko, the author of the critically acclaimed Manhunter series, in which Rice is a supporting cast member who has recently entered a gay relationship.
Which makes the word “molested” so damned loaded. Merriam-Webster defines the word “molest” as:

To annoy, disturb, or persecute especially with hostile intent or injurious effect.
To make annoying sexual advances to; especially : to force physical and usually sexual contact on.

So it appeared for all the world that Ross was implying that Obsidian was either harassed, or groped in a sexual manner. Saying that another writer was doing this to a recently outed character isn’t exactly the most professional thing to say in this day and age. Particularly when that writer is still working for DC comics, and writing the very book where said character was outed.

Needless to say fan reaction in this day and age was swift. One message board poster vowed No less than three separate threads popped up on Geoff Johns’ popular Comics Block Forum, while gay comics fansite Prism Comics described the fan reaction as

Perhaps the most outspoken fan criticism came from Ray Randel of the blog “Super Underwear Perverts.”

“This is just so depressing. I’ve been a huge fan of Alex Ross for years – I’ve bought every project he’s ever worked on. The same with Johns and the JSA – I’ve bought every JSA series published in the past three decades. But now I just don’t know – it seems that Ross is opposed to any representation of gay males in the DC universe and I can’t continue to put money in the pocket of a hater. I don’t think I can buy the next few issues of Justice knowing his views on Andreyko’s fine work.”

Johns would soon make a post to comic block distancing himself from Ross’s comments, while Marc Andreyko asked fans not to hold Ross’ comments against Johns.

Thankfully since Ross has yet to graduate from the Dave Sim academy for berserk crazy comics creators, he eventually got around to apologizing, or at least clarifying his position.

Regarding the latest interview with me in Wizard online: To anyone offended by my remarks about Obsidian’s being “molested” by writers and his sexual identity being a “fun, creative” idea that I obviously disagreed with, I do apologize. These were purely boneheaded comments I voiced poorly and flippantly. I clearly did not understand how the remark would be interpreted. The use of “molested” was purely meant to be a passionate phrasing of “meddling,” which I probably use far too often. I wouldn’t wish anyone to think I saw a problem with gay characters in comics, and I do recognize that my words could be taken that way.

Ross went on talking about his problem with changes to certain characters over the years and talking to Infinity Inc creator Roy Thomas about the handling of the character.

The axe I had to grind regarding Obsidian was related to the modern approach of redefining a characte’s nature and history in fashions that impose a great deal on them. This is something I mainly object to if these new details of “who they are” take far less from the groundwork the original creators put down. We can’t know for sure most of the time what those first designers would have liked or objected to. My personal rule of thumb is to try and follow my instincts of what that specific characte’s inspirations are to me and be true to their earliest definitions. I would claim that this is what you will chiefly find in my work, but I know this ideal I speak of is something I have strayed from plenty. I’d say I’m just a little bit of a hypocrite.

Speaking of original creators’ intentions, I realized this morning that I had the rare option of finding out in this case, and I called Roy Thomas. Roy, with artists Mike Machlan and Jerry Ordway, invented Obsidian and many other mainstay DC heroes for “Infinity Inc.” back in the early eighties. Roy told me that Obsidian’s being gay was not necessarily inherent in the character from the beginning, but it’s not offensive or ill-suited to who he was.

So it all seemed tied up with a nice and tidy little bow didn’t it? Right? Ross may be stubborn and he might have said some dumb things but he’s no homophobe. So everyone’s on the same page right? We can all get on with our lives.

Unfortunately I’m not quite sure that’s the case.

See I’m still a tad troubled by Ross’s choice of words. Using the word “molested” in this context is almost like using the term “money grubbing” regarding a Jewish character. The words were so loaded that even though they probably were a slip up, they’re an awfully Freudian slip up by someone who perhaps might not be homophobic, but isn’t exactly completely comfortable with the gay community”¦ Though not exactly knowing much about his background perhaps it’s not the best to jump to conclusions.

Thing is as much as we worry about politically correct hand-wringing that hateful words even inadvertent ones have power. It’s not logical reaction, or possible over-reaction to things like Alex’s ill-suited choice of words, or former Senator George Allen’s “Macaca” slur that bother me. What bothers me when I see something like say the outrageously racist tirade Michael Richards uttered are the guys that watch it and think “hell yah!”

As the uproar over Alex Ross came to a head on the message boards, a sad feeling sank to the pit of my stomach that Ross’s words might appeal to someone living under a rock, just waiting to justify his hatred not only of Obsidian as a gay character, but gays in general.

That guy living under a rock is Avi Green, proprietor of the blog The Four Color Meditation, and author of a spiteful little post entitled They want us to tolerate the abnormal, the perverse, the sick. Avi’s the kind of guy who apparently sees no irony in self describing himself as a Neo-Conservative while using a picture of Oliver Queen as his blog icon.

WARNING: The comments by Avi Green may be inflammatory most people. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery within 2 hours of having read Avi Green’s blog. Contact a doctor if symptoms persist. Do not take Avi Green’s words on a full stomach. Should you find yourself agreeing with Avi by all means contact an exorcist.

“Not to mention the character destruction. In Broken Frontier’s interview with Geoff Johns from last month, there appears to be a really unimpressive message being sent that we’re supposed to tolerate that Alan Scott’s son, Obsidian, was “outed” as homosexual in Manhunter, while at the same time we’re supposed to believe that conservatism is bad:”

First off let me say that I honestly love that Avi Green considers Obsidian’s outing to be an example of character destruction while talking about a company that gave us Steph Brown’s torture with a power drill, Sue Dibny’s rape, and Black Adam bursting people’s heads. But I guess since Geoff’s about to have us believe that conservatism is bad he’s about to go off on a rant about Reganomics, school vouchers, and industrial deregulation.

BF: New member Obsidian was recently revealed as being gay. As his father, Green Lantern Alan Scott, is from an earlier, more conservative generation, will this be a source of conflict?

GJ: Alan’s been around. He’s seen a lot. Maybe he didn’t expect it necessarily but he can accept it. If he can accept The Spectre as an avenging ghost, I think he can accept a gay son.

Wow Alan Scott’s a mature loving father who can accept that his offspring is in a gay relationship. Sort of like Vice President Dick Cheney. How is this an attack on conservatism again? I mean Barry Goldwater, the founder of the modern Conservative movement was an early advocate for gay rights.

Translation: his son is mentally ill, and needs therapy and counseling, yet it’s implied that Scott is supposed to just grin and bear it, and not do anything to help his son out of the mind-jam, because, as decreed by TPTB, and some of the industry insiders, this is how it’s supposed to be. Homosexuality is supposed to be accepted without argument, and if you dare to voice your objections, you are smeared as a fascist, or worse.

There’s a pretty remarkable level of cognitive dissonance at play here. On one hand Mr. Green (in the study with the candle stick!) seems to think that it’s blatantly obviously to everyone that homosexuality is some kind of mental illness and that should be taken without question. Yet at the same time he wants us to think that people who oppose homosexuality are some kind of persecuted minority. Kind of like homosexuals, who as of 2005, are second only blacks in the appalling scale of hate crimes carried out against them in the United States.

Oh Avi, this may come as a surprise to you but the American Psychiatric Association, the world’s most influential organization dedicated to the research of mental health rejected the notion of homosexuality as a mental disorder back in 1973! That was before the gay rights movement in America had enough power to get Harvey Milk elected to city council, much less influence the national climate on a large scale. Then in 1998 the APA did a follow up study on therapies focused on change sexual preferences which not only re-affirmed the 1973 ruling, but stated that such therapies were bunk.

Are there people out there who disagree? Of course, but there are also people who say that global warming isn’t real, tobacco isn’t addictive, and the holocaust never happened. One of the sad consequences of the free market of ideas is that there’s always a market for the intellectually dishonest, the haterful, and the snake oil salesmen.

Most of the people who oppose gay rights aren’t fascists. They’re all too often fools wrapped in scripture or practitioners of Creaping Meatballism a weird blend of conformity and materialistic comfort that causes people to turn off their brains. People who were never exposed to so much as the possibility of homosexual behavior growing up to the point that they find it all too easy to believe such behavior is unnatural when in fact homosexual behavior is well documented in the animal kingdom.

The kind of people who grow up reading a Justice Society/Infinity Inc. title where there aren’t any gay superheroes, then when a gay character is finally added to the book’s roster they hear a weird little buzzer going off in their head that makes them do dumb things. Like flippantly use the word “molested.”