Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Top 5 Overlooked Comics of the Nineties #1

Over at the Comics Bin, they listed the The Ten Most Important Comic Books of the 1990s. You can read the list for yourself but all you need to know is that Valiant Comics and Harbingers grab the number one spot.

Reading his reasoning, you can see he judged comics only on their collectability (and even that is questionable). Whereas I would have looked at their influence, experimentation, and effect on the comics that followed.

It's easy to look at first issues and claim they made a change, either the first issue of new team or a new character being introduced, the kind of stuff that shoots up in price, but I wanted to look at the comics that CHANGED (superhero) COMICS, but could still be found for cover price in the back issue bins.

(I'm also a DC fanboy, so these are just DC titles. If someone wants to do the Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, or COMPLETE list, please let me know).

Today's entry:

Flash #53 (1991): The Pied Piper comes out! In 1991, Hartley Rathaway, who had been committing crimes since 1959 as the Pied Piper but had recently reformed, casually informed his friend, Wally West, the Flash, that he was gay. Wally's reaction? He ran away.

Since that time, Piper has been through a lot. The last hero standing against Kobra in Terminal Velocity, falling in love with his partner James, fighting a gay-baiting conservative presidential candidate, framed for the murder of his own parents, and exonerating himself in a Rogue War. And through it all he's been one of Wally West's closest and most trusted friends.

No, he wasn't DC's first gay superhero. And he didn't get as much press as Northstar would one year later. But he was neither an atrocious gay stereotype nor was his sexuality quickly buried and forgotten. His orientation was always present, but rarely the focus. Instead, he was one of the first gay characters who was a fully developed human being with complex motivations and background, of which being gay was only one part (less important, in the long run, than his being born deaf and rich).

But getting back to the issue at hand: yes, as a supporting character, Hartley's coming out isn't really about Hartley. It's about Wally's reaction, which is running away. This was of course a perfectly in character reaction, both childish and conservative. But Wally eventually comes to accept that his friend is still the same guy he always was, and the audience, through Wally, learns to accept homosexuality as well.

Compare this to the Brother's Keeper storyline by Judd Winick. (note: I have met Judd Winick and I enjoy a LOT of his work). In a slightly similar plot, Terry Berg, a co-worker of Kyle Rayner, Green Lantern, comes out to him. Kyle helps him adjust to being out, then goes into a rage when Terry is beaten in a hate crime. The problem with the story, as Ragnell pointed out, is that Kyle doesn't learn anything. He was okay with homosexuality before, he's okay with it after, he thinks people who gay bash were bad before, he thinks the same after. He doesn't learn anything, and therefore neither do we.

And so, I'd like to single out Flash #53, for adding an interesting new facet to an old character, for adding a fully formed gay character to the roster of DC superheroes, for setting up plot lines for the next 15 years, and for telling a fun little afterschool special all in one issue.

Tomorrow, overlooked comic #2: The glasses come off!

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