LGBT Comic Book Characters To TV: Geoff Johns And Greg Berlanti Talk ‘Arrow’ And ‘The Flash’

by | July 22, 2014 at 9:44 AM | Arrow, LGBT

'The Flash' cast at TCAs: (back row, l-r) Geoff Johns, Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg. (front row, l-r) Carlos Valdes, Danielle Panabaker, Tom Cavanaugh, Grant Gustin, Jesse Martin, Candice Patton, Rick Cosnett (CW)

Last season on the CW series, “Arrow,” one of the bigger shockers wasn’t the death of Oliver Queen’s mother or the fact that villainous Malcolm Merlyn is really the father to Thea but it was the surprising embrace and kiss by Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) and League Of Assassins member Nyssa (Katrina Law), who were revealed to have been romantically involved with each other.

The shock was because in films and television adapted from comic books, the characters that are often forgotten are the gay characters. But that’s changing…sort of.

During the NBC day of the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour recently, a panel for the new series “Constantine” created a stir when I asked executive producers David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerone if we would see the character, from the popular DC comic “Hellblazer,” explore his sexuality since he was bisexual in the comics. Actor Matt Ryan, who is playing the titular character, replied only, “You’ll have to wait and see.” But Cerone’s answer was more concrete in terms of what we won’t be seeing:

Constantine will be straight as an arrow on the new NBC series. (NBC)

So Constantine is a character who’s been around for 30 years. He started in Swamp Thing.”  He had a beautiful run there, created by Alan Moore. The “Hellblazer” comic ran for 25 years. It actually holds the distinction of being the longest‑running comic book of any in print that was never renumbered or reissued or rebooted. Unlike most comic books, John Constantine sort of aged in real time. We saw him grow older. Then, as David mentioned, now there’s “The New 52,” and they did reboot him. They dropped “Hellblazer.” Now we’ve got a straight‑up John Constantine character. So yeah, within this tome of three decades, there might have been one or two issues or one where he’s seen getting out of the bed of a man, so  - with a man or whatever it was. So, you know, 20 years from now? But there are no immediate plans.

After posting a tweet reiterating Cerone’s reply to 140 characters, my Twitter feed blew up with people saying that answer helped them make the decision not to watch the show. (Fans are also upset that Constantine won’t be much of a smoker either, which is a staple of his character in the comics).

Later in the press tour, I had the chance to sit down with Greg Berlanti and Geoff Johns, executive producers of both “Arrow” and the highly anticipated “The Flash,” to ask them about gay characters in their TV adaptations and their reaction to the character’s bisexuality not being relevant or even existing in “Constantine.” [Johns is also the Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics.]

The Sara/Nyssa relationship came up last season on “Arrow” in a really great, fluid way. How much of the sexuality of characters can we expect moving forward either in “Arrow” or “The Flash?”

Geoff Johns: The Pied Piper, he’s a great gay character and we’ve talked about him a lot

Greg Berlanti: We’d like him to be in the first 12 or 13 episodes this year. Also, we have Captain Singh. Singh is in the pilot (played by Patrick Sabongui) but we haven’t dealt with his sexuality but he is gay in the comic book so he’d be on “Flash” as well. [In “The New 52” book series, Singh is actually in a relationship with The Pied Piper] Then, Nyssa and Sarah are still out there in the “Arrow” universe. We’d like to make that a part of both the shows this year.

So we will see Sara coming back? And Nyssa as guest star?

GB: They’re both in “Arrow” episodes in the early part of the year.

I don’t know if you saw the little brouhaha over Constantine’s bisexuality not being a part of that show but what do you guys think about that and just gay characters in comics being adapted into television series?

GB: I think as the head of DC if I were Geoff I would just say I trust the show runners and whatever they’re going to do. But I think it’s just like all our characters aren’t all white, we don’t want characters who are all straight.

GJ: This is really important for everything, for comics, even the one thing with Iris (Candice Patton) and Detective West (Jesse L. Martin). Casting the character is something we want to do right away and then what we did in the comics…

GB: You were already working on it.

We will see more Nyssa (Katrina Law, l) and Sara (Caity Lotz) on "Arrow" (CW)

GJ: Eventually we’re going to introduce Wally West at some point, so when we reintroduced him in the comic books we’re like “let’s make him black.” That’s what we’re going to do in the show eventually. It’s like one tiny example.

Like Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), a character that Andrew and I brought back in the comics. I wanted to bring back…I’m like “give me the worst character ever.” We really cracked that comic book and created a fun character that we then brought on to “The Flash” show. He just fit right in there. He happens to be Spanish but it’s not why we wanted the character. He’s just got a great backstory and he’s a fan boy, like Barry. The more that it’s just natural and organic, that’s what we wanted.

GB: When I was a young, gay kid growing up, there weren’t a lot of gay characters on television. But I do think I identified with comic book characters in some ways because they were empowered people who were different. That was, in some ways and a lot of ways, my outlet. So, I mean I know the value of all that. I always want to just make sure when we do it. Like with “Arrow,” we talked last year and I said “we’re going to do it on ‘Arrow.’” When we do it we also just want to do it right. We have gay characters that are hopefully as well-executed as the characters that are straight.

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So while some producers and writers are going to embrace those LGBT characters when adapting them to the small screen, others are choosing not to go there. Is this because they don’t believe the audience wants to see gay characters in their comic book-based projects? Or does it have to do with gay and straight show runners and what they bring to their respective shows in terms of story and character?

It seems to me that in definitively saying you won’t explore a character’s sexuality that was already a part of its DNA in the source material, you’re not being true to the character or the audience but, in terms of “Constantine,” the creators have also curbed his trademark smoking habits, which could be a sign of the times where smoking is deemed unhealthy and unattractive. Unfortunately, the fact that marriage equality and LGBT visibility have come so far, in the world of “Constantine,” it appears that it merely won’t exist.

“Constantine” premieres October 24th on NBC. “The Flash” premieres on October 7th while the Season 3 premiere of Arrow” is set for October 8th, both on the CW.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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