Terry Berg debuted in Green Lantern #129 ("Something Old, Something New") in October 2000
(June 17) Canadian heartthrob Ryan Reynolds may be stealing all the newspaper headlines as the Hollywood blockbuster Green Lantern opens in movie theatres across North America this weekend, but a decade ago a Green Lantern gay plotline was making sensational headlines as then-DC Comics writer Judd Winick introduced Green Lantern’s gay personal assistant Terry Berg.
Berg is a seventeen-year-old intern at Feast magazine where he is an art assistant for Kyle Rayner (a.k.a. Green Lantern). The teen first appeared in Green Lantern #129 in 2000. But Winick made superhero-comics history when a couple of years later DC Comics released Green Lantern #154, in which Berg was nearly gay-bashed to death.
Judd Winick at Midtown Comics East
in Manhattan (June 2004) Photo
by Luigi Novi (from Wikipedia)
“I created Terry when I took over the book because basically I wanted to introduce a gay teen,” Winick – a former cast member of MTV’s Real World 3 back in 1994 – told me at the time.
Winick, of course, became good friends with the late Pedro Zamora, his gay Real World cast mate. Zamora died of AIDS in 1994 and Winnick documented their friendship in his award-winning graphic novel Pedro and Me.
Winick would also go on to win major awards for his groundbreaking work on Green Lantern. “My editor Bob Schreck [who would edit DC’s Batman comics and their All Star titles until 2009], myself and young creators [at DC] wanted to create a more diverse landscape for comics, which have basically been male, white and straight. But our real world includes people of colour, women, and gays and lesbians. So we wanted to introduce a gay teenager, more so than a gay superhero.”
Terry Berg came out when he fell head over heels for Kyle. “Who can blame him?” Winick, now 41, asks rhetorically. “Kyle is six feet tall with muscles, and if you prefer men, who wouldn’t want Kyle?”
The genesis for Terry came not just out of Pedro, but also Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old gay university student lynched in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998.
“I was horrified and outraged by the sheer brutality of Shepard’s murder,” Winnck says. “And having a lot of people in my life who are gay, there was a certain amount of shrugging and head-banging that this happens all the time.”
So Winnick wanted to create dialogue about gay life, and especially where it would do the most good – among the mainly young, male readers of comic books. “Terry had a very positive coming out, but [with his gay-bashing] we also got to see the worst part of gay life.”
In issue #154 Terry and his boyfriend are gaybashed, Terry falls into a coma, and all his father can say is, “If he hadn’t been gay, if people hadn’t been so accepting, then none of this would have happened!”
Terry would survive the gay-bashing and today continues to appear in the DC Comics universe. “Just because Terry gets beat up doesn’t make him a hero,” Winnick told me. “But I hope he will be inspiring to young people.”
And on that score Winnick – who left Green Lantern in 2003 for another DC book, Green Arrow where he would reveal that Green Arrow’s 17-year-old ward, a former runaway-turned prostitute named Mia Dearden, was HIV-positive – has been hugely successful.
Says Winnick, “I got a wonderful email about six months after [Terry’s gay-bashing plotline in Green Lantern No. 154 was published] and it read, ‘I’m 12 ½ years old and I’m gay and reading Green Lantern is the first time I’m not ashamed of being gay.’ Now that’s pretty fantastic.”