Not long ago, DC Comics announced that, as part of the “New 52” line-up of superhero comics, one of their major, long-running characters would be rebooted as a homosexual. This past week, that character was revealed to be Green Lantern. The news was received with applause from some circles and alarm from others, such as the conservative group One Million Moms. In the midst of this small hubbub, it’s probably beneficial for people not “in the know” on superheroes to have a few things cleared up. In a genre where major character upheavals are a norm, the mainstream media generally only pays attention when it happens to a superhero that has had a movie made about them (recall when Spider-Man revealed his secret identity, or Batman’s death).

For one thing, no one should be expecting Ryan Reynolds to be playing a gay Green Lantern, should a sequel to last year’s movie be released (which doesn’t look likely at this point). This is because Reynolds’ character, Hal Jordan, isn’t the Green Lantern who has been made gay. It’s Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern. Scott, who debuted in 1940, actually predates the idea of the Green Lantern Corps. In those early stories, the Green Lantern ring was magic, not a piece of alien technology. Hal Jordan, the Corps, and the science-based rings would not be introduced until 1959, as what was essentially a complete overhaul of the Green Lantern character. Alan Scott fell by the wayside.

The fictional universe of DC Comics is chock-full of characters with rich, complicated histories stemming from decades’ worth of stories. But within that universe itself, these stories can only have taken place over the course of some years, at most. After all, while the times change in our world, these superheroes remain the same age. This has caused problems for both Marvel and DC, especially in recent years. Keeping up with so much back story and continuity alienates potential new readers.

Enter the idea of “retroactive continuity,” or the “retcon.” This is a literary device that essentially allows a writer to change a character or background to anything that they want, often justified by some contrivance of time travel, parallel worlds, reality warping, or what have you. For instance, the aforementioned public revelation of Spider-Man’s secret identity was later undone by a retcon (Via him making a deal with a demon. It was… complicated). Now, within the Marvel universe, that unmasking never happened. The New 52 line is a company-wide retcon and reboot. DC, in an attempt to clean up its story continuity and make its books accessible to people besides the hardcore fans, has started over the entire universe, with new back stories and characteristics for every superhero.

The change in Alan Scott’s character is but a small part of this reboot. He isn’t “coming out” as gay; according to this new status quo, he’s always been gay. In his reintroduction in the comic series Earth 2, this is an established, well-known part of his personality. This is quite a change, since, in the old universe, he had been married and had two children. Still, since Scott is far from a major or especially popular character, it isn’t quite as brave for DC to make this decision as it looks on the surface. People will read that Green Lantern is now gay and will most likely immediately picture Ryan Reynolds in their head. It’s a way to drum up publicity without making a terribly risky choice. If DC had made, say, Batman gay, that would have been quite the gutsy move. In the New 52, Alan Scott doesn’t even occupy the same space as the big players, residing on an alternate universe Earth without Superman on Batman.

Still, this is a positive, progressive thing that DC has done. The major comic book companies have had mixed results in trying to diversify their superhero lineups, with some characters becoming popular while many more crash and burn. For a long time, superhero books were populated overwhelmingly with straight white men, so any change is a nice one. And the media must be commended for, mostly, getting the basic facts of this story correct. Not one major news source has mistakenly claimed that Hal Jordan is the gay character, although a few have erroneously stated that this change is a “coming out.” Perhaps the increasingly mainstream nature of superheroes has encouraged writers not in the know to do better research. Or maybe this stuff is just common knowledge now.