Interview with Dan Williams of Who Wants to Be a Superhero?

The SCI FI channel is set to launch the second season of their hit reality show Who Wants To Be A Superhero and as with last season’s program there is an out gay contestant competing for the right to be comic book legend Stan Lee’s next superhero. His name is Dan Williams and the twenty-eight year old college head department head from Orlando, Florida is competing as Parthenon, an archeologist whose powers arise from his “Armaguard” an ancient bracelet he found on a dig. AfterElton.com recently caught up with Williams to learn more about Parthenon’s superpowers as well as the man behind the suit.

AfterElton.com: We’ve all heard that Ancient Greece was supposedly a pretty gay place. Did that have anything to do with the Parthenon name for your superhero?
Dan Williams:
It’s actually kind of a funny story. The Parthenon name for my superhero wasn’t the original name for it. My original name for superhero was called Paragon, which is — like my powers — gemstone based. A paragon is like an unfiltered gemstone or a pinnacle of perfection, but at the last second they found out another superhero used Paragon, so I couldn’t be called that anymore. So then we worked together and came up with Parthenon.

AE: What’s the story behind Parthenon? I know he’s got Atlantian gems …
DW:
Atlantean gemstones, yes. Basically, how he got his powers is he was an archeologist. And he was on a dig and — the shortened version is there was an earthquake and he found a secret chamber and inside of it was a bracelet. The bracelet, when he put it on and when he touches it, morphs into this big gauntlet thing that he wears on his wrist. It gives him a little bit of super powers — invulnerability, flight and super-strength. And then there are Atlantean gemstones and when you put a little gemstone into each little slot on the gauntlet, it gives you another super-power. Right now he has three different gemstones — the moonstone which gives him illusion powers, the echo emerald which gives him sonic powers and the Eye of Apollo diamond that gives him a protective shell.

AE: What was the inspiration for the character and the look?
DW:
The inspiration for the character came about from the gauntlet, that was my original idea for it. I knew I wanted something to wear around my wrist and I knew I wanted it to be kind of interchangeable where it’s continuously growing. And that’s how I came up with the jewels and putting them in it — almost like The Mandarin’s rings. Are you familiar with comic books a little bit?

AE: Yes.
DW:
Mandarin’s rings — each one gives him a different super power, kind of like that sort of thing. So I came up with the gauntlet first, then the costume I kind of morphed out of that. And I knew I wanted an off-the-shoulder cape — I had to have that. I wanted to keep the Greco-Roman look, that’s why I wear a little bit of a toga-type thing.

AE: Superheroes are often meant to be looked up to as role models, but gay fans have had few they could look up to is that part of your inspiration for being on the show? And who did you look up to as a kid?
DW:
That’s actually a really good question because there’s not actually a lot of gay superheroes out there. As a kid, I used to look up to the normal superheroes, that’s all you had to look up to. Some of my favorite gay superheroes come from when I got a little bit older. There used to be a comic called Young Heroes in Love, did you read it?

AE: Oh, yes.
DW:
It was in the 90’s or something crazy and I used to love it because it was a superhero soap opera. And they were very sexual — almost — in that one. Off-Ramp and Frostbite were two main characters in that one and finally, in the end of the comic book, they got together. And then they canceled the series, so you never find out what happened. But that was it for gay superheroes that I liked. But nowadays there’s more to choose from like Wiccan and Hulkling from Young Avengers and things like that. But as a gay superhero, now, I do like the whole aspect of being a role model for them.

AE: I understand you were picked because of an audition tape you sent for season one.
DW:
Yeah

AE: The show has done a good job being diverse in the past, was Parthenon being gay part of the reason you were selected? How did that all come into play in the audition process?
DW:
Actually, in the audition process I never mentioned that I was gay. That might have come across on the tape, but I never specifically mentioned it. I did audition for season one — I made a whole tape and I was very excited about it and I never heard even, basically, a ’no’ about it. So I was a little bit disappointed.

But I watched season one, loved it and so I created another superhero, one a little bit closer to myself to audition for season two and then before I could even audition, they actually called me up said that they saw my tape, really liked me and wanted to push me to the next level. I never really mentioned I was gay until, actually, the LA audition.

AE: So after they called you, your audition went through a similar process as anyone who sent in a tape for season two?
DW:
Oh, definitely. I had to fill out all the paperwork all over again — which was a lot of paperwork. And then I had to wait a couple weeks and then they told me I made it to the semi-finals. And then I had to fill out a bunch more paperwork — probably 27 pages of it. Then they flew me to LA and then I did the interview with Stan Lee where you stand in the big circle that glows — very entertaining. And then a couple weeks later they told me I made it on the show.

AE: Does Parthenon have a Steve Trevor or a Midnighter in his life? If so, what kind of dynamic do they have? Is it a "Lois gets into the most interesting trouble" type of deal or is it a Hulkling and Wiccan type of partnership?
DW:
He doesn’t really have a partner, per se, in the comic books. He does have somebody he’s semi-seeing I wrote into it. He’s kind of a good friend that always travels around with him. That’s how that works. Personally, I do have a partner and we’ve been together for almost two years.

AE: It sounds like Parthenon has the Steve Trevor relationship people want now.
DW:
[Laughs] A little bit like that — a little bit freer.

AE: What does Parthenon do for a living when he’s just Dan? What does he do for fun?
DW:
When he’s just me, per se? Is that like me personally or me as my superhero?

AE: I was thinking about Parthenon’s secret identity …
DW:
Ah, fabulous. Parthenon’s secret identity, when he’s at home — he does live in a big city — he likes to go out with his friends and he’s comfortable doing the socialite stuff, as well. Because his parents are kind of wealthy but not really. So he’s at least able to do things like that — lots of museums and art galleries. Things like that, he’s very creative and based a little bit like myself that way.

AE: Is he a lot like Dan in real life, then?
DW:
I think he’s a lot like me. We’re both very creative and have a knack for solving problems and creating things out of nothing and we’re both very artistic.

AE: What message do you want viewers to come away from Who Wants to Be a Superhero with?
DW:
I think “Justice for all” and “It doesn’t really matter” is the quote I gave them. I didn’t want to be known as “the gay superhero.” I wanted to be known as the superhero who is gay, because I think there’s actually a big difference. I didn’t want it to be the focus of it, like “Oh, he’s the gay one, he’s the gay one.” I’d rather be like “Hey, look at the superhero I am” and “Oh, by the way, I just happen to be gay.” I kinda want to stress more that that sort of thing.

AE: Kind of like the difference between Northstar and Apollo or Midnighter?
DW:
I guess. Yeah, exactly

AE: How did you get along with the other heroes? Was your being gay ever an issue?
DW:
It was not an issue. At all. It was wonderful. All the other heroes are fantastic. If anything, I think it helped me get close to them all. We had a lot in common and it was wonderful. I had no trouble on the show whatsoever.

AE: What’s your take on your rival superheroes? Besides you, who should we be watching? Is there someone who’s a lot of fun? Or anybody who needs their costume redesigned to make use of tighter spandex?
DW:
There’s a couple of superheroes you should be watching out for. One is Ms. Limelight. She is very fun and entertaining I think viewers are going to really like her. You might have to actually watch the show and probably play it back at a slower speed. I think I talk fast, but she blows me out of the water. I’m like, “Whoa.” You’ve got to really pay attention to what she’s saying. And other people who might need their costume redesigned … there might be a few — have you seen the pictures yet?

AE: Yes.
DW:
Yes. I think Mindset probably got the raw end of the deal on that one. The original costume was so good, his new costume, ugh. If I got to re-design anything, I’d do that. Because, actually, I used to teach fashion design at one point so that actually helped me create my costume as well. I know how to sew and all that kind of thing. I would re-design his costume. His was so cool, made out of metal and then they put him in spandex. That’s the costume I’d redesign.

AE: Anything you can share with us about this year’s twists or challenges? Any involve a gay topic or issue?
DW:
Not really a gay topic or issue, per se, but there are going to be a lot of different missions and it’s going to be kinda like Fear Factor, superhero edition. The challenges are going to be really spectacular. The one challenge I can actually talk about is with a villain and somehow we get trapped inside a cage filled with bees. Yeah. Let me just say bees, like snakes and insects, are my weakness, personally, and so it is very challenging.

AE: Just the mention of a deathtrap like that has me thinking of, uhm, I can’t remember his full name but Arcade – the guy who ran Murderworld?
DW:
Oh, yes. I had a theory much like that. We actually have a super-villain this time, so we have an official super-villain called Doctor Dark. We have to fight against his evil genius. They were more story-oriented this season.

AE: I was looking at your MySpace profile. It looks like you’re mostly a Marvel guy though, Young Heroes in Love
DW:
I know, Young Heroes in Love was the other one …

AE: That is one of my all-time favorites.
DW:
Really? Most people don’t even remember that comic book and I used to love it. That used to be my favorite. But I am mostly a Marvel guy, but I do collect both Marvel and DC and some of the other independents as well.

AE: Which one?
DW:
My all time favorite is probably The Avengers. My favorites are Hawkeye, Dr. Pym, which is Hank Pym so he was like Giant-Man, Yellowjacket, Ant Man all that stuff. I do like them.

AE: Did you get a chance to meet Stan Lee? I read that this season he’s not confined to the monitor screens. If you did, was he able live up to the legend?
DW:
I can’t really talk much about that one. But he did live up to the legend. When dealing with him, even on the TV monitors, he’s all live action. He’s very intelligent and very funny. I was surprised, because I think he’s 86 now [Lee turns 86 this December] and he’s still with it.

AE: I’m not sure if you followed this story, but last year at a comic convention the Marvel Editor-in-Chief – there was some controversy because first he said that comics starring a gay character would have to have a “Mature” rating but then later he claimed that the policy was no longer in place citing Freedom Ring as the star of Marvel Team-Up, which wasn’t a mature title, only to have the character killed off a month later. I’m not sure if you remember that whole …
DW:
[Laughs] Yeah, I don’t think I heard about that one.

AE: Overall, it’s been a frustrating time for gay visibility in the past year, how does a gay superhero fan maintain his enthusiasm when it feels like the welcome mat is being pulled back?
DW:
That is a really great question. Speaking of gay superheroes I think the Rawhide Kid just came out in a new one, and I think DC just launched a new … I want to say his name is Midnighter?

AE: Yeah.
DW:
So I’m looking forward to those comic books, but I think the gay superhero fans should look for them where they can find them, like Young Avengers Outsiders has a bunch of other people like Grace and Thunder, so there’s people you just look for them. But as far as having their own title, I think will take something special to catch people’s interest. And I think as long as it’s action-based, it will do fine.

AE: Along those lines, I was thinking that online fan forums like message boards, e-mail groups and blogs have been a major resource for gay comic readers to find each other and discuss things they wouldn’t bring up while hanging out in the comic shop. Like, say, snarking on Janet Van Dyne’s idea of fashion.
DW:
Oh, I know. Some of her costumes I’m just like, “Really? You’re a fashion designer?” Ugh. Some of her Wasp outfits are a little bit crazy. But you’ve got to admit, a fashion designer superhero – fun idea.

AE: It is.
DW:
Have you ever seen the website Project Rooftop?

AE: That’s where I was about to head. I was going to ask if you spend any time at any of these online forums. Any message boards or blogs?
DW:
I do. I know, it’s a guilty pleasure. But Project Rooftop is a really great one, because they actually pick superheroes and re-design their costumes. I think that’s pretty darnn cool. And the Sci-Fi Forums, I’m on there as well.

AE: Okay, time for the really sad and geeky question from me. Which superhero would be Parthenon’s dream date?
DW:
Hm, that is a good question. I think I would actually go with Quasar. I have always liked him, really liked his powers, really liked his costume and I kinda go for blondes. Always a good thing.

AE: Okay, a little personal confession from a true gay geek. The first time I saw Quasar was his guest appearance in a Dazzler comic.
DW:
[Laughs] And? Did you like him?

AE: Yes!
DW:
See! Quasar is just fun. I like him.

AE: I just find it funny – Dazzler that’s just one of those early signs.
DW:
Dazzler. Yeah. She’s now in the new Excalibur, although her new powers are kinda weird. Have you been following the new Excalibur at all?

AE: I haven’t.
DW:
She keeps dying but coming back to life. What kind of superpower – where do you get that from? But any superhero with a roguish gait is okay.

AE: Now the follow up to that is which straight heroine would Parthenon befriend and bemoan his romantic troubles to?
DW:
Hm. That is a good question. Wow, you’re asking really good questions. What superheroine would I confide in? Can it be somebody on the show?

AE: Sure.
DW:
I would say Hygena, then. Hygena you can tell anything to and she’ll just take it with a stride and she always has a fun little comedic type of thing with her. So, I say Hygena.

AE: What comic book super team would you most easily see Parthenon belonging? Would he be in an informal alliance like The Defenders? An ensemble like The Legion?
DW:
I think it would have to be a smaller team like – see, I’m partial to The Avengers. I keep saying The Avengers but I do like The West Coast Avengers they were my favorite sub-team of them. So I would say The West Coast Avengers, just because I like everybody in that team and I think we’d all get along.

AE: Midnighter is a violent loner, do you think you could take him if you had to?
DW:
Oh, I’m sure. I’d put him in a force shield bubble and I could take him. See, there’s a good thing about the force shield and there’s always a bad thing about the force shield, because all the gemstones have their own weakness as well. And the force bubble is airtight and so if I put it on myself I only have enough air for a couple minutes. But if I put the force shield around someone else, I can knock them out, kind of like Invisible Woman.

AE: What does a superhero wear under those tights? Boxers, briefs or commando?
DW:
[Laughs] You have to wear little superhero briefs. Yep, and let me just say those things are not forgiving. You’ve got to get the seamless kind.

AE: So it’s time for guys to worry about VPL, or visible panty lines?
DW:
Exactly. At least if you want to be a superhero in fashion.