Orson Scott Card and Superman: The thorny strategy of stoking fan rage

Feb. 14, 2013 | 12:24 p.m.
Orson Scott Card, right, will write "Adventures of Superman" No. 1. (DC Comics; Starscape)

Orson Scott Card, right, will write “Adventures of Superman” No. 1. (DC Comics; Starscape)


Superman is a character that stands for truth, justice and the American way, but should creators who work on his comics be held to that same level of virtue?

Last week, DC announced “Adventures of Superman,” a new series reprinting comics that are initially released digitally, and the first issue features a story by Aaron Johnston and Orson Scott Card. Card is a staunch, vocal opponent of homosexuality and a board member of the National Organization for Marriage, a group actively working to keep same-sex marriage illegal, and his personal views have Super-fans furious.

At last check, an online petition to remove Card from the title is 732 signatures short of its goal of 10,000, and stores in Dallas and San Francisco have publicly announced that they won’t be carrying the first issue of “Adventures of Superman.”

These attempts to get the publisher to change its decision have proved futile, and DC released the following statement to the Advocate on Tuesday:  “As content creators we steadfastly support freedom of expression, however the personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that — personal views — and not those of the company itself.”

"Ultimate Iron Man," written by Orson Scott Card. (Marvel Comics)

“Ultimate Iron Man,” written by Orson Scott Card. (Marvel Comics)

This is not Card’s first foray into the world of superhero comics, and there was a backlash when Marvel gave him two “Ultimate Iron Man” miniseries, but “Iron Man” is not Superman. Marvel’s mechanized Avenger has skyrocketed in popularity since his first feature film, but he’s not in the same league as DC’s flagship hero, who stands as the pinnacle of physical, mental and emotional perfection.

Superman cares about everyone, regardless of race, age or sexual orientation, and the argument has been made that Card’s prejudices make him unqualified to write the idealistic figure.

My personal stance is that a writer’s beliefs shouldn’t determine whether he’s qualified for work, and if he has the skills to tell a strong story, he should be given the opportunity. It’s an editor’s obligation to make sure that the writer doesn’t let personal opinions affect the established voice of the character, and it’s unlikely that Superman is going to take on a new mission terrorizing gay weddings under Card’s pen. (Although considering DC’s current DC editorial regime, I may have just spoiled the first issue of “Adventures of Superman.”)

It’s possible that Card has a great take on the hero, and as a prolific, award-winning writer, it makes sense that DC would pursue him, especially with the controversy around his name. DC Comics has thrived on controversy since Bob Harras took over as editor-in-chief, beginning with The New 52, which started off strong but has turned into a mess of crossovers, cancellations and creative team shifts.

Erasing years of continuity and relaunching all of their books made a lot of long-time fans angry, which got them talking and helped stoke interest in the new #1s. The same strategy was used for “Before Watchmen,” a subject that the entire comics community remains fiercely opinionated about, and Card on “Superman” is the latest in fan-enraging announcements that will gain the publisher free publicity.

“Adventures of Superman” #1 is going to sell a lot of copies, probably a lot more than later issues with more desirable creative teams, and that’s not including the digital sales from anyone who has access to a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Where the Card controversy differs from “The New 52” and “Before Watchmen” is that DC has now alienated a significant portion of their audience at a time when they need all the support they can get. The industry has become too competitive for a publisher to risk losing readers over free PR. DC doesn’t seem to understand that the choices it makes now are going to have consequences down the road. Hopefully this past weekend’s DC Writers’ Retreat will result in a stronger direction for the publisher’s books.

A writer’s personal opinions shouldn’t affect his qualifications, but when those opinions are as public and enthusiastic as  Card’s, DC should think about how the decision to hire him is going to be interpreted by its readers. If someone chooses to boycott DC because of this, there are plenty of other places they can spend their money.

Marvel, Image and Dark Horse are producing captivating, distinct superhero comics, and Monkeybrain, Thrillbent and Shiftylook are working to expand the digital landscape. Signing an online petition is a way that readers can make their feelings known, but ultimately the dollar is more powerful than the keyboard.

— Oliver Sava

Oliver Sava is an Eisner Award-nominated journalist who writes about comics and television for The A.V. Club. He also covers theater as a staff writer for Time Out Chicago.

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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96 Responses to Orson Scott Card and Superman: The thorny strategy of stoking fan rage

  1. Van says:

    This title is officially dropped from my weekly pull list. Shame on DC.

  2. Ronnie says:

    What a writer/artist does on his/her own time is his/her own business.
    If they're good at their craft, I'll read their work, even if I find their personal beliefs abhorrent.
    You have no idea how many creators (both male and female) are, racists, misogynists and/or sexualphobes (to one extent or another) in their personal lives, yet produce material you praise, admire, and buy!
    As long as Card's work isn't "out of character" for the Man of Steel, I'm willing to take a look at it.

  3. MrTemecula says:

    Card is a terrific writer, but ever since 9/11, he's become a fascist, so this is a perfect pairing since Superman is often a quasi-role model for right wing extremists. I hope DC loses millions of readers.

  4. Richard says:

    If he makes Superman a homophobe or makes all the villains homosexual, by all means
    boycott the product. Thing is, I've read his works for years and never knew that he had those

    The concept of attempting to deprive a person a livelihood/job because of his views is unAmerican.
    For those people who think this is OK, consider what might happen when the pendulum swings
    the other way and someone with power does not like YOUR views.

    And no, I'm not saying I agree with him, but he's not a politician or public servant so his private views are just that.

  5. Hindenburg says:

    Shame on folks who cannot really tolerate diversity after all. Let Card write.

  6. johnrj08 says:

    This is disappointing. Comics are specifically directed at younger people. Not many 20 year olds read them. Some, but not many. To have a writer who is highly vocal about his bigotry working on this particular character is more than a little disturbing. Doesn't really just matter what's in the actual comic. His name and what it is associated with count as well.

  7. jaydubbya says:

    I have followed Card for years. I not only like what he writes, but I agree with his views on same-gender marriage. I don't know his views exactly on homosexuality, but I suspect from what I know of him (we went to the same college) that he believes homosexuality is a sin, but he feels tolerance and sympathy for individual homosexuals. If so, I agree with him there, as well.

    I am astounded that our society has arrived at the point at which we believe that someone who possesses such traditional morals would be considered less than virtuous, or that he should lose his job because he believes that marriage between a man and a woman should be maintained, and the politics of changing marriage are wrong.

  8. W Steinberg says:

    How can such a brilliant and sensitive writer be at the same time so closed minded? What are you afraid of Orson? I really love your books, but now this will color my interpretation of them. Sad.

  9. @carmitch says:

    For those who would buy the comics by Card, would you do the same had been in favor of Hitler and the Holocaust or MLK's death? If so, sad!

  10. Fletch says:

    The writer of this article is showing his bias.
    "should creators who work on his comics be held to that same level of virtue?" So, standing up for traditional marriage is not virtuous? Really?

    And rather than talking about "Card’s prejudices", I would say they are his values, and values that many comic book readers and Americans in general share. Rather than "super fans" being furious, it seems it's more the fury of gay liberals with an axe to grind who decry that fact that anyone dare think differently than they do.

  11. KarenLaRae says:

    One of my biggest pet peeves is that we have become so divisive that the "pro" people boycott those who are "anti" and the "anti" people boycott those they view as "pro" and they basically cancel each other out. This is true whether we are talking gay marriage, pro-life/pro-choice or other hot button topics. I am pro-gay marriage and consider myself gay friendly, but I believe others have the right to feel differently.

    Besides, many artistic endeavors have a variety of people involved. For example, if those who don't like Orson Scott Card decide they will boycott "Ender's Game" when the movie comes out … and IF (I have no idea) the director and or some of the actors are vocally pro-gay or gay and the "keep marriage between a man and woman" boycott it …. what's the point? In boycotting the person who disagree with … you are also probably also hurting someone else who supports your cause. People are more than one issue, and even if it is an issue I feel strongly about, I can’t dismiss an entire person based on a few differing opinions.

  12. John says:

    Oliver Sava says: "My personal stance is that a writer’s beliefs shouldn’t determine whether he’s qualified for work, and if he has the skills to tell a strong story, he should be given the opportunity."

    … and then says: "DC has now alienated a significant portion of their audience at a time when they need all the support they can get…. A writer’s personal opinions shouldn’t affect his qualifications, but when those opinions are as public and enthusiastic as Card’s, DC should think about how the decision to hire him is going to be interpreted by its readers."

    You can't have it both ways Oliver – either his beliefs don't make a difference or they do. I agree that it's a sad commentary when traditional values are so maligned. Which side is the HATE really coming from?

  13. Ricky_in_SGV says:

    Do the LGBT forces really want to set up a new black list? From reading this article it sounds like anyone who wants to keep the traditional definition of marriage is unfit to write a story or even hold a job. That's laughably simple-minded. I grant that there are people out there who despise homosexuals. Forget calling them homophobes, just call them evil. Card's arguments against gay marriage at least have some basis in reasoning as opposed to those who want DC to fire him because of his arguments.

  14. Frank Maunder says:

    As I recall it, Mr. Card is yet another one of those pop writers whose output is measured in either feet or pounds (your choice). As opposed to actual content.

    Still, that’s the style these days; from “Superheroes” to “Reality TV”. It’s been this way ever since we became the kind of society where X-Files came to be regarded as investigative reporting.

  15. Chone says:

    I have read Card for years and I find this whole issue rather curious. Because Mr. Card wrote about a homosexual encounter in a book published in 1978, "Songmaster". It was essential to the story and I don't remember Card putting homosexuality in a bad light in the story.

  16. Francis says:

    I don't like Card writing for Superman because so many kids, and especially youth who are bullied and picked on for who they are, look up to Superman and take so much from what Superman represents. Someone who stands up for the little man. Someone who cares about all. Someone strong, someone brave. Card goes 100% against what Superman stands for, and the people we're forgetting in all of this arguing are LGBTQ teens. One of the few things they can look up to without homophobic bias is being taken from them, and I'm not OK with it.

  17. Jacques says:

    It's one thing to have personal views. To be actively involved in a group actively seeking to strip the civil rights away from an entire group of the American population, well that's another thing altogether.

    I was on the fence about dropping most if not all of my DC titles – this has pushed me over. Shame on you, DC.

  18. Grand Inquisitor says:

    Let's investigate every writer and hold them to the only objective standard there is: perfection. If they don't pass the test, let's boycott them.

  19. Chris says:

    The people who say, "I'm for gay marriage, but I'm still going to buy Card's Superman story" are probably the same people who say, "I'm against violence against women, but I gotta buy that new Chris Brown single! The beat is just so good!" Come on, people. Have some class.

  20. Tom Kazanski says:

    Welcome to the new McCarthyism.
    Perhaps the ACLU will step in to protect Mr. Card's freedom of speech?

  21. Johnny says:

    America is a country that parodies Jesus Christ , Judaism, and Islam for comedy, but when someone has a comment about gays it's as if someone got murdered. If your moral values have double standards then don't hide behind your right to freedom of speech. If a man believes gay marriage is wrong, and you can't respect that, then you're forcing your values on them.

  22. Erich says:

    DC Comics is selling a product to make money. They are not donating their time or money to help anyone.

    Boycotting is a fine response in a supposedly free market society and has a proud history of furthering civil rights.

    It is confusing that anyone would argue DC's products should be bought by people who think the money will be used to fund Card's hate group.

  23. felix says:

    Let him write the damn book, all those taking issue with this can freely move on to other Superman books. No one said you HAVE to read this book. You don’t have a gun pointed at your head.

  24. Dan says:

    Card has the right to think and say what he believes. We also have the right to vote with our wallets, and while I respect Card's talent, I decided long ago not to give another cent of my money to him as long as he remains a mouthpiece of hate.

  25. Rob says:

    Has political correctness become so rampant that we now must defend the monsters?

    Card's thoughts are toxic and wrong.

    We used to support DC, now they make this decision. So it is my right to demand Card be taken off.

    It is an insult, plain and simple.

    BIGOTRY can not be protected as a right, idiots!

  26. Alan says:

    I was never interested in Card's work until I saw some of the hate directed towards him in 2004 or 2005. I really don't like bullies or fascists so out of antipathy towards the creepy loudmouths who prefer to shout instead of think I gave Ender's Game a shot. It took a little getting into but at the end of the book I was impressed and decided to keep on reading. I liked the Shadow books, despised Homecoming, loved the Redemption of Christopher Columbus, and have generally enjoyed the rest of his work with the occasional bumo in the road. He tends to think outside the normal cultural boundaries that plague American writers and provides perspectives on diverse cultures that other writers rarely match. So I'm grateful for the loudmouths and bullies who attack him. Otherwise I'd have missed out on a very talented and unique storyteller. I used to spend around $75 to $100 a month on comics until 2002. At that point I felt like the editorial boards had no respect for anything outside of the East Village. So I haven't bought a comic book since then. Judging by sales figures since I started reading them as a kid I'm not the only one who got tired of the 'Teen People' mentality of the editors and the writers they sponsored. Since then the publishers have missed out on my money. DC will have at least one returning customer for Card's run, and if recent events are any indicator I won't be the only one. I'm looking forward to seeing the sales figures.

  27. Dave says:

    You had to rush out and buy Card's work, because he was being criticized for his public anti-gay statements?

    Would you be equally supportive of an outspoken racist who was being criticized? Or an outspoken misogynist? Or an outspoken Islamophobe? Or was it just the fact that he's anti-gay that made you want to put money in Card's pocket?

  28. Devyn says:

    If OSC was actively trying to limit the rights of blacks in America, DC wouldn’t hire him. I am disappointed in this decision because DC obviously doesn’t feel the same way.

  29. anoldfan says:

    Just DC stirring the pot to get publicity. Don't forget, this is the very same company that went out of it's way to alter the Green Lantern of Earth 2 to be gay. So what do we have here…a company that is homophobic for hiring Card to write a couple of Superman stories? Or a company that is pro-gay for making one of their major characters gay. I will admit, however, that I have no idea how the gay Green Lantern of Earth 2 went over or even if DC continues to publish comics dealing with that character.

  30. Stan G says:

    I'm 79 years old. Been a Superman Fan since the beginning. Had a crush on Eloise Sharkin in grade school, but as a shy kid who could barely talk to her, would often dream of flying to her rescue. I am also a Science Fiction fan since … well, forever, and have read two of Card's trilogies. Could tell he was a bit weird, what with the ghost stuff, but enjoyed the story telling. Hate to give up on Superman, at this late date, but I'll exercise my right to not support him, just as I believe he has a right to his views … as bigoted as they may be.

  31. Paul says:

    For those looking to defend Card on his reprehensible 'moral' stance as being 'his private views' I think you should re-read the article again:
    'Card is a staunch, vocal opponent of homosexuality and a board member of the National Organization for Marriage, a group actively working to keep same-sex marriage illegal, and his personal views have Super-fans furious.'
    If they were personal views that he didn't feel the need to share on a public stage, using his position as an established writer to do so, then I would simply write this off as Card being a bigoted ass and that would be that. But he has made these views VERY public, officially advocating for his bigotry. Not to mention that he has equated homosexuality with paedophilia and rape in some 'writings' on the subject, and that is just flat out wrong. I'm sorry, but bigotry is bigotry, and anyone who thinks a writer does not bring their own opinions and voice to a piece of writing, even one with a continuity as long as Superman's, is clearly deluding themselves.

  32. lando says:

    i heard david duke and tom metzger are working on a new batman!

  33. Jeremiah says:

    I love all the comments about how liberals can't really tolerate diversity because they want to boycott Card because of his beliefs. Imagine if Scott Card was advocating for laws mandating that the races could not intermarry because he believes in the purity of the races (by the way, this same argument is about 50 years removed from the modern era). I'm sure the same idiots would be on here saying, "OH and now you liberals show your true colors, you can't handle real diversity."

    Respecting diversity doesn't mean that I have to ignore the fascist activities of a homophobic goon.

    Oh and I'm a white, straight male. There are a few of us out here in the world that recognize homophobia for the ignorant, recessive plague that it is. Orson Scott Card and any company hiring him will get exactly zero of my dollars. Oh and D.C., I don't care how great a story the Grand Wizard of the KKK can right, if you have that a-hole reboot Batman…I'm not going to read your mags at all.

    This is me disrespecting the masquerade that is homophobic "diversity."

  34. Jimbo says:

    If I only read authors that I agree with on morality, I would be left with virtually nothing to read.

    Stop picking on OSC and just read the damn comic.

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