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