Positive Cynicism – Controversy, consciences and Superman

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

Last month, the comic book fan community was up in arms (and I think rightly so, but I’m a humanist) over DC Comics’ announcement that Orson Scott Card was writing a Superman story.

The story, written by Card and drawn by Chris Sprouse, was to be the kick-off to a new, digital Superman anthology series, with a print collection to follow. The controversy, of course, is Orson Scott Card’s very, very vocal stance on homosexuals, which includes a lot of publicly-said garbage about how being homosexual is some kind of self-loathing reaction to the trauma of being molested as a child, and sitting on the board of the staunchly anti-gay National Organization of Marriage. Now, before I even get into it, I just have to say this about all of that: there are always people who are going to argue that being a homophobic bigot is “just an opinion” or “freedom of speech.” I will not engage your plainly stupid arguments about this, because there’s a big difference between an opinion and going out of your way to be part of a group that lobbies legislatures to keep people from having their civil rights. Bigotry is not an opinion, and if you think so, you are a dick. Not going to argue with you or hear your lame defense: you’re just a dick. Move on. Don’t read my column anymore.

So the fan schism was this: how can DC Comics, which was just crowing about its GLAAD award, which is making strides in depicting homosexuals, now turn around and employ one of science fiction’s leading bigots to write about a character that represents, on some level, human decency?

There was a lot of reaction to it. Some retailers refused to carry the print issue, on the reasonable grounds that they didn’t want to financially support a man who was financially supporting an organized pro-bigotry lobby. I saw some others who intended to carry the print issue and donate every cent made from its sale to a worthy cause. Fan reaction was pretty intense, which I think says a lot of positive things about comic book fans.

There was a conspiracy theory going around that this was just a way for DC to test the reaction of hiring Card as a writer before they put him on Green Lantern. I think DC would consider it a coup to have a big name science fiction author on that book, and its regular writer is leaving the title.

But whatever their reasoning was, it came to an end when the story’s artist, Chris Sprouse, came forward and announced that he would not be drawing it after all, saying “The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that’s something I wasn’t comfortable with.” DC backed Sprouse’s decision and announced that the Card story will not appear in the anthology until some later, undetermined date when they can get an artist for it. And that was a couple of weeks ago and now no one has said anything else about it at all: not Card, not Sprouse, not DC and not the fans.

But I’ve been thinking about this, and I have a conspiracy theory of my own.

Now, I do want to say that I have no issues with Card’s story being delayed or whatever DC is doing with it. That’s fine. I don’t like the guy, I think his writing sucks and even though I’m sure he wasn’t planning on having Superman lecture someone about how their gay lifestyle is merely the traumatic effects of childhood molestation and then proselytize about Mormonism, I think fans certainly have a point that a man who espouses bigotry is not necessarily the man who should be writing about justice.

But I’m starting to wonder now if DC ever really planned to publish that story in the first place.

The thing about DC Comics, especially in the last few years, is this: they love publicity. And what easier way to get publicity than to stir up controversy?

I don’t know, doesn’t it seem a little … timed? They win a GLAAD award and then suddenly they’ve got a sitting member of the National Organization of Marriage board writing a Superman story? And then, just as suddenly, they can’t publish that story because the artist backs off? And, keen-eyed readers will notice, not because of any moral reason, but because he just feels the media uproar is overshadowing the work? And then DC doesn’t offer a firm date for the story’s future publication, but instead clams up about the whole thing?

You have to understand that the climate at DC Comics right now is such that several writers or artists who have complained on Twitter about the books they’re working on have found themselves suddenly removed from their books. And now one of them can come forward and say he’s not doing it and DC’s suddenly okay with that? That seems not in character for them, honestly.

I’m just saying, if DC had wanted to stir up a big controversy, get some face time in USA Today and then swept the whole thing away like it never happened, this would come across as pretty well planned. Now they still get to be allies to the gay community and not lose any of their gay readers, and they get the headlines that come with making a controversial decision and then reversing that controversial decision. And they get to test the fan reaction to having a specific big name science fiction writer work on their titles. And they even have one of their artists — and a really good one — heroically take a stand instead of the decision having to come down from publishers or editors, because it would just be embarrassing to have to reverse themselves from the top.

If that story ever sees print, I’d be surprised.

Well played, DC. Maybe.

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

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Comments (1)
  1. Antony March 25, 2013

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