As most Superman fans know by now, DC Comics has announced that Orson Scott Card will be writing the new series, “Adventures of Superman.” The backlash began immediately. For good reason, in my opinion. There is always a question in these cases of whether good artistic work can be separated from its artist, author, musician, etc. Art is a terribly personal work that becomes publicly shared (if the artist wants to share it). Authors write from a place of belief and imagination. That’s not to say they can’t write about things outside of their own personal experiences (at least I hope Stephen King didn’t have a killer car or fight with a rabid dog …). But when it comes to a figure like Superman, who is – at his essence – the Hero who fights for ALL and who believes ALL deserve justice – devoted readers take that identity seriously. I do, at least.
I have never been a fan of Card – though I know many, many sci fi fans who LOVE Enders Game. I just actually don’t like his writing style. But when I learned about his beliefs and political activism, I didn’t even try reading any of his books anymore. Card is not only an outspoken opponent of equal marriage, he actually is one of the leaders of the anti-equal marriage movement is outspokenly homophobic. He has espoused other incredibly bigoted positions, and I find his views to be crass and proto-Limbaugh.
I read the authors I read because I enjoy how they write. But I admit, what they espouse in public can have a huge impact on me because who they are is often very reflected in what they write. That’s why I read sci fi authors like Connie Willis, Sheri Tepper, Ursula LeGuin, and, of course, John Scalzi. In fact, I found Scalzi’s sci fi writing after I’d been reading his blog, drawn to it by entries like his incredible 2005 “Being Poor.” I loved The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and its companions as a kid, but when I read them again as an adult, they were so skewed by Lewis’ religious beliefs, I couldn’t even finish them. But that’s just me. Lots of authors have beliefs I disagree with, and I would always defend their right to write whatever they want to write. I don’t have to read it. Everyone has their own approach to how they read the fiction, or sci fi, or comics they love.
But Superman is different.
Superman is not just a superhero. He’s the superhero. He created the very concept of the superhero, and everything that’s touched on that concept for the past 75 years — we are talking vast swaths of popular culture — exists because of him. Regardless of how you feel about Superman and superheroes, you can’t deny the cultural impact the character has made, and continues to make.
The entire point of Superman is that he stands up for the downtrodden and the oppressed. He does not stand for injustice or inequality. He defends the very people to whom Orson Scott Card publicly wants to deny equality. It’s an interesting dilemma.
Oliver Sava gives him the benefit of the doubt:
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.”)
But I find I have to agree with Whedon again,
But when we do see [Superman] for the very first time, these are the first words that appear directly below, the first epithet applied to this newly-minted creation as it was unleashed upon the world:
Champion of the Oppressed.
There it is, coded into his creative DNA from the very beginning: He fights for the little guy.
And that’s why this bugs me, and why I’m not the least bit curious about what Card’s Superman might be like.
DC Comics has handed the keys to the “Champion of the Oppressed” to a guy who has dedicated himself to oppress me, and my partner, and millions of people like us. It represents a fundamental misread of who the character is, and what he means.
As an alternative, David Gerrold (writer of every sci fi thing you’ve ever heard of, including “The Trouble With Tribbles”), has offered to provide some balance:
Perhaps you could balance that decision by hiring an openly gay writer to draft a Superman story for a future issue. I hereby volunteer. …
I have some very good ideas that I think would work well for the series. I’d like the opportunity to write for you the very best Superman story ever.
Superman isn’t just any character. Superman belongs to us. He belongs to every kid who ever needed to believe that there was a truly good being out there who would use his superpowers to look out just for that kid. He has always responded to current events in a way that stands up for true equity and justice. He can’t simply ignore where America is now.
Orson Scott Card has a history in comics, he no doubt can author some great comic story lines. But can Card write a true Superman — a hero that believes in the opposite of what the author himself believes?
Sava is right – the first “Adventures of Superman” will sell big time – because nothing sells better than a controversy. But that’s not a good reason to tie the essence of who Superman is to an author that would never agree with Superman’s true nature.
Superman always tells us that we can do better. I think DC Comics could have done better.