Superman has tussled with cosmic forces, reversed time by flying around the earth in the opposite direction, hell, he's even died on occasion, but now he may be facing his biggest obstacle yet- no, not Zack Snyder's direction, but a boycott by comic book stores and readers alike.
So, why would anyone boycott the big blue Boyscout? The short version is DC has hired Science Fiction author Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game), a very vocal and active voice in the anti-gay realm, to write an upcoming arc for Adventures of Superman. Obviously, with the comic book reading populace traditionally being a very open, and accepting community, this news has ruffled more than a few feathers. Many store owners have decided not to carry the Card authored issues, and fans have taken to social media to make their voices heard. This all comes less than a year after the inflated controversy over Marvel having a gay couple get married in the pages of Astonishing X-Men, and DC re-introducing the character of Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, as gay. The situation with Superman opens a different can of worms- Having a gay character who is interpreted by different writers in different ways is one thing, having a writer telling stories who is vocally and proactively anti-gay (he sits on the board of the National Organization of Marriage), and how we as readers perceive his views through his writing, is quite another.
First, some perspective- It is Orson Scott Card's absolute right to have the views that he has. Card also has the right to pursue a career as an author, and express an opinion on any number of personal or social matters. It is also any comic book shop owner's right to not carry a book they feel does not meet the standards they hold for the content on their shelves. And it is your right, dear reader, whether or not you choose to buy or read anything. This is basic stuff, but it's astounding how often we need to be reminded of it.
I think the issue we all need to deal with is how we handle the content we consume and where it comes from. There is no right answer, this is something that you have to deal with in your own way. At what cost to your values, or your soul if you prefer, does enjoying a story from someone you are at odds with, on a personal or philosophical level, have? Can you separate a good story from the person that wrote it? Is it even worth doing so? Can you enjoy good writing as such, or is it forever tainted? It's an interesting question, and I would say even more so in this situation considering Orson Scott Card isn't just some name from the ether. Card has written what is widely considered one of the greatest Science Fiction novels of all time. If you were to take a course in the building blocks of Sci-Fi, Card's Ender's Game would be ensconced in the halls along with the works of Issac Asimov, Philip K. Dick and Robert A. Heinlein. Does Card's current ant-gay pedestal destroy the value of that work? You tell me.
I'm not writing this to tell you what to think, just to give you something to think about. Personally, I've thought about this a lot, well before this current crisis (Get it? DC, Crisis... Zing!) At the risk of alienating my readership, I am willing to admit I love sports (gasp!) In my town, Philadelphia (jewel of the east!), we had a similar controversy a few years ago. The Philadelphia Eagles signed Michael Vick to be their Quarterback, and the entire city of brotherly love had their morals thrown into a tizzy, mine included. As a dog owner, and as someone who, you know, dislikes people who kill defenseless animals with their bare hands, I had a serious issue with his hiring. The question I then had to pose to myself was- Do I stop watching and supporting my team entirely due to the actions of one person? No more Sundays watching the Eagles with my dad. No more crabby snacks and homemades. The answer ended up being “yes”, and I haven't watched the Eagles since. A large part of my reasoning had to do with the fact that the owners of the Eagles organization, people whose job is to represent my city, were putting me in this situation, and hoped a few touchdowns and ticks in the win column would smooth things over. They knew it was a powder keg, but they no doubt made their decision based on mountains of risk/reward data, and for them, the cost we talked about earlier was one they were willing to pay. Obviously, the situation with the Eagles, and DC's current decisions, don't exactly line up, but it does raise an important question- Why would DC introduce an openly gay character, and then hire an openly anti-gay writer? No offense to Mr. Card's ability, but is courting this controversy really the right way to boost the sales of Superman? Does Orson Scott Card really have a story that DC just couldn't pass up for their beloved icon? Is it worth erasing any progress and good will you garnered from the Alan Scott character barely a year ago? Does it go against everything Superman stands for as a character? He is, after all, essentially an ideal, and that makes little sense in the hands of a writer with very one-sided views. These are questions I hope the brass at DC has asked themselves, and I hope they can give an answer more candid and honest than a hollow press release. Alienating your fans will sap your power quicker than kryptonite.
Of course, the success or failure of DC's gamble is entirely up to you, because you wield the most powerful weapons of all- choice, and the almighty dollar. We can debate on Twitter and message boards until our fingers bleed, but nothing speaks louder to a company that's in the business of making money than using your wallet to make a statement. If you disagree with DC's decision, then don't buy the Orson Scott Card issues. Believe me, it will send a message more powerful than anything you put on Facebook, any picket sign, or anything I've written in the last few paragraphs. That being said- having an open dialogue about this is a great thing, so I invite you to share your opinions and views in the comments below. What would you do if a character you've spent your life reading, and relating to, was in the hands of someone who represents the opposite of everything you stand for?
About a year ago my wife and I moved into a new house. I now have all the space I dreamed of for my books, comics etc. My well worn copy of Ender's Game, which I've had since I was a kid, did not make it on to my new shelves. It sits comfortably in a box in my new attic.
Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.