Before I launch into a discussion of all this, let me just say that I'm not necessarily a disinterested party in this debate: I've never made a secret of my own sexuality in the time I've been writing this column, so obviously this is an issue that I take some direct interest in. However, I intend to present both sides of the argument, as far as I have the facts at this moment, in order to talk about the greater question looming over these proceedings: not whether Card should have been hired in the first place, but how much (if any) should a writer's personal views be taken into account when he is hired as a comics writer. (And, to head off the criticism of the otherwise positive reader who wrote in already this week, this isn't meant to be me giving you "an update on the struggle [of homosexuals in society]" as I supposedly do "every few weeks." For one thing, I don't even mention my own sexuality in particular or homosexuality in general as often as that; and for another, I haven't devoted that much time to columns specifically about gay and lesbian concerns (you haven't read a column about gay marriage in this forum, for instance, nor will you, despite my strong personal views on the subject), nor as much as I probably should. This column is a divergence from the former and an attempt to rectify the latter. Take that as you will.)
On the one hand, there are fans who are quite pleased with Marvel hiring Card. Dewey Yeatts, for instance, is sympathetic to the anger of gay fans, but he also points out the reasons Marvel hired Card in the first place: "I am anxious to hear your take on this one, but color me surprised: there is controversy over Orson Scott Card writing ULTIMATE IRON MAN? That there is outrage because the writer is anti-gay? Is this some kind of cosmic balance for the flack Judd Winick takes for putting gay characters in his books? Frankly it heartens me that folks are upset about this selection, but...
"I am not sure Card is a raving anti-gay writer. Now, he does have some odd views, but I read a great deal of an essay he wrote on the issue of gays in the Mormon Church. I think his reasoning is flawed, but he basically held that a gay lifestyle is inconsistent with what he feels is really being a 'good' Mormon. At the end of the essay, he notes that he believes in tolerance and compassion. He might not consider gays good Mormons, but he doesn't seem to feel they are bad people, and he despises intolerance and hatred toward gays. In that respect, he is certainly more open-minded and generous than say - Chuck Dixon. I don't agree with Card, and can poke holes in his argument, but I am not ready to call him a homophobe.
"Card, odd religious beliefs aside, is a darn good sci-fi writer, and I thought he was an inspired choice for this title. All I want is for Card to tell good Iron Man stories. I like what he has had to say so far, and I am willing to judge his stories solely on their merit, and not his personal views. I wish the same tolerance I expect for the stories of Winick, or Mark Millar to extend to Card as well. Good stories without preaching (and I mean this for any side of the political and/or religious fence) are all we want.
"I mean, geez, it's not like Sean Hannity is writing this book."
Good point, Dewey, though I think there'd be even more of an uproar if someone like Hannity did write it. Witness the tempest that arose briefly with the announcement of Marvel's COMBAT ZONE: TRUE TALES FROM GI'S IN IRAQ, written by neo-con Karl Zinsmeister. Thing is, that tempest arose more amongst artists approached to work on the book rather than fans I certainly haven't read anything on the boards out there about it so you have to wonder if that analogy actually holds. Otherwise, I'm sure you're not the only one bewildered about the reasons why gay and lesbian fans are in such an uproar about this...
Erik Tavares agrees with Dewey, and brings up an interesting point about the reactions to Card's beliefs: "Just one of many opinions on Orson Scott Card's involvement with Iron Man and the reaction by some regarding his political views...OSC's opinions are his own and have nothing to do with his ability to write a fine comic. Hands down. He is neither a homophobe or filled with 'hate' as some message boards have said, but a guy who writes essays and editorials for his local newspaper - and has the right to strongly disagree with an issue. One can disagree without being hateful or a bigot. The great irony, however, are those most offended by OSC's words were more than happy to insult his religion, and generate false stereotypes just as offensive. The duplicity I read on various message boards was astounding. That being said, as a very infrequent comic book reader, I plan to pick up Iron Man for the first time in my life - OSC's a great writer, and I think he'll do a bang-up job."
Interesting that you bring up the criticisms leveled at the Mormons, Erik (or, as they're more properly known, the LDS) it's ironic that both gays and Mormons are members of those few minorities that it's still fair game to poke fun at or to deride publicly, whereas similar criticisms of, say, Jews or blacks would never be tolerated the same way. And I agree, he's a fine writer, probably one of the finest science fiction writers of the late 20th century, which probably means the comics themselves will be more than simply readable. The question, of course, is whether the appreciation of the work can be set aside when the writer's personal views are revealed...and according to some definitions, despite what you've said above, Card's views could be considered textbook homophobia.
Robert Jones, Jr., for instance, writes in to explain why Card's hiring upsets so many in the gay community, and why Card's views could make a difference in the way that comic is written: "When I was asked for compelling reasons that would explain why Mr. Orson Scott Card should not be writing ULTIMATE IRON MAN, I found myself in somewhat of a dilemma. I wasn't exactly sure if I knew how to articulate an argument that would explain why someone who has an extremely homophobic world view should not be allowed access to the tools that could allow that dangerous viewpoint to surreptitiously make its way into the subconscious mind of an unsuspecting reader. I'm still not sure that I can make the argument in a way that could sufficiently counter the overwhelming hatred most Americans, and maybe even most people in the global community, feel towards homosexuals. But, that doesn't mean that I'm not going to try.
"You see, I have what the Powers-That-Be say are two strikes against me. Firstly and most obviously, I am Black. Before I am 'African-American,' 'Afro-American', or any of the other arbitrary descriptions used to identify, target and exclude me, I am the descendant of the Africans captured from the West coast of Africa and forced to labor endlessly, under the threat of unimaginable torture and death. Yet, their spirits were formidable, even more, indomitable, and all of the degradation, inequality, sanctions, laws, customs and righteous indignation used against them and heaped upon them could not destroy them. I can think of no event that could make one blacker, and no greater reason to embrace the blackness. So, with great pride, I am Black."
"The second strike against me, the moral majority claims, is my sexuality. You see, sir, I'm gay. Is it obvious? That depends on whom you ask. Nevertheless, despite what you may have heard, my sexuality is as much a part of me as my race. At the heart of the opposition's argument is the notion that my blackness can be seen, but my sexuality cannot. Since my blackness can be seen, it cannot be disputed. It is immutable and because it is immutable, they eventually (and by eventually, I mean after a civil war and over a century of continued oppression, violence and discrimination) came to the conclusion that since I cannot 'help' but be anything but Black, for the most part, it is wrong to discriminate against me because of it.
"And now, it has fallen upon me to determine why it should not be okay for a gentleman who embraces those same beliefs to write a comic book that will reach many credulous, impressionable minds. Let me paint a historical picture for you. Once upon a time, Adolph Hitler and his fellow Nazi Christians believed that it was okay to destroy those of the Jewish faith. It was a pervasive idea that seemed the right idea to them at the time and was supported by their readings of their holy texts. Hitler's long gone, but his hateful ideas live on. We believe ourselves more enlightened now. Would we want one of his followers writing SPIDER-MAN? Could we be assured that they would not include their dogma in their work, hidden or apparent? Would we allow such a thing to get past us?
"Once upon a time, David Duke and his fellow Christians of the Ku Klux Klan believed that Blacks were a mongrel race that should be violently eradicated. They believed that those ideas were supported by their religious texts. Duke and the Klan don't appear in the media much anymore, but their beliefs live on. We consider ourselves more evolved now. Would we want one of their followers writing FANTASTIC FOUR? Could we be assured that their beliefs would not seep into the work and be wittingly or unwittingly transmitted? Would we be okay with that?
"And here we have Mr. Orson Scott Card, whose voice joins the cacophony of hatred, violence and discrimination against homosexuals; homosexuals who could no more choose their sexuality than one could choose their natural eye, hair or skin color. As a homosexual, I feel qualified to make such a statement since many heterosexuals, who do not know the experience of homosexuality at all, would seek to dispute it. However, I do find it odd that heterosexuals never indicate that their heterosexuality is a conscious choice. They claim that they are born heterosexual, but in the same breath deny my claim to having been born homosexual. By that argument, they make sexuality both a clear, concrete, black/white, right/wrong dynamic and a gray area that indicates that being 'straight' is inborn and being 'gay' is a choice. If being straight is inborn and concrete, how does one discard that which cannot be discarded to experience being gay? But, I digress....
"As Hitler and Duke before them, Card and his fellow Christian homophobes believe that they are righteous in their cause and that they have God on their side and that they have Biblical text to support them. History has proven that Hitler and Duke were wrong, and has indicted them as such. Are we to believe that history's lesson will change in Card's case? Not if we properly apply history's clear lessons. All of the players are the same; only the names have changed. So, I ask: Are we enlightened and evolved? Do we want Card or any of his brethren writing ULTIMATE IRON MAN? Are we sure that his beliefs will not, as fact or as allegory, make their way into the text?
"Be careful how you answer the questions, because if your answer is yes to any one of them, it will have to be yes to all of them. History has taught us that, as well.
"Does Marvel truly wish to be remembered as the company that helped spread, justify, provide a platform for, give funding to and lend credence to a message of divisiveness, ignorance and hatred for the sake of selling a few comics?"
'Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.'
"The language that he chose to use was chilling. While the more blatant verbiage made my eyes pop out, the words 'when necessary' made my skin crawl. I wondered when it might be necessary to imprison me, just who would be deciding when it was necessary, and for what would it be necessary. Card wasn't so concerned with keeping me celibate so much as he was concerned with keeping me intimidated, and he was willing to bully me with prison to keep me quiet...but only when necessary.
"When I found that Card had been hired to write ULTIMATE IRON MAN, I was flabbergasted. Did Marvel expect me to give up my hard-earned money to support this guy? I find it almost inconceivable that they would hire anyone who would proclaim for the entire world to see that some of their customers and stockholders should be jailed. Would they have hired him if he written articles saying that Jews, divorcees, Catholics, Irish, Muslims, Japanese, or any other group that had once been considered less than 'acceptable, equal citizens' be jailed?
"What made Marvel's decision more head-scratching is that Card would be writing ULTIMATE IRON MAN, which should almost certainly have Jarvis as a character. How could a guy who thinks that Jarvis should be thrown in irons write a book in which Jarvis should be present? Is Card going to include Tony Stark's only supporting character? If not, what am I supposed to think of Marvel's long history of inclusion? One of the reasons I buy the Ultimate line is for its inclusion of gay characters like Jarvis, Flash Thompson, and Colossus. But if those characters are going to be hidden to send a clear message about who is and who is not acceptable and equal, why would Marvel have chosen to create them in the first place?
"[Then again,] what if Jarvis is included? Card also said that homosexuals were trapped in an adolescent sexuality, that they celebrate being separate, that they are unhappy, that they want to convert everyone to homosexuality, and that they are a danger to civilization. How am I supposed to read the Iron Man title without wondering if every action and word of Jarvis's is meant to portray the character as being an emotionally stunted danger? If Brian Meltzer had said that he felt women were sexual adolescents, I could not have read IDENTITY CRISIS without seriously questioning the author's portrayal of women, and the title would have been ruined for me. Even if Meltzer didn't include any women in the story, I'd have to wonder what about that decision. If Geoff Johns wrote that laws against interracial marriage should stay on the books because when necessary a clear message should be sent to those who violated society's regulation of sexual behavior, could I have read THE FLASH with the death of Linda Park's and Wally West's child without a creepy feeling? And how will I wash this creepy feeling from me if anything happens to Jarvis? Or if nothing at all happens with Jarvis?
"Card likes to say that he isn't homophobic, but after you've said that homosexuals are so dangerous to society that they should be jailed, we have to wonder if there isn't some irrational fear of homosexuals there. So the question becomes, should a person with an irrational fear of a character write a comic including that character?
"It is all well and good to say that people's political leanings or religious beliefs shouldn't get in the way of hiring them to write comics. But an author has publicly stated that your customers should be jailed, if he has made known that he is in opposition to the company's previously stated policies, and if he would be writing a book that would cause the readers to constantly second guess the characters' motivations, perhaps there should be second thoughts."
Greg Burgas, meanwhile, takes a more moderate position and brings up several questions that we should be considering just as seriously as Robert and Scott's questions: "This was part of a discussion on a blog a while back, and I'm still not sure about what to think about Card. I have no interest in ULTIMATE IRON MAN, but should we ignore art because the artist holds what we might think are reprehensible ideas? I enjoy Card's novels and see no reason to stop reading them, even though I know I'm giving money to someone I think is a complete idiot. Where do we draw the line? If I read Frank Miller's writing correctly (I could be wrong) the man's a borderline fascist. Does that mean I should stop reading his stuff? Is it only okay to boycott an artist if he makes his or her views public? If we don't know someone disagrees with us on social or political issues, is it okay to keep buying their work? I know this is a lot of questions, but it's a tough call. I think there's nothing wrong with giving Card money if you enjoy the writing. That's ultimately what an artist is judged on - whether you like the work or not. Some people can't get past an artist's personal views, but do they screen everything in their life, such as products they buy?"
Some do, Greg, and that's exactly why there's such a thing as "the Card question" to begin with. The problem is, should this be a matter of concern? For example, my favorite writer of all time is George Orwell, and thus it was a major shock to me to read the biography of this great man and to find out how much contempt he held for men he called "nancy boys". But does this mean I should ignore what is arguably the best political writing of the 20th century because the man who wrote it wouldn't have approved of my sexuality? On the other hand, Orwell's disdain for gays (heaven knows what he thought of lesbians) rarely came up in his actual writing, but if it had, what then? Would anything he wrote against homosexuality have a potentially damaging effect on me or on people like me?
A similar confusion comes up in me when I read Card's views on homosexuality in articles such as this one, this one, and this one. I spoke above of Card's beliefs fitting the textbook definition of homophobia, and as carefully worded as the statements in these articles are in order to fend off such a charge, I can't deny that it makes me both angry as hell that someone should say such things and sad beyond my ability to express it that an obviously intelligent person should believe such things. But while this means I have a decision to make about whether or not to buy ULTIMATE IRON MAN, does it mean that Marvel should have hired Card in the first place?
Marvel's own response to this issue would seem to suggest the answer to that question is "yes". In reply to a complaint letter written by one gay fan stating that he would boycott both ULTIMATE IRON MAN and the rest of Marvel's output, a representative from Marvel wrote, "While I'm aware I won't change your mind, I do want to clear the air about something. Marvel does not promote or support any political point of view. All we knew about Orson before he was asked to do this book was that he was an award-winning science fiction author who could bring some high level talent to this project. Since announcing this there have been a few angry emails stating various things about his philosophy, outlook, etc. Beyond that, it was no one's business. Please don't believe that Marvel Comics 'supports such hatred.' That's simply not true. Drop the books if you feel you must, but don't accuse Marvel of being in support of a political or social outlook or philosophy because we hire the guy."
It is indeed a stretch to state that Marvel as a company is homophobic simply because it employs one writer whose views can be considered homophobic. (Hell, I suspect that both Marvel and DC employ more than just one writer who feels that way.) However, there have been relatively few who have made their feelings about homosexuality so publicly known that they can be labeled in this way, and thus the question remains: should Card have been hired? And now that he has been hired, should he continue to work for the company? Or does any of this matter one way or the other?
I'm interested in hearing your views on both sides of the issue, but please bear in mind that I will not be publishing any ad hominem attacks in other words, if you want to call me or any of the respondents in this column names of any sort, take it out to the playground where it belongs. Otherwise, send in your comments about the Card question to me either here or here by midnight on Saturday, January 8, 2005(!), and I will publish responses on both sides next week. Remember to please use CAPS when giving the title of a series you want to mention. And as always, don't forget our discussion boards! In the meantime, here's this week's listings:
I don't know why this should be, but...according to the Diamond shipping lists
Meanwhile, Marvel makes your choices easier by offering a true bargain in the MARVEL AGE: FANTASTIC FOUR VOL 1 digest trade paperback for $5.99. You could always buy MARVEL AGE: SPIDER-MAN #19 for $2.25, too, but when you know it's going to be out in that affordable digest trade paperback format eventually, why bother?
That alternate history thingee continues in ALPHA FLIGHT #11 ($2.99) this week. I'm sure someone or other is reading it. No one I know, mind you, but I lead a sheltered life.
No titles beginning with "Bat" this time, but there are two notable Bat-title to pick up this time, especially the CATWOMAN: RELENTLESS trade paperback, collecting #s 12-19 of the series plus the 6-page Black Mask story from CATWOMAN SECRET FILES #1 for $19.95. Now that's a bargain. There's also the second part of one of those mega-length 12-part stories, this one written by Dave Lapham, in DETECTIVE COMICS #802 ($2.95). Hell of a time for me to have taken that title out of my folder at the comics shop...
Looks like Marvel's not planning on putting out another of those laughable "commemorative editions" of this series and IRON MAN, so be sure to pick up CAPTAIN AMERICA #2 ($2.99) this week. For one thing, it's good, and for another, you know they'll never reprint it...unless it sells out, of course. Or until the trade comes out. Oh, hell, buy it anyway...
Another must-buy: the DAREDEVIL VISIONARIES: FRANK MILLER VOL 1 trade paperback for $17.95. (He's not a borderline fascist, just so ya know.)
And another must-buy (especially if you have the first six issues...): Dark Horse's GRENDEL: DEVIL'S REIGN #7 (Of 7, $3.50). Can you think of a good reason why not? (Unless you don't have the first six issues....)
Why would anyone face off against the Fantastic Four or try to say that sentence five times fast? In the new miniseries FANTASTIC FOUR: FOES, the answer to at least one of those questions is revealed. Which could it be? Issue #1 of 6 is out this week for $2.99. Don't run, walk.
Oh, my, is that Killer Frost on the cover of FIRESTORM #9 ($2.50)? Hey, girl, long time no see! You know your boy is dead, right? Well, kinda...
Lots of fun New Year-sy stuff from Image this week, including BLOODSTREAM #4 (Of 4, $2.95); FLAMING CARROT #1 ($2.95); NOBLE CAUSES #6 ($3.50); TALES OF TELLOS #3 (Of 3, $3.50); and THE GIFT #9 ($2.99). Insert half-assed joke here.
JUBILEE has been ditched for the school dance in #5 (OF 6, $2.99) this week. Yup, that's "All-Ages" storytelling at its finest, isn't it?
Wow, for an undercover team, the JUSTICE LEAGUE ELITE get their cover blown more often than a crock pot... That's what happens in #7 (OF 12, $2.50) this week. Buy it. I'm sure it's wonderful.
Speaking of wonderful (nah, just kidding), there's also the MARVEL KNIGHTS 2099 trade paperback for$13.99. It's cheap.
Oh, lookee! Not only does the prison-break fun continue in NEW AVENGERS #2 ($2.25), but there's also something called a "hairsine variant" available for the same price! Don't know what that is, but boy, does that sound exciting!
Guess there is another must-buy out this week: the POWERLESS trade paperback for $14.99. Seriously! I'm surprised this one didn't make anyone's "Best Of 2004" list!
How THE QUESTION is operating in Metropolis without Superman saying something about it, I don't know, but it's happening in #3 (OF 6, $2.95) this week. Plus, Lois and Jimmy! Fun!
A story about Superman written by the man who has understood and deconstructed more comics than I ever will, Scott McCloud's SUPERMAN: STRENGTH #1 (OF 3, $5.95) ships this week. You could spend your money on the SUPERMAN: UNCONVENTIONAL WARFARE trade paperback for $14.95, I suppose, but there will be no deconstruction going on there, I'll tell you that for nothing.
Fun! Frolic! Undead things! It's all here for you in TOE TAGS FEATURING GEORGE ROMERO #4 ($2.95).
And speaking of undead things... is TOMB OF DRACULA #4 ($2.99) worth reading, despite (or because of) Blade being in it? Let me hear it from you, folks!
Longshot and Arcade, in ULTIMATE X-MEN #54 ($2.25)? Hmm, maybe these Ultimate titles are worth looking at after all, despite all those new people they're hiring...
Jeez, with all the Hellblazer stuff out from Vertigo this month, you'd think there was a movie or something...oh. That. Anyway, if you want a sneak peek of what Keanu's gonna look like, you can pick up the CONSTANTINE MOVIE ADAPTATION for $6.95 and avoid having to sit through the movie; or you can pick up the CONSTANTINE: THE HELLBLAZER COLLECTION trade paperback for $14.95, which collects both the movie adaptation and three issues of the comic (yeah, I know, not the best packaging move in my opinion, either); and if none of this pleases, you could always grab the VERTIGO SECRET FILES: HELLBLAZER #1 for $4.95 (which, again, would let you out of buying a movie ticket). There's also SWAMP THING #11 ($2.95), but with all this Hellblazer fever in the air, who cares about that?
Superheroes take over government, government doesn't like it, yadda yadda yadda...some storylines just don't get old quick enough, do they? But that's what you can expect from Wildstorm's AUTHORITY: FRACTURED WORLDS trade paperback for $17.95. There's also THE INTIMATES #3 ($2.95), which tells stories of young superhero love, and WILD GIRL #3 (OF 6, $2.95), which tells about a girl who loves her dog...maybe just a bit too much. Now there's fresh storytelling!
And finally, while Joss Whedon's amazing first story arc is collected in the ASTONISHING X-MEN VOL 1: GIFTED trade paperback for $14.99, two great tastes that taste a bit like steamed milk together team up in X-MEN/FANTASTIC FOUR #2 (OF 5, $3.50), while the Phoenix force returns to Earth only to find its favorite hostess dead it should probably come back in a few months, then in X-MEN: PHOENIX - ENDSONG #1 (OF 5, $2.99).
Party this week like it's 2005 because it is!
Comicscape is our weekly Comics column.