ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL SHIREY.
BY SANJANA CHOWHAN | For generations, Americans have turned to comic books for inspiration. Readers found themselves identifying with Peter Parker, who was a social outcast but strived to become the brave and confident Spiderman.
The idea that a passive and introverted Clark Kent could be Superman gave fans a sense of fairness and justice. The theme of good versus evil has always been a central element of comic books, with tales that celebrate integrity and hope. So, when DC Comics commissioned noted author Orson Scott Card to write the first chapter of the Superman digital series, an important segment of the comic community was not happy. Card’s vociferous opposition to marriage equality — and gay rights, generally — is enraging LGBT comic communities across the country.
“What did DC think? That we wouldn’t notice?,” said Jono Jarrett of Geeks Out, a queer comics group in New York. “Why should I give him my money when he wants to take away my rights?”
Anti-gay warrior’s role in superhero’s new digital series rankles out comic geeks
Card has been unabashedly slamming homosexuality since the ‘90s, calling it the “end of democracy in America.” In 2009, he joined the board of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a group notorious for attacking marriage equality and other advances for gays and lesbians in multi-million dollar TV ad campaigns and elsewhere.
“He’s an activist bigot who helps direct millions of dollars into denying me and my partner of 15 years the basic legal rights straight couples take for granted,” said Glen Weldon, an author and pop culture commentator from Washington, DC.
LGBT themes in comic books are a relatively new concept.
“Comic books are not meant only for children anymore,” Jarrett said. “It has become a very sophisticated form of expression that appeals to everyone.”
Back in 1954, a comic book would have been out of step with the Comics Code Authority, an industry self-regulation scheme, if there was any mention of homosexuality. But in 2000, publishing giants like DC and Marvel broke away from the organization and started introducing comics for adult readers.
“Comics are ideally suited to represent the objective and subjective experience of being queer, so I am very happy to see gay folks participating in comics culture as creators, consumers, and subjects of comics,” said Chicago comic book writer Dale Lazarov, author of “Manly,” a graphic novel with homoerotic themes.
Patrick Yacco of Geeks Out just may turn in his cape and leave Metropolis once and for all.
What is shocking to fans is that DC Comics was in fact one of the pioneers of illustrating queer characters in comic books. The company is thought to have featured the first kiss between two men back in 1988 and in the past few years has been including more and more gay characters in its titles.
Last year Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern character, was reintroduced as gay, Batwoman came out as a lesbian in 2006 (and may soon wed her girlfriend), and in its 2011 DC Universe relaunch, the company introduced Bunker, an amateur superhero who is gay.
“DC underestimated LGBT comics consumers’ attachment to DC as a gay-supportive and gay-affirming company,” said Lazarov.
In a written statement, DC Comics said, “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.”
The company did not respond to a request for further comment.
Lazarov challenged the logic of DC’s statement.
“Personal views imply it’s just a question of what he thinks or what he’s written on gay folks,” he said. “Being an active leader in an anti-gay rights organization that’s been designated a hate group takes it far beyond a viewpoint, so their word choice is, in my estimate, imprecise.”
But DC is not Card’s only home in the comics world. Marvel, too, has commissioned him, to write the Ultimate Iron Man series in 2005. Although there was a severe backlash then as well, Card was not dropped and the series was a hit. Gay comics fans claim to be stung harder this time because it is not just any hero Card is writing about, it’s Superman.
“Superman represents fairness. He literally personifies compassion,” said Weldon, author of “Superman: The Unauthorized Biography.” “He exists to fight for those ideals, for everyone. DC asking Card to write the iconic Champion of the Oppressed shows me that they don’t understand who the character is or what he represents.”
He added, “It’s not the first time a mainstream comic book company has disappointed me, and it won’t be the last. But this hits closer to home.”
The LGBT advocacy group Allout.org has started a petition calling for DC comics to drop Card. The group has already collected more than 15,000 signatures and wants to reach a 25,000 mark, but some fans upset over DC’s decision do not want to sign the petition.
“I agree with the sentiment behind the petition, but I disagree with their strategy so I am not part of it,” Lazarov said. “If you advocate against workplace discrimination for your community, it’s counterproductive to advocate for it when it comes to other people. I haven’t purchased or read his work in 20 years because his raging homophobia came to my attention that long ago.”
Like Lazarov, Geeks Out is not part of the petition, but is refusing to purchase any of Card’s work.
“Hiring Card cuts deep,” said Patrick Yacco from the group. “I’m not going to go so far as to boycott the company, but I’m definitely not picking up ‘Adventures of Superman.’ If this keeps happening, I may have to turn in my cape and leave Metropolis once and for all.”
Book stores like Zeus Comics in Dallas have refused to stock any issues of the new digital series written by Card. On his Facebook page, Richard Neal, the store’s owner, said it is about equality.
“If you replaced the word ‘homosexuals’ in his essays with the words ‘women’ or ‘Jews,’ he would not be hired,” he wrote. “But I’m not sure why it is still okay to ‘have an opinion’ about gays.”
Whatever, a comic book store in San Francisco, is going the same route as Zeus.
“We refuse to give money to someone who will then turn around and use that money to fund more anti-gay hatred,” the store announced on its Facebook page.
For its part, NOM is claiming to be the victim in this superhero flap. The group’s president, Brian Brown, was unavailable for comment but told Fox News that the Allout.org petition was “un-American.”
“Simply because we stand up for traditional marriage, some people feel like it’s okay to target us for intimidation and punishment,” Brown said.