In September 2011 I made the jump from buying trade collections of comics to also buying the monthly single issues, using DC's New 52 as a jumping on point and getting to grips with how comic book shops actually worked. Less than two years later, my pull list is far larger than I ever expected it to be, but now for the first time I'm looking at a list with zero DC comics on it.
Just one month ago I wrote about the comics I was most looking forward to in 2013, including various DC titles. What happened between then and now that has seen me abandon my erstwhile favourite publisher? Three things: the cancellation of titles that I love; the lack of commitment to progressing women's costumes with the reversion to Power Girl's former look; and the hiring of Orson Scott Card to write a Superman story.
These issues came together in a realisation that I had lost my enthusiasm for a comics universe that I used to love. My new pull list was met with accusations that I was boycotting, and therefore was some kind of fascist. Firstly, I am not boycotting. I will finish the run of I, Vampire which has been cancelled, and I will finish Grant Morrison's Batman Inc and Action Comics. I'll also be back for his Multiversity and Wonder Woman, and I look forward to seeing what is coming out at Vertigo. I will continue to read trades of some of the comics that fell of my pull list, as many of them read better (to me) in long-form. Even if I was boycotting, that should not be painted as anything other than a free and fair choice.
When I, Vampire was cancelled I was particularly gutted. It was my favourite title of the New 52, and one of the few titles to reach beyond superheroes in a new and meaningful way. I remained enthusiastic about other titles, hearing that Christy Marx was to take over Birds of Prey based on her success with Sword of Sorcery, another comic that I greatly enjoyed. Then the news came that the latter was to be cancelled as well. Two comics doing different things, that I championed relentlessly, both cancelled. I, Vampire earned spectacular trade sales and earned great critical acclaim; Sword of Sorcery is not even out in trade collection yet. Writers and artists being switched about at the last minute, books being dropped and started at the drop of a hat... my confidence is gone.
I do not know whether my opinion and money on such things can possibly make any difference. Perhaps it can at the likes of Image or Dark Horse, where miniseries or full series depend on good sales for their trade collections, and where more money goes directly to the creators rather than the owners of a franchise. If that's the case then I'd rather spend what limited funds I have on trying out new stories with them, and wait for the trades with DC.
I was excited initially to see the new costume of Power Girl in Worlds' Finest. Kara is a favourite of mine from comics past, and the change in her costume was a hugely powerful statement for DC to make. I've written before about what a strong feminist character Kara is, and how her costume shouldn't define her. Yet the fan reaction to her covering her breasts was incredibly telling - outrage at "prudes" who had taken away their favourite toys. The statement that DC were making rang hollow however, with Power Girl's costume frequently torn to shreds in order to expose her breasts, and now, finally, her original costume has simply been restored. It was an empty gesture, and I fell for it.
Finally, and most importantly, the announcement came that known homophobe activist Orson Scott Card had contributed a story to the upcoming Adventures of Superman anthology. I'm not sure which depressed me more, the fact that DC hired him to write the story in the first place, or the outpouring of rage from defensive fans about how a boycott would be an invasion of free speech, an invocation of fascism, and much more. It was asked whether we would stop reading all comics written by those with opposing viewpoints, as if homophobia was nothing more than a difference of opinion rather than an oppressive hatred of others, or why it was that the tolerant in society were really the intolerant, as if bigotry was something to applaud as brave or bold.
DC dismissed complaints by stating that personal views of creators were not those of the company itself. Homophobia is not merely a difference of opinion. There is no mandate on tolerating intolerance. DC would not, I hope, employ someone who sought to deny anyone rights based on their race or gender, so why is bigotry of gay people permissible?
Card holds more than homophobic views, he sits on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, which works to oppose same-sex marriage, civil unions and adoption. His views are visible in his fiction and essays, but it is not that Superman might appear homophobic in Card's work that is the issue - it is of course terribly unlikely that such a thing would happen. Card has written comics before: Ultimate Iron Man for Marvel being one. Those that defend him ask why no outcry was raised then, in their haste making the mistake of thinking that just because they weren't talking about it then that nobody was. In the eight years since then, LGBT awareness has grown much larger (though still clearly nowhere near large enough), and absolutely no comic character - regardless of movie sales - will ever get as much press coverage as Superman.
The overall issue is that Card is writing a superhero story for a publisher that is, so it is implied, trying to welcome a more diverse audience and represent them within its books. We have a sprinkling of gay characters, despite an overall hostility to such on message boards and other hives of scum and villainy. Comics desperately need to appeal to a greater audience not only for their own survival but because so many of their existing readers feel left out, ignored, and taken for granted. Women characters are hard to come by, non-white characters barely exist, and any deviance from straight is screamed "tokenism" by some. A man who actively campaigns to reduce the rights of people - of readers no less - is not a man who should be writing these stories of escapism from the harsh bigotry of our own world.
Superman, of all heroes. Superman generates miles of headlines every year, outstripping any other comic book character in both recognition and interest. Batman is the cool broody billionaire we'd all love to be; Iron Man a less broody version; Spider-Man the hero of our teenage years; and Wolverine the edgy anti-hero out on the fringes. But Superman is the golden one, the hero of the ages, the farm-boy who loves his mum, the plucky reporter who disguises himself as a normal Joe, the unstoppable boy scout. Superman has the greatest powers, and consequently, from a continuing narrative point of view, is one of the most boring superheroes of all time. But he is an icon. He does the right thing, is forever alien and alone, saving the human race time and time again as they throw themselves over the cliffs of reason like particularly demented lemmings.
For Superman to be written by someone morally dubious is unthinkable to many. Not because he's a superhero, or because of his readership, or because of his all-American ways, but because he is Superman. He, more than any other hero from the world of comics or pop culture in general, has stepped beyond the realm of entertainment and become a god of our age. He is as recognised as Apollo or Ra, his origin tale as known as the baby in the reeds or the time beneath the Bodhi Tree. The sight of Superman, of his colours or crest, tells us everything about our icon - and he is an icon, regardless of how much that word is overused. He represents truth and justice, honesty and mercy. The American-way to Americans, but he is a global creation.
Superman represents far more than being a superhero. An alien accepted into a new society, accepted on the surface but ever doubted, accepted by the person who loves him for who he is and the parents who wanted him so much, aspiring at a white collar job from his impoverished upbringing, offering a helping hand to everyone regardless of their background, colour or creed. Tarnished by so much, with his creators trodden on by the foot of the publisher and its parent company, he would stand hollow had he not taken on a life of his own, beyond his origins as a violent crusader.
He represents the very best in all of us, the best that we could ever hope to be. Hundreds have written his adventures and thousands more will do so. Writing any of these ancient characters is a kind of magic, a form of voodoo on the paper that brings life to the two dimensional and touches peoples hearts across the entire world - all from a single pen. For Superman to intentionally be placed in the hands of those who would see rights taken away from their fellow man, and for him to be touched by one with hatred in their heart, it causes a shudder of discomfort or disgust amongst those who don't even feel like they are that attached to this Man of Steel. But he represents so much, to so many, to entire generations of those who have ever felt alone or different. A defiant shout of goodness in the dark; our escapist fantasies where everyone lives happily ever after and has splendid adventures before tea.
When my books are cancelled and my heroes disrobed, I walk away saddened. When the greatest hero of all is written by someone like Card, the entire industry is shamed to the core. Card's views would disgust Superman, just as they should disgust the best in all of us. And just as they should disgust and shame DC.