The Real Problem With Superman's New Writer Isn't Bigotry, It's Fascism

Orson Scott Card's anti-gay beliefs would do more than contradict the Man of Steel's inherent goodness.

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What is Superman's greatest superpower?

Most people probably would argue for super-strength, though there might be votes for super-invulnerability or super-speed or super-flight as well. If you're a super-contrarian with a few too many back issues in mylar bags, you might pipe up in favor of heat vision or x-ray vision or telescopic vision or super-breath or, in this decadent age, super-kissing.

However, Ben Saunders, an associate professor of English at the University of Oregon, suggests that Superman's ultimate power is something different altogether. In his book Do The Gods Wear Capes?, Saunders argues that since his first appearance in 1938, Superman has been defined as a "moral agent who acts always out of his commitment to 'the good.'" For Saunders, then, it isn't superstrength or superkissing which makes Superman what he is; it is super-goodness.

The super-goodness that Saunders describes is a big part of why many fans are worried about DC's decision to have Orson Scott Card write a story for Adventures of Superman. Card, the popular and critically acclaimed author of sci-fi novels such as Ender's Game, is also an outspoken and active homophobe. He has argued in favor of sodomy laws, and is on the board of the National Organization of Marriage, which works against the legalization of gay marriage. In his fiction and non-fiction, he has often conflated homosexuality with rape and pedophilia, sometimes seeming to suggest that people become gay as the result of childhood sexual abuse.

News of Card's selection has sparked a backlash. All Out, an international campaign for LGBT equality, has started a petition to call for his removal from the title, and it has already reached more than 12,000 signatures.

Most of the critics of DC's decision, following Saunders's logic, tend to base their objection to Card on an understanding of Superman as standing for, and representing, a kind of absolute, super-good. Graeme McMillan at Wired, for example, suggests that the anger over Card's selection is natural—"After all," he says, "doesn't Superman stand against such bigotry?" Andrew Wheeler at the Guardian agrees:

Superman is a good guy. More than that, Superman is the best guy. Created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster in 1932, he's the archetypal superhero, a man of enormous power who places himself in service to the powerless. To borrow a famous phrase from the 1940s Superman radio serial, he stands for "truth, justice and the American way."

Richard Neal, a gay man and the owner of Dallas' Zeus Comics, adds that his store will not be stocking the Card-written Superman, and explains "It is shocking DC Comics would hire him to write Superman, a character whose ideals represent all of us."

By this logic, to have the actions and adventures of Superman controlled by an anti-gay bigot violates essence of the character.

But there's another, less-obvious reason why people might find the juxtaposition of Card and Superman so disturbing. An anti-gay Superman is upsetting not just because Superman is not a bigot, but because, in some ways, he is one.

In an article in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, Chris Gavaler argues that the Klu Klux Klan was one of the main historical sources for superheroes. Specifically, Gavaler says, pulp pro-Klan novels like Thomas Dixon's 1905 The Clansmen put in place many of the tropes used by Siegel and Shuster when they created their first Superman stories. According to Gavaler, Dixon's "Ben Cameron, aka the Grand Dragon, represents the earliest twentieth-century incarnation of an American vigilante hero who assumes a costume and alias to hide his identity while waging his war for good."

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Noah Berlatsky is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He edits the online comics-and-culture website The Hooded Utilitarian and is the author of the forthcoming book Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948.

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