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."
As Gavaler argues, the KKK roots of the super-good Superman caused, and continue to cause, some problems for the character. Specifically, Superman may be committed to the good—but he's also committed to vigilante violence. The fact that it's vigilante violence in the name of good doesn't resolve the contradiction; it simply heightens it. After all, there's a pretty good argument to be made that vigilante violence is in itself an evil—especially in the American context, where vigilante violence is linked inexorably to racism, lynching, and the enforcement of 100 years of Jim Crow.
Gavaler notes that the connection between Dixon's fiction and early superhero comics has been lost or erased from most historical discussions, and that's certainly true. Nonetheless, vigilantism, and the problem of the good vigilante, has remained a live issue in superhero narratives. In Frank Miller's much lauded Dark Knight Returns from 1986, for example, all superheroes are outlawed except for Superman. He works for an increasingly militarized and fascist American government, and ends up fighting the still-vigilante Batman. Similarly, in Marvel's Civil War series, the government attempts to officially register superheroes, resulting an all out battle between pro-and anti-registration heroes.