Superman, Orson Scott Card and Tarnishing “Ender’s Game”

“Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.”

Orson Scott Card

I had to break the news to my family on the way to a restaurant. “You remember Ender’s Game?” I asked. “And Ender’s Shadow?” My wife had read the first aloud to the kids years ago; I’d read the second. Of course they remembered.

“Well,” I said and explained about DC comics readers protesting Orson Scott Card writing a Superman story because Orson Scott Card is a raging homophobe. Gay readers have probably known this for years, but it was news to me when I’d read about it that afternoon. It was news to my family now, but no one seemed particularly shocked, just sad. At fifteen, my daughter has grown increasingly resigned to chunks of her childhood eroding into the abyss of depressing adulthood. All those hours spent with the talented Mr. Card now retroactively icky.

I’m not saying Ender’s Game is suddenly a less worthy read. But it is a little like finishing Ender’s Shadow and my son saying how it kinda ruined the first book. Not only was Ender not as smart as he’d seemed, but he was sort of an idiot for not seeing that his little friend was really the one making things work out so well.

And now it turns out Card is an idiot too. It would be easy to say it’s his religion’s fault, sort of like when Cat Stevens didn’t condemn Iran’s death sentence on Salman Rushdie. But a close colleague in my English department is Mormon, and he voted for Obama and supports our fellow gay colleagues too. So Orson Scott Card owns his own homophobia.

Superman, on the other hand, has been supporting gay rights since the 80s. DC wouldn’t let writer-artist John Byrne actually print the word “lesbian” (Superman only got as far as the first letter before being interrupted by some less culturally touchy threat), but Clark Kent was fully behind Captain Maggie Sawyer of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit. And now the rest of the multiverse has finally caught up. Superman has been called the ultimate Boy Scout for decades, and now even the Boy Scouts are abandoning their gay ban.

So should fans ban DC when Orson Scott Card takes over the unitard?

To be honest, I find it a little hard to hate the guy. I picture him as a gray-skinned brontosaurus—not one of  those warm-blooded, hollow-boned sauropods with whip-action tails, but the kind I grew up with, back when they were just obese lizards hanging out in swamps because they couldn’t support their own weight.

I seriously doubt his script for the Superman comic is going to be exploring anti-gay themes. But is that the point? Even if Card keeps his homophobia in his swamp, does the guy and his DC employers deserve our allowance money? Obviously not. But formal bans still make me squeamish. The so-called Moral Majority used them all the time.

But if it’s any consolation, Card’s DC gig has outed his Jurassic mindset to a much larger audience. Now even straight dads like me and my (what at the moment appear to be) straight kids know the sad truth too. We’d been rooting for Hollywood to adapt Ender’s Game for years and now . . . not so much.

Also, if you like historical parallels, the original Superman was anti-marriage anyway. And I don’t mean gay marriage. I mean all marriage. George Bernard Shaw popularized his translation of the term “ubermensch” in his 1903 play Man and Superman. It’s about a modern Don Juan who wants to overthrow England’s marriage laws because they slow down the process of breeding a race of superhumans.

It’s not your standard supervillain scheme, but I’m sure Card would be horrified. And since Shaw’s evil plot would have to overthrow England’s new same-sex marriage now too, gay advocates and Card may actually have a storyline they can team-up for.

When my kids are grown up, I hope they respect and support marriage too, and when my grandkids, gay or straight, marry in their turn, I trust all the Orson Scott Cards of the multiverse will be long extinct.

Chris Gavaler teaches at Washington & Lee University and writes about comics at his website The Patron Saint of Superhereos where this essay first appeared in a slightly modified form.


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