Playing the Free Speech Card

DC Comics has hired SF author Orson Scott Card to write a Superman digital comic. This has launched a lot of vocal protest and sparked petitions for DC to not employ Card. I’ve signed a petition and have spoken out against Card online. Why? It’s not for his views on homosexuality, abhorrent as I may find them. It’s that Card is on the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage, an organization that actively works to deny equal civil rights to homosexuals. I have friends and family members who are LGBT, so NOM’s actions have a direct impact on the lives of people I care about. Card is very open about his views and his activities, so as far as I’m concerned, if DC hires him, they’re complicit in Card’s work against equal civil rights for LGBT people.

You may disagree with me. That’s fine. But in the arguments I’ve seen defending DC and Card, I’ve seen some misconceptions, so let’s get a few things straight.

The US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. Absolutely. It does not, however, guarantee you a microphone and it doesn’t guarantee you freedom from the consequences of your speech. (In fact, certain kinds of speech are illegal precisely because of their effects. You can’t lie in advertisements. You can’t commit libel or slander.) Asking for DC Comics to not hire Card is not censorship. Neither is petitioning advertisers to pull their support of people like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. If the government were to silence Card (or Limbaugh or Beck), that would be censorship. But the First Amendment in no way guarantees Card be paid for what he writes, what he says, or what he does. DC–or any other business–has every right to not hire Card for his views or his actions. (Similarly, neither Rush Limbaugh nor Glenn Beck are in any way guaranteed a voice in popular media. If no one would hire them because of the things they say, that would be their tough luck. That’s not censorship, that’s a free market.)

This does not mean I advocate every company firing anyone who espouses an unpopular view. It’s not so sweeping as that. This is an individual case, and as I said, it’s not about what Card thinks or says, it’s about what he actually does. I would no more support DC hiring someone who was well-known for being active in fighting equal rights for women or people of color.

I will defend Card’s right to speak his mind with every fiber of my being. But I will not support his right to speak his mind without consequence and I will fight against him writing a character I believe embodies and supports the opposite of Card’s views. The character of Superman was created as someone who fights against oppression, bigotry, exploitation, inequality, and injustice. I expect DC Comics to live up to that, and I believe hiring Orson Scott Card goes against that legacy.



Share With Me

What’s exciting you right now? What books, comics, games, movies, TV series, music, plays, art movements, people, places, things are thrilling and delighting you these days? If you’re excited about stuff, please share it with me (and others) in the comments. Let us all know what you’ve been reading, watching, playing, experiencing that is getting you all excited.

Here, I’ll go first. I’m currently reading (and listening to the audiobook of) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I am madly in love with this book, savoring every word and sentence and paragraph. I’m also reading DC Comics’ Earth 2 and really enjoying the hell out of it. The current season of Castle is, I think, the best yet, and the new season of Grimm is really building into a great show. Also, the new crowdfunded album by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, Theatre is Evil, is so good, I started crying tears of joy the first time I listened to it.

Now it’s your turn. Share your excitement with me!

Lipstick Traces

Meanwhile, in New York, 1978…

It was the beginning of my 3rd grade school year, and I bought a copy of Firestorm the Nuclear Man #4 with my allowance. Firestorm the Nuclear Man #4

There was something about the character that really grabbed me. Maybe it was his odd name, or his bright, garish costume. Maybe it was that he was a sarcastic smartass or that he had weird powers (he could turn one object into another, like in this issue when he turns the air around a gang of robbers into a huge, plastic pumpkin). Or maybe it’s that HIS HEAD WAS CONSTANTLY ON FIRE. Whatever it was, this comic in particular appealed to me. I got a pad of tracing paper and traced every page of the comic, including the cover. I renamed the main character (to the less dynamic “Flamethrower the Burning Man”) and rewrote all of the dialogue.

I wasn’t thinking about it at the time–in fact, I didn’t think about it until just now–but I was learning how to write when I did this. I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, but deep down, I was paying attention to panel layout and plotting, framing and narration, and, of course, dialogue. It was practice for when I wrote and drew my own comics that same year. But it was also practice and self-education for my writing now. I’m still thinking about how to create colorful, engaging characters, write fun dialogue, and produce stories that inspire other people to dream and create.

To be continued…

Avengers Assembled

I saw The Avengers this afternoon. While I knew I wouldn’t like it as much as the comics, I figured I’d like it. I just didn’t realize how much I’d like it. The Avengers is…really, really fucking great. Every actor does a terrific job, it’s got fantastic special effects out the wazoo, but what I really loved about it is the writing.

No, I’m not talking about the trademark Joss Whedon dialogue, although there’s a lot of it in the movie and it’s great. Zak Penn and Joss Whedon have written a movie that combines the best of Silver Age Marvel Comics with contemporary big-budget action movies and Whedon’s best existentialist thoughts on heroism.

The Avengers have always been a team of quarrelsome, peevish heroes who step on each other’s toes as much as they beat on the bad guys. They argue and brawl amongst themselves, they get moody and question if what they’re doing is right, but in the end, they come together and back each other up. That’s exactly what we get in the movie, and for old school comics fans, it’s wonderful to see. There’s a lot of big budget, special effects explodey, but there’s also a lot of well-written, character-driven emotey stuff. There’s great interplay between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton, Thor and Loki, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, and Nick Fury and Maria Hill.

Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff stood out to me in particular. She gets the kind of treatment that, sadly, few people besides Joss Whedon would give her. She gets a lot to do in the movie, including a number of scenes that set her up to look like a typical Hollywood female character, only to have it turned on its ear. She’s strong, smart, caring, and not prioritized with attracting men. She plays a major role in ways that I wasn’t expecting. I was happily surprised.

Similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Serenity, and Dollhouse, The Avengers features protagonists who take on the role of hero because somebody has to do it and they want to make a difference. There’s no higher power, no moral absolute to appeal to. In a chaotic, uncaring universe, full of people who don’t give a damn, the protagonists choose to help and protect people, to fight against tyranny and destruction, to sacrifice themselves to save others. These are the kinds of heroes I like to see.

The Avengers is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s also stirring and inspiring. From start to finish, it’s a fantastic ride. I kind of love it a lot.

The Best Canvas

Thanks to a multimedia onslaught, I doubt there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t know that The Avengers movie opens this weekend. Although I was torn at first, I’ve changed my mind, and I’m really excited to see The Avengers as soon as I can. I think it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun.

That being said, if superhero movies are on the wane (and with the money The Avengers is looking to pull in, it doesn’t look like they are), I wouldn’t care. In fact, I don’t really care if any more superhero movies are made. I mean, I’ve liked the Iron Man movies a lot. Thor and Captain America were a hell of a lot of fun. And I’m apparently one of the few people who didn’t think Green Lantern sucked. But as much as I’ve liked them, all of these movies have made something very clear to me: live-action superhero movies will never be as good as comics.

Yeah, I know, people always say, “The book was better than the movie.” That’s not what I’m talking about. Books aren’t a visual medium. Comics are. Film is, too. Adapting superhero comics into movies is adapting one visual medium to another. And there are things you can do in comics that you simply can’t do in movies.

For one thing, as anyone who has watched the 1960s Batman TV show knows, people generally look really stupid in superhero tights. It’s why Batman’s costume in the movies has gotten to be more and more like armor, less and less like tights. It’s why the X-Men in the movies where black leather instead of colorful spandex. It’s why the Hawkeye of the Avengers movie doesn’t wear the purple costume he wears in the comics. Even Captain America’s traditional costume only shows up in the movie as a joke about showbiz glitz. I love colorful, goofy superhero costumes, but what looks cool in comics can look really lame in live-action.

Superhero stories in the comics frequently go from street-level gritty and slice-of-life comical to monumentally, cosmically epic. But with a few exceptions (the Thor and Green Lantern movies come to mind–and the Avengers movie looks to be pretty damn epic), filmmakers and studios shy away from the really big stuff. The first Fantastic Four movie has the team save Manhattan–but mostly themselves–from a snarky, small-minded Doctor Doom. Where was Doom’s time machine? His gadgets that shrunk the Four into a microscopic universe? His claim to be the rightful ruler of Latveria? Why is Superman always saving Metropolis or the U.S. from Lex Luthor when he could be saving the world from Brainiac? Why don’t the X-Men fight Magneto on Asteroid M, his rocky base that orbits the Earth, or battle the Sentinels aboard a vast space station? I like my superhero stories to be full of high-level imagination, crazy science, weird mysticism, and cosmic drama, and there are too few examples of this in superhero movies.

The nature of comics also allows for storytelling that has become a mainstay of superhero stories, things that don’t translate to film, like lots of smart ass quips and long bouts of dialogue in the middle of action-packed slugfests. Narration and thought balloons also don’t translate into film without being intrusive to the experience. The biggest way in which Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies fell down for me was in Spider-Man’s utter lack of smartass quipping during fights, something that is an essential part of his character in the comics.

I clearly like a good superhero movie. But even the best superhero movie is a poor substitute for superhero comics. For some stories, live-action film is the best canvas. But for superheroes, nothing beats the comics.

Nerd vs. Activist: The Battle of the Century!

My friend Gareth Skarka recently wrote about why he won’t go see the forthcoming movie The Avengers, despite being a big, old-school superhero comics geek. He makes what is, for me, a very compelling argument. Both major comics companies, Marvel and DC, have treated so many artists and writers as cogs in the machine (at best) and screwed over creators in ways that I find utterly reprehensible and indefensible. After reading Gareth’s blog post, I decided that I would also boycott the Avengers movie, even though Joss Whedon, one of my favorites, is behind it and my inner comics nerd is dying to see it.

And then along comes John Carter, another soon-to-be-released movie. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, the source material for the movie, is one of my all-time favorite novels, and the movie looks to be exactly the kind of high-imagination spectacle I love to see on screen. My inner nerd is again dying to see this. ButJohn Carter is a Disney production. Disney owns Marvel. Disney is also, on its own, one of the most litigious companies around. Disney will send a crack squad of high-paid lawyers against anyone, no matter how small, who they see as a threat to the “intellectual property.” Disney is one of the big reasons copyright law is so screwy in the US.

My inner nerd argues: “You’ve been waiting for movies like this all of your life! You’ve known for a long time what money-hungry, power-mad corporations make these movies and you haven’t let that stop you before! Why now? You know you’ll be sad to miss these movies! And neither company will really suffer if they don’t get your money. Just go see them!”

My inner activist counters: “It’s about time you started facing up to how shitty these companies are! Of course your dollars are just drops in the ocean to them, but it’s still important to vote with your dollars, which is all they understand, if for no other reason than to keep your hands clean and your conscience clear. You have to stand up for your principles! Who cares if The Avengers and John Carter are good? Isn’t it better to support new stories, independent, creator-owned stories?”

I’ll be honest, both voices are loud in my head. I haven’t really decided which voice I’m going to listen to.

The Long and Short of It

Late last night, I caught a couple of episodes of the 1990’s X-Men animated series on TV. The dialogue and animation were just as rough as I remember them being, but just watching those two episodes was more enjoyable than watching either of Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies. (There’s really no point in mentioning Brett Ratner’s X-Men movie, is there? Right, pretend I didn’t mention it.) I tweeted about it and have since been thinking about why they’re more enjoyable, even if the animated series lacks such terrific actors as Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen and (not a knight) Hugh Jackman. I’ve got a theory (and it isn’t bunnies).

The X-Men really gained popularity as a comic when Chris Claremont was writing the “All New! All Different!” Uncanny X-Men. One of the hallmarks of Claremont’s writing, and one of the reasons I believe the series became so popular, was a really good handling of soap opera-esque plotting. It wasn’t just the characters that people liked or Claremont’s melodramatic but engaging dialogue, it was the way he (and John Byrne, when they co-plotted the series) wove storylines involving the Sentinels, Magneto, the Savage Land, the Shi’ar Empire, the Hellfire Club, Alpha Flight, Doctor Doom, the Morlocks and especially the “Dark Phoenix Saga.” And if you go back to the original X-Men team, the best stories are just as drawn out and soap opera-esque.

Soap opera storylines are pretty much impossible to do in movies; the dramatic structures of serialized comics and feature films are just too dissimilar. I love the way the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America movies have all led up to the forthcoming Avengers movie. And Marvel Comics has been doing extended, twisty, soap opera plotting in all of their superhero comics since the ’60s. But it’s such a part of what makes the X-Men in particular a comic I keep going back to–I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read the original and “new” X-Men comics–I have a hard time imagining an X-Men movie that will ever be as enjoyable to me as the animated X-Men series of the ’90s.