Monday, February 18, 2013

It's Always Best To Do Nothing (or, Caring About Things Is Stupid)

Jim Mroczkowski at iFanboy posted this asinine article about the Orson Scott Card controversy, where he trots out all the usual lame arguments that the hemmers and hawwers have trotted out regarding this protest: "I missed you at the Iron Man protest" and it's just another fanboy outrage and "For everyone who writes an open letter to DC editorial [...] there is someone in line at Chik-Fil-A who will buy the book out of defiant solidarity" and "If DC spiked Card’s Superman story tomorrow, would that help someone?" and "I don’t see anyone’s mind changed" and "There has to be a better, more productive way to approach this." Someone in the comments adds "I think being Tolerant is the new intolerance," and that's bingo.

To answer the dumb points:
  1. I missed you at the Iron Man protest: while there was at least some discussion of Card's bigotry when Ultimate Iron Man came out, it was also 2006. Several things have changed, most notably the fact that Card didn't join the National Organization for Marriage until 2009 (and that NOM wasn't really significant until 2008). The rise of Twitter has made organizing these kinds of protests easier (for better and worse), and the cultural attitude toward marriage equality has shifted as its passage in various places has not led to the end of the world. But most importantly, in 2006, the extent of Card's bigotry was a bunch of articles he'd written, not helping to drive the most prominent organization that's fighting against people's basic rights.

    Oh! And Card also openly advocated overthrowing the government in 2008. But hey, I'm sure there's nothing about Superman that would make us reconsider letting a guy who advocated treason write him, right?
  2. It's just another fanboy outrage: Sorry I didn't quote that bit, Mroczkowski goes on at length about how this is exactly the same as the Superior Spider-Man and Avengers Arena protests, and a dozen different outrages before that. Because it's not at all completely dismissive to suggest that getting angry because Doctor Octopus switched brains with Peter Parker for a limited series is on the same footing as caring about the actual rights of real-life human beings. But let's pretend that Mroczkowski isn't being a giant asshat here, and that these bouts of outrage are just the same.

    So what?

    Yes, they'll probably lead to the same outcome (that is, the company not changing anything and everyone eventually moving on), but so what if it is just another example of fanboy outrage? Is the alternative staying silent about things you care about? Not calling for any change on any topic ever (if these dumbasses can use these slippery slope all-or-nothing fallacies, so can I)? If this is just another fanboy outrage, why not do what most people do: roll your eyes and be done with it?

    Is it, perhaps, because this isn't exactly like those prior situations? Were there any retailers who didn't stock Superior Spider-Man or Avengers Arena because of those outrages? Did any other prominent authors step up to say they would write those books instead/also, for balance? Did those protests get picked up by NPR, CNN, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, or The Guardian1?

    But boy, if there's anything nerds love more than getting outraged and protesting, it's doing absolutely nothing while smugly telling other people that they're wrong and the things they care about are stupid.
  3. For everyone who writes an open letter to DC editorial [...] there is someone in line at Chik-Fil-A who will buy the book out of defiant solidarity: Again, so what? Even if you could back up this statement (which you can't), so what if the protest does nothing--or even makes the book more successful? What's the alternative, staying silent and hoping no one notices? This is a call to do absolutely nothing because you can't control what the outcome will be. Anything to avoid action, right?

    Look, speaking out (and signing petitions, and organizing boycotts, etc.) isn't doing a whole lot. It doesn't take much effort, it doesn't accomplish a whole lot of real-world change, and it may not actually hurt the book's sales in the long run. But it sends a message. It sends a message that some comics fans care more about their human friends and family members than four-color Kryptonians. It sends a message that there are writers and causes we won't support with our dollars or our patronage. It sends the message that some of us care, and maybe others should too.

    But yes, other people care more about four-color heroes than any flesh-and-blood person, and lots of people are terrible bigots. And now DC is courting them as a fanbase.

    A last point: imagine if DC had instead snagged an author without this cloud of bigotry hanging over them. Imagine if they'd snagged Neil Gaiman or Joss Whedon. Would they be trying to crunch the numbers trying to figure out if the lost sales due to protests will be made up by the gained sales due to defiant solidarity? Or would they be too busy dealing with the "cha-ching" noise that their eyeballs keep making now that their pupils have become dollar signs?
  4. If DC spiked Card’s Superman story tomorrow, would that help someone?: What a dumb question. What makes you think that "helping someone" is the point? Even if it were, did hiring Card to write this story help someone? Would doing and saying nothing help someone? Does asking dumb rhetorical questions help someone?

    The point is making a statement. The point is telling DC that they can't have it both ways: are they committed to diversity and LGBT individuals or not? Do they want the GLAAD awards or the accolades from the Chik-Fil-A crowd? Were Alan Scott and Batwoman and Shining Knight just a matter of lip service so they could pat themselves on the back, or do they represent something bigger with more real-world consequences?

    If DC spiked Card's story tomorrow, it would answer those questions, it would show that DC cares about how they and their choices appear to the world around them, and it might send the message that maybe openly working to deny people their rights might actually have consequences on your employability.
  5. I don’t see anyone’s mind changed: You also didn't see the difference between 2006 and 2013, so that doesn't say a lot. But whose mind are you talking about changing, and about what? Presumably you mean that this protest isn't going to change anyone's minds about LGBT people or marriage equality. That's probably true; people usually don't change their minds about big emotionally-charged issues based on a single event or argument or thing they read on the Internet. Usually it's accomplished through a lot of little things, especially ones that hit close to home. It's possible that this protest will change minds in that way, it's possible that it won't. I don't think that's the main point, but even if it were, it has a lot more of a chance at changing minds than doing nothing, which is ultimately what you advocate.

    I would like to see DC change their minds about whether or not Card is worth the hassle that employing him creates, but we'll see how that goes.
  6. There has to be a better, more productive way to approach this: Great. Figure it out and get back to us. But in the meantime, we're going to try the imperfect, less productive ways to approach this, because there is no way less productive than doing nothing. The whole "there's no perfect solution so you shouldn't do anything at all" is fallacious reasoning.
  7. I think being Tolerant is the new intolerance: No, you don't think, or you wouldn't have said something so transparently moronic.
I think it's weird that fans have such vehement opposition to being made to care about their entertainment choices, that it's somehow gauche to care about things that affect actual humans. But then, I think it's weird that fans care more about fictional superheroes than actual human beings, whether it's the people whose lives are directly impacted by the actions of the National Organization for Marriage, or the creators and their heirs whose lives are directly impacted by the big soulless corporations who treat them like content-generation tools to be used up and discarded. And I'm as guilty of that last bit as anyone. But the solution isn't to write big long articles concluding that it's best to do nothing, the solution is to change and do what you can, or what you think is right. Because doing nothing does nothing.
1. In short, the answer is mostly "no." The Guardian had an interview with Dan Slott, where they mentioned in passing, that "fans expressed skepticism," and CNN ran a TV segment on the fan reaction to the end of "Amazing."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Comics I bought this week

Avengers Arena #4: I still haven't decided if I want to follow this series, so it's still not in my pull list. And this issue left me so ambivalent that I think it might finally be my last. I'm just not curious enough about what's going on to continue reading. There's nothing offensively bad about the issue or anything; it's nice to see Chase and Nico from Runaways again, and their encounter with the Avengers Academy kids ends up being a fairly nice inversion of the usual superhero team-up story (they're friends first, then they have the big misunderstanding and fight). I think I see where this is all going; I don't think many (if any) of the "dead" characters are actually dead, but that it's all misdirection and illusion on Arcade's part for some larger, more nefarious plan. At least, I hope that's what's happening, because the alternative is kind of gross and dumb. And I'm not entirely sure that I want to find out which option it ends up being.

Batman and Robin #17: I caught up on "Batman and Robin" and "Detective Comics" last week in hopes that I'd dislike one enough to drop it, and that didn't actually happen. That said, I think this issue of B&R would make a fantastic jumping-off point. It's a pretty touching, heartfelt story about the dreams of Damian, Bruce, and Alfred, which acts as a coda to the entire series up to now, even flashing back to the playbill boat Bruce made back in the first or second issue. It's structured like a last issue, to the point where I had to check that this wasn't Tomasi's last issue as writer or something. Rumor has it that something's going to happen with Damian in Batman, Inc. this month, and the solicit for Batman & Robin #18 isn't giving anything away, but I guess I'll be finding out in a few weeks.

Katana #1: I've tried all of Ann Nocenti's first issues in this New 52, but I haven't actually stuck with any of the books so far. Green Arrow turned me off with the art, Catwoman just didn't hold my interest, and Katana? Well, I like the story, and Nocenti does a good job making Katana distinct (and fleshing her out more than she was the last time I caught up on "Birds of Prey") and strong, while also setting up an interesting conflict and environment. That said, I'm not a big fan of Alex Sanchez's art, which at times obscures the action and has some poor continuity. I'll check out the next issue to be sure, but I wish they'd pair Nocenti with a better artist for once.

Batman #17: I think there's definitely some weight to the argument that Death of the Family went on too long and got too big, and I haven't even caught up on all the tie-ins (I don't read "Red Hood and the Outlaws," and I'm way behind on "Nightwing"). But this issue--and the main saga here in "Batman"--is pretty great, and I think I'll probably try to re-read the whole thing sooner rather than later (especially since there are a couple of bits in this issue, namely the comment about the boat and Bruce's little blank book, that I didn't understand, presumably because they were referenced earlier). Capullo is a top-notch artist, and I think Snyder injects some very interesting notions into the Batman/Joker relationship, playing on the classic tropes, subverting them, and re-enacting them in other ways. People have criticized this series for its gruesomeness, and there's been some of that in previous issues and tie-ins, but most writers in recent years wouldn't have made most of Joker's bits in this issue tricks and misdirection the way Snyder did. It'll be interesting to see how the radioactive tracer pans out, and how the fallout of the Bat-family affects this book going forward, since it looks like the Joker toxin's suggestion-inducing feature hasn't worn off quite like the rictus grins have. I kind of can't wait to buy this story in trade paperback form.

Green Arrow #17: This is the second time I've tried following "Green Arrow" as a series since the relaunch, and it looks like it's the more successful of the two so far. Lemire does a lot here to try something different with Ollie's status quo, setting up what appears to be an ancient conspiracy of archers and a lot of surreal "everything you know is wrong" stuff. I think I'd kind of prefer to have Ollie as the superhero Robin Hood or the politically sensible Batman, but I'm interested enough in this take to see where and how it goes. As far as the art goes, Sorrentino's got a sketchiness similar to Tolibao's or Sanchez's above, but it lacks a lot of the flaws that I think hampered those books, and has a nice detail and dynamism to it. It doesn't hurt that the coloring and staging of panels seem to have taken a page from that other successful book about a superhero archer.

The Card Thing

I've weighed in on this elsewhere, but I keep seeing people who otherwise should know better saying utterly stupid things about this fiasco. Nothing I'm about to say here hasn't been said better by Dave or Siskoid or Brett White, but I felt like it was important to put all my thoughts on the subject in one place.

Orson Scott Card has been tapped to write the first (digital) issue of a new digital-first Superman ongoing series, "Adventures of Superman." Card's story is to be illustrated by the immensely talented Chris Sprouse, and in the print edition, will appear alongside a story by Jeff Parker and Chris Samnee, who are great.

Orson Scott Card's comics work has been rather limited. He's worked primarily at Marvel where, as far as I can see from the Wiki page, the only thing he's done that wasn't an adaptation of his prose works was a run of "Ultimate Iron Man" that has been widely panned and retconned as a not-very-accurate cartoon or something.

But his name is recognizable outside of comics fandom, and so DC placed him on the first issue of their new digital series, presumably hoping it would go as well as the last time they hired a big-name sci-fi author to write Superman. Scoff if you want (I certainly did) but Straczynski's presence gave the books a big sales boost, at least until he got distracted by something shiny and let better writers clean up his messes.

There's been a backlash, for good reason, because Orson Scott Card is an enormous bigot. I've seen people framing this as a "difference of opinion" or a "belief" or a "personal political position." It's certainly the latter two, but I think calling this a "difference of opinion" is an insulting trivialization. It's easy for the privileged to suggest that other people's basic rights and humanity of are matters of opinion, but such opinions affect actual people's actual lives. At best, Card's opinions are reprehensible, ignorant, often based on blatant falsehoods, and in some cases borderline treasonous.

But if you frame this as a "difference of opinion" and a matter of "personal beliefs," then it makes the people suggesting Card should be pulled from the issue, fired, or otherwise penalized, look like unreasonable, irrational censors. Doing so allows DC to distance themselves from Card's views while also trying to shrug off the controversy without actually doing anything.

We can ignore, I suppose, that this is a company that has fired at least one writer for expressing his opinion that their dealings with creators and their heirs have been unethical. So, for the record, believing that a corporation should treat creators with respect is a firing offense; believing that people should overthrow the government if certain groups of unnatural sinners obtain equality under the law, that's "steadfastly support[ed] freedom of expression" and "personal views."

But Card's bigotry goes well beyond beliefs or views or even odious essays filled with the typical clichés of homophobes. He has been actively campaigning against LGBT causes for several years, and serves on the board of the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage, which works to prevent equality by trying to force a particular religious definition of marriage on public policy and a civil, legal institution. I can't decide which is worse: that they hypocritically couch their discrimination in terms of others trying to force their beliefs on the nation, or that a group opposed to "redefining marriage" has strong ties to the Mormon church.

In short, calling the boycotts and protests and petitions a matter of Card's views and opinions is dismissive not only to the people affected by Card's activism, but also to the magnitude of his bigotry and the actions he's taken on behalf of those beliefs.

One would think that a corporation that just a month ago seemed so proud to announce their GLAAD award nominees would be more aware of Card's views, actions, and how the hire would be received, but I'm increasingly convinced that DC has absolutely no idea how their actions and stories might be received by anyone outside of mainstream comic fandom.

I'm not sure what DC can do at this point. I mean, this is a company that pulled a Superman comic because it might cause controversy for Superman to have a Muslim superhero friend (and replaced it with a story pulled years before because a Krypto-centric tale didn't fit with the current tone of the series), so if they're standing behind this story, they must have some serious investment in it (more on that later). But I'd certainly be happier if they pulled the story and led off with the Parker/Samnee joint.

I've bought every regular Superman-starring comic for years (the last one I missed, near as I can tell, was "Superman/Batman" #77 or #78). I'm not sure what the last Superman #1 I didn't buy was, outside of maybe a few one-shots or miniseries. But I'm not buying this one. I'll get Parker's story digitally, and I might eventually check the issue out when I can get it on the secondary market and not put any money into DC or Card's pockets. Or Hell, I might pirate it. It's unethical, but then, so was hiring Card, so I think it pans out. My local comic shop has said that they won't stock it on the shelf, joining at least a few others around the country, and that continues to convince me that I'm shopping at the right place.

Orson Scott Card shouldn't be writing Superman. He really shouldn't be working for any company that promotes diversity, justice, and equality, but I'd settle for him working only on his own creations and adaptations. DC has dropped writers and issues for reasons that didn't involve making a group of people into second-class citizens or inciting armed rebellion, so they must have a reason for trying to keep him around and happy.

My suspicion? They wouldn't snag a big-name sci-fi writer for one short digital-first story. But they might snag one to headline a sci-fi series where the long-time writer is leaving an epic run. I'd lay odds that we'll see at least one arc on a Green Lantern book by Card, and I imagine we'll see at least part of one by JMS. And, well, you wouldn't want to drive away the guy who you hope is going to keep one of your tent pole lines from collapsing come June. I hope that's not the case. I hope that this hoopla makes DC rethink whether or not they want to associate with Card and his toxic hate. I hope a lot of comic fans and professionals who should know better learn that a boycott is different from a ban or censorship, and that the right to free speech doesn't mean "free from consequences" or "the right to a paid platform and audience."

And I think those all have about equal chance of happening.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Not So Marvelous

I've been enjoying Marvel's new Captain Marvel series, but for the book's run so far, my enjoyment has been largely in spite of the art. Dexter Soy has never seemed like a very good fit for the book's tone, and it was sometimes hard to follow the action, but I was getting used to it by the end there. I just read Captain Marvel #9 though, and I kind of wish Soy was back.

There's a definite stylization to Filipe Andrade's art, which could make the book more expressive and dynamic, and that's almost certainly what they're going for. It'd work, too, if it weren't quite so inconsistent. The character work is really ugly, with characters eyes sliding around their faces and whatnot. Most of the close-up shots are actually quite good, so I don't know if he was just rushed or what, but some panels make Carol look like a flounder or Sloth.

Andrade's art, at its best, reminds me of Humberto Ramos, and at worst, like the late Carlos Meglia, whose work on Superman in the early 2000s was some of the worst professional comics pencilling I can remember seeing. It had the same problems as Andrade's: inconsistent, deformed characters, unclear perspective (there's a panel in this Captain Marvel issue where Spider-Woman looks like she's been shrunk because there are no indicators that Capt. Marvel is meant to be closer to the reader), and visual continuity errors (besides the dramatically shifting size of Carol's tablet/phone in the early pages, there's the issue that since the redesign, Carol has had notably and intentionally short, and not flowing butt-length, hair).

To add insult to injury, on the last page Carol is told she has some kind of lesion on her brain, a ticking time bomb. And, well...

Look, it's a minor thing, but there's a writer, a letterer, and two editors working on this book. Somewhere along the line, someone should have noticed that a bomb is defused, not diffused. The goal with a bomb is to remove its fuse (literally or figuratively) so it won't blow up, to de-fuse it. The last thing you want is for it to be spread evenly throughout the area; in fact, diffusion of the bomb is what you're trying to prevent.

Altogether, the sloppy art and editing error make this book look rushed, which isn't totally surprising given Marvel's wacky scheduling antics. I can't speak for everyone, but I'd certainly be more happy with one polished issue a month than two or three that were rushed to meet an unreasonable deadline. Especially when they end up with the same cover price.