Category Archives: comics

Slices of home life prove that Spider-man should be a Spider-dad.

Spider-man Should be Spider-Dad

I wrote, recently and perhaps too passionately, about how important Spider-man’s marriage was to me. It was an argument that hinged on responsibility, for yourself and your spouse, and I said “a marriage is a near-perfect symbol for Spider-man”. There was just one reason I had to add a qualifier to perfection: the recent Renew Your Vows storyline has shown me that Spider-man should be more than just married; Spider-man should be Spider-dad.

There’s spoilers ahead for issue one of this storyline.

If we’re talking about responsibility, what greater responsibility is there than parenthood? A child needs your guidance, protection, support, care. If you don’t provide it, who will? And if Spider-man is the everyman, the hero, the moral heart who can tackle the complicated moral questions, then Spider-dad makes perfect sense. Because if getting married changes the way you view the world, having a child irrevocably and catastrophically upends it. A simplistic Spider-man fights the good fight, always and without question. But Spider-dad has a new priority: his child. Can he fight the good fight and be a good father at the same time?

Renew Your Vows takes, what I think is, the right approach: Spider-dad puts his child above all else. So, to protect his daughter, Spider-dad abandons the Avengers, kills Venom, and hangs up his tights while a super-villain takes over the world. He has no choice. Helping the Avengers means his daughter is unprotected from Venom. And Venom swears he won’t stop until his daughter is dead. And going solo against the super-dictator likely means his daughter won’t have a father anymore.

In his own words, Spider-dad “learned what trumps great power: an even greater responsibility.”

Sadly Renew Your Vows isn’t a new status quo. It’s essentially a What-If? tale, an alternate reality, and so it’s very brief. I’d love to see a longer, slower take on Spider-dad. We’ve got bunches of heroes with few to no ties, who can charge into a battle without a care save, perhaps, a sense of self-preservation. But there are hardly any parent superheroes. Picture this:

Spider-dad has to pick up his daughter from school so she’s not left walking dangerous streets alone. But he’s interrupting a bank heist. So he has to let the crooks escape.

Full-time work, heroics, and late night feeds means Spider-dad is getting even less sleep than usual. Now he’s getting sloppy and making mistakes.

Being a Spider-baby is making his daughter ill. Contemporary medicine can’t help. But a super villain has a cure, and blackmails Spider-dad into doing a few jobs for him.

I called Spider-man the moral heart of the Marvel universe. And, at first glance, the moral heart can’t let crooks escape (they’ll hurt someone else), can’t get sloppy (someone could get hurt), and certainly can’t be an errand boy for a super villain. But I don’t want to compromise Spider-man. He should always try to do the right thing. But a moral heart, as I mentioned before, sometimes has to tackle complicated questions. And Spider-dad could ask, and maybe answer, a beautifully complicated question:

“Can anything I do be wrong if I’m doing it for my daughter?”

I want to read that comic. I want Spider-dad.

Spider-dad, Spider-dad,
Does whatever a daddy can,
Diaper change, midnight feeds,
Morally uncertain deeds,
Hey man, here comes the Spider-dad.

See? Now you want Spider-dad too.

Spider-man's marriage to Mary Jane was ended in a deal with the devil.

Spider-man’s Marriage Was the Most Important Thing in Comics

“I wasn’t going to buy Renew Your Vows,” I told my wife. “But I couldn’t resist seeing a married Spider-man again.” To which she said, “Why’s that?” “Spider-man’s marriage,” says I, “was the most important thing in comics.” To which, unsurprisingly, she replied, “What?”

Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada ended Spider-man’s marriage to Mary-Jane Watson back in 2007. There was no divorce, no death. Quesada wiped it from history, so that it never happened. Such a thing is commonly called a retcon, and comics are full of them. But I believe this is the biggest, and the worst, retcon of them all. Because of two aspects of his character, Spider-man’s marriage was the most important thing in comics.

I consider Spider-man the everyman of Marvel heroes. Amongst an A-list roster of billionaires, super-soldiers and gods, Spider-man is a regular New Yorker who got bit by a spider. Like us, Spider-man struggles to make ends meet, to find a work/life balance, to take care of his loved ones, to just make his life work already. Readers can empathise with Spider-man in ways they can’t empathise with other characters. And nothing proves that more than how Marvel positioned him during the Civil War debate: torn between both sides, just like the readership was.

In the Breakout storyline, there’s an enormous battle in a prison filled with super villains. And the next day, Captain America visits Peter Parker and says, “You didn’t take the day off? You went right from last night to work?” And Peter replies, “Kids need a teacher.” This, to me, is proof positive that Spider-man is the moral heart of the Marvel universe. Captain America is a close second. But it’s easy for a super-soldier to say and do the right thing. He lives for the fight. But Spider-man has to fight the good fight, and then he has to scrape together what’s left and go to work. Teach kids. Put food on the table. And that takes much more heart and much more resolve.

Now here’s where Spider-man’s marriage is important to his character.

Some people think Spider-man’s core is the unacknowledged, awkward, wise-cracking teenager. I believe Spider-man grew into his core when he got older, wiser, and married. Everyone knows Spider-man’s motto is “with great power comes great responsibility”. And I’ve never felt so responsible as I did the day I got married. I became responsible for two people: my wife and myself. I had to provide for her, keep her happy and safe, and I had to look after myself in order to fulfill those duties. A marriage requires responsibility, morality, a hero and an everyman all at once. A marriage is a near-perfect symbol for Spider-man.

Of course, you can be responsible for a partner without marrying them. That said, you can end things with a partner, but you have to divorce a spouse. And I don’t think Spider-man could contemplate divorce, as a character or as a property of a enormous American company. So if Spider-man’s married, it’s a very different kettle of fish. It’s responsibility that he can’t walk away from.

So when Spider-man did, in fact, walk away from his marriage, he walked away from that responsibility. Gave up his core. It sent a clear message: a moral heart does not grow or change. Its understanding cannot evolve. A teenager’s idealistic, binary morality is right. A tempered, matured, complicated morality is wrong.

And this undoes Marvel in three ways.

It makes the universe shallow. It removes a nuance of his character and makes the superheroes just a little more interchangeable. There’s one less thing differentiating a guy in spandex with superpowers from the others.

It undermines Spider-man. By giving up his marriage, his purity of heart is blemished. No matter the good he does, he will always be the man who did a deal with the devil.

This undermines the Marvel universe. Spider-man’s stained moral heart undermines other characters when they continue to look at him the same way (because the reader knows he’s not the same). And, not only is the moral heart stained, but it is simplified. It damages their ability to tell stories where right and wrong aren’t clear-cut, because their moral heart willingly gave up on complicated morality in favour of a simplistic one.

I didn’t stop buying comics after Spider-man’s marriage was dissolved. But it wasn’t the same anymore. Comics felt hollow. Lacking. I’d seen dozens of reboots and retcons. But now they had proven a willingness to get a new-issue-one moment by disregarding decades of character and story. When DC announced the New 52, I didn’t have the will or the heart to go through it again. I was done.

Perhaps Spider-man’s marriage wasn’t the most important thing in comics. Perhaps Spider-man’s marriage was just my most important thing in comics. And they retconned it away. That’s why I couldn’t pass on Renew Your Vows; it’s chance to see a married Spider-man again, yes. But it’s also a chance to pretend comics don’t get retconned and erased and reworked over and over.

But it turns out Renew Your Vows contains something even more important than Spider-man’s marriage. But more on that next time.

Marvel have given Mjolnir to a new, female Thor.

Is a Female Thor a Good Idea?

Here’s something new: Asgardian god and Chris Hemsworth lookalike Thor is being replaced by a woman.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is a first for comics. Not that Thor is getting replaced; when you go on holiday someone fills in for you and superheroes are no exception. Iron Man, Spider-man, even Superman. And Batman’s given up the cowl so many times the Batcave has a revolving door. But all of these temporary replacements have been of the same gender; no woman ever stepped into Batman’s shoes. I think this is a great story opportunity and I might have to pick up an issue. That said, I’m not convinced this is such a big step.

That sentiment wasn’t helped by another Marvel announcement, just a day later, that Sam Wilson, a black character, will also take over as Captain America. Another minority (as comics defines them, i.e. anything other than white male) gets a turn in the limelight. Two in as many days. It would be easy to accuse Marvel of tokenism, of shouting “look, we’ve got women and black guys in our comics!” until they’ve got our money. Then they can bring back the old white guys.

Because the status quo is king in comics. Man-Thor and Steve Rogers will come back sooner or later and these two characters will be relegated back to second string.

But here’s the thing: this is still a positive move.

I wrote a blog about what’s wrong with women in comics in which I said that comics are rightly called juvenile and backwards until they give women the respect they deserve. Since then we’ve heard David Goyer, the screenwriter behind The Dark Knight and Man of Steel, calling She-Hulk a porn star and a male power/sex fantasy. We’ve also seen the Internet pour vitriol on Janelle Asselin for criticising the hyper-sexualised teenager on the cover to Teen Titans #1. I was beginning to think there wasn’t much hope for comics.

But even if this is tokenism, and even if it only lasts, say, six months, two of the three core members of the Avengers aren’t white guys. That’s six months of representation, six months of diversity, six months of different perspectives for comics readers.

A lot of commentators have been saying it would have been better to create new heroes than hijack existing ones. That has to be a long-term goal, but let’s not overlook the power in a six-month gimmick. When it’s all over everything will look the same as it always did. But the publicity can draw in new readers that might have previously been put off by the white male spandex brigade. And, hopefully, Marvel will have shown existing readers that a female Thor is just as good as a male Thor.

And readers will have shown Marvel that there’s an appetite for “minority” superheroes that can be fed with new, permanent characters.

What do you think of the female Thor? Is it tokenism, a waste of time, or can’t you wait for the first issue? Let me know in the comments.

What’s Wrong with Women in Comics?

So DC Comics are mired in controversy once again. This time they’ve posted an open call for new artists and given them a page to illustrate. Harmless enough, except that they’re asking their prospective artists to draw Harley Quinn, female villain, naked and about to commit suicide.

You can imagine how the Internet reacted to that one.

Me, I’m entirely unsurprised. This is the comics company that recently hired Orson Scott Card, a writer so homophobic he’s touted revolution as the answer to legalised gay marriage. This is the comics company that banned creators from ever showing Batwoman’s gay marriage on panel. Hell, this is the comics company that gave rise to the Women In Refrigerators trope.

Comics have a bad reputation when it comes to women and it’s not hard to see why. Walk into any comics store and you won’t see many superheroines with their own series. And what superheroines you will see won’t be dressed for a warm day. (But check out Michael Lee Lunsford’s superheroine costume redesigns; you’ll realise how daft the “real” costumes look after seeing his take on them!)

A lot of people will argue that this is all fine. That superheroes wear daft costumes too. That heroes of both genders are idealised to the extreme. That it’s just comic books. And hey, Harley Quinn is insane. She probably would get naked and try to kill herself.

This latter argument holds weight with me. Harley is one patient short of an asylum. Getting into the tub and dropping a hair dryer into it doesn’t strike me as too out of character for her.

But this panel can’t exist in a vacuum. While men can be anything but women must be sexy, while men get costumes that cover their what-nots but women go chilly, and while men aren’t being put into refrigerators naked into tubs with hair dryers, DC can’t be so unaware as to think that this image is okay.

I’ve been reading comics for years and there’s always been talk of comics as an art form, of trying to get the mainstream to take comics seriously. Some people say comics have finally made it because of the success of films like The Dark Knight and Avengers.

I say that film studios have figured out that superheroes make for good action movies. In the meantime, the mainstream can call comics juvenile and backwards as long as DC refuse to treat anyone other than straight, white men with the respect they deserve.

What do you think? Are women still getting the short end of the stick? Or am I making a whole lot of noise over nothing? Let me know in the comments.

(Don’t forget I’ve written a superhero short story of my own. The Homeless Hero is out now!)

Your Guide to (un)Dead Superheroes

Writing my own superhero short story has got me thinking about comics again. Last time I was writing about gay superheroes. This time I’m writing about dead ones. Or, more specifically, dead-but-not-really ones.

It’s hard to think of a superhero that hasn’t died at some point. Superman, Batman, Wolverine, Captain America, the Hulk. Death comes for everyone. However if you put on spandex and rough up a thug or two, death isn’t the handicap it used to be. It doesn’t screw up your career like it used to. So it doesn’t take long for a hero to shake off death like a bad case of the flu.

Because so many heroes have died this is in no way a comprehensive list. Rather, this is a guide to the greatest deaths, both in terms of their impact and how good I thought they were.

Also: major spoiler alert!

The Death of Superman was a big seller for DC.Superman

Perhaps the best known superhero death, and certainly the first to die in such a sensationalised and well-marketed way. Faced with an unstoppable foe, Doomsday, Superman spends issues hitting it with things until they both kill each other with a simultaneous punch.

That’s right. Superman was punched to death. No kryptonite. No special scheme from Lex Luthor. Just a really good hit to the jaw.

Of course DC had no intention of leaving him dead. They did leave him in the ground for a few issues, though, which led to the far superior Funeral For A Friend storyline in which Supes’ fellow heroes and the world at large try to deal with the loss of such an icon. But Superman had to come back. In fact, the Death of Superman storyline only came about because the writers had, in fact, been planning to write the wedding between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. But Warner Bros. (which owns DC) asked them to put that on hold until their TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman reached its wedding episode too.

So because they couldn’t marry Superman, they killed him instead.

Ex-Robin Jason Todd was killed by popular opinion of all things.Robin

The Jason Todd iteration. Poor Jason was the unloved replacement for Dick Grayson. Comic readers never warmed to him, so he was offed by a combination of a crowbar-wielding-Joker and a public poll. Yes, bloodthirsty readers could vote on whether Jason would survive or not.

Jason stayed dead for many years and served as a motivating sense of guilt to Batman; he erected Jason’s costume in the Batcave as a reminder. When Jason reappeared out of the blue he did so as a villain, the Red Hood, resulting in a great detective story as Batman tries to learn if it really is Jason and to come to terms with the resurrection of the Robin he’d failed. Writer Judd Winick didn’t explain how Jason returned in that storyline and it was better for it.

Especially as it was later explained by Superboy punching the walls of reality.

Yeah. I know.

Hal Jordan spent some time as a vengeful ghost when he died.Green Lantern

Before Superman woke up from his dirt nap, a number of impostors took his place including Hank Henshaw, a Cyborg Superman. This Cyborg Superman destroys Hal Jordan’s hometown of Coast City, sending him mad with grief. Jordan declares himself Parallax and kills many other Green Lanterns before sacrificing himself to save Earth.

What made Jordan’s death interesting is not that Parallax was retconned as a space parasite, but that Jordan was made into the new Spectre whilst dead. The Spectre is DC’s God-appointed spirit of vengeance, and forcing Jordan’s ghost into the role led to some great storylines about sin, vengeance, penance and redemption. It made the revolving door of death itself a story.

Understandly this scene was left out of Iron Man 3.Iron Man

Perhaps the most interesting comic book death of late. Norman Osborne, Marvel villain Green Goblin, was made head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and wanted the knowledge of superhero secret identities that Iron Man held. So, to keep the knowledge from Osborne, Iron Man systematically deleted his own mind. Tony Stark ends up brain dead on life support in a hospital bed.

Except he made a back-up of his own brain.

It was a nice little spin on the I’m-dead-oh-wait-I’m-not story. It sat well within the world of Iron Man, sitting on the cusp of possible technology. And the back-up was restored to Tony’s chest unit, so he’s still technically brain dead. All of his thoughts are housed in a computer in his chest. It even controls his autonomous functions like blinking and breathing.

Jean Grey dies, before comics got gritty and bloody and gruesome.Jean Grey

Perhaps the original and the ultimate. Jean Grey was/is a member of the X-Men, who was exposed to cosmic radiation that greatly amplified her powers and made her Dark Phoenix. Exhausted after a battle and a long journey, she drained the energy of a star to energise herself, killing billions on an orbiting planet. Stricken with grief and scared by her destructive impulses as Dark Phoenix, she committed suicide.

It was not originally intended that Jean Grey would die; she was meant to be depowered and placed into the X-Men’s custody. But editor Jim Shooter argued that a character who had killed billions couldn’t be let off so lightly. Although main characters were not killed as a rule, the creative team suggested Jean Grey sacrifice herself. Shooter agreed, but stated that she could not come back unless she could be absolved of her crimes somehow.

So Grey was originally a permanent death. Until Kurt Busiek suggested Dark Phoenix simply looked like Jean Grey; the real X-Man was in suspended animation under a lake.

Probably not the sort of rest Peter Parker yearns for.Spider-man

So good they did it twice. Marvel killed off Peter Parker in the Ultimate universe, where he not only took a bullet for Captain America but then went on to defeat a monstrous Green Goblin. He has been replaced by Miles Morales, who has different powers but still goes by the name Spider-man. As “dead is dead” is supposedly the rule in the Ultimate universe, Peter hasn’t come back.

But, just months after killing him once, Marvel did it again. This time a dying Doctor Octopus does a mind swap and Peter dies in Doc Ock’s broken body. Old Doc has a change of heart, though, and suddenly decides to be a good guy after all. Peter stuck around in Doc’s subconscious for a while (don’t ask me how that works) and, though Peter’s now supposed to be gone for good, I’m pretty sure that Doc’s just keeping old Spidey’s seat warm.

It’s easy to critique the professionals, so I’ve written a superhero story of my own. It’s called The Homeless Hero and it will be out at the end of the month. If you sign up to my newsletter I’ll send you a code so you can get it for free!

Who do you think the greatest comic book death is? Leave a comment and let me know.

How Iron Man 3 Got Extremis Wrong

I couldn’t love Iron Man until Warren Ellis came along. Until that point, Marvel didn’t seem to know what to do with him. He lacked a spark, so he was just a guy in a suit. Then Warren Ellis wrote his Extremis storyline. And I loved Iron Man.

Now if you haven’t seen Iron Man 3, look away now. In fact, drop everything and go see it.

To everyone else: wasn’t it a good film? Highlights for me included Tony’s panic attacks, Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin and, as ever, Don Cheadle. Good stuff. But man did they drop the ball with Extremis.

Tony Stark unlocks a door using a chip implanted in his arm. There are people in the world doing this now.I mentioned earlier that Iron Man in the comics lacked a spark. That’s because every superhero character has an identifying core. Captain America’s is patriotism. The Hulk’s is the monster/man, ego/id battle. Iron Man didn’t have one. But Ellis got the premise in five little words: test pilot of the future. Iron Man’s core is cutting edge technology.

That’s something Jon Favreau realised. His Iron Man films were grounded in tech, almost obsessed with it. But Iron Man was created fifty years ago. Today we’re building exoskeleton suits that aren’t miles away from Iron Man.

So Ellis gave us Extremis. The storyline gives us a Tony Stark whose Iron Man suit is reaching its limits. It’s become heavy and slow. And when Iron Man battles an Extremis-enhanced man, he gets his tin can handed to him.

What does he do? He’s outdated, antiquated and broken. So he upgrades. He installs Extremis into himself. Iron Man becomes a techno-biological upgrade to Tony Stark. He is the test pilot of the future. He is Iron Man.

Extremis put the technology in Tony Stark's body, making him Iron Man inside and out.Extremis puts Iron Man beyond today’s science. It lets Tony mentally interface with any wireless technology. It lets him power the suit by thought. It lets him control multiple suits and call them to him. Sound familiar? Barring the first, this is all the ending of Iron Man 3, isn’t it? Only Tony can’t do those things. He has to ask JARVIS to do them.

I like JARVIS. Great idea and I love Paul Bettany’s performance. But JARVIS overshadows Tony; Tony can stay in bed and send JARVIS instead. You can tell Shane Black knew that because he broke JARVIS for a huge portion of the film. JARVIS makes Tony, as a character, weak and redundant. When a computer can fly the Iron Man suit, it makes the notion of a human pilot outdated. Antiquated. Broken.

An Extremis-enhanced Tony Stark could have remedied that and given us Iron Man: test pilot of the future. But where Warren Ellis used Extremis to update Iron Man to 2.0, Shane Black used it to make monsters. And we got Iron Man 1.4. Incremental update.

Am I right? Or am I wrong? Leave a comment, I’m interested to hear what you think.

Books Don’t Need Reinventing

I recently watched a fascinating presentation by Mark Waid called Reinventing Comics. If you like comics it’s worth a watch (I believe it’s a preview of the future), but today I’m writing about books. Because while comics might need reinventing, books do not.

A lot of the comments I read on this video said things like “now someone needs to do this for novels” and “when will this be done for all books?” I was surprised because it’s been tried and people are still trying.

Reinventing books is an old idea that isn’t gaining any traction.

Apple released software that makes it easy to create interactive ebooks with video, audio, multi-touch models and more. Booktrack lets you add effects and a soundtrack to ebooks. And now Socialbook wants to make reading a social experience, letting your friends scribble notes in the margins of your book, highlight portions, pull out quotes and even re-arrange the content.

But none of these gimmicks have revolutionised books which remain, largely, words on the page. And for one very simple reason:

Gimmicks are distractions from the narrative.

I downloaded the Charlie Brown’s Christmas app last year. I was all hopped up on Christmas chocolate and wanted to try an interactive book. And while it’s not an awful little app, all the interactive elements were just…naff.

•Voiceover? Switched off; I like reading, not being read to.
•Tap the pictures to make them move? Why? All they do is wiggle to a sound effect.
• Play the music along with Schroeder? All that does is remind me I’m no good at music.

And all of these things stopped the story from flowing and yanked me out of the narrative again and again. No-one likes being interrupted while they read, but in this case I had paid for the interruptions to be part and parcel of the book itself.

Trying to cram in interactivity and video and the social media isn’t reinventing books.

It’s creating a bastard of book and app, a Jack of all trades. It removes focus from the key element, the words, in favour of bells and whistles. But people who want bells and whistlea buy apps. And people who want words buy books.

So to the people who think that books need to enter the 21st Century, I have only this to say: keep all your bells and whistles. A good book needs only the words and a quiet place to read them in.

And letting your friends rearrange the content of your book? Are you high?

Your Guide to Gay Superheroes

Last week I wrote about the controversy surrounding DC hiring anti-gay activist Orson Scott Card. And it seemed no sooner did I put down the metaphorical pen than I heard the news that Batwoman had proposed to her girlfriend. (Damage control on DC’s part? Or am I being cynical?) So this week I decided to put together a little guide to the major gay superheroes in comics.

Northstar marries his partner Kyle.Northstar

Northstar has to come first in the list. He was arguably the first major gay superhero, coming out back in 1992. Even if he wasn’t the first gay superhero, though, he’s certainly the first superhero to get married! So he definitely gets top billing.

That said, though, you’ve probably never heard of him. That’s because Marvel couldn’t (wouldn’t) out a major character in 1992. So they chose a member of Canadian mutant super team Alpha Flight.

Apollo/Superman and Midnighter/BatmanApollo and Midnighter

Apollo and the Midnighter come from the Wildstorm Comics stable of characters and came out quite quickly. They had a commitment ceremony long before Northstar started shopping for rings and they’ve adopted a daughter (and she’s the spirit of the 21st century, so make of that what you will). Wildstorm is now owned by DC but started life as a separate company and Apollo and the Midnighter are unabashed Superman and Batman analogues.

Which makes sense. There’s always been a chemistry between Supes and Bats, right?

Ultimate ColossusUltimate Colossus

I took a little dig at Northstar for being a minor league hero, but Colossus is definitely a bigger ticket. He’s one of the X-men and even made it into the X-men movies. Okay, yes, he’s straight in mainstream continuity. But back in the 90s Marvel launched their Ultimate line, comics using the same characters but updating and reinventing them for new readers. And in this universe, Colossus is gay. In fact he dated Ultimate Northstar.

Green Lantern Alan Scott was retconned to be gay in the New 52.Green Lantern

DC wiped out years of continuity in 2011 and completely rebooted every one of its titles as part of their “New 52” initiative. As part of this reboot, DC announced that they would out one of its classic characters. Batman was immediately everyone’s favourite candidate (perhaps due to the enduring influence of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent). But DC opted for Green Lantern. But not Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern you might recognise from the movie. They picked Alan Scott, the Green Lantern from alternative and second string universe Earth Two.

I won’t lie, I was a little disappointed. Alan Scott wasn’t the quite the big ticket name DC had led us to expect.

Batwoman

Batwoman has been around for almost sixty years but came to the fore during DC’s 52 event when Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman disappeared for a year. Although Batwoman is a bit of a Batman clone (she’s a millionaire and suffered some childhood trauma of her own) she’s quite beloved and big enough to have her own comic. And she just proposed to her girlfriend in a frankly stunning panel of comic art.

Batwoman proposes to her partner Maggie.

Now tell me: are there enough gay superheroes in comics? Or are there some characters you think still need to step out of the closet?

Cover to The Homeless Hero by James T KellyUpdate: I’ve written a superhero story of my own! Pinnacle is the only superhero in the world and is determined to look after all of us. But he can’t look after himself. Does being a hero mean self-sacrifice or can a balance be found?

Check out The Homeless Hero now!

Should Orson Scott Card Write Superman?

DC have recently announced that their latest Superman title, Adventures of Superman, will be written by Orson Scott Card. Card is perhaps best known for his Ender’s Game series and for his two volume run on Ultimate Iron Man. He is also vocally homophobic. Cue the Internet outrage.

At the time of writing over 11,000 people have signed a petition to have DC give the boot to Card. Some comic stores are even boycotting Card’s Superman comic. I don’t dispute that Card’s views are anything from misguided to disgusting. But can we not separate the creator from his content?

Ender’s Game is a great book. So are the sequels (although they can get a little preachy) and I recommend them to every SF reader. They are clearly written by a talented writer. I own the book and I enjoy the book but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything Card believes in.

Similarly, can’t DC pay for Card’s work without condoning his views? The argument behind the petitions and boycotts is that DC shouldn’t be associating itself with hateful people. But if I can buy Ender’s Game without condoning homophobia, can’t DC buy Card’s comic work without being associated with his views?

On the flip side, of course, DC wouldn’t hire an outspoken racist. And, putting aside how women are often drawn in comics, they probably wouldn’t hire an outspoken sexist either. Although Frank Miller’s work might make you think twice about that one. But given that they wouldn’t permit racists and sexists on their staff, why will they permit homophobes? And should they?

Freedom of speech means you get to say the most appalling things and not be punished for it. So it doesn’t make sense to not hire someone for having views other than your own. That might even be discrimination. I believe the problem comes when those views make it into the work. To bring up Frank Miller again, his work is filled with misogyny and that should have been unacceptable to DC. Will Card fill his Superman comic with his anti-gay bias? It’s unlikely. But if he did, that would be the time for DC to drop him like a hot rock. Not before.

Despite having written that last paragraph, I still feel uneasy about DC’s decision. I can’t quite put my finger on why. But I think, logically, that’s the right answer: separate the content from the creator and enjoy it until their objectionable views taint it.

I’m just not sure if I feel that’s the right answer. Which might be why so many people are upset about this.

Update: This story just won’t go away. All the controversy around Card has led the artist he was due to work with, Chris Sprouse, to quit. But is Sprouse standing up for what he believes in or is he letting the issues get in the art?

Five Titles That Will Change Your Opinion of Comics

Last week I had a bit of a rant about how comic books were no good and needed to buck their ideas up. So, to balance the scales, I present to you my Top Five Comics You Should Read Because They’re Really Quite Good You KnowTM.

Dream, drawn here by John Watkiss, is the title character of Neil Gaiman's epic Sandman series1. Sandman (Neil Gamain, various)

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was always going to earn top billing. It ostensibly tells the story of Dream, the titular Sandman, who is the personification of dreams. Gaiman populates his world with so many other characters and stories that he ends up telling a story about the power of dreams and of stories themselves. Stories can range from a convention for serial killers, though the eccentric (and historically accurate) Emperor Norton of the United States to Lucifer giving up his role as the devil. By making his character an immortal embodiment of dreaming, Gaiman gave himself the freedom to tell stories in the present and the past, involving fictional characters as well as figures such as Shakespeare and Marco Polo. This breadth and the depth that Gaiman wrote with kept the series fresh and exciting throughout. Sandman introduced me to comics and is an example of the medium at its best.

Hugo Weaving played V in the film adaptation of V for Vendetta. I kept expecting him to mention Mr Anderson...2. V for Vendetta (Alan Moore, David Lloyd)

A lot of people would put Alan Moore in their top five except they would probably pick Watchmen. V for Vendetta, I feel, is the better choice. It’s set in (what is now) an alternative past ruled by a fascist conservative government and tells the story of Evey Hammond and how she becomes involved with the terrorist V. I wonder if this would ever be published now as V is not only a sympathetic character but, ostensibly, the hero. It’s not always that simple, though, as while the anarchist V seeks to bring down a cruel and brutal fascist government, he does so by blowing things up and killing people. This is not a black and white tale. Yet the shades of grey elevate this to a thought-provoking morality tale. I guarantee that when you read the end, you won’t be certain is Evey has made the right decision. V for Vendetta is the Guardian’s reading club book of the month and happily labelling it smart, relevant and other flattering terms. They’re not wrong.

Humberto Ramos' beautiful artwork combines with Paul Jenkin's deft writing to produce the wonderful Revelations from Dark Horse3. Revelations (Paul Jenkins, Humberto
Ramos)

Dan Brown done right. Charlie Northern is an English detective and a lapsed Catholic who gets drawn into a suicide at the Vatican only, of course, it’s not a suicide. Secret cults, death and treachery abound, all punctuated by Charlie swearing at his cigarettes. Jenkins writes a brilliant character in Charlie Northern, grounding the spectacular tale in stubborn disbelief and brusque but touching honesty. And special mention goes to Humberto Ramos’s art; it’s just beautiful.

Superman: Red Son puts Batman in a bad-ass furry hat.4. Superman: Red Son (Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett)

I’ve written about this title already but I’m happy to recommend it briefly again. Mainstream superhero comics are full of ‘what-if?’ stories but this one is by far and away the best, asking “what if Superman grew up in Soviet Russia?”. Instead of making Superman a pantomime villain, Millar weaves a complicated in which Superman becomes well-intentioned but misguided, rewriting DC history to include a brilliant touch; Batman in a ushanka.

Art Spiegelman writes a harrowing tale of a Holocaust survivor in his graphic novel Maus5. Maus (Art Spiegelman)

Maus appears so far down the list because it seemed too obvious. Comics tend to be about super-powered men beating up other super-powered men, and you can’t get further from that than a Holocaust survivor’s story. Maus, too, has become so readily accepted by mainstream literature that it doesn’t feel much like a comic anymore; it doesn’t carry that social stigma, the furtive nature that comes of being knocked by the establishment. But there’s a very good reason for this: Maus is art, through and through, making masterful use of the comic medium to tell a serious story in a way that prose alone could not. Don’t get put off by the harrowing and depressing elements of Spiegelman’s tale; this is a book that you need to read, even if you never touch a comic ever again.