You're listening to WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound...

LYDEN: Superman is making headlines this week, but not for rescuing Lois Lane. The series publisher, DC Comics, hired Orson Scott Card as a writer on the first chapter of the digital comic book. Card is an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, and some readers are upset that he now holds the keys to the Superman character.

Joining us to discuss this now is Glen Weldon. He's a blogger here at NPR, and also the author of the upcoming book "Superman: The Unauthorized Biography." Glen, welcome.

GLEN WELDON: Thank you very much. Great to be here.

LYDEN: So why the choice, do you think, of Orson Scott Card?

WELDON: Because he's a name, I think. He wrote a book called "Ender's Game," and he's very well-respected by those fans of that book. But let me speak as both a "Superman" nerd and as a gay dude. The reason why I think this is causing the controversy it is - Orson Scott Card isn't just a guy whose opinions I disagree with, because there are lots of people like that writing comics. And I would defend, to the mild inconvenience, their right to espouse those views. What's different here is that Orson Scott Card is an activist. He is a member of the board of the National Organization for Marriage, which spends millions of dollars to attack and defeat marriage equality.

LYDEN: Is there any reason to believe that Orson Scott Card will project his own values and religious beliefs on this character?

WELDON: I'd be surprised if he did, only because DC protects the character so much. They really keep a tight rein on what this character can and can't do. Back in the day, I used to follow the characters I loved from book to book. Now, I - and many people like me - follow the writers we love from book to book because genre is genre; and it has its tropes, its cliches. But within that, you can have a great "Superman" story and a lousy "Superman" story.

LYDEN: How much influence does one individual writer, though, have over this entire character which, as you say, is absolutely archetypal?

WELDON: Well, it depends. Basically, what happens in terms of the character is that a writer comes along, picks up the character, plays with it a while, then puts it back in the toy box. So Orson Scott Card is going to come along, do whatever he does, go away; the character will endure.

LYDEN: Is there more diversity amongst superhero comic book characters than there would've been when you were a kid?

WELDON: Oh, sure. There's more racial diversity. There's a lot more sexual diversity as well. It's great to see a gay character standing shoulder to shoulder with Captain America. But visibility is step one. Independent, underground comics and certainly manga - Japanese manga - have been way down this road, doing more than just showing gay people but actually exploring their lives in a nuanced and sometimes challenging way. The world of comics should look more like the world outside it - I think that's progress. But it's only a first step.

LYDEN: DC Comics released this statement to respond to the criticism over hiring Orson Scott Card. Quote, "The personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that, personal views, and not those of the company itself." Do you think that people are just projecting politics onto something that's meant as entertainment?

WELDON: Sure. I mean, you can project onto him whatever you like. But comics are supposed to be fun, and the character of Superman doesn't really buy into petty politics. He's bigger than that. When he started out, he was a New Deal Democrat. He was somebody who challenged the status quo. The very first words in Action Comics No. 1 - it was written in 1938 - you see the words "champion of the oppressed."

One of his nicknames is "The Man of Tomorrow" because he is an ultimate progressive character. He says, "We can be better than we are, if we look out for the people who can't defend themselves."

LYDEN: Glen Weldon is a blogger here, at NPR. He's also the author of the upcoming book "Superman: The Unauthorized Biography." Glen, thank you for coming in.

WELDON: My pleasure.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Possessing remarkable physical strength, Superman fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice, disguised as a mild-mannered newspaper reporter, Clark Kent.

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