Superman

So, on National Coming Out Day this past week, October 11th, the current Superman—Jonathon Kent, son of Lois and Clark—came out as bisexual. When I saw the New York Times piece I literally gasped out loud. This wasn’t some minor character in a team comic; this wasn’t even a second-tier lead of a less-popular title. This was fucking SUPERMAN, the Big Blue Boy Scout, the tentpole character on whom all of DC Comics, and the DC television and film franchises, are built around.

I literally had tears come up in my eyes. This was So. Fucking. HUGE.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much that would have meant to me as a deeply closeted and terrified gay teenager in the Chicago suburbs and later, small town rural Kansas. I really don’t know how best to explain what this meant to me as a sixty-year-old gay man, but here goes.

Oh, Superman. You are the ubiquitous comic book character; since your debut back before the second world war you have become the default; the super-hero every other super-hero is judged against. It’s even right there in your generic name: you are the super man, hence you are Superman.

Superman is kind of the Bill Jones or Joe Smith of comic book heroes: basic, simply named, and the best of them all.

I was a kid when I first started reading comic books about super-heroes. Before I bought my first Action Comics (all I remember is that Lex Luthor was the issue’s villain), I read Archie in all of its iterations; I also read Millie the Model, Dot, Little Lotta, and some others that have faded from memory. The Jewel Osco where my mom used to buy groceries when we lived in Chicago had a comic book vending machine near the entrance, right next to a soda machine dispensing cans of Pepsi and its variants. You put in a dime and two pennies into the appropriate slots, and pushed the appropriate buttons for the comic you wanted; the metal spiral thing holding the comics would spin and drop your comic down, so you could reach in through the door and pick it up. That particular day I wanted a Betty and Veronica, which was A5 but I was in a hurry and accidentally pressed B5 instead; voila, I got an Action Comics instead, much to my bitter disappointment. One of the local independent stations, Channel 32 (which also showed repeats of The Munsters, among other black-and-white classics) aired reruns of the old Superman television show; which I thought, even for my unsophisticated childish palate, was cheesy and silly. I remember grousing about it to my mother—whose response, “Boys read super hero comics anyway” was the kind of thing that usually would guarantee that I would never read a super hero comic book, but I picked it up after we got home and I started reading, certain that I would hate it.

It probably should go without saying that I didn’t hate it.

And it opened an entirely new world for me. Sure, it got a little frustrating from time to time for me (Superman was such a goody two-shoes, but that was kind of his job) and Lois being so desperate (and jealous) to either marry and/or expose his secret identity was annoying; especially because Lois otherwise was such a kick ass woman. There were any number of Superman or Superman-adjacent titles, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen had their own titles; Superman often appeared in (and was definitely a charter member of) Justice League of America; there was also Superboy (“Superman as a teenager!”) and Supergirl…it was like the comics readers couldn’t get enough of Superman and his world. I eventually moved on to other DC Comics titles, too—everything Batman (Detective Comics was always my favorite, because there was a mystery to solve) and Flash and Green Arrow and Green Lantern and…yes, my dollar allowance every week for a long time went to comic books (Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were $1.50 and my allowance was $1 per week; and no, I couldn’t wait until I had two dollars to get one; I always needed to spend my money as soon I got it on Thursday—Mom’s payday—at either Jewel Osco or at Woolworth’s…because I could always talk Mom into buying me a book if there were Hardy Boys or Three Investigators to be had). When we moved to the suburbs the Zayre’s didn’t carry comics, nor did the grocery store in town; the 7/11 only carried Marvel (I tried with The Mighty Thor, but the continuing story aspect Marvel used irritated me because I would inevitably miss an issue), and when Zayre’s finally started carrying comics, things had… changed. Wonder Woman was no longer an Amazon, and was just an every day modern woman running a boutique (somehow she’d given up her powers). Supergirl had been poisoned, which meant her powers came and went without warning; one moment she’d be super, the next she wouldn’t. It was an attempt to modernize the books, of course, make them appeal to the newer, more sophisticated modern audience of the 1970’s; some of them started addressing social issues and became a lot more adult in theme. (Green Arrow actually became my favorite book during this time; he was drawn naturally—had curly chest hair AND nipples—and he had no powers other than being an expert archer and skill at hand-to-hand fighting). I eventually moved away from comics because I started spending my money on novels—Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, etc.—and comics were, I thought, really for kids.

Later on, when we moved to Kansas, I got back into comics again, and things had changed yet again. Some of the Legion of Super-Heroes’ costumes made them look like strippers (male and female); the drawing of the characters had become more natural and realistic (Superman, for example, went from being barrel-shaped to having a narrow little waist and abs showing through his skintight costume), and Wonder Woman was an Amazon again. This was my Howard the Duck period, when I also started delving into Marvel a bit more. Comics always remained of interest to me throughout my life, with me going through periods of collecting and reading in large volumes at different times…before moving on from them again. I am not an expert on comics by any means; I know the names of some artists and some writers, but for the most part, I always paid more attention to story and character (go figure). But I’ve always maintained a love for the characters; and yes, the original Christopher Reeve Superman movie (which I rewatched recently for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival) indeed made me believe a man could fly.

I’ve always had, and always will have, a soft spot for Superman.

To me, Christopher Reeve was Superman–the prior versions of the character, including the popular television show (which I watched religiously) always seemed, to me, to be an actor playing the part; Reeve somehow just was the character. He was so insanely and ridiculously handsome; the body was just right, and he had the right mix of charm and charisma the part demanded. Reeve’s Superman could never be seen as a threat–and he also made it completely believable that no one could tell Clark was him, with different hair, glasses, and street clothes; he physically changed how he stood, his posture, everything about him that was Superman, when he was playing Clark.

Reeve never got enough credit as an actor, frankly.

And while my memories of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane aren’t fond ones–I thought she was a fine actress, but miscast–overall, the first two Reeve films were good ones. They could have stopped there, but didn’t–and the last two weren’t good. I enjoyed Lois and Clark (despite what Dean Cain turned into) and Paul and I eventually succumbed to the simple pleasure that was Smallville…but I wanted to see Superman back up on the big screen, where he belonged. I was very excited when they cast Henry Cavill in the part (I’ve been crushing hard on Cavill since first noticing him on The Tudors)….and then came the movies. I enjoyed them for what they were, and I did think some of the changes made to update and modernize the story (how would Americans today react to the discovery of a super being from another planet?)–and you can never go wrong with Amy Adams, either.

But…they forgot the most important thing about Superman: his kindness and genuine concern for people. In the quest to make the DC Film Universe of all that is dark and angsty like the Batman movies–the direction Batman has gone in since the comic mini-series The Dark Knight Returns–was a bad one. Patty Jenkins got Wonder Woman so fucking right–and it was the same basic formula as Superman. Superman used to be derisively called “the world’s oldest Boy Scout”, but that can work with the character, and with the right actor. I think Cavill has the charisma and the charm–and the extraordinarily gorgeous smile–to pull that off; I just wish they would have let him have the chance.

The new show on CW, Superman and Lois, is also excellent; I absolutely love it, and I do think that Tyler Hoechlin is one of the best Supermans of all time, frankly. (The entire cast is stellar, frankly.)

So, as I said earlier, I was pretty fucking jazzed the other day to see the piece in the New York Times earlier this week about Superman “coming out”–on National Coming Out Day, no less–and even if it turned out to not be Clark Kent, but Lois and Clark’s son Jonathan (in the comics they have the one son; on Superman and Lois they have twin sons, one of whom is named Jonathan), and while I, in my white gay male privilege assumed this meant that he was gay–he’s actually bisexual. But he is attracted to other men, and even has a boyfriend.

There was one particularly noxious piece posted on Medium, which the homophobic piece of trash who wrote it proudly posted on Facebook (I reported his post on Facebook as well as the piece on Medium as hate speech; the Medium piece came down, but the last time I looked, of course Facebook had done nothing about it). I read the whole thing–poorly worded, not grammatical, would have given a C- grade on the construction basics level alone–but the part that I couldn’t get past, the part I can’t forget, was him saying this: But why take one of the few heroes left for the “Straight World” and make him abnormally offensive to us?

Abnormally. Offensive.

I guess I missed the massive closet exodus for the DC and Marvel Universes? Let me see–right off the top of my head, at DC aren’t Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Nightwing, Cyborg, Aquaman, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter, the Question, Beast Boy, the Elongated Man, and Shazam, all straight? (And that is just off the top of my head., and only DC.) But you know those people who are so afraid of the queers–you know, like the piece of shit who wrote the Medium piece–they just can’t help themselves or keep their fucking mouths shut. Oh, no, Mr. I’ve Never Brought a Woman to Orgasm just can’t let us have anything without letting us know how much it offends their delicate, needle-dicked sensibilities. You know, the same kind of guy who undoubtedly always complains about “cancel culture” and “social justice warriors” and “wokeness” and I don’t have a problem with gay people but why do you have to exist? Those kinds–sad, bitter little men with so little joy in their lives they have to spend their precious time on this planet letting everyone else in the world know how much they object to our existence.

But he has a right to his opinion and we are oppressing him if we call it out for the hateful trash it is…and him for the piece of shit he is.

As my editor at Kensington wrote on a note he included with a copy of a bad review of one of my books, this just reeks with the stench of failed author.

This guy claims to be a crime writer, and claims to work for a publisher (I’ve never heard of it or him before this moment)…but after reading this piece and another one he published on Medium, the real crime is his actual writing.

Fuck off, dude. And know that bisexual Superman is going to have way better sex than you could ever pay for, no matter how long you live.

God knows I have.

Something’s Wrong

At some point over the past decade, a movement started on-line to promote the voices of minority writers writing about their experience in fiction, called “#ownvoices”. The focus of the tag was primarily for non-white writers, whose work has been so long marginalized and kept out of the mainstream of publishing; forcing those writers to either not see print or go with either a small press or self-publishing. It brought up some interesting conversations about who gets to tell what story, the importance of representation in fiction, and the need for greater diversity in the popular culture.

Recently, the “who gets to tell what story” debate took on an entirely new meaning and went in an entirely different direction with the publication of a piece in the New York Times that became known as, for simplicity’s sake, “Bad Art Friend.” Who owns a story, and who gets to tell that story? Both women on either side of the conversation appeared, to me, to be kind of assholes; but when it comes down to brass tacks, I strongly believe that if you feel your own story—the story of your own life—belongs to you and only you, then you need to write it; not tell the story to other writers (or other people in general, really) and expect them not to use it. Writers are thieves, every single one of us; anything we ever are told, read, see, and hear goes into the computer of our mind and at some point, might come back out in a fictional form. The fact that the “kidney story” was used as a jumping off point for a short story by a writer fascinated by the story of the woman who donated said kidney—and her need for attention predicated on the ownership of that story—shouldn’t surprise any writer; as I read the piece in the Times myself I kept thinking, I don’t know that I could have resisted writing about this woman either—it’s such a fascinating place to start an examination of both altruism and narcissism, how could anyone resist? I also started, in fairness, to think of the story in terms of crime fiction—how would I build a crime story out of this?

I do know, however, how shitty it feels to have my story taken and told in a way I didn’t much care for; yet that doesn’t mean I couldn’t tell my story how I wanted to, if and when I choose to. Everyone’s take on this has been interesting to watch on social media–you can certainly tell how personal experience effects other writers’ opinions on things–but I think the bottom line of it all is, don’t be a shitty person. Everyone involved in that whole mess was kind of a shitty person, at least in how it was reported–and again, those people involved in the group chat/email or text chain or whatever the hell it was and were actually named in the Times piece? Their story is now being told by someone else. Karma? Serendipity? The arc of justice? Who knows? Who gets to decide?

So, who does get to tell whose story?

Most of my work is fiction, and the majority of it is also set in New Orleans. New Orleans is one of the few cities in the United States with a majority minority population (at least it used to be; I’m not as certain post-Katrina of that fact as I was pre-Katrina) and it would be impossible to write about New Orleans without including non-white characters; that would be science fiction. It might be possible to live in New Orleans and never, ever come across a non-white person; I don’t see how, frankly, but, on the other hand, I’ve read any number of lily-white books set here. The casts of my two series contain one person who is non-white; police detective Venus Casanova, a character I love deeply and have always wanted to write more about. I had two ideas for Venus novels over the years—Stations of the Cross is one, and more recently, Another Random Shooting—but I always held back from writing either of them because I am not a Black woman. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as a Black woman in New Orleans or in the South, let alone the struggles faced with being a Black woman working for the New Orleans Police Department—the racism, the micro-aggressions, the misogyny—and while I still believe both books would be good ones, I still am not entirely comfortable writing from that point of view—nor am I comfortable taking a publishing slot (if it came to that) from an actual Black woman crime writer, of which there aren’t enough as it is.

Bury Me in Shadows didn’t present the same kind of issue that I have with writing from Venus’ perspective (I also started writing a short story once with her as the main character; I revised it to be from the point of view of her white gay partner on the force, Blaine Tujague), the issue here was that I was going to be looking at and examining the racist history of the South and issues of race themselves…from the point of view of a twenty year old white gay kid. Just what the world needs, right, another white take on racial injustice in the southern United States? The possibilities for offending people were endless; do I have blind spots in my white privilege when it comes to racial injustice? Would those blind spots come across in the book? (I don’t care if I offend Confederate apologists, none of whom would be reading anything I write to begin with for fears of gay contagion.)

One thing my main character Jake’s mother always emphasizes to him is “the heritage is hate, Jake—never forget that.”

Jake has no pride in the fact his ancestors enslaved people, or in the family history of what was once a plantation that has now dwindled to a small amount of acreage that is mostly wooded; his mother refused to raise him that way, and I wanted to show how possible and effective—and important– breaking the generational link passing white supremacy along for centuries can be. Like most white people, Jake really hasn’t thought much about the history or his own privilege—there’s a part in the book where he thinks about how many students of color there were in his elite, private Catholic school—and being there, on the ground soaked in blood and perspiration and oppression, he has no choice but to face up to it, think about it, and be appalled by it all. I didn’t want to write something that could be called, or considered, an oh look another white guy explains racism or even worse, oh look another white person discovers racism is actually a thing and is horrified book; but the land is definitely haunted by its past.

Another theme I worked on within the book is the history of this county is written in blood. That’s a recurrent theme within any of my Alabama fictions; I tend to always write about my fictional Corinth County, and its history is actually very heinous. There’s a short story I’ve been working on for years called “Burning Crosses,” about a lynching that happened there many years ago; during the horrors of the Jim Crow era—in which a young white girl, a student at the University of Alabama, comes to Corinth to research the lynching for the Justice Project—a fictional group at the University that researches all racially motivated killings in the South since Appomattox, to name the victims and so the memories never fade with time. Again, not sure if I am the right person to tell this story, and the possibilities for giving offense with it are endless; so, I continue to work on it, tweaking here and there, and maybe someday I will try to get it published. But Corinth County’s bloody history is very real in my mind, and there are countless book and story ideas (and in-progress stories) I have for continuing to write about it.

Whether I will or I won’t remains to be seen, of course, but there are files and files and files…

Because of course there are.

 

Every Song Is You

Wednesday morning!

Yesterday was a really good day. I was productive again–not as much as the previous two days, but still, I’m counting it as a win. I even wrote. I worked on a short story and an essay–granted, the short story was a revision, so somewhat easier than actually writing something from scratch on a blank page–but it was still pretty awesome to be flexing some creative muscles again. I also think my editorial eye has become a lot more clear than it’s been in over twenty-one months; I definitely think I am going to be tweaking this story perhaps one more time. But it felt amazing to be writing again–rewriting, as it were–and so my new plan is to try to get this three short stories I’ve been trying to revise forever revised this week, and start working on A Streetcar Named Murder in earnest this weekend.

Tonight after work I am going to go to the gym for Leg Day, and try to get some more editing done. I also want to finish reading Velvet Was the Night so I can start my Horror for Halloween reading, beginning with the annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House. I had also planned to read one of the Stephen Kings I have on hand but not yet read–probably The Institute–and another Paul Tremblay at the very least; but I’ve got to finish what I am already reading before I can move on to anything else. I think this decommitment to watching college football all day on Saturday will help, and just the occasional check-in on the Saints on Sunday should also help free up some of my time. I think today’s lower energy mode is probably just the usual oh I’ve gotten up at six for three straight mornings tired; even now as the coffee kicks into gear I am starting to feel more alert and more on top of things–which is pretty fucking cool. Yay!

I’ve also been writing blog posts to promote Bury Me in Shadows; I wrote a rather lengthy one about the backstory behind the book–where the Civil War ghost story aspect of the book came from, and why it was kind of difficult to write such a thing in the present time, knowing that the rebel side was wrong and problematic–and the underlying root cause of all the racial tension and problems we still face as a country today (I’ve preordered The 1619 Project, and can’t wait to read it). One of my primary worries/concerns with writing this book was how easy it would be to step wrong and write something offensive. I still worry from time to time that I did exactly that, and when the book is released there will be controversy. But if I got something wrong, or wrote something that is offensive, I will own my mistakes, apologize for them, and try to do better going forward.

I don’t understand when admitting you were wrong or made a mistake became a sign of weakness in this country. I also don’t understand it. I don’t like being wrong, but I am also not going to double down on being wrong. Not meaning any offense doesn’t mean you won’t offend someone, and for the record, I’m sorry you were offended is not the same thing as I’m sorry I offended you. The first is a non-apology, and the speaker isn’t really sorry for what they said, they are only sorry you were offended by it. The second takes ownership of the situation and doesn’t let the original speaker off the hook, and personalizes the apology. I also don’t understand why this is so hard for people to understand.

Yesterday Twitter was all abuzz about the Kidney Woman story in the New York Times, which tried to stir up the whole argument about drawing inspiration from someone else’s life or story. I’ve always believed that it’s impossible for any writer to create either a character or situation lifted from real life; if anything, it’s only a starting place, because a writer cannot know everything about any real life person–you don’t know their every experience, you don’t know what the seminal experiences that created who they are and how they react to things, you don’t know how their mind works or how they even think; at best, all you really see if how they outwardly react to a person or a situation–you don’t know what they are thinking, you don’t know their triggers, you don’t know anything, really–so you have to make up a lot of it, and you base it on your observations of how that person behaves and reacts. Observation is very key, yes, and an understanding of psychology, but again, everyone is different and no one can predict how anyone else will think or react or behave in any given situation. Which is why we are always surprised by the behavior of people we know; we don’t really know them at any great depth so of course we are always going to be surprised and caught off guard by their actions. Nobody likes to think people talk about them behind their back; no one really wants to know what people that dislike say about them. But you have to understand that it’s very human–friends tell each other things, and everyone talks about everyone else (it always amazes me that this salient fact of life is always addresses so insanely on reality televisions shows–“don’t talk about me behind my back!” Um, everyone does it, hello? And most of the time it means nothing. If someone has pissed me off, I will inevitably talk about it to a mutual friend–just to get it off my chest and out of my system. Usually, I am over it once I talk it through with another person–everyone needs to vent, why is this so hard to understand? And it doesn’t have to mean anything more than that…”yes, I was mad at you, but once I talked it through with X I realized it wasn’t anything, I was over it, and why hurt your feelings or start a fight with you when it really wasn’t anything?”). I certainly don’t want to know what people say about me when I’ve irritated them or pissed them off; I’m perfectly happy being oblivious.

With the caveat that if I behave in a way that really gets on someone’s nerves regularly, I would like to know so I can decide to change the behavior or not.

Then again, I’ve never understood the rules of friendship, either.

We finished Midnight Mass last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mike Flanagan, who also did The Haunting of Hill House (which I was able to enjoy as I merely viewed as fan fiction rather than a straightforward adaptation of the classic novel–one of my favorites), did an excellent job here. It’s a deep meditation on religion and the power of belief, juxtaposed with some serious horror. The acting is superb; the characters deeply drawn and compelling, and it’s hard to look away. I prefer this kind of creepy, unsettling horror to jump scares and gore, frankly. I do recommend the show, but prepared to think some heavy thoughts about the power of religion and its potential for abuse–as well as how easy it is to misinterpret something as holy when it most certainly is not.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.