Why Did DC Cancel Superman’s Team-Up with a Muslim Hero?
Ever since it was solicited three months ago, DC has been billing Superman #712 as a story where Superman goes to Los Angeles and meets the West Coast's newest super-hero, Sharif, a young man dealing with a public that might not want his help. If you go to your local comic shop and pick the issue up today, however, that's not the story you're going to get. Instead, the issue now contains a completely different story.
At first glance, this might not seem like a big deal, because after all, fill-ins happen all the time. But given that writer Chris Roberson has said that the entire issue has been completed, it seems like there might be a deeper reason that this story got the axe -- and it's hard to believe it doesn't have something to do with the fact that Sharif is a Muslim.Reached for comment, a spokesperson for DC Comics gave the official reason for the switch as follows:
"This fill in issue contains a lost classic, Lost Boy: A Tale of Krypto the Superdog, set shortly after Superboy died in Infinite Crisis and Superman went missing.
DC Comics determined that the previously solicited story did not work within the 'Grounded' storyline. However, Chris Roberson, will be back for the final two issues of Superman's year long walk across America. As we near the conclusion, catch up with Superman next month as he makes stops in Portland and Newberg, OR."
The statement that it "doesn't work within 'Grounded'" is vague enough to raise questions all by itself, because -- fittingly enough for a series about Superman walking across America -- that story has been all over the map in terms of tone. That's to be expected with a story that has two writers as different as J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Roberson (and a third if you count the fill-ins G. Willow Wilson did before Straczynski's official departure), but there's no getting around it. In the past year's worth of Superman comics, we've seen stories about Superman smugly lecturing passers-by about Thoreau, burning down drug dealers' houses with his heat vision, helping space aliens build a factory to revitalize the economy, visiting the extradimensional headquarters of a team of Superman-inspired heroes from the future and fighting an army in Tibet with Batman.
Even if you accept "it doesn't work within the story" as a reason to kill the issue, it's hard to imagine what it was about this particular issue "didn't work" if all of that did, a point underlined by Roberson himself in a reaction he gave exclusively to ComicsAlliance:
"As much as I look forward to seeing an unpublished Kurt Busiek Superman story, it's a shame that DC didn't determine that the story we prepared for Superman 712 didn't work in the Grounded storyline in time for us to do a different story. As it happened, the Sharif story was included in the outline for the remaining issues of Grounded that I submitted in November. The outline was approved, and in February the issue synopsis that I provided was used to draft the solicitation text, to work up character designs for Sharif (the grown up version of Sinbad from the early 90s), and for cover art to be pencilled, inked, and colored. The script for the issue was accepted in April, and was drawn, inked, and lettered. Unfortunately, when the issue was ready to be sent to the printer in the third week of May I was informed that the decision had been made not to print it."
While Roberson may have been informed in May, the change to the issue wasn't announced to the public until this week, and it's not just readers and retailers that were taken by surprise. George Perez, who is actually slated to take over as the writer of Superman this September, was not only surprised, but very upset that a variant cover he created for the issue that was dedicated to the memory of a friend was canned with the rest of the book:
"I have just received word from my editor at DC that DC decided to pull the original story slated for issue #712 and replace everything with another story and replacement covers ALL WITHOUT EVEN HAVING THE COURTESY OF TELLING ME! Considering the personal nature of this cover, and their knowledge of its significance, I am both extremely upset and personally embarrassed. My deepest apologies especially to Scott Mills and all of Rob Morrisroe's friends and family and the Moonlight Players. I've been told that the cover has been rescheduled to appear as the cover for Issue 714 (the last of the classic SUPERMAN run, meaning that I draw the last of the old and the first of the new), but this doesn't assuage my consternation and disappointment at the way this has been handled. I'm awaiting a call back from my editor but please don't expect me to discuss any particulars about it on a public forum. Just know that I feel horrible about all this and and can only apologize to all those who may have been inconvenienced or disappointed by this unexpected (and totally preventable) turn of events."
Clearly, even people directly involved with the issue weren't aware that it "didn't work" until very recently.
It's worth noting that, as Roberson says above, the character that was to become Sharif in Superman #712 isn't a new character, which isn't a surprise. Throughout his run on the title, Roberson -- a lifelong Superman fan -- has been bringing back bits of the past to illustrate his points, ranging from the Superwoman of the '70s to the short-lived "Electric Blue" costume from 1997. Sharif, formerly known as Sinbad, is no exception.
Created by William Messner-Loebs and Curt Swan in 1990, Davood Nassur was an immigrant from the fictional Arab country of Qurac -- DC's go-to stand-in for the Middle East -- who came to America and discovered that he possessed super-powers. After meeting Superman, he was inspired to use those powers for good, to the point where even as a kid, he was one of the characters who stepped up to protect Metropolis in the aftermath of Superman's (temporary) death.
With that in mind, it's pretty easy to see where Roberson was going with this. Since he took over the book, Roberson has focused on the idea of what Superman means to people and the character's legacy of inspiration, most notably in the aforementioned sequence with his heroic "descendants" in the Fortress of Solidarity. What's more, given the original solicitation -- which, as of this writing, is still up on DCComics.com, serving as an advertisement for a comic that's never coming out -- and its promise of Superman "aiding Sharif and quelling a prejudiced public," the connections are right there.
Sharif is an outsider in modern society who, despite having to deal with a mistrusting public, was inspired by Superman to help people. And "Grounded" has, since day one, been a story about Superman feeling like an outsider and wondering if he should continue helping people.
And according to DC comics, these two ideas do not work together.
The official reason is all but impossible to believe at face value, especially when you take into account Roberson's statement about the entire issue being approved up until just before it was set to go to print, at which time it was replaced with what they're billing as a "lost classic" that's actually an issue pulled from Kurt Busiek's run in 2006. But if that's not the actual reason, then it raises the question of what is.
It's a tricky one to figure out too. If the problem is that the book features what's essentially a "Muslim Superman" for Los Angeles, then that doesn't add up with DC's track record. They did, after all, publish a story along very similar lines where Batman recruited Nightrunner, a French-Algerian Muslim, to act as the Batman of Paris.
As thoroughly documented by our own Andy Khouri, the Nightrunner story generated a certain amount of controversy in the media - controversy to which DC Comics remained startlingly silent. Consequently, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was forced to interview someone from outside the DC organization (namely me!) for a defense against the insane claim that Nightrunner was a potential terrorist duping Batman into enforcing a right-wing notion of "Sharia Law." But DC seemed to support the character implicitly, featuring Nightrunner in the pages of the popular Batman Incorporated series.
And even more recently, Judd Winick and Hendry Pasetya have featured a Muslim character from Qurac called Rayhan Mazin in the pages of Power Girl back in April. The character may have nominally been a villain -- in that he has super-powers and gets into a conflict with the heroes -- but the story is of an Arab labeled a terrorist after using his powers to save an airplane from crashing, and being detained in the DC Universe version of Guantanamo Bay, held without trial and cut off from the outside world until he finally breaks out to visit his dying father.
The subtext there is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. There's even a scene during an interrogation where a clean-cut blonde military man responds to a question about Mazin's father with "you whining about your civil liberties?" It's a pretty clear metaphorical criticism of U.S. foreign policy towards terrorism suspects that's directly based on the idea that detention of innocent people does nothing but drive them to commit crimes.
And yet, it made it to the shelves of your local store without any problem whatsoever. So even in the current political climate, there's no reason to think that DC would can an issue for featuring a Muslim character working alongside Superman.
Unless, of course, something changed between the release of those stories and Superman #712's scheduled trip to the printer in May. And as it turns out, there's a very noticeable turning point: The release of Action Comics #900, in which Superman renounced his American citizenship.
After ComicsAlliance covered the story, it made headlines in the national media. CA Editor-in-Chief Laura Hudson was interviewed about it on FOX News, and references to it are still cropping up in mainstream articles on comic books. I have to imagine that the attention to the panel above took DC by surprise; I can't imagine that anyone was prepared for one line in a backup story to be picked up by national media outlets and blown up into something capital-R Relevant, especially in a conversation that had less to do with the actual context of the story than with the sexy soundbite of "SUPERMAN HATES AMERICA!"
But whether they were prepared or not, the outcome was the same: there was now attention focused at DC, rooted in a desire to catch the publisher in activities so un-American that Glenn Beck would have to wheel out another chalkboard. As much as I don't buy the "it doesn't work with Grounded" explanation, it's far easier to believe that after Nightrunner and Action #900, DC didn't want the hassle of dealing with an anchor leading off the news with "Superman renounced his American citizenship -- and you won't believe his new terrorist sidekick!" Not that Sharif is actually a terrorist, but the accurate description doesn't spike ratings.
And here's the thing. As you may have heard, DC's currently engaged in a line-wide reboot, something that they announced in USA Today. It's a stunt that's explicitly designed to grab headlines and get publicity. DC's actively courting the media in an effort to get this news out there and draw in new readers, which is exactly what they should be doing. But if the decision to axe Superman #712 is motivated by wanting to avoid getting attention for something as innocuous as "Superman inspires a young Muslim hero to do good in the world," then what does that say about the comics they're pushing to the spotlight?