The “Action Comics” #900 controversy that should have been

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When I read Action Comics #900 a few weeks back, I raised my eyebrows exactly once. The lead story was fun enough, as I’ve come to expect from Paul Cornell’s run, though I find that I can’t bring myself to care at all about the “Reign of Doomsday” storyline, so I’m done with the title for now. Maybe permanently, considering what it was that caused the eyebrow raising.

As I mentioned, it was a few weeks ago, but what I saw has stuck with me since then and continued to bother me, even after I sold off the comic along with the rest of the Cornell/Woods run (not a protest, just recouping some of my money after enjoying the comics but not expecting to read them again). So time to see if anyone else had this reaction.

First of all, obviously, it wasn’t this:

Was this, in reality, a controversy? It was widely noticed in the comics press, but let’s be honest. The term “slow news day” was made for comics. It’s simply not a particularly big or particularly important field. A full news day is a rare thing. The same is true of Fox News, the network that purportedly lost its head over Superman renouncing his citizenship in a backup story, but for a very different reason. Almost no matter what happens in the world, it is hard to fill 24 hours, every day, so naturally all the cable news networks spend an inordinate amount of time on stupid shit, but they quickly move on to new stupid shit. I doubt anyone at Fox News remembered the story the next day, meaning that while the comics world convinced itself that Fox News was making a big deal out of nothing, I wonder if it was in fact the comics Internet making a bigger deal out of less.

No, what got me was on the last page of the lead story, the cliffhanger, if you will:

Not this, because whatever:

It was this:

A Superman comic just thanked me for my support. Which maybe isn’t a weird thing, but it struck me that way. In truth, of course, whenever we buy something, we’re supporting it, but we usually prefer to think of purchases more strictly transactionally. That is, I’m not buying this comic book because I approve of and wish to support the practices of Time Warner and its subsidiary companies, but rather because I am paying the company for a service in the form of half an hour’s entertainment. To think otherwise, I have to consider whether I want to support and approve of the practices of Time Warner.

While I’m sure that the editor or assistant editor who wrote that little bit of text wasn’t considering the semantic implications of thanking me for my support, if you do think about it, it’s a weird thing for a corporation to put out there. I assume that people who run large companies usually prefer to keep the relationship with customers transactional, rather than encouraging them to consider the company’s policies. Sure, they’d like you to buy the world a Coke, but they don’t actually want you to think about the labor practices of the Coca-Cola Company. DC wants you to prefer them over Marvel, but I doubt they want you to think hard about what they do with your money.

Because in this case there is something going on in the real world in which you can choose to support DC, or you can choose to support the families of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. And the money you spend on DC comics enriches Time Warner, which is paying expensive lawyers to fight the fight against the Siegels and Shusters on its behalf. There are a lot more layers than that, and your money doesn’t really directly go to efforts like attempting to get the Siegels’ lawyer thrown off the case, but “support” is a strange word for DC to be throwing around at a time like this. It may be a stretch, but I was made a little uncomfortable when a Superman comic thanked me for my “support” as the fight over the character continues to get more and more bitter.

I’m conflicted over the moral and ethical implications of my feelings about DC’s and Time Warner’s treatment of the creators of Superman. Does it mean I shouldn’t spend my money on creator-owned books like Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth or collections of significant classics of the medium like Alan Moore’s (another creator whose record at DC is less than encouraging) Swamp Thing or particularly beloved superhero series by well-compensated creators like Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. (another comics exploration, after WildC.A.T.s 3.0 and Invincible Iron Man, of the fantasy of the benevolent corporation) (actually, if Morrison left DC, the question of whether or not to buy new DC comics would become about 75% easier), to name three that I currently regularly purchase.

I enjoy them all, but taking a stand isn’t meant to be easy, right? You are supposed to sacrifice. But what about the compensation Lemire, Morrison and, hopefully, Moore get from my purchase? Or is that a rationalization? And would any of it make any difference anyway? Is it okay to buy them used? This is one of those times I wish I posted more often and so had more readers and commenters, as I’d really like someone smarter and savvier than me to take up this question.

So, yeah, not all the way there on what to do about DC (and Marvel, and others) generally, but in the current climate, after the way that word “support” has stuck with me, I know that I at least can’t buy any Superman comics while this trial goes on. Sorry, Mr. Cornell, Mr. Woods. I was enjoying your run, but if I’m going to read anymore, its going to have to be from the library, and even that might feel too gross right now.

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