There are no accidents in Valiant Entertainment’s Faith no. 5.
The cover features Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Our hero, Faith, is attending a Clinton rally — a plot that will yield a meeting between one of the most iconic female superheroes in recent memory and the woman who might soon become the first female president of the United States.
But the story isn’t an endorsement of Clinton. That’s no accident, either.
"I mean, I don't think most people are going to get their impression of who a candidate is from reading an eight-page or 10-page comic book story," writer Louise Simonson told me. "We simply say vote. Voting is important."
However, while Simonson sees her message as simple, the book’s reception has been controversial, with some retailers voicing concerns and planning not to display the comic when it comes out on November 2.
You can read the comic for yourself here at Vox, where Simonson, artist Pere Perez, and the team at Valiant have given us exclusive permission to publish the story in its entirety. I also got the chance to speak with Simonson about Clinton, Faith, and how she wants to thank the protesting retailers for turning her story into a collectible.
Here’s the full issue of Faith that has some retailers upset
Faith No. 5 is actually divided into three smaller stories — one that features Clinton, one that loops into Faith’s ongoing story (by series writer Jody Houser and artist Meghan Hetrick), and one that sets up a future, separate book (written by Rafer Roberts artist Colleen Doran). Simonson and artist Perez teamed up to create the story featuring Clinton, which is a 10-page vignette called "Faith in Politics":
What happens when you put Hillary Clinton on the cover of the comic book
When it comes to comic book drama and controversy, the crucial thing to remember is that no matter what comic book is drawing debate, there will always be people who haven’t read the entire finished story they’re fighting about. Sometimes the writers haven’t even finished the story.
Examples can range from brawls about Marvel giving someone other than Tony Stark the title of Iron Man to uproars over writers turning Captain America into a man who believes he is an agent of Hydra to outrage in response to a comic referencing Batgirl and the Killing Joke to boycotts of this specific issue of Faith.
There was a slight grumble and some speculation when Valiant previewed the book in August and announced Clinton’s inclusion. That early response happened during a routine round of "solicitations," a comic industry practice where publishers send brief previews of upcoming issues (and sometimes just covers) to retailers and trade publications months in advance.
But the real controversy began earlier this month, when Phil Boyle, the owner of a Floridian comic book store chain, announced on a retailer message board that he wouldn’t put out the book for display, and it inspired a conversation in which another retailer joined in and voiced his concerns. Bleeding Cool has the entire posting, but the gist is that Boyle isn’t a Clinton supporter and feels the book is an implicit Clinton endorsement:
Lastly, for the retailers out there who are opposed to Hillary, this is a forced endorsement. Clinton doesn’t pay for my shelf space and it’s not for sale for political advancement of any party. We went down that road with Obama v. Romney [during the 2012 campaign, both nominees made appearances on comic books] and the comments the two books side-by-side elicited were not what I wanted in my store. That election was about a 10th as contentious as this one.
Unlike ASM [an issue of Amazing Spider-Man where Obama appears] the Black community will not pour into stores for Clinton like they did for Obama. I don’t see feminists rushing to buy these comics though there will be people wanting them. As for my stores, we will likely have people who want this book. My stores are in a 50/50 split state, which makes it more controversial. We’ll have it behind the counter for those who ask. We won’t be giving this book display space. If we sell out, I’m okay with that.
It’s unclear whether Boyle had read Simonson and Perez’s entire story at the time of his posting. And I’m personally interested to know how Boyle can tell whether someone buying this book is a feminist (is there a uniform?) or just a "regular" person.
Regardless, it’s a bold and somewhat defensive stance to take, especially for a comic that’s probably less political than comics from Marvel, DC, or Image. "Faith in Politics" feels like it goes out of the way to tone down any kind of explicit support for Clinton. But the difference is that unlike an X-Men story about civil rights, a DC story about how women’s legacies are warped by men, or an Image story about a patriarchy gone crazy, there’s no added layer of allegory in what Simonson and Perez have created.
What you see in "Faith in Politics" is what you get. And for people like Boyle, it’s difficult to look past Clinton on the cover.
What "Faith in Politics" writer Louise Simonson thinks about the controversy surrounding the issue
Simonson has a "hall of fame" career in comic books. Known as "Weezie" to her friends in the industry, Simonson co-created the iconic X-Men villain Apocalypse and co-wrote the 1986 "Mutant Massacre" crossover — an X-Men story that changed the franchise and paved the way for Marvel’s gigantic crossover events. She’s written arcs for Superman and Wonder Woman. And now she’s put her stamp on Faith.
I spoke with Simonson about her career, her politics, and how she feels about the controversy surrounding her mini story.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
I've read tons of X-Men books — some of them you’ve edited — that are much more political than what happens in this issue. Did the response surprise you?
It's the internet. Everybody jumps on everything without having a clue what's going on. But, yes, I mean — just [Clinton’s] name makes it political. It does not surprise me that people would jump to that response, but, I mean, we don't say vote for one candidate or vote for another. We simply say vote, that voting is important.
Alex Abad- Santos
Maybe you could be swaying an undecided voter — if those still exist at this point.
I hope we make undecided voters vote. I hope they vote the way I would want them to vote, but, hey, that's just me. If I were voting for the other person, I would — I'd probably want that too, but I think it's important that people actually do vote.
We tend to want to blame the government, but we're the ones who actually choose who governs us. Seriously, people, you know, you don't have the right to complain if you don't make your choice.
Do you think it's natural for superheroes to be viewed as political figures?
A superhero can be one of many role models out there. I've talked to people for whom a superhero and their interaction with them is this combination of fantasy and reality — it's made a big difference in their lives. I think a superhero who's politically involved is really a good thing.
I know back in the olden days when I was writing Superman, they said I did the "liberal" Superman and there was another writer who they thought did the conservative Superman. I guess we sort of balanced each other out. [laughs]
That's the power of comics, I think: being able to transcend the easy, tidy political stuff. Give the reader an option and try to open their eyes a little bit.
Any comic book or book or magazine or TV show — anything that asks a question or makes a statement that gets people thinking about how they might feel about a certain event or activity or whatever — is actually a good thing. Yeah, I mean, I'm all for it.
[When you’re writing a hero] you're treading this line between the way you perceive a character and ... your own thoughts and feelings that you might lay on a character. That's been my theory. I haven't run into any problems, so there you go. I do tend to occasionally have characters have political agendas.
You just talked about how you see a character and how it can help process thoughts and feelings. Could you tell me what's going through your head when you're writing Faith and what she represents to you?
More than anything, maybe she represents hope for me. I suppose also faith and maybe the basic decency of humanity. Also, diversity. I like her attitude. I like her spunk and her willingness to stand up for things she believes in — even if they're going to sometimes get her in trouble or maybe wouldn't be the most popular thing —which she pretty much does consistently.
She has her own moral compass, and she follows it. I think that's important. She's a good role model for that kind of attitude, I guess. I really like her as a character. I would like her if she was a human — a real-life human as opposed to a comic book human.
I understand that. Though I tend to prefer comic book mutants over real-life humans.
Many people do. Wouldn't you like to be one, to be a mutant with powers? Wouldn't that be great? Oh, man.
I wouldn't want to be one with a bad power.
Well, a bad power would be better than no power.
I suppose, unless everything you touched exploded — you'd have a problem. I guess you could wear gloves, but then the gloves would explode, so there you go.
What's kind of interesting in this is that with Faith and Hillary meeting in the comic book, you play with the idea of a Hillary endorsement. But the story doesn’t really go in that direction; instead, it reverses and ends up with Hillary endorsing Faith. What, in your mind, would Hillary endorse Faith for?
I think she would endorse Faith for all the reasons that I like Faith. She would endorse Faith because she's got gumption and she keeps trying no matter what. If she fails at something, she just gets up and tries again. She believes in doing the right thing, and then she acts on her beliefs. Honestly, she's kind.
I think all of these things probably would be things that Hillary would certainly endorse. The fact that she tries to help people. I mean, that really is what drives her more than a lot of other superheroes who have different agendas. I think Faith is actually a very positive one. Also, she's quirky. You know what? I think Hillary would like that. She's not a cookie-cutter superhero. She's different. She's very modern. I think Hillary would actually appreciate that.
You’ve lived in this world where you’ve written and edited some of the biggest superhero stories ever created. You’ve gotten to spend your life creating some of the most powerful women in the universe. And now you might see the first woman president of the United States. Is that surreal?
I am looking forward very much to having a female president. I hope. Fingers crossed. That's my own personal opinion, not the opinion of the big corporate entity.
Yeah, I think it would be wonderful. I think that our country needs a more diverse approach to a lot of, again, a lot of more diverse concerns than we're seeing in the political environment right now. I think maybe the mere fact that we have a female president, which is I guess more than half the population are female, so really it's about time.
I'm not telling you anything you don't know probably, but there's kind of a feedback loop between modern culture and comic books, the modern environment. I think one feeds the other. I think that comic books reflect what's going on in the real world, and it's very much so at Valiant.
There is a feedback loop. I think it may be driving, helping, I hope, to drive the world to a more inclusive direction, or at least this country. I hope the feedback loop exists and that it's a good feedback loop. I hope we're all encouraging each other to be better.
I mean, it'd be kind of terrible if it were a bad feedback loop.
Really. We don't want a supervillain being involved. We don't want him looping into the loop. That would be bad.
I don't know if you've read this, but there was a retailer in Florida who said he was going to keep "Faith in Politics" behind the counter. He was going to keep the book behind the counter because it's political. How does that make you—
Oh, I think that it's just silly. I think it's also that he doesn't — he has no idea. Well, he may disagree with the politics of what he thinks the book is all about. First of all, I think it's silly, and second of all, I bet it makes more people interested. You make something forbidden and more people want it. I think we should thank him for helping us sell comic books. Just saying.
If he wants to do that, that's just fine.
What would you say to people who haven't read the book yet who may be feeling like this guy?
Well, I think that maybe they should wait until it comes out and actually read it, or look at the pictures at least, before they make up their minds.
I also think that it may become very collectible and people should go out and buy three of them.
Faith No. 5 will be available online and in stores on November 2.