Who are comics for?

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This week I came across the following quote from a Paul Pope article:

Asked by Yang if he had tried to do an all-ages book with a franchise character, Pope said he did test the waters, only to be knocked back. “Batman did pretty well, so I sat down with the head of DC Comics. I really wanted to do ‘Kamandi [The Last Boy on Earth]’, this Jack Kirby character. I had this great pitch… and he said ‘You think this is gonna be for kids? Stop, stop. We don’t publish comics for kids. We publish comics for 45-year olds. If you want to do comics for kids, you can do ‘Scooby-Doo.’ And I thought, ‘I guess we just broke up.'”

If we ignore, for a moment, the various All-Ages books that DC Comics is perennially publishing (sometimes in print form and sometimes online), then this is still a pretty curious statement. All the DC Comics I enjoy reading: Batman, Detective Comics, Nightwing, and Red Hood and the Outlaws are rated T (teen) not M (mature). If you really are publishing for 45-year olds, then why continue with the silly fallacy? Take, for example, this panel from Zero Year in Batman Vol 2 #21:

Bruce Wayne gives the Red Hood Gang the Middle Finger

Bruce Wayne gives the Red Hood Gang the Middle Finger

What 45-year old needs to be protected from seeing the middle finger? Sure, it’s a stand-in for “fuck”, but even PG-13 movies are allowed to use the word a few times. Bruce Wayne has just returned to his birth city only to find it overrun with the Red Hood Gang, which seems to have infiltrated all levels of Gotham Society. Bruce is pissed and, as a raw Proto-Batman, I think he is right to give the Red Hood Gang the middle finger. This is a Bruce that is disrespectful to Alfred, who’s mostly just happy to see Master Bruce back and is trying to get him to see that there are other ways to help fix Gotham. (As he eventually learns to do with his Crime Alley renovation project revealed in Batman Vol 2 #1)

While we’re on the subject of crude language, I think it could definitely have a place within DC Comics. We don’t need the characters to sound like Jules and Vince from Pulp Fiction, but I think well-used profanity from the mouths of protagonists could be symbolic. Batman is usually cool as a cucumber – his brain is working and he’s trying to best his enemies with both brain and brawn. Even so, he is sometimes pushed to the breaking point – as in Death of the Family. If it’s used appropriately sparingly, Batman cursing out one of his enemies could signal to the reader that things have gone out of Batman’s control. He’s gone from using his rational brain to try and get out of the situation and trick the enemy – all he can try and do is heap impotent verbal abuse upon his enemies. Although I’m behind on Batman Incorporated, I think Talia could definitely use a “WHAT THE FUCK, TALIA!?!” from Batman for killing her own kid. Again, I wouldn’t want the comics to descend to profanity-laced panels – there are some indie comics that cater to that. But I view our Super Heroes as being better than us – they’re what we aspire to. It’s why Batman doesn’t kill while I would have destroyed the Joker after Jason Todd’s death. It’s why, outside of Elseworlds and alternate dimension stories, Superman doesn’t just take over the planet and rule us – either benevolently or malevolently. Of course, the villains would be fair game, but I think if the writers were doing a good job, they’d consider whether it followed from the character’s personality. There are quite a few characters who see themselves as sophisticates – like Penguin and The Riddler – who probably wouldn’t be caught dead using profanity; especially Cobblepot. Harley Quinn, on the other hand, would probably unleash a verbal tirade on Batman for attacking the joker. (And we already have some of that with “bitch” being thrown around by villains towards female protagonists) Of course, if they really are making comics for 45-year olds, there’s another arena that could be addressed.

 

Catwoman and Batman have sex with their clothes on

Catwoman and Batman have sex with their clothes on

Yes, sex. Catwoman #1 gathered a TON of criticism for this sex scene. Among other things, I don’t think they meant to imply that Batman and Catwoman were dry humping, but it certainly appears that way. I think most of the criticism actually stems from the braindead Catwoman that we got in the New 52. Just like Barbara Gordon, Selina Kyle lost of lot of what made her a compelling female character. While she has often been a sex symbol, her most recent incarnation was actually a positive female comic book character. She was savvy and independent. She was sexing Batman, but she wouldn’t hesitate to try and steal jewelry right in front of him. (See Batman Incorporated Vol 1) In Gotham City Sirens she hides the fact that she knows Bruce is Batman from the other girls. I think Talia mentions that Selina is one of a small handful of people who has figured out his secret and who has loved. (Also, the Starfire scene in Red Hood and the Outlaws at the same time as this) So, I think there was a lot going on and not just a backlash against sex in comics. I’m not saying DC Comics should become like Brandon Graham’s Pillow Fight or Perverts of the Universe. I’m not looking for pornography in my comics – again, there are indie titles that have that if that’s what you’re into. But what I do want is an end to ridiculous panels like the one above. When men get out of the shower in a comic we should see their penises. When women are drawn taking a shower, let’s stop with the stupid censor steam. Draw the whole thing or don’t have the shameless sexual scene. Again, if comics are for 45-year olds then what’s the big deal? Anyone at 45 who hasn’t seen a naked person or photo of a naked person is probably so reclusive they aren’t reading comics.

But let’s stop and think for a moment: is it a good thing that DC Comics considers themselves to be making comics for 45-year olds? If that’s true, why are they constantly rebooting their universe to keep their characters young? The older I get, the more I want my comic book characters to age. I want to see what happens when they have kids and grandkids. What happens when supers go through menopause? If the X-Men get their powers at puberty, do they lose them at senility? We all loved Batman Beyond, let’s let that happen. If it’s not true, then they really do need to focus on the younger kids. Just as the cigarette companies needed to target kids to continue as a business when their customers died – what will happen to comics if the next generation isn’t brought into the fold? Are they just giving up on the kids? I think that would be a huge mistake on DC’s part. I’ve argued before that DC really needs to have an all-ages book. I need to be able to hand my daughter an all-ages Batman book and an all-ages Superman book so she can become a fan of the characters like I am. I used to watch the old 1930s Superman cartoons. I used to watch Batman: The Animated Series, but I also used to collect comics when I was in elementary school. I wouldn’t have really ever gotten back into comics without that foundation.

So, to pull things back in at the end here – I think if DC Comics wants to grow, they need to make comics for all ages. If they don’t care about that or will try and get the kids through other media like movies and TV shows, then I think they need to own up to what 45-year olds are OK with reading. Give us a more mature DC Universe where mature doesn’t mean foul-mouthed or porno, but just a more realistic world considering that nearly all the super heroes are adults.

2 thoughts on “Who are comics for?”

  1. Kari Woodrow says:

    I think that DC needs to change a lot about their current business model if they want to stay afloat, let alone grow. I love DC characters – no surprise there – but I dislike them as a company. They’re constantly disrespecting fans and creators alike. It seems like half the company doesn’t know what the other half is doing (or doesn’t care). They say they’re happy with their sales figures, but if you look at the numbers being published online every month, I can’t see how they could possibly be happy. Their characters are incredible, with rich histories (most of which they’ve recently chosen to wipe out entirely) and complex relationships (ditto), but their internal policies aren’t the kinds of things that are going to give them smoooth sailing into the future.

    I’d love more all-ages stuff. Superman Family Adventures was adorable, and I’m enjoying Li’l Gotham in a way that I’m really not enjoying any main continuity Bat-book right now, which is utterly ridiculous. I was floored when I saw the Pope quote, because I really do feel that in a field like comics, where your success depends on how many things you can sell each month, you need to have as much variety as you can squeeze in. And as much as I love the Bat family, variety doesn’t just mean adding another Bat book. Honestly, my advice for DC would be to add some more mature stuff as well as some all-ages stuff. Broaden your reader base. It can only help.

    1. Eric Mesa says:

      I also think Lil Gotham is pretty awesome.

      I think the key part of your comment was “variety doesn’t just mean adding another Bat book”. I’d say for Marvel that you could replace Bat with X-Men or Wolverine and get the same idea. It goes against the very definition of “variety” to add more of the same. Marvel has had their share of stupid ret-cons (Peter Parker’s marriage), but at least they’ve kept the main continuity and haven’t erased or fundamentally changed key female characters.

      Oh well, there’s always indie. I’m incredibly excited for Saga today.

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