Okay, so I’m a comic book nerd; have been since I was first able to read. In fact, I attribute much of my literacy, and, ironically, the subsequent retardation of my maturity, to comic books. It’s a thing. In fact, it’s MY thing … and I like my thing.
Most of the time, unless it’s with like-minded nerds, dorks, geeks, et all, I keep it to myself, and I don’t tend to get people involved. Like I said, it’s my thing, and like pooping in public, I just don’t like to share the experience with everyone.
For the better part of my life, loved ones have agreed, and kindly treated my passion for comics like salad at fat camp – they just pretend it’s not there. Oh, I’ve had my share of kind enablers, like my mom, who used to buy bulk comics from Sam’s Club if I got a good report card, or my girlfriend, who bought me a few comics to keep my hands occupied.
For my birthday this year, the latter even bought me one of my favorite, more “linguistically explicit” comics, The Boys, and to great comedic effect, recorded herself reading it aloud. If you don’t think that hearing a soft, sweet English accent reading some of the saltiest language in modern sequential art is some of the most hilarious shit ever, you’ve got another thing coming.
Oddly, or perhaps not so if you’ve had any dealings with my blog in the past, it’s the salty side of life that I’d like to address. Specifically, it’s the profanity in my beloved medium of the comic book. I suppose I should start this journey where it’s most appropriate: the Holy Mother Church.
Years ago, when I went to Catholic school, some of my friends and I had a “Comic Book Ring” as it was called by the administration. The reason we were given such a kick-assedly speakeasy-esque name is because the sisters thought the comics we traded back and forth, like one particular Mighty Thor issue, were … DUN DUN DUUUUN … scandaloussssssssssssssssss!
Now, the only thing I can conceive of as being even vaguely scurrilous about Thor is that his name sounds like the way a particularly lispy homosexual gentleman might describe his posterior after a night of amorous lovemaking with his consensual life partner.
I digress. To the left, ladies and gents, is the terribly devilish comic book that was confiscated from my friends and me so many moons ago. Be warned, if you’re currently in a nunnery, it may not be safe for work…and by the way, what the hell are you doing looking at my blog?
I remember being pretty indignant about the whole thing, thinking that the sistas were off their rockersto allow their sensibilities to be so easily offended. I’ve just gone through the comic again, and the only thing even remotely salacious is the scene below, and it’s not even really an alien luridly tugging on his robot dagger penis. Let down!
It took me a while to understand what the sisters were so disturbed by, but now I’m thinking they were tapping into some sort of Sister Mary Clairvoyance, viewing the future of what comic books would become for we, the huddled boy masses of the future.
To put it succinctly, things in the mainstream comic book world have, it indeed seems, gotten saucy!
Now, I’m not talking here about the perhaps ambiguous “mistakes” that some writers and artists make, like the masthead image of this post, or the following ridiculous bit of WTFtitude recently seen in yet another Green Lantern comic, this one involving quite possible my favorite character, Guy Gardner.
The setup to this is that Guy was basically stranded on an ice planet and wanted a drink, so, thinking quickly, he sucked some cock. I should mention here that unlike the above image, the one to the left is in no way tampered with by me. Now, I know what you’re thinking, because it’s exactly what I thought, which is to say …
Well, whoever drew this must have been caught out for it something fierce, because they have apparently changed it.
I recently bought the hardback cover collecting the issues of which this was a part, and now the above image looks like this —————————————–>
This is also not to say that I don’t enjoy the odd semi-pornographic bit of comic-dom. Who doesn’t? There are many to choose from throughout history, ranging from, say, the oversexed, addled and garbled genius within the imagination of R. Crumb, to Lost Girls by the legendary Alan Moore, which, while admittedly being pretty damn amazing in its contextual dissection of sexuality within modern fairy tales, was little more than an excuse to see Alice in Wonderland get pounded like British currency, or postulate on the possibility that Peter Pan was just some street tough giving hand jobs to a malformed pedophile calling himself Captain Hook. No, I’m not kidding, and yes, it is actually quite good … even though it has been called child pornography. Judge away!
Here’s the thing, though, when it comes to pop culture superheroes, like Batman or Superman for example, unless it’s some lonely basement dweller rendering poorly-drawn fan fucktion on Microsoft Paint, they largely stick to the rule book. That’s not to say that adult themes haven’t existed with the characters, especially outside of their own continuity. Such was the case with that Adam West-stylee Batman porn, which gained some popularity recently thanks to its amazing production value … and which I swear I didn’t watch … three or four times. (RIDDLER KILLED IT!)
FANBOY SIDEBAR – If you don’t care what “continuity is, skip this next bit.
For those who may not be familiar with the term, “continuity” is the generally agreed-upon sequential timeline that comic book characters follow within their stories. Continuity can be broken, for example, if a writer decides to do a “what if” scenario with Superman or Batman, but if it’s not a story in one of his or her main books, it’s usually not part of history or of their own literary canon, let’s say. This is one of the reasons why comic book runs have issue numbers, to keep the story chronicled and keep a generally coherent history together. I could write a book on what the comic world calls “retcons,” or retroactive continuity, where comic book companies go back and change things to suit ongoing stories to new developments or to fix continuity problems/mistakes. While not exclusive to the comic book form, it is one of its favorite literary devices, and it’s always kind of interesting how they cover their tracks.
DC Comics (the company/universe that contains both Super and Batman), which was always, in my youth, known for being relatively innocent, is also known for constantly going back and changing their collective continuity, retconning it via big events that change the characters or lead the universe in a different direction. Some required reading for this would be Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis – all huge events that affect every character in the company and their histories. They recently did this again, to much more media ballyhoo this time, when they took all of their creations back to Issue #1, and that is where the crux of my post really begins. Yup, welcome to the beginning. Sucks to be you!
To make things more contemporary, DC Comics has done some fairly extensive plastic surgery to, well, I don’t know how many years of generally agreed-upon continuity, all to reinvent its characters. Superman is no longer a smiley nice guy, but more of a broody, isolated emo kid, for example. They called this a “soft reboot,” because not all characters were affected (Batman is still relatively the same, with the same backstory and characterization), but one big difference is what the sisters at my school warned us about. DC comics is getting pretty fucking scandalous!
If you’ve gotten this far, you know that I’m no prude; in fact, I’m very “pro-fanity.” But sweet barbie jebus, this is getting ridonk! Take the two most infamous new titles (of the 52 in total) that have gotten some serious media attention: Catwoman and Red Hood & The Outlaws.
Everyone knows Catwoman for the most part, and while she has been a strong character, for her femininity and sexuality, never before have they been expressed so … expressly. The following is the end page of Catwoman #1…
Yup, that right there is Batman … screwing Catwoman. No subtleties. No innuendo. That is the Dark Knight burying his “batarang” into Catwoman’s “vagina.” Seriously, what the balls is that all about?
When did I blink and suddenly we’re showing superheroes nailing each other so explicitly in-continuity and in one of the main monthly titles? That sort of thing used to be relegated to the innocence of crafty Google searches!
The below image was the follow-up in Catwoman #2, which saw this dynamic duo’s continued doing-of-it on the first couple of pages, which, for your benefit, I’ve included…
For a bit of extra fun, imagine marrying that image with some old 1960s Batman visual sound effects. Actually, I don’t trust your imagination, so I’ll do it for you… (click for larger)
Finally, here is their post-coital embrace. Apparently, Batman’s a cuddler. I mean, okay, their sexy time was pretty much always implied, and in some cases, more explicit, but I’ve never seen it to this extent, and honestly, it’s something I would have been happy not seeing. It feels a bit like walking in on dad jackhammering mom on your bunkbed. You never look at those ninja turtle sheets the same…
This rampant buggery isn’t just relegated to the fair streets of Gotham, as there’s another title getting a lot of flack recently for its not-so-tasteful depiction of superheroes slamming their secret fortresses together.
In its three-issue run so far, Red Hood & The Outlaws tells the story of a trio of misanthropic misfit anti-heroes banding together to punch shit in the face. The team consists of Roy Harper (aka, Speedy, Red Arrow and Arsenal at different times during his career), Starfire and the eponymous Red Hood, who started his career as Jason Todd, the second Robin (as in, Batmand and _____ ), who faced his own controversial fanfare frenzy when he was sentenced by DC readers to death by crowbar at the hands of the Joker back in the day – before being retconned back to life recently.
Jason Todd isn’t the only character to taste a bit of former infamy from this team, of course. Roy (now known permanantly as Arsenal), had his claim to fame back in the early 1970s with this little ditty to the left, which has become one of the most iconic comic book covers of all time.
And then there’s Starfire. Before becoming a vanilla standard on the ridiculously kiddie Teen Titans Go! piece of crap, she was always a pretty sultry ticket in her own “sinnocent” way, but what the writers and illustrators have done with her now will definitely put a few hairs on your netherbits.
Here are some cells of her appearances in the first issue…
Okay, admittedly, there’s nothing new here – scantily-clad superchicks are a dime a dozen, and have been even in my formative years.
I get the fact that this may be a characterization thing with DC trying to separate how Starfire has appeared over the past few years, but I do remember a scene recently where she and Nightwing banged with a fair bit of oomph, so to hype her sexuality up even more just, for me, makes her feel more … alien, I guess?
Anyway, for the Pièce de résistance, we get to see slag seduce scag with the utmost subtlety, with Starfire not so smoothly asking Roy is he’d like to diddle her royal piddle, as well as a nice shot of their own post-penetrating naptime.
So here’s the thing, I don’t mind the fact that all of these costumed kiddies are bumping mutant uglies and swaping super gravy. In fact, I’m currently digging the new DC universe as a whole (the new Justice League, Detective Comics and Action Comics are personal favorites), and even in the above titles, there has been some exceptional storytelling – especially in Catwoman. But to me, the above just seems like overkill. It feels like DC is trying to prove something – maybe that they’re as topical as the cream Roy might want to use for the space crabs he’s innevitably gonna get. But I dunno, it just feels forced and contrived.
It’s like they’re saying, “Okay, so we’ve got this new universe to play with where Superman is an emo doucheberry, and Batman and Catwoman fuck the Dogshit out of each other because .. well … because we can, and it’ll probably sell.” In that sense, they’re doing it right - after all, I am writing a blog about it. But at the same time, I think there’s a time to imply “sex” and a time to up and scream “FUCK!” And this isn’t a pastiche like what we see in The Boys – these are, as I mentioned, mainstream monthly titles. If nothing else, it’s just kinda shocking … but only shocking for the sake of being shocking.
I remember seeing this documentary on comics a while back about legendary comic book artist Jim Steranko, whose trippy run on Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD is still very much lauded in the comic community today. In one scene, ol’ Nick (who is now portrayed in the Marvel movies by Samuel L. Jackson – long story) was bedding his missus in a, for the time, pretty “blue” scene. Steranko got a lot of flack for his stuff back then, mostly for cleavage shots of his busty dames.
The Comic Code of the time wasn’t too happy about the scene wherein Nick takes out his sexual Fury on the character of Countess Valentina. By our standards today (especially after seeing that sinful business with Catwoman and Batman above), it’s pretty tame, but there are some DEFINITE sexual undertones going on, albeit tasteful and in my opinion, well done. Here is the original…
Now, the Comic Code, or the sort of watchdog organization that used to scrutinize graphic content in comics, was none too pleased with their characters embracing, so they suggested the end panel be something, in their opinion, less suggestive … though it turned out to be more so. See if you can spot and analyze it here in the redux…
In the words of Steranko himself, “They reproduced Fury’s holster slung over a chair, which was much more suggestive: a big gun fitting very tightly in a holster, which was a sexual metaphor much more potent than my figures.” So here, the moral police out-Sterankoed Steranko, and it ended up working to greater effect!
And that’s I guess what I’m saying – sometimes being more subtle with content (images and text) is more powerful to the reader, and in main continuity stories, I think it actually makes the form more, for lack of a better phrase, “literarily impressive.” It makes the writer/artist work harder for the message that comics aren’t just for kids anymore, and it makes the journey to that realization simply more clever. You don’t always have to see the claw going in to appreciate the scar.
And yes, I know this is somewhat hypocritical coming from me. I mean, I just wrote a pretty profane blog entry on the pitfalls of being profane. But that’s not only because my writing lacks discernible skill, but also because I’m not working within a pre-established framework, or, in the language of comics, a continuity.
Another way of looking at it comes from one of my favorite websites, Newsarama.com, which recently conducted an interview with John Hodgman. He said something about the new DC 52 that stuck with me: “There’s a difference between a film made for adults … and an adult film.” You can read the full article HERE, in which he much more handily tackles this subject, but that right there spells it out for me – you can enjoy both types of film, but they don’t always need to be thrust (if you’ll padron the pun) together.
I like being lewd just as much as the next mentally pubescent 30 year-old, but you don’t have to do it to prove a point. Plus, when it comes off as a forced dick joke from the president of a church youth group, it just feels … wrong.
DC, leave the dirty jokes to guys like me, and the people and companies that emulate and re-envision what you’re doing. That way you can just stick to doing what you have always done best – writing the source material.
If you’re reading this … you ARE the Stevolution!