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Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--This Far And No Farther

Column by Steve Bennett

Published: 09/12/2008 12:00am

Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett talks about dark and unwholesome comics content.

 

I went into a local comic shop looking for a specific title I missed on Wednesday and while searching the new releases for it someone behind me asked if I found what I was looking for.  Operating on autopilot I said no, but when I caught sight of him out of the corner of my eye it was clear he didn’t work there and was just making chit-chat.  Then, apropos of nothing, he followed this up with “I’m really looking forward to the new Marvel movie; it’s called Watchmen.

 

I wish I could make up stuff like that.

 

It’s no secret I’m a Golden Age comics fan; to be one you must be prepared to wade through endless stories where square jawed heroes beat the stuffing out of Nazis and Japanese (for some reason the Italians were criminally underrepresented as alien combatants).  And while the covers might feature our heroes committing all sorts of atrocities with smiles on their faces against the Axis in the actual stories there’s surprising little violence beyond the expected punches to the jaws (frequently the "jokes" they committed were more painful than their beatings).

 

They seem positively innocent compared to the next pile of Secret Invasion tie-in titles I read.  There were plenty of dismemberments and disembowelments, not to mention utter dispersal (i.e. Skrulls getting turned into a fine green mist), not to mention eyes being gouged out of their sockets and even beheadings, after which said Skrull skull was placed on a barbeque for grilling (and eating) purposes.

 

A retailer was good enough to send ICv2 a scan of a page from the instantly recalled "Porn Star" (as he so appropriately called it) Batman and Robin #10, and I wondered why they’d letter the offending words in the first place if they were just going to black them out later.  I’ve heard it suggested that it could be a “free speech thing” (DC could publish it any old way it wanted so long as Miller could remain true to his artistic vision), but I’ve got another theory; is it at all possible DC has plans to eventually publish an “unrated” version of this when it’s eventually collected?

 

I’ve been enjoying Superman, in particular the lovely pastoral scene in #679 where Supergirl is seen  sitting happily among a pride of lions; it’s not just beautifully rendered, it’s a lovely example of what you can do with super powers that doesn’t involve hitting people.  But of course this really nice moment is ruined when in the same issue Atlas (the First Issue Special Jack Kirby version, not the Greco-Roman one from All-Star Superman) mentions how much he’s looking forward to sexually assaulting Supergirl.  Superman manages to shut his filthy mouth before he can go any further detail, though it’s clear he’s ready to “go there” in excruciating detail.

 

In context I have no problem with this, seeing as how Atlas is from one of those ancient technologically advanced/ magical/barbarian words that predates ours so this behavior is actually sort of appropriate.  And I have to admit I’ve always kind of wondered just how all those time lost cavemen, cowboys, and pirates who ended up in contemporary times always seemed to be instantly onboard with the Antioch College Sexual Consent Code.*

 

But it’s a slippery slope which is getting muddier along the edges all the time, and while I think I can trust James Robinson to know there’s a line he can’t cross there are a lot of clueless writers out there who don’t even know there even is a line who’ll take this as a license to go even further.  And since I’m deathly afraid that in the name of “realism,” female superheroes will soon face increasingly amounts of sexual menace, I’d like to humbly suggest THIS FAR AND NO FARTHER.  Because in my experience once you’ve “gone there” there’s no going back. 

 

Just to show I’m not fundamentally opposed to the combination of superheroes and mature material I’d like to whole heartedly recommend Marvel’s Wolverine: Saudade, a translation of a European album by Jean-David Moryan (whose script is given a sharp Americanization by Larry Hama, the most underappreciated  of the Wolverine writers) and Philippe Bouchet. The language is as salty as a Max title and you even get to see a naked Wolverine, but more importantly you see a Logan who’s mucho macho but still capable of a world weary smile. Naturally Marvel is doing nothing to promote this one so be aware; it’s out there and it is good.

 

And in my final word about comic book “darkness,” the Crime Syndicate, currently appearing in the pages of  Trinity, exists on a world where evil always wins, the same way in which the Justice League’s good always wins, right?  Well, considering how dire things are in the DC Universe now shouldn’t the Crime Syndicate’s world be hip deep in super powered pets and heroes that are wholesome role models for kids by now?

 

* The Antioch College Sexual Conduct Code briefly became a national joke because it stated at every step of the mating dance one must momentarily pause and get your partner’s verbal OK to go further.  Antioch College is now closed.  I’m a alum and yes, somehow I’ve managed to blame myself for this.

 

The opinions expressed in this Talk Back column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.

 
 
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