Superhero Maturity

When did murder become a mature action?  In the course of conversation last week, I once again heard an argument that has never rung true to me.  The argument is that mainstream comic book stories are too immature because their heroes don’t kill.  This statement which ignores Punisher, Vigilante, and the entire Ultimate Universe (except Spiderman) is at its heart built on what I feel is an incorrect premise.  That premise is that choosing not to kill is an immature decision

The most common supporting fact used in the argument that Superheroes should kill is that police and soldiers kill.  I would like to point out that killing is a last resort for police, and they are trained to wound.  Every shot fired has to be accounted for and paperwork has to be filed.  In these cases the position comes with jurisdiction and accountability.  Superheroes typically don’t have either of these.  They appoint themselves and by killing would be saying that they know who should live or die.  I do concede, though, that it does not make much sense for a government sanctioned team that is part of the military to not kill unless it is a PR decision.

Would anybody accuse a doctor of being immature?  Doctors take an oath to do no harm, and this concept constantly comes up on TV shows.  Every medical show on the air has dealt with doctors getting a questionable patient and having to make the hard decision of whether or not to save them.  I have never heard anyone call these stories immature for exploring that concept.  Is ER immature because its doctors don’t kill?  If a firefighter were to save the life of a murderer would they then be called immature?  I would argue that these two professions are more closely related to Superhero, because their primary function is to save lives. Still in both cases there is an authority and accountability that Superheroes lack.

While I feel that killing your enemies when you have the power to do otherwise is taking the easy way out, I do enjoy these darker stories as well.  These stories explore concepts that would taint long standing characters.  Superman for example should never kill, but Hyperion can give you those stories while Superman remains untouched.  Killing, though, seems to be a throwaway action for these types of characters.  The slippery slope of who and what have earned death is very rarely explored.  Even rarer is dealing with the psychological turmoil that killing could cause a person.

I personally read just as many stories about heroes that kill as I do about those that don’t.  There is a distinctly different feel between the two, but neither is inherently more mature than the other, and both types have their merits.  Too often titles that call themselves mature focus less on the story and more on the nudity and foul language.  They essentially become shock titles.  Murder is never a requirement for a story to be mature, but it could be a strong component in exploring the psychology of a hero.

Comments (38)

DanFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 2:47 pm

While I don’t think it tells the whole story, I believe some of this is rooted in the Comics Code. Really old comics were rather explicit in nature. Since so many children were consuming them, they came up with the Comics Code to make them family-friendly.

Even though the code is pretty much ignored nowadays, I think people still subconsciously see comics that don’t break its rules as being written with kids in mind, while the stuff meant for adults will show red blood, dead bodies, and boobs.

I’m not saying I agree with the logic, mind you, but just that I think it’s some part of what’s going on here.

IskootFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Just wanted to throw out there that there was an episode of House where the save or let die thing came up. It was probably one of best episodes I watched. And the outcome was very interesting and the turmoil the character dealt with because of his decision was also very interesting to watch.

scottFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Just a minor point, but my understanding is that police are not, in fact, trained to wound. This is for two reasons. 1) It is much more difficult to incapacitate than to kill with a gun and 2) wounded suspects can shoot back, and so put the officer in danger.

I am not a police officer, but that is my understanding

Stan Polson / goatunitFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I really enjoyed this article, Wayne. The only point I would raise in contrast is that often the reason a hero refuses to kill is very seldom explored. It is meta. It’s an extension of the real world into the fiction, which clumsily alters the story as we readers may feel it should have played out.

To counter your examples, one might mention shows or comics specifically targeted toward children, and therefore somewhat objectively immature in tone. Full Scale military battles on par with D-Day would take place in G.I.Joe without a single casualty. Once TMNT got a tv show that appealed to children, the foot soldiers became robots so that they could be shown being destroyed.

In these cases, I would think it’s obvious that the absence of killing is, in the context of the story, completely arbitrary and definitely immature. The question, then, is whether Spiderman doesn’t kill because of a complex, frequently explored moral system, or because the writers are contractually obligated to avoid it to whatever degree, with the aim of selling comics to kids.

DanFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 4:33 pm

@scott – I believe you are correct. However, they are trained in a variety of deescalation techniques, and some are certified in non-lethal weapons. So while gunfire may not be intended to wound vs kill, they are certainly taught to use it as a last resort after talking, negotiating, macing, tazing, etc, have been ruled out as options.

Greg ChristopherFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 4:48 pm

@Dan – I think a growing problem in the US today is the willingness of police officers to resort to tazing as a first-resort, resulting in deaths and injuries. I have seen dozens of videos of people being tazed who were restrained, dozens more who were unrestrained but non-threatening. It is becoming a dangerous trend, in my opinion.

Greg ChristopherFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 5:06 pm

I have to agree with Dan and Stan on why they are probably doing it. But I think it is a two-pronged problem; 1) the desire to avoid killing because people dont want their children to see it and 2) the desire for adults to see killing without the corresponding moral consequences.

We shelter children from seeing blood, but then we also shelter adults from seeing blood or death to a degree (see G.W. Bush’s decision about coffins coming back from Iraq). Adults, in a weird way, want to see people die but simultaneously dont really want the blood. They want to hear about people getting killed, but not actually see it vividly. This is an interesting contrast to me.

For example, people want to see a villain die, but they let them die in a quick easy way and then move on (fall down a shaft, blow up in an explosion, etc). Imagine the scene for the death of Palpatine in ROTJ. Imagine if Vader had instead pulled a vibroblade from his pocket and cut his throat. Palpatine falls to the floor, blood gushing from his throat. Maybe he tries to crawl away, heal himself with the Force, but Vader stops him. Presses him against the ground as he bleeds out. People would call this “gratuitious”.

Note that they want him to die, but not painfully or vividly. Not actually deal with the consequences of what it means to actually kill.

I find this contrast very interesting.

TimespikeFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Good article, Wayne, except one small quibble: I have to go with scott, here. Cops load their weapons with hollow points and aim for center mass. Their training emphasizes using their firearms as an absolute last resort, though. There’s something called a “use of force continuum” that tends to be different from department to department, but any use of firearms is clasified as “deadly force” way up at the top. Back when I thought I wanted to be a cop, I went through a couple of classes that dealt pretty heavily with the use of force continuum (a defensive tactics class and a policing class which dealt with a lot of ethical issues). Bottom line: officer Flannigan will do everything he can to avoid having to shoot you, but if he does, he’s not going to aim at your legs. The difference between a cop and a soldier is that when a soldier’s target goes down, he leaves them to die or maybe even puts in an extra shot to be sure. The cop grabs his radio and calls an ambulance.

PhelpsFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 6:41 pm

I think there’s some ambiguity here about the usage of the word “maturity.” The most literal definition of a mature act is something that an upstanding and well-adjusted adult would do. This is actually present in comics – Captain America pretty much IS this definition, despite his habit of killing Nazis with little provocation. The other meaning of “maturity” evolved from the first: material too edgy for those who are not mature (in the first sense) to consume without affecting them. In other words, blood and sex and shit, which a great many more comics try to include to boost readership.

tl;dr something can be a mature action without it being a mature thing to do.

Unless of course you were being intentionally pedantic in order to launch into a rant about kids these days with their gory comic books and their be-bop music. In which case step aside old man, this is our turf and you’re between us and the soda shop.

Timespike: your cop class must have been a long, long time ago. Today’s force continuum is a much simpler affair:

Meek Cooperation -> Sneer Contemptuously
Challenge to Authority -> Verbally Harass, Unofficially Detain Until Suspect Apologizes
Civilian Backtalk -> Tase
Refusa- -> Tase
Curs- -> Tase
*jerk spastically* -> Arrest, tase once more for good measure

IskootFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 7:12 pm

On with what Phelps and Greg said, “Don’t tase me bro” pretty much sums it up.

Chris MFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Wayne,
I think the counter to your argument was the creation of comics like the Authority by Warren Ellis and concurrently around the same time Rising Stars by J.M Stracynski. Irs become part of the culture or counter culture if you will. Remember Batman as created by Bob Kane in his first incarnation with longer Bat ears carried a Luger sidearm under his cape with a holster and broke criminals necks off of rooftops. Well before Robin was written into his history and before the writers wrote in his thing about guns and Crime Alley sometime before that. What is old has become new again and in the pulps and in the comics of yesteryear..heroes dealt out death when the stakes were high and the world called for order. The Shadow certainly did not hesitate to bust a cap in someone’s ass with his maniacal laughter in the streets.
But I digress…
The preface to the graphic novel of the first six issues written by Mr Ellis states that Batman captures the Joker and sends him to Arkham Asylum only for him to bust out and kill 5000 people to draw Batman out to lock him up again. So that the game is played all over again in the Joker’s mind. Now super villains particularly homicidal ones in the comic for many years were beaten by the superheroes and given a lecture and taken to jail and that was it. Now reflecting the super hero archetype of getting tired of the butchering super villains who hacked a trail of carnage across a city to leave clues to find him for the hero..that it would get the hero to become cynical, angry and tired and vengeful are humanizing traits. And it was only a matter of time that we would see that after the 90’s where “battle comics” like Image were the rage. Even Robocop said at the end of the movie to Clarence Bodicker ” I am not arresting you anymore.”

This is what makes nobility in the face of that kind of tragedy so rare.
The average Joe would not wait or have the patience for Lex Luthor to monologue about his deathtrap and people about to die at his hands. He would just shoot him in the face and let God sort it out. That is what separates human beings from paragons. The sense of nobility in the face of horrific evil and still value to the sanctity of life.. all life even if that life tortured and killed an innocent. Your power and responsibility means you can not take their life arbitrarily like that and walk away but that there is an inner struggle..a pathos.

Aaron StackFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Phelps and Dan both hit the nail on the head: it’s not a matter of killing being mature, it’s a matter of filtering access – however successfully or unsuccessfully – to material based on the reader’s ability to handle killing on a mental/emotional level. Usually, we treat ‘maturity’ as being tied to age – however correct this assumption is goes well beyond the ken of this conversation – so we put age limits on certain kinds of material in the hope that once the reader reaches the prescribed age, s/he will be able to understand the material both in and out of context.

I have no idea where you heard/inferred that not killing equals not mature and vice versa, but that’s a gross oversimplification. There’s plenty of stories which do not have any murder included in the plot, but contain morally difficult situations such as rape, arson, embezzlement, jaywalking, etc. Saying that murder is the only truly mature material, the line over which a character may not step and still be acceptable to the under-18 crowd, is ridiculous. Saying in turn that by including murder in a story automatically turns it from childish fantasy into gritty ‘hard realism’ is laughable.

I agree that by making killing your gating factor/”significant digit” for im/maturity, you’re either seriously out of touch, or looking for cheap sales. Maturity is composed of so much more than the ability/understanding of death and its implications. Like nudity and foul language.

DustinFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 9:19 pm

i’m not a Cop yet but i do have my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and hopefully will be a cop someday. that said we where told that hopefully if you pull your gun most of the time people will stop what they are doing most of the time. the other time if you have to pull your gun and shoot more then likely someone is going to be dead. yes there is a ton of paper work every time you pull out your gun let alone fire it. if you do shoot someone it’s mandatory time off and desk jokey for you for awhile along with an internal review of you and why you had to use your gun with guess what more paper work to be filled.

that a side Superhero Maturity and not killing is the same thing i feel about bring up sex in a game. i belonged to a group that your game was only mature if it had sex in it which i said bull and left. just because you kill is not grounds for maturity. for me personally playing a mature game means being beholden to the consequences of your actions. but that is just my quick knee jerk reaction to this.

Eric / SmacksKillerFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 9:28 pm

I have to agree to some parts of what Chris is saying. It’s less about wanting our heroes to be killers as it is a certain exasperation with seeing the villains get away with mass slaughters again and again. At some you’d think that someone, either the superheros or the government would get the idea that just putting them in prison/asylum/super hightech containment center for the tenth time is just inviting them to escape and start again.

DanFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 11:55 pm

I think Chris Mais is onto something.

I would certainly agree that violence, sexuality, or nudity does not make something mature. Nor does the lack of it make something immature. And as Greg mentioned, even the comics that involve such themes rarely deal with the reality of these acts, their consequences upon the psyche of the perpetrator, or the consequences upon close relations of the perpetrator or victim.

However, if we take a story where the super-villain repeatedly escapes, kills (or at least attempts to kill) countless people, gets caught, gets lectured, gets put in an incompetent penal system, and then breaks out to do it again next week…wouldn’t there come a point where the superhero would start having to ask some hard questions about killing this guy? And if a comic intentionally avoids those questions because they’re too scary, then maybe there is some degree of immaturity or shallowness to the story.

Whateverman sees Badboy stacking corpses on a weekly basis, is a position to stop this, and never has to struggle with the quandary of ending this with a well-placed slug. Unless the hero is a total moron or sociopath, that does seem rather childishly simple.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me reiterate the paragraph I started this with. My musings are not meant to imply that I’ve changed my mind. Maturity does not equal murder. However, Chris did give me a new angle to ponder this from.

Lawrence DumagingFebruary 3rd, 2010 at 1:44 am

This may go off topic, but let me add my $0.02. There’s a difference between killing and murder. Murder is unsanctioned killing. Sanctioned killing are defined by society like self-defense, war, and abortion.

WayneFebruary 3rd, 2010 at 8:21 am

@Everyone, I’m glad to see so many comments. I enjoyed writing this and it was a topic that I feel strongly on. I am certainly glad so many others have opinions on it as well. This is great feedback.

Also clearly I am not a police officer. I was under the impression that they were taught to aim for wounding based on conversations with officers that happened over ten years ago. No ones perfect and it looks like I was wrong on that point. It doesn’t change that they have jurisdiction and over-site in that action though and a Super Hero does not.

@Chris, You put very well what I was getting at in my last line. The decision of whether to cross that line or not is rarely explored, but is the basis for a strong story. More importantly though seeing the side effects of choosing to cross that line is something I have never seen developed enough. I have never seen the Hero racked with guilt over that decision either way. I would like to see the hero changed by the murder because it is a life changing event, or see the hero wracked with guilt because they chose not to kill and now more innocents are dead. It is a strong groundwork that doesn’t ever seem to get used well.

Yes Batman did carry a gun. Batman and Superman did kill when they first were created. This concept those is a Pre-Crisis one and not in continuity anymore. Superman also chose to kill three Kryptonian villains in the more modern comics and it is the emotional impact of doing so that made him decide to never kill again. It is one of the few times that story has actually been explored. He has nightmares about that decision.

@Lawrence, That was my point, if a Hero kills they are not sanctioned. They have no authority. If the villain dies in battle and it was not a conscious decision to take the life then it is self-defense and not murder. That happens all the time in every comic title. The villains do end up dead, but there is a difference between dieing in battle and choosing to take that life.

@Dan, The comics code authority is pointed to quite frequently. It was put into place to self police in a time when comic books had come under great scrutiny(1954). There were always stories being published that did not fall under this banner, but the important thing to remember is that it was purely a voluntary action as the code had not authority what so ever. Marvel quite using the code almost ten years ago now. DC still submits their books, but will publish them without adjustment regardless of whether they pass or not. I am certainly not arguing whether comic stories themselves are mature or not. The code did make it difficult to tell a mature story as it limited MANY themes. That question is much more open to interpretation.

@Erick I do agree that there is an issue there. Why wouldn’t some of these Villains be subject to the Death Penalty. There was a Batman graphic novel once that dealt with Joker actually being declared sane enough for trial and being sentenced to death. The government has the jurisdiction to make these such choices. If anyone is to blame for Jokers many murders other than Joker himself it is not Batman who simply stops him it is the system for placing him in a place where he has shown he can simply escape. I think that exasperation is simply aimed at the wrong party. Choosing to take a life is a line that cannot be taken back.

@Aaron Stack, The fact that whether a hero kills or doesn’t is not a maturity decision is the whole point. I have heard the argument and it does occur in comics circles MANY times that it is an immature story if the Hero does not kill their villain. Batman and the Joker are by far the most common example to be pointed to because they are the extreme. Most villains are not the Joker. Many villains aren’t even willing to kill themselves, they just want money/power/whatever. I am certainly not arguing whether comics themselves or any individual story is or is not mature. That is not the point of this. Like I framed it in the Blog this is aimed at that one argument that in my opinion is a straw man, but I keep hearing over and over again.

@Timespike, That was very interesting incite. The ethics classes would be one more think that a Superhero would be missing. The counseling provided by a police force after taking a life is another that heroes do not have readily available.

@Greg, “2) the desire for adults to see killing without the corresponding moral consequences” This to me would be the basis for an immature story. If those moral consequences are not explored then the idea is not a fully developed concept. It doesn’t mean it can’t be a fun story though.

@Iskoot, I figured someone would point to that episode. I have not seen it myself because I don’t watch House, but I have heard about it. I have seen similar on ER and believe that even Scrubs has dealt with the concept. Lawyer shows also explore this theme as they sometimes have to decided whether to defend a guilty client or not and how hard to defend them.

WayneFebruary 3rd, 2010 at 8:24 am

Wow, I didn’t realize that reply had gotten so long. That is a Chris M level post there from a length perspective.

Greg ChristopherFebruary 3rd, 2010 at 9:11 am

Wayne, by the criteria in your response, virtually every fictional work is immature. I dont think people in general have the capacity to truly deal with the consequences of most actions.

For example, watch Spike Lee’s 2006 work; When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. The movie is nigh-on-impossible to watch because it is horrific and real. You see some of the most brutal stuff imaginable. People discussing the worst situations, like when water is rising in a hospital and they have to decide which people they can evacuate and which will be left to die. It is a very very hard movie to watch. Most people dont want to watch that. The same applies to Schindler’s List, but I dont want to go down into Godwin’s Law territory.

People prefer to have discussions in abstract, ignoring the true reality of the world. They dont want to see the mothers of all the people that Arnold Schwartzenegger kills. They dont want to think of those people as…. people. That is part of the fantasy of it. Dealing with the reality, that your “hero” just killed several dozen living beings with families and children and loved ones, is too much. People dont want to accept the world as being that complex, really. They want it simplified, cut down, black & white, obvious…..

Thinking about the “enemy” or the “villain” as a person, with motivations and dreams, with love and relationships, with a perspective that might actually be valid; that’s just too much for most people to bear. For an example, see the USA right-wing critique of the left wanting to understand the terrorists. The idea of trying to actually determine what the enemy wants, maybe find ways you could change your behavior to reduce conflict… why that’s just hippie crazie douche talk! I dont mean to pick on the right wing here either, the left has their own problems in this vein. It is a universal problem for people. They want to eat steak without seeing the cow being slaughtered, they want to write on paper without seeing the trees being cut, they want to see their hero kill people without seeing the consequences.

This applies to all fiction, not just comics.

Scott (Atomic Scotsman)February 3rd, 2010 at 12:48 pm

The claim that superheroes don’t kill, therefore they are immature, is ridiculous.

What I have heard, and agree with, is that given the amount of violence in superhero stories it’s ridiculous that there isn’t more death (or any really), and that there are few to no long term repercussions for acts that would leave dozens dead, mailed, or psychologically crippled if they were to occur in a more realistic setting.

The creation of the Comic Code in 1954 was one of the single more blatant violations of the Constitution in the 20th Century. Less than 15yrs after defeating the Axis Powers, Americans were organizing book burnings and boycotting or worse newsstands and drug stores that were brave enough to continue selling them. WWII and the Depression created a whole host of social and economic issues that people just didn’t want to deal with. So they found a scapegoat.

Most superhero comics are what they are as a direct result. As much as I enjoy taking a verbal dump on them, the fact is that they kept the industry alive long enough for the Code to fade away and for some really amazing books to be made. I hope that at least a few Cape books will make the transition and still be around in the decades to come.

Scott (Atomic Scotsman)February 3rd, 2010 at 12:50 pm

P.S.:

If you want to learn the politics and history of comics in America you should check out The Ten Cent Plague.

http://www.amazon.com/Ten-Cent-Plague-Comic-Book-Changed-America/dp/0374187673

It’s a little dry, but it’s very informative.

Aaron StackFebruary 3rd, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Trust me, Wayne, I totally agree that whoever came up with this dubious claim, that maturity = killing people and immaturity = not killing people, is seriously out of touch. I’ve never heard that, but given some of the other stupid arguments I’ve fielded, that level of denseness doesn’t surprise me. Just, out of hand, it’s ridiculous.

My real question is, what difference does it make labeling a comic as mature or not mature, except insofar as the Comics Code issues of keeping kids from seeing things they can’t handle? Is this just an extension of the “I’m more awesome” penis-waving argument, that ‘mature’ is a euphimism for ‘manly’? Are they using comic preferences as measures of ‘worth’? Then the argument over maturity is entirely pointless, because it’s just an alias for penis-length.

As I said, your points are well-constructed, in the literal sense of debating the im/maturity of handling murder in comic books. I loved reading this piece and the debate as a result. I can’t shake the thought, though, that the spark of this argument is at least in part a penis-waving troll using ‘maturity’ instead of ‘what I like is better than what you like’.

Greg ChristopherFebruary 3rd, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I agree with Aaron on the stupidity of the base argument.

Wayne ColeFebruary 3rd, 2010 at 1:33 pm

“The creation of the Comic Code in 1954 was one of the single more blatant violations of the Constitution in the 20th Century.”

@Scott- Just to be clear and I know that you know this already being in the industry, the Comics Code Authority is a purely self regulating system with no legal authority. It was however created to prevent regulations that likely would have come without it. So in short it was not a violation of the constitution because it was self inflicted, but it was to prevent a violation of the constitution that was imminent. I also am one of the believers that it was partially aimed at EC and an attempt to take them out of the market by the other publishers.

@Aaron Stack- Replace “a penis-waving troll” with enough Penis-wavers to make even Pat blush and you are probably dead on. :)

Greg ChristopherFebruary 3rd, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Irony: What Wayne perceives to be a prevailing view is actually a minority view he is regrettably immersed in.

GeekoidFebruary 3rd, 2010 at 3:51 pm

It’s not about mature, it’s about taking the easy way. Sometuimes it’s about being selfish. Sometuimes it’s about never ending optimism.

I don’t think there is any doubt that Batman’s life would be easier if he killed the Joker. In fact, not killing the Joker might be looked at being selfish. Batman is putting his beliefs above the lives of others.

It is of course about the story. Batman is about the internal struggle, and the comic address the very issue I used as an example.

I used Batman because he has the most direct example of not killing, and because he’s bad ass.

Dave NunezFebruary 3rd, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Nice article Wayne, very though provoking. I don’t read too many superhero books, but I think the reason they don’t kill is partly literary (I studied psychoanalysis for a few years, so get ready… ;-). Superhero stories are pure mythological stories – clashes between civilization and barbarism (this is especially true of stories like Batman v Joker, where Joker has no financial, power, or other motivation; it is just to bring chaos and destroy civilization; and Batman has no motivation other than the will to stop that act). If superheroes defend civilization, then they must maintain all the values of the civilization that created them. In western civilization, crime must be responded to with a fitting punishment. For most crimes, death is not a fitting end – rather it is being deprived of the thing our civilization prizes the most – freedom (by imprisonment). So from this perspective, superheroes that avoid killing are the pinnacles of civilization – they put themselves in situations where lesser mortals might have to resort to lethal force, and risk everything in order not to kill the barbarians, but to civilize them. In this way, they are not only effective (in the sense that they do what they set out to do), they are also noble in doing it.

NohwearFebruary 3rd, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I do have point out one issue that I do not feel was touched on much, violence for the sake of violence. It is very annoying when, if not worse, when some media includes sex and violence for their own sake, especially bloody violence. I hate how a torture/gorefest has become the new “horror.” Including these “dark” themes just to have them. I could go on, but it would be a long rant and I think I made my point.

Scott (Atomic Scotsman)February 4th, 2010 at 7:43 am

Wayne – yes, good clarification. I shouldn’t post in a hurry while working on 3 other things at once. =D

The Code was a self-regulating tool, but when it first came into effect there was an outside committee that approved everything that included a judge, some religious leaders, etc. (the details are fuzzy and I can’t find my book . . .)

The proof is in the pudding as they say -all but a tiny handful of publishers were driven out of business by the Code and it’s watchdogs. It wasn’t just EC, but they were the main focus of much of the hostility. The people who didn’t comply with the Code were blacklisted and went under.

I think my overall point stands though -It’s blatant censorship regardless of who the censor is, and as a result, it is generally true that mainstream American comics are decades behind the rest of the world in terms of depth and maturity. I don’t mean the murder to superhero ration in your original post. That argument is just dumb.

The real “lack of maturity” in mainstream comics comes (IMO) as a result of the publishers unwillingness to let anything of meaning change in their universes because they are more concerned with maintaining the franchise than moving it forward creatively.

So you get these pointless mega-events (which leads to writing by committee), soap-opera style month-to-month stories, the ridiculous “cheesecake” factor, and an endless grind of creatively bankrupt material.

Good stories do come along every now and then, but as a rule they are stand alone mini-series (Nextwave, Patsy Walker: Hellcat, etc.) or they exist in a bubble outside of the continuity, (Elseworld, Marvel Knights, etc.).

God I sound like such a dick. =P

Look, I love the idea of superheroes, and when they are done well, I love the stories.

The idea that they are immature because of the lack of murder it stupid. But if rephrased and posed as, “they are immature because nothing changes and violent actions have little to no consequences,” then I would agree.

The real problem taht is specific to superheroes today (as I see it) is that the Code is gone, they want to tackle mature themes, but they do it wrapped in the guise of something that has always been (and still is) marketed as “for kids”. The creation of lines like Marvel’s Adventure and MAX imprints are a good start. But they don’t make much of an effort to explain to the non initiate which is appropriate for your 5yr old, and which is aimed at the 5yr old’s parent.

I’m offline for the next 4 days, but I could go on and on about comics. I love them. I hate them.

Feel free to PM me if you want to keep going.

Aaron StackFebruary 4th, 2010 at 8:52 am

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with cheesecake, Scott. Even the bad stuff’s at least a good laugh.

I do agree though, the lines between what superhero stories and themes are acceptable to kids and which are ‘adult only’ – frankly the dichotomy shouldn’t exist, but that’s an entirely other argument – are blurry right now, and no one in the industry is thinking about anything other than what will make the biggest bucks the cheapest. It isn’t a good time to be interested in creative endeavor, at least if you also intend to make money pursuing those creative endeavors. As you say, true creativity can backfire financially, at least that’s the attitude of the patrons, the marketing execs who only think using market data however old or flawed it may be.

I don’t think there’s a way for comics, superheroes specifically but comics in general, to completely get over the hump of being considered a ‘legitimate’ form of art, or even as anything beyond “kid stuff” that some people like us – and you know what they say about us – who cling to them well beyond childhood. They’re still stigmitized in much the same way video games are, but VGs are slowly and surely branching out and appealing to new audiences. The industry is using their techniques and technology towards an end that will make them, if not outrageously successful, certainly economically viable for the years to come. They’re making games for the military, they’re making games for old people, they’re making games for puzzle freaks, etc.

What do the comics folk do? They draw big-busted catsuit-wearing chicks, muscle-bound ubermensches, and giant tentacle-swinging cosmic horrors. And then wonder why they aren’t taken seriously for their ‘mature craft’. Right.

I too love the medium of comics, and I love some of the stories, both superhero and non, created within them. It is because of that love that I’m disappointed by the industry in its current state, and by extension the fanbase for not voting with their dollar to give that industry some real market data, data that would make the medium and its content more mature, as in responsibility rather than gross.

Azhrei VepFebruary 5th, 2010 at 8:30 am

Speaking as a semi-outsider, the biggest problem with mainstream american comics? They don’t end. Ever. They just … go. And go. On. And On. And ON. AND ON. That’s one of the big places where foreign comics, and the less mainstream american comics, are doing it right.

Take a look at japanese comics (unnecessary tangent snipped, moved to bottom), comics that go on for excessive periods of time are the exception, not the rule. And they’re generally geared towards younger crowds. And even then, they do eventually wrap up. Where mainstream superhero books go on for decades and full collections take up multiple filing cabinets, the Japanese (and possibly others? I can’t find an easy place to acquire other foreign comics translated) comics often wrap up in a dozen or so trades. Whatever you think of Japanese comics themselves, you gotta admit: They’ve got that right, at least. Tell your story. Beginning, Middle, and most importantly END. Without an end, you’re just rambling. … I should know.

Snipped tangent: I hate the term manga, and refuse to address them thus. It just feels like people are trying to pretend they aren’t ‘really’ comics, either because they’re ‘better than comic books’ to the pro-japanese fanboys or ‘not real comic books’ to the anti-japanese fanboys. They’re just comics, same as superman, batman, watchmen, or wanted, just from a different country. And less colorful. Which is a damn shame.

AdamFebruary 8th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Manga just means japanese comics. You can call them japanese comics if you want, the words are literally interchangable. I don’t think it is elitist, just accurate and convenient.

Also, I wouldn’t say japanese comics are geared to a younger crowd. Some are, absolutely, quite a lot, but there is an entire classification of japanese comics, seinen, that are marketed to young men, 18 – 30 yrs of age. Seinen just means ‘young men’ and it is a very big group of comics too, as is shojo and josei, comics for girls and women.

And I don’t read any of it! Mostly due to the lack of color I think. I like the stuff animated I guess.

AdamFebruary 8th, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Also, mature doesn’t necessarily describe the content, it describes the intended audience. Maybe if the term ‘adult’ had been adopted instead of ‘mature’ it wouldn’t stir these semantics discussions. I don’t know how many times I have been watching tv with my father and an ad for a videogame comes up and ends with ‘rated M for Mature’. He will always say something like ‘that doesn’t look very mature at all’.

Well no kidding. Nobody is saying it does. Thats not the point, the point is it is rated for a Mature audience. If the rating was something was like moves with an R, or an age given we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

All those folks complaining about a lack of ‘mature’ comics are really complaining about a percieved lack of comics intended for their demographic. Whether or not the comics are actually ‘mature’ in content.

Sometimes you have a ‘mature’ rated videogame/comic/whatever that is actually both mature in content and for the audience. That’s always a nice treat.

AdamFebruary 8th, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Man, turns out I have a lot to say. Don’t see an edit button, so I guess I’ll keep spamming comments.

Someone commented how maturity isn’t age related, but that’s how it works out in the ratings. True enough, but this is really a non issue to me too. Generally the ‘mature’ stuff is rated at 18+, an adult by law. Yes there are a lot of immature 18 year olds (and adults of any age really) but at that point it becomes sticky to get very restrictive on what media said person can get, what with all the freedoms we’re supposed to have by law.

And if you are under 18, but truly a mature person and you’re parent agrees with that assesment, you can probably get ahold of ‘mature’ rated stuff. And if they don’t agree with you, well that’s their right as a parent too. Sucks to be you until you turn the magical age of 18 and the law figures it’s your own fault if you’re still not mature. Or something like that.

Azhrei VepFebruary 9th, 2010 at 7:14 am

@Adam: I realize what manga actually means, but what things actually mean and how they’ve come to be used in the common vernacular are rarely even in the same ballpark of one another. The venn diagram? Doesn’t really overlap. So I ditch it altogether and don’t bother distinguishing The Spectacular Spider-Man from The Watchmen (I have a similar issue with ‘graphic novel) from Ai Yori Aoshi unless i’m referring to them by name, or pointing out a quirk of nationality. They’re just … comics. And cartoons.

“Also, I wouldn’t say japanese comics are geared to a younger crowd.” Neither would I. I wasn’t very clear up above: When I mentioned being generally geared toward younger crowds, I was referring to the sentence prior, about excessively long comics, such as Dragonball, Naruto (I lump teenagers into the ‘kids’ category, generally), Ranma 1/2, and such. The ones geared toward an older crowd are generally geared toward an older crowd. And then there’s Bleach, which is aimed at an older and more immature crowd than dragonball. … And it eats up my money. The bastard.

CaladorsFebruary 16th, 2010 at 1:40 am

Wile I agree that killing is not mature anyone can do it, most who do are huanted by it the only ones that aren’t often children those whom have their minds warped the gangs in africa is to what I refer.

But I think it comes from this.
How many times did Batman let the Joker go? Then he goes and he kills again.
If we talk about the Joker were talking about a pretty irredeemable guys here.
Yet Batman lock him up each time.
Sure code of conduct and all that Jazz.

But when it comes down to it, he will kill again, worse than that he will torture, maim and destroy lifes not just kill people.
How could you let such a person live?
He makes Mugabe look like a nobel peace prize winner.
Yeah yeah no poltics.

What I am saying is this.
Such a person I don’t think I could let go.
Both my logical and my emotianal brain would say, I spare many by my actions.

David GrayFebruary 17th, 2010 at 11:17 am

@Caladors If I may, there are a couple points from your comment I’d like to reference…

“Yet Batman lock him up each time.” Well, no, Batman does not lock up the Joker. Instead, Batman turns a murdering madman over to the recognized authority of the society he lives in, who handles (or mishandles, arguably) how the Joker is dealt with. If Mr. J is back on the streets killing again after yet another prison break, that’s not some masked vigilante’s fault.

“How could you let such a person live?” How could you not, if the society you live in and support has deemed that he should not be put to death? I really thought the whole point of the Batman/Joker conflict was that you had two lunatics, both working outside the law, but one was actually working to uphold civilization while the other was working to destroy civilization. If Batman terminated the Joker when society has ruled that he should live, Batman would effectively BE the Joker, just on a smaller scale.

I would say that the willingness to voluntarily uphold social rule is what makes these supers actually be heroes, rather than just really powerful beings.

CaladorsFebruary 20th, 2010 at 9:00 pm

@ David Grey

You may go ahead I never mind debating with someone especially when there polite and intelligent like you.

Btw that was ment to be locks but yeah you get that when your just speaking your mind…
Anyway.
The thing is the society the lived in for along time was that of the comics code authority not that of the US of A.
Admittedly I know little about the penalty and I my view is skewed as I am Australian so we don’t have it and I don’t really believe in it…
It seems like Gotham is a New York state city, if not a representation of the city by the same name and it was only in 2004? that they got rid of the death penalty.

So there is that and if I were in his place, I would think hey the burden falls on me.
Being in place where we don’t have the death penalty I couldn’t come to let this person live if I had the power.
Just putting a Batman in place lets say the ‘dark knights’ Joker, this person has (I am only using him because of the number of changes this IP has gone through) he has killed his own people, killed the uninvolved, killed the innocent and your friends.
How could you both logically and emotionally say this guy should be put away?
Like sure if I thought they could keep this guy under lock and key sure.
But the F—ing Joker, he maybe mad but one thing his not is stupid.

So sure the first time I lock him up but the second or the third?
Are you saying that you using all of your powers of logic and reason, choking back all the friends you lost by looking at his face, remembering every lost lover, every lost child, every lost friend.
He would sooner kill anyone than issue an apology, he does it without thinking, it’s as natural to him as the rhythmic beating of his heart.

Honestly could you say that it is the mature thing to let him live?
Do you honestly have the moral high ground?
We don’t treat our heroes well in real life, the vet’s, the doc’s and all of the others think of your real life heroes and how we treat them we condemn them for using tax dollars or their salaries despite the hours or work they do.

I think what being a hero is, is to make a tough call and stand by it.
Popularity and being a hero never really went hand in hand.
Just my opinion though.

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