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Quote of the day II | Roger Langridge on R-rated superheroes

I really don’t think Marvel and DC are helping things by having gritty, R-rated versions of their superheroes in their main comics – what they sell as the “real” versions – while simultaneously selling those exact same characters in kids’ comics and plastering them all over lunchboxes and animated cartoons… Casual readership by kids, or by parents for their kids, is effectively impossible the way things are currently structured. And I think the waters are muddied too far now to claw that ground back. I think it’s insane that DC have spent 70 years making Superman as big as Mickey Mouse, and branding him to be understood by parents as being pretty much as kid-friendly as Mickey Mouse, only to piss that brand away in a decade. Nothing wrong with doing mature content in comics – in fact, it should be encouraged as often as possible – but doing it with characters who are on your kids’ lunchboxes is kind of moronic. Take a lesson from Watchmen and come up with new characters for that stuff. And then go back to Superman and Batman and put the same kind of love and effort and craft and intelligence you’ve been putting into all those rape scenes and body mutilations into something kids can read, and adults can also be proud to read because of all the love and effort and craft and intelligence you’ve put into it, and make those the “real” versions.

Roger Langridge, writer of the kid-friendly Thor: Mighty Avenger, which recently fell victim to just the attitude he is decrying. While he is perhaps best known for his work on BOOM! Studios’ Muppet Show comics, Langridge does plenty of more mature comics, too, but he always keeps his brands separate. The whole interview is well worth a read, as it covers Langridge’s career from his early days in New Zealand through his current work, from Knuckles, the Malevolent Nun to a new kid-friendly title for BOOM!

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Always nice to see lectures about what sells comics from a guy whose attempts at doing so get canceled.

Quoted from an interview which originally appeared here – http://pingmotherboxping.blogspot.com/

The direct link to the interview is already in the post above.

Cape comics haven’t been explicitly kid-friendly for decades, I don’t think. I started reading somewhere around 89, 90, where visceral violence and (implied, generally) sex were par for the course. The ’70s were pretty coarse, too, and Marvel sure seemed to be actively courting the counter-culture in the ’60s. A lot of kids like reading books that they aren’t “supposed” to be reading. It’s part of the impulse to grow up faster.

I see what Langridge is saying, but I don’t agree at all. What R-rated comics has Superman been in, anyway?

“What R-rated comics has Superman been in, anyway?”

Identity Crisis, to name one not completely random example. (Given the rape references.)

I do agree with David that this has been going on for way longer than a decade. But I think Langridge has a point, too. The way I see it, the problem is not so much that R-rated versions exist, but that all-ages versions have been neglected at their expense. It happened very gradually over a long period of time, and now we find ourselves in a situation where excellent all-ages books like Langridge’s Mighty Thor get cancelled because the direct market is unable to reach the kids its intended for.

@Wiggins: The cancellation of Mighty Thor is on Marvel’s shoulders, not Langridge’s. They were the ones who failed to market it properly. I think he’s in a perfect position to talk about those issues.

I have to agree with Basque that Langridge has the authority to speak on this, if only because he’s a working professional in the business. I also see his point as completely valid: all-ages versions of these mainstream and classic characters have been neglected for decades. His version of THE MIGHTY THOR was a great book, perfectly straddling readership lines for old readers and new ones, young and old. (Also consider, maturity has little to do with age…but that’s another comment!) MARVEL muddies the waters by marketing a version like his alongside “darker” versions, essentially splitting the audience.

As for “R” rated Superman stories, I point to Azzarello’s and Lee’s “For Tomorrow” storyline which ran for a full year in the character’s flagship book. It’s a perfectly valid take on the character, but definitely not all-ages.

My favorite Batman book of all time was the Puckett-Parobeck-Burchett run on TEH BATMAN ADVENTURES. That was a book everyone should take pointers from now.

Part of why I love Batman, though, is that he can work in nearly any kind of story, be it grim and gritty mature readers fare or light hearted, kid friendly adventures. The idea that all stories about Batman would be relegated to the latter is, I think, kind of sad.

The idea that Identity Crisis is rated R is laughable.

I get where your brain was headed with this, and it seems common sense, but the reason those kid’s comics exist is specifically to address this issue. I would have hardly called the comics I was reading when I was a kid in the 80’s “kid friendly” considering the violence and cleavage at every turn. That said I think what’s actually happened here is that you’re remembering these comics as if they were always meant for kids, when in reality there has been a huge shift in comic readers acceptance of more mature themes over the years just as there has been in video games and movies. I mean just think of all those ill-advised “SWIMSUIT SPECTACULAR” issues from the 90’s featuring typical Marvel and DC characters. It’s the parent’s job to make sure their kids stick to the appropriate age level book for them, not the industry’s.

The cancellation of Thor is on Marvel’s shoulders and Langridge’s. They share blame and share acclaim.

I know that ratings can be subjective and all, and that what’s R to some is PG-13 to another (and I’m going to use PG-13 and R here to continue on in Langridge’s terms, and because they are familiar to all of us), but is Identity Crisis really R-rated? The violence seemed about on par with other cape comics of its time. A little more extreme than like, Frank Miller’s Daredevil, but not all that different from the guns’n’blood era of X-Men/X-Force. The rape scene is a bit much and pretty crap, but does a single rape scene elevate something from PG-13 to R?

A more recent example… Uncanny X-Force is violent. Super violent. Is that R-rated? But is there anything in there that a teenager couldn’t handle? I wouldn’t give it to a pre-teen, but some sixteen year old looking for something good? Sure.

Ice Cube makes movies under the name “Ice Cube,” not O’Shea Jackson. They’re a mix of adult comedies, action flicks (not so much any more, I guess), and straight up kid’s movies with wacky Marx Brothers hijinx. Should he dead or alter his rap career because a kid might want to listen to I Am The West but not hear the cursing? Or because he makes much more money doing movies than he does music? Or are both lanes appropriate and marketed at two different audiences? “I Am The West” is for me. (Well, that one wasn’t, not really, but “Raw Footage” was.) “Are We There Yet?” is for my kid cousins. There’s very little audience overlap between the two and they’re marketed completely differently.

Why should comics be any different? Kids comics exist and are sold in places where kids can see them. They still don’t sell enough to keep books like Thor or whatever afloat. And I’m talking specifically cape comics here–Jeff Smith doesn’t have any trouble selling comics to kids, and neither do a bunch of other cats (manga took a huge hit, but hit manga are still runaway successes). Marvel and DC don’t do half as well, but they DO make those books and children buy them in varying amounts. They do much better with cartoons, video games, toys, etc etc. Adults buy the comics. Kids buy the toys. Both of them see the movies.

The situation isn’t perfect, and if comics can’t sell enough to whatever audience they need to stay afloat, maybe the industry needs an overhaul, but this idea that comics needs to be purified or took a wrong turn by focusing on adults (which it did in the ’60s, not in 2000) is bunk.

Kids comics are good. Adult comics are good. There’s no good reason why we can’t have both.

So MARVEL was supposed to suspend all the other Thor titles just so that the Landridge’s Thor is the only one out there? I don’t buy at all that since there were a thousand different Thor titles to choose from, the field was too confusing and too muddied for buyers to see the greatness of his Mighty Thor. If it was a great as believed, it would have succeeded. Marvel should be thanked for green lighting it in the first place, otherwise what would people rant about? Well, it is Marvel, so I sure something would have fill the gap.

He’s not lecturing on “what sells comics.” He’s making a pretty straightforward point: if you’re going to have characters raping each other and going on drugged up dead-cat-swinging rampages, you probably shouldn’t be marketing those same characters as kid-friendly on the merchandise side of things. It’s confusing, it dilutes the “brand” of those characters, and it potentially reaps trouble with parents (who can be an overly-sensitive lot at times).

Only in the bizarre back-assword world of comics would this idea be (a) controversial or (b) appearing out of the mouth of a freelancer, rather than being an enforced corporate policy from the top down. Substitute “Mickey Mouse,” “Luke Skywalker” or whatever for “Superman” in any part of this discussion and you’ll begin to realize how bizarre this issue would seem to anyone outside the insular world of superhero comics.

I liked Langridge’s Thor book as much as the next person, but is the regular Thor book really all that non-kid-friendly? Is there much in, say, Fraction’s run that would be off-putting to any parent who’s not also offended by the drinking and implied off-panel sex in Thor:TMA?

David, you know I love you like a brother, but you’re being a bit disingenuous here. It’s not a question of whitewashing comics and turning the clock back to the days of Eisenhower and DELL FOUR COLOR selling many millions of copies every month. It’s not kids comics vs. adult comics.

It’s a much narrower question: is it OK for Superman to be in stories like Identity Crisis? Hell to the No. Does one graphic rape make a story hard “R”? Hell to the Yes it does. I’m not calling for the return to the Code or some kind of extreme self-censorship on the part of the companies, either. Yeah, cape comics have always been predicated on violence, but if you don’t think there’s a qualitative difference in the Hulk punching Thor for twenty pages and – for instance! – Superboy Prime beheading Pantha with a casual backslap, you’re fooling yourself. I had a problem with the Punisher being marketed to kids on newsstands in the late 80s and I still feel the same way today, even if the late 80s Punisher stories are practically iCarly compared to something like TITANS.

You can publish good comics for kids and good comics for adults, and you can publish good cape comics for kids and for adults. But it’s a failure of the marketplace that the market for Superman comics wants stories with rape and dismemberment, because Superman? That’s where the line is drawn. Parents shouldn’t be showing books like that to there kids, and Warner Bros should be a better corporate steward than that. It’s a failure all down the line.

I’m all for sex and violence in comics, but guys like Morrison and Waid show you can do intelligent cape comics that you can also hand to a 10 year old. When they want to do the darker stuff, they slap a parental advisory logo on it and keep it pretty seperate (Arkham Asylum, Incorruptable, etc).

And oh yeah, the reason a book like The Mighty Thor gets cancelled is because Marvel and DC’s audiences are so conditioned to buy stuff based on “earth shattering” continuity developments. I don’t know what the solution there is, but its a scary trend.

The great thing about the comics I remember reading as a kid is that they weren’t particularly kid friendly and they weren’t particularly adult. They were just good comic books with stories that had a broad appeal. That’s what I think is missing– that broad appeal.

All I can do is speak from personal experience but yes, the implied off-panel sex in Thor:TMA does bother me in a book that otherwise did a great job of being just a friendly comic book.

My son goes with me to the comic shop. He sees comics featuring the Avengers, Young Justice, Batman and Iron Man, all characters he loves from movies and tv shows. He wants to read comics about these characters. He wants to devour comics with these characters. Sure, there’s Marvel Adventures and Johnny DC but those are such a small part of the selection of Iron Man and Batman comics. Maybe it’s selfish on my part, but I want more comics for him. I’ve got Batman and Superman stories. I don’t need anymore. I want stories for him.

I do think we’re starting to see a backlash against this kind of stuff. Fraction and Brubaker’s Marvel work is relatively kid friendly stuff, while Cassanova and Criminal/Incognito are explicitly for the older crowd. DC’s got a ways to go, though.

LOL @ Roger LanGRINCH.. a guy who cant sell comics is lecturing companies on how to market them

Next thing we will have Nick Spencer lecturing on how to write a good comic or not scam people out of money

Nick Spencer’s THUNDER Agents has been immensely well received, even if reviews for Morning Glories have been polarized.

@ Tim O’Neil:

So, where do you draw the line?

In the last couple decades, Superman has not been in much kid-focused content at all. SMALLVILLE is targeted at Teens and Young Adults. The animated stuff has all skewed in the Teen Plus range. The movie was PG. How many people under 18 really first encountered the property as a being akin to Mickey Mouse?

By contrast, Marvel has Wolverine as a member of its Super Hero Squad, which skews very young. Batman is headlining a series that is suitable for All Ages. Are they “kiddie characters” now? I sort of doubt it.

@david brothers: Your Ice Cube example jumped out at me as a telling statement about the comic book industry. Cube softened his image and the bulk of his creative output has became more family friendly to appeal to a wider audience, making him more commercially viable. But he hasn’t abandoned his original, hardcore audience; they’re just not his bread and butter.

The comics industry, however, seems to be doing the reverse, focusing the bulk of its output toward its niche, hardcore audience, leaving the wider, mass audience on the fringes. How financially successful this is is up to interpretation. But I think it’s safe to say Ice Cube reaches more people than comic books (emphasis on the medium, not the characters) do.

Although it sounds like I’m making an indictment on comics industry, I’m really not. Largely because I think there are a lot of other factors contributing to why comics have such a hard time reaching young people (the medium itself, lack of stores that sell comics, price, etc.). But when studios feel an R-rating limits the money a film can make (and btw, that doesn’t mean a studio won’t release any R-rated films), it does make one pause when it comes to the business logic of comic book companies. I think it’s worth noting, and I think–if I can pretend to read his mind–it’s the gist of Langridge’s point: If comics want to stay commercially viable, it needs to go after the biggest audience possible.

” but does a single rape scene elevate something from PG-13 to R?”

This is the most disturbing thing I have read today.

How is this even a question?

The answer is more definitely YES.

I think people are seriously getting the wrong idea by what Roger’s saying. Saying he’s not an authority to talk about this because his Thor was cancelled? Saying it’s HIS fault the book was cancelled? Uugh, missing the point of the post.

His was my favourite Thor title in years. In a decade. I enjoyed Fraction’s run as well but I dropped it, it didn’t pull me in like the MA title. That doesn’t mean that Fraction’s wasn’t as good, but the timeless, all ages nature of the Landridge/Samnee book was mesmerising.

You look at the flagship titles, and they’re dark. It’s a bit much, like Roger was saying, to have characters portrayed as child-friendly but have them dealing with darker themes like rape in the books where children are going to head first. And the Johnny DC initiative and the Marvel Adventures line, while producing some of the best Batman and Spider-Man stories in years, feel a bit condescending, telling us where we should take our children’s reading?

I’m no expert, but Roger’s opinions make perfect sense.

the issue isn’t that Superman can’t be used in an R storyline. The character has a wide range and can appear in any number of stories. There just needs to be an appropriate, well-marketed, well-written, and well-drawn version of Superman that is appropriate for children. Honestly, this should really be true of any character. Make a unique version of the character that is appropriate for kids and retains the classic spirit of the character. Then make a version of the character that is for an older audience, and can feature all the wacky/mature/etc stuff you want. Have the kids version be available in book stores, grocery stores, etc.

But maybe DC hates money or something. Who knows.

Joe K,

Genuinely clever wit with the name pun. YOU should be the writer! By the by, Langridge sells the hell out of Muppets, and his creator-owned stuff does quite well on the indie circuit. He’s not arguing sales, he’s arguing brand consistency and corporate responsibility – something comic companies are probably the worst at of any industry.

Ben hits Roger’s point clearly – it’s not that superhero comics should be kid friendly, it should be that there is a firm distinction between the characters that ARE kid friendly and the ones who aren’t. Punisher? Not kid friendly. No punisher backpacks, no punisher candy bars, etc. Superman? Kid friendly. No superman stories featuring rape/decapitation/etc. Now, there are a lot of thirty-five year-olds who are greedy, and want every character to be theirs and theirs alone. Nothing for the kids, everything should be fair game for heavy, r-subject matter continuity. That shouldn’t be the case. It just ain’t right.

By kid-friendly I don’t mean Caspar. Batman: the Animated Series or Avatar: the Last Airbender are excellent examples of stories that can be told on an adult level and not broach subject matter that makes it impossible for kids to be permitted to read it, especially if it’s the hero at the heart of the issue. The restraint can make a much better overall piece. Kid friendly doesn’t mean lighthearted. Mad Love is one of the best Batman comics ever. It deals with horrific psychological abuse of a romantic partner, along with a dozen other adult themes. But there’s no reason that a kid can’t read it. It’s well-written. it’s the cheap and pure hack when writers who feel that they have to use big ticket hot buttons like rape or molestation (I read an interview with Jerry Ordway where he talked about Peter David wanting to have Mary Marvel molested by a cop in some story… I sure hope that never went through. I mean, seriously, what is wrong with some of these writers?), and it would be nice if more readers were discerning enough to recognize this and demand quality stories rather than sensationalism.

Deapool=adult. Spider-man=kid. Is it really that hard? Is every reader really so selfish as to demand everything entirely for himself (I use the masculine here intentionally. I know a lot of female super-readers, but they tend to be less douchy, and few re gung-ho about the ridiculous amount of rape and torture that occurs in big-2 books), and leave nothing for the next generation?

There are a lot of specifics that the big two engage in that I take issue with, but this is a general argument, and in it Roger is 100% right.

I think the conversation is getting muddled by what we consider “adult” today.. And it’s a sign of where we are when kid friendly elicits ideas of Archie and Looney Tunes, and adult encompasses rape an mutilation.

I think the main point is that there is a certain level of psychological horror that kids shouldn’t be exposed to. Death and war are a natural consequence of human nature( kinda sad huh), and both are concepts that any teen can handle( and most kids too).

But Rape and Mutilation are both concepts a responsible parent would prefer to shield their children from until they were mature enough to handle and process the concepts. Every teen is different, and I think the point is that responsible parents have to police comics because some of these concepts are finding their way into some “mainstream” books.

I also find it sad that there seems to be a certain vein of thought that Landridge has no authority to speak on this topic because his book was cancelled..

The premise is a bit ridiculous, given his book was acclaimed, and his long experience and success in the comic industry. However you’d like to measure it, it’s more than a bit snarky to bring that up and has little to do with the conversation. ( most of us have marginal experience creating mainstream comics, and no one is measuring our opinions based on that.. Get the Contradiction?)

riq.

Here’s a story to illustrate what everyone’s talking about:
A few years ago (I don’t remember exactly how long ago) I was buying my comics when an older lady walked into the store. I overheard her explain that her 10 year old nephew was coming for a visit and that he absolutely loved Spider-Man. She asked the clerk for all the Spider-Man comics she could give her nephew. The clerk then pointed her towards a small “kids rack” and the two latest issues of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man.
It occured to me that I was her nephews’ age when I was first into comics, and I read all the major Spider-Man titles. And now Marvel has limited the readership of the next generation to only a few “kid appropriate” titles. It’s not to say Marvel Adventures isn’t a perfectly wonderful Spider-Man comic. But it doesn’t make sense to me from a business perspective to limit your possible audience like that.

I see the point, I just don’t agree with it. There are a lot of “mature” (meaning more intense dramatically, not just poo-poo words and boobies) stories that can be written for many characters. As long as they are clearly labeled, I don’t see an issue with telling them. If such a story is wildly out of character, that’s another matter.

Kevin Smith’s recent stories are a good example. They’re clearly written for an older audience than the traditional/cliche’d age of reader, stayed in character, and worked very well. I’d challenge the argument that those stories shouldn’t be told to keep the character universally safe for all ages.

In the reverse, if you look at a character like, say, the Punisher, It’s amazing that he’s in ANY all-ages books.

Is it really all that different now than it was 20 years ago? Two of the most memorable Batman plots I remember reading in the 1980s (it was before Jason Todd was killed, so I was about 11 years old) had pretty dark themes. The first was about a serial killer who was murdering women who met a fitting end when the sister of one of his victims killed him. And the second was about a man who was going to get away with repeatedly raping a young woman because he had diplomatic immunity (although at the time I didn’t understand why the characters never said the word “raped”- Comics Code, I suppose). Jason maybe/probably pushed the rapist off a balcony, which endeared him to me. I ate up that kind of stuff when I was a kid. Then again, most of the graphic violence in those storylines occurred off panel. And I don’t think there is any reason for anyone to see a character punch someone’s head off just for shock value. Just, why?

While it is true that some writers/editors/readers confuse “adult themes” with “explicit and/or tasteless”, I also think it’s silly to say that Superman can’t be in a book with adult themes that wouldn’t be appropriate for younger children. It should just be labeled as such (and hopefully not stupid as stupid as most of the so-called “adult” storylines).

On the other hand, I’m always astonished that Wolverine is marketed as a hero to the kiddies, what with him killing bunches of people with his razor-sharp claws in most of his comics. He’s not The Punisher, but still, it’s very funny to me.

@Vinnie,

Nobody said the stories shouldn’t be told. Reread the quote. He in fact says just the opposite. He said that the primary titles, the ones that new readers, of all ages, will go to first, should appeal to the broadest possible audience. And he’s right. They should. Because if somebody new walks into the shop you should be able to hand them the main line Spidey/ Supes/ Bat title and have a reasonable expectation that said title will be both excellent AND appropriate, regardless of who that reader is. That’s good business for the companies and good philosophically for the medium.

Langridge’s point is actually very specific, even if it’s application is broad. If you have main line characters that are marketed to a mass audience, the main books for those characters should ALSO be appropriate for that mass audience. That’s what Langridge said, nothing more or less.

It’s not an assault on mature storytelling and it’s not saying that all superhero books should be G rated. It’s being interpreted that way, but that is not supported by his words.

I also don’t agree with the basic assertion that Marvel and DC are actually putting their A-list characters in any R-rated books. I would feel comfortable giving a kid any Spider-Man, Superman, Thor, Batman, or Avengers title out right now.

Also, and this is a side point, an adult theme and an explicit depiction are two different things. One can be legitimately “all-ages” in the purest sense. The other cannot. Death is an adult theme presented in the first five minutes of Up (and Bambi, if you’d like a classic example) but it is not explicitly depicted, making it sanitized just enough for a child to understand it’s importance without necessarily being traumatized by it’s inclusion. It SHOULD make you cry. It’s a dramatic thing that is very mature to deal with. It SHOULD NOT run the risk of keeping your child from sleeping at night.

In the first issue of Langridge’s Thor, when Hyde says to Jane Foster, “Come along, I’m really a Gentleman when you get to know me..” and she says “Get your hands off me you filthy brute” and then he hits her, isn’t this a scenario that seems to be about sexual violence against women? I’d be all for some good kids comics, but even the best of them seems to have the touch of grim and gritty when if this has just become that “normal.”

That scene is suggestive. The scene in Identity Crisis is explicit. The difference should be obvious. A kid could read in that Hyde simply wants to hurt her. It’s much like in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I assumed Beloch wanted to seduce Marian, not rape her. When viewed later, the subtext is far more sinister, but that subtext is just that, below the threshold of explicit. This is explicit http://www.popgunchaos.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/rape.jpg

This who opinion on what is okay for kids is quite frankly a load of bullshit.

Kids want whatever is not aimed at them, ALL THE TIME. That is how every generation has grown up. Trying to shelter children from things you yourself saw when growing up is being Hypocritical and greatly misjudging children in general. Now I am not saying you should give anything to a person of any age at any time, no. What I am saying is when a kid WANTS to see something they should not be turned away, because usually no one can know better than those directly involved.

I mean seriously who here didn’t sneak into an R rated movie or more recently had a parent/older sibling buy them an R rated video game? It happens all the time everyone knows it happens all the time yet still people have this bizarrely conservative view point about the whole thing.

We didn’t grow up into deviants from watching this stuff when we were a kid so why stop today’s children from some of the fun of being a kid.

I’m of two minds on the question of what is appropriate for kids and teenagers, but reading through the comments here and reading stories about people’s horrific experiences in comic shops I think it is safe to say that comics (geek?) culture’s fascination with rape is unhealthy.

“Kids want whatever is not aimed at them, ALL THE TIME.”

I hear this constantly and while, yes, it’s true, it’s also true that you can very easily make something that isn’t for kids but is still for kids. We all watched Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones when we were kids even though they are not at all kids movies.

Here’s how you do it.

Write your story. Take the cursing down to a primetime broadcast TV level. Take the sex down to a pre-Fox primetime sitcom level.

There. You just wrote a comic for kids that isn’t for kids. If you can’t make a compelling story without F-bombs and rape scenes, please get some therapy. But also stop writing superhero comics because holy shit.

There. You just wrote a comic for kids that isn’t for kids. If you can’t make a compelling story without F-bombs and rape scenes, please get some therapy. But also stop writing superhero comics because holy shit.

I’d say if you remove just the rape scenes it would be fine, it seems that those are the big offenders. (If we ask ourselves do we really need rape in any comics anymore?)

In America especially, the totem goes.

Sex, any kind
Language
Violence
(which is still fucking strange to me)

David Brothers made a fantastic example and other people have given them aswell, Uncanny X-Force and Batman Incorporated are both titles with all the over-the-top violence that kids like in a distinctly Superhero world.

It is the best of both worlds.

Recently, I picked up the 100th issue of “What If?”, which headlined Sentry and Siege.

Now, I realize that “What If?” is a dark series, usually showing the worst that could happen. But compare that Siege story to issues from the 1980s and 1990s.

Or, if you want, compare the sexual assaults of Barbara Morse, Sharon Ventura, and Sue Dibny. Mockingbird’s was so oblique that it didn’t even register in my teenage mind… I thought the Phantom Rider had just brainwashed her. I didn’t read the initial storyline of the Hood and Tigra, but the resolution in Avengers Academy #8 shows how a serious situation can be shown without being explicit.

But getting back to the point… Marvel is effing up their brand. So is DC. DC was smart to shift their “mature reader” comics over to Vertigo, creating an imprint which was extremely successful. MAX isn’t as successful… perhaps if they did an “Ultimate” version, redesigning costumes and characters and giving it a distinct look. Have a young readers line for parents and librarians, publish the 616 books as PG-13, use ICON as an independent imprint, and then have MAX.

Otherwise, it becomes pornographic. Fans want to see more murder and blood and gore and extremes. Instead of sex, it’s violence, without plot or characterization.

Your right, there’s a difference, Jake. Still, I don’t think Langridge has a leg to stand on: I really don’t think that rape should be part of a children’s story, no matter how obliquely suggested or how unlikely it is that the child would get it. There is simply no reason for it, except that the adults who are creating it (and who form part of its audience) are inured enough to think that rape or the threat of it should simply be a routine part of *any* story.

Probably worth noting: there’s a vast, VAST, middle ground between “kid-friendly” and “full of rape, dismemberment, etc.” This is exactly the area in which the majority of quality superhero stories–stories that could be enjoyed on a number of different levels by young and old alike–have taken place between the Lee/Kirby FF and relatively recently.

@anon

I agree that rape shouldn’t be routine at all. The whole topic, whenever it comes up in comics bothers me, TMA included. That said, I can see the difference between a book where a threat is veiled enough that a younger reader would miss it, and the example of Identity Crisis, where there is absolutely no way for any reader to miss it or interpret the text differently. Like I said, when I first watched Raiders there were no extra sinister undertones. Beloch was just arrogant enough to think he could woo the heroine while she was his captive. When I got older a lot of extra layers appear in that scene, but I still like to go with that original interpretation because the threat of sexual violence is sub textual. There is no overt usage of it, and thus it can legitimately be read two different ways. It’s like how in so many fairy tales the villain always wants to kidnap (or in some other way possess) the princess. To a child the villain does this because they are evil. Only an adult analyzes this further. I’ll grant you that’s a fine distinction.

However, for argument’s sake let’s say that I agree; TMA bites this criticism hard. It seems we agree that a main line book, or a tie in to a main line book, one which affects it’s plot directly, includes these heavier elements explicitly actively excludes a younger audience. Langridge might not be above criticism, but he certainly has a valid point overall. One need not be the epitome of perfection to have a sound argument. My response would be “Yes, Roger, I agree. I also think you toed the line in your own book. Please look to that in the future and we’ll take into consideration your point and do the same.”

@Ben

You are precisely correct. It’s not all or nothing. A main line book should neither be Comics Code sanitized nor hard R rated. It should simply try to be excellent storytelling and ride the middle between the two.

Brian Nicholson

April 20, 2011 at 8:08 pm

The last time I went to a Six Flags, I realized that the rides that were Batman or Superman themed were the rides with height requirements. These were the ones that adults and brave children were interested in. They had a height limit, probably what most people reach by the time they are ten. When I was ten I was still afraid of roller coasters but was reading in-continuity Batman comics. (This was fifteen years ago, so, post Jason Todd stuff, post Knightfall: not super-sanitized.) I realized that “high-speed roller coaster” is pretty much what mainstream superhero comics should strive for.

I don’t really think that kids always go for what they’re not allowed to have: When I was a kid there were things that repulsed me: The aesthetic of Glenn Fabry’s Preacher covers, the gross sexuality of bad girl comics.

The only thing I can remember reading in a mainstream comic and being freaked out by was that Green Lantern comic where the hero’s girlfriend is murdered and put inside a fridge. I was in elementary school when that happened. It’s funny that this example of inappropriateness can also be cited as an example of mainstream comics’ casual misogyny and lack of craft standards.

It isn’t that hard to make a roller coaster that doesn’t fall apart, accidentally decapitate someone, and leave everyone who witnessed said decapitation traumatized. It shouldn’t be that hard to make a Wonder Woman comic a nine-year-old girl can read.

I think we can all agree on at least one thing here: Brad Meltzer and Dan DiDio are two of the worst things ever to happen to superhero comics.

@ Dan Coyle

No, I don’t think we can all agree on that.

@ Dan Coyle

Considering that the rape and dismemberment mentioned isn’t limited to just DC books and is also used with properties marketed towards kids as well as their regular versions, I can’t say ever that they are the worst things ever (EVER!!!) to happen to superhero comics.

I totally agree with Roger’s comments. Marvel and DC editorial need to get their acts together, both on this front and also on a continuity/readability front. It’s fine to have mature books, it’s fine to have alternate universe takes on characters, but it’s an editor’s job to make sure a character is consistently written when they appear in multiple books in the same universe and the same timeline. Both companies used to do a better job of this in decades past. I’m not saying the books were always better, but the editing and brand definition was.

I’ve heard the argument that themes have gotten mature because kids aren’t reading comics these days, but doesn’t it also stand to reason that kids aren’t reading comics because of the themes have gotten too mature?

I think the majority of the protestors of Roger Langridge’s message feel that they’re worried that their comics will be watered-down to the point where they’ll be sanitized to the point of pablum. While some All-Ages comics can be like that, that’s not what All-ages means. It means that they can be enjoyed by audiences from newborns to three generations back. There can be the general story, which can be told simply, then there can be subtle throwaway panels/dialogue that’ll make more sense to an older audience. The Asterix & Tintin books have a surprising amount of violence, but it’s toned down to the extent that death hardly happens.

I also suspect that the reason so many S-hero comics routinely regulate themselves to brutal violence and mature themes is that they’re still stuck in their Pulp upbringing. The hardboiled world where crime runs rampant and powerful businessmen run everything behind the scenes, and only a lone man has the strength of resolve to stop it all. Compare the noir concept with Bendis’ scripts, and you can see the synchronicity there. (For more detail, check out Gerald Jones’ Men of Tomorrow)

It also doesn’t help that the comics market is still regulated to the Christian code of morals. I’m reminded of the Herman where a kid watching TV says to his friend: “I can watch all the violence I want as long as they keep their clothes on.”

For an example of a GOOD All-ages comic, check out the retelling of a Norse God tale featuring Odin & Loki in the scanlation of Valhalla:
http://scans-daily.dreamwidth.org/2921581.html

This is a series I’d really like to see licensed, but because of the casual nudity, could be considered problematic. Even some of the more mature books released by Cinebook, such as Largo Winch and Thorgal have covered up naked breasts for fear of offending sensitive parents.

Thanks for the link! I’m proud the interview sparked such a lively debate.

I didn’t read all the comments (the first one by “wiggins” was ridiculous) but I wanted to say that I agree with Langridge in principle, however comics are so expensive these days that I guess you have to market them to the people who can best afford them: adults. You can make the entire line of Marvel and DC comics kid friendly and all ages again but to what end? Kids can’t afford comics. Not at 3 and 4 bucks a pop. At those prices, adults have to buy them for their kids and many adults will look upon the price/page ratio as a bad investment. Many will figure that money is better spent on a DVD or set of Yu-Gi-Oh cards or something else.

The nearest comic shop from me is about ninety minutes away from where I live. Kids around my town don’t read comics because they aren’t sold anywhere around here. Making comics all ages doesn’t address the problem of how do you get comics IN FRONT OF people of all ages.

None of this would be an issue if the comics were really exciting, and filled with great ideas, imagination, an attention to craft, formal inventiveness. Batman Year One– it’s been a while, but didn’t that have hookers in it? Dark Knight Returns had all sorts of violence and “gritty” in it. Kids should be reading about women having grenades thrown into their purses? Maybe not– I don’t think a lot of us cared because those comics are so much fun. Which isn’t to say the discussion about what is and isn’t appropriate content isn’t a valuable one to have, but … I suspect we wouldn’t all care quite so much if so-and-so’s comics weren’t failing in a far more significant and fundamental way to fulfill what we need from them. Maybe Superman shouldn’t be in comics that feature R-rated things, maybe… but that’s just a corollary to what I’d hope we could all agree is a far more pressing rule, a far more vital rule, that he definitely shouldn’t be in comics that are dull or boring.

I find superhero comics with adult themes pretty silly, since the very idea of a superhero is basically immature. I would bet its part of the reason comics aren’t selling that well (total numbers, minus all the “incentives”).

After seeing Thor last night at the cinemas there was a lot that the movie, Thor had in common with TTMA in particular Thor’s relationship with Jane Foster. TTMA should have been allowed to continue in favor of the poorer content mini series featuring Thor.

But once again the big two are concerned with paying lip service to it’s aging fandom rather than attracting newer readers with good accessible content!

Part of the problem in these discussions we seem to have every couple months is the muddied terms. People with daily experience publishing for children have no problem parsing the difference between kids, teen, and all ages — all three require three different sets of chops to pull off well. And within kids there are all kinds of subdivisions: pre-school, middlegrade, etc. Adult, pulp-derived comics publishers aren’t as experienced with those distinctions, but they’re trying. Tiny Titans is for kids, Mouse Guard is all ages, mainline titles are mostly teen — you get the picture. The conversation becomes cloudy when someone says they want all ages but everyone hears “I want preschool!”

I think what Roger is driving at is the need for clear strategy. TMNT had demographic banding for years and was real successful at it. So does Star Wars — the movies swing between all ages and teen but the TV show is for kids, again successfully, with no confusion. And Roger is also saying that this strategy should be to the benefit of comics, hoping that the lunchbox kids also start buying the comics one day. Brand strategy isn’t juat about editorial approach but also about sales and marketing approach. If kids can’t find a comic to go with their lunchbox (or find an age-appropriate one) then the strategy didn’t work.

Of course, Ben, Chris, Roger, and I are all predisposed to agree with each other, but we’re still right.;)

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