At my comic shop, Metro Entertainment (cheap plug!), we do our part every week to look through books for violent or sexual content, and then shelve them accordingly. It’s important to do that because no one wants their young son or daughter to accidentally pick up an issue of Crossed, right? Things that get graphic are bagged and labeled to keep them out of the hands of curious kids and to give parents a little sense of safety, knowing that when we recommend a book for their kids, there’s not going to be any HBO-style content inside.
Parents should be protective of their children’s exposure to violence; it’s a rough world out there, and not worth jumping into the big problems of society and strife too soon. At the same time, watch a Tom and Jerry cartoon and try and tell me what violence is appropriate (what’s that mouse doing to the cat OH GOD NO). In the realm of superhero comics, it’s not all that out of line to expect Spider-Man to swing at a supervillain or for the Avengers to fight toe to toe with the X-Men.
Marvel has its own rating system to handle what gets in the hands of who. It’s a little imperfect — the difference between ALL AGES and A is a little difficult to explain by just looking at the cover — but it does give an idea of content and structure. An A-rated title is for ages 9 and up, while ALL AGES is self-explanatory. Between A and T+, the content will mature; more talk about romance and teen drama than in the A books. From T+ to Parental Advisory, I think the content matures again between the iCarly fans and the Law & Order set. MAX is … pretty understandable by now. So if we take Wolverine and the X-Men #14 (rated T) and Uncanny X-Force #28 (Parental Advisory), there’s a clear change in artwork and intensity between the stories.
How violence is handled is absolutely key in good storytelling. There’s a big difference between The Amazing Spider-Man and Space: Punisher. Even as adults, sometimes a tasteless drawing of a guy with a grievous head wound is just a guy with a grievous head wound, while a slim shadow drawn over someone’s face can imply a lot more violence than a few dozen swords. Comics can handle violence in an all-ages fashion without resorting to picking flowers and, even better, can use an act of violence as a backdrop to a much larger theme of justice, morality and heroism. And who doesn’t want kids learning about justice, morality or heroism?
WARNING: Spoilers up ahead for Uncanny X-Force #28, so grab a copy and read along!