Monday, August 30, 2010

Mainstream Comics Too Violent To Show?

Are comics today more violent than they have ever been in the past?

Last week, Marvel may have answered that question when they promoted a new issue of Wolverine with preview which were so violent, that they had censor bars.

Now part of me wants to dismiss this as just a empty marketing ploy to promote the first issue of Wolverine: The Best There Is. I don’t actually think what’s under the bars really merits being barred out (on the internet) Still, the fact that readers are left wondering whether this is or isn’t a ploy sort of supports a recent statement by Robert Kirkman on excessive violence in mainstream comics - NOTE: This is not a direct quote, but rather a second hand account of what Kirkman said on I don't have a quote to the direct quote at this moment, but will search for it tomorrow. Thanks to Trey for keeping me honest. ;) - JS

According to the makers behind The Walking Dead in both the comics and the AMC Network reported in GQ magazine that the violence in comics is also damaging not only the society but also young children. Robert Kirkman of the magazine said that he has reading comics since the age of fifteen and he had never come across a comic with rape and dark elements that are present today. He said that such material was inappropriate for children and this is the reason why these comic books were damaging the reputation of the society in front of children today.

Which leads us back to my opening question. I decided the best way to decide this would be to list all the excessively violent scenes from comics within the past 3 years. With the help of several other comic readers, this is the list I came up with:



  • Lizard eats his own kid Spider-man 631
  • Sentry rips Ares in half in Seige 3
  • Blob eats Wasp in Ultimatum 2
  • Wonder Dog eating Wendy and Marvin in Titans 62
  • Gory beating of Marlene in Moonknight Shadowland 1
  • Kryb (a grisly hunchbacked Sinestro Corps alien who only attacks Green Lanterns who have newborn children. After murdering the parents, she puts the children in her sac-like back.)
  • Nightcrawler’s death in X-force 26 (vol 2)
  • Family at Picnic buzzsawed to death Justice Society of America 7 (vol 3)
  • The Cat scene from Rise of Arsenal 3
  • Every other issue of Secret Six ;)
I’ve probably missed a few, but as it stands, that’s a pretty damning list of atrocious scenes.

When I posed this question on the Bleeding Cool message boards the general consensus was that most of the excessive violence we are seeing these days is used to jazz up weak stories or to pander to the Grande Guignol groundlings that seek out those *Awesome* moments in comics today.

Perhaps this is just a result of all entertainment becoming more violent and graphic. This is a world where Saw, CSI and Grand Theft Auto reign and movies are commonly called into question for being too violent. In my Wild Wild West article, I mentioned the show was eventually removed from CBS because of concerns of violence. Looking at the show today, the mild fisticuffs that raised eyebrows in the 70's make that concern seem absurd.

So with all that, isn't it expected that the level of violence in comics would rise? Perhaps not when they were published under the Comics Code, but those days are gone. Outside of the comics code, there is nothing intrinsically different about comics that would keep the modern levels of violence from seeping in. In some cases, older writers with more nostalgic leanings might shy away from excessive violence, but not this new generation of comic writers. (There are some notable exceptions like Jonathan Hickman and Jeff Parker, but then again, their books aren't tearing up the charts like the more violent ones seem to be.)

What do you think? Do you agree with Robert Kirkman? Have mainstream comics become too violent?

Anyway, as a Pallet Cleanser, let us now enjoy the light hearted adventures of The Little Wise Guys from Lev Gleason's Daredevil Comic

[ Daredevil 65 ]

[ Daredevil 66 ]

- Enjoy!


Trey said...

I think you may have a point of overall, but I want to make a journalistic note here, instead. ;) What you call "a recent statement by Robert Kirkman" isn't. It's instead, a clumsily worded third-hand paraphrase--or is it fourth hand? Because the quote starts "digital spy reports"...nothing wrong with using that stuff, but I would attribute it to Kirkman.

Britt Reid said...

Actually, CSI is nowhere near as violent as Saw or Grand Theft Auto.
Most of the actual crimes are off-camera.
The thing people seem to object to are the cgi effects showing internal organs close-up.
Hardly the torture-porn of Saw which concentrates on the agony of the victims as the crime is committed!

MattComix said...

While I do not advocate censorship I'm also not a fan of the shock and gore tactics being so often employed on mainstream superhero comics titles where it becomes a nihilistic horror movie with capes hanging off it. If DC or Marvel want to do a horror line they should just do one.

Personally, I think The King himself in his own thoughts on the subject say it best in these quotes from the Comics Journal's interview collection:

"Speaking for myself I know there is violence but I like to show violence in a graceful way, a dramatic way but never in it's true way. There is something stupid in violence as violence."

"Basic violence is stupid. I was in a war and I saw the results of it. I used to walk around and saw the dead bodies in a field and dead cows and dead kids and dead houses under a dead sky. I feel we shouldn't degenerate to that level."

"I won't look at it and I won't put it in my drawings. I'll show a reaction. A splat or a bang. You'll see a guy go flying through a house. You'll notice there's no realism in what I do because its things as I like to see them. You want to sue me, great."

..and one of my favorites from Mark Evanier's KIRBY: King of Comics.

"Comics transcend reality. If you mirror reality you see it all backward. If you start transcending it that's when you have a real good shot at figuring out what's going on."

RKB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
RKB said...

Well early on in Daredevil Biro killed off one of the little wise guys named Meatball. It wasn't gory, he died a hero trying to save his friends, but he got hypothermia, got sick, and Daredevil nor anybody else could save him. A kid got killed off and stayed dead, even with all the violence in comics today you don't currently have much of that kind of stark realism in superhero comics/ when the dead stay dead. Is the violence today any more than what you had in the Golden Age (heroes killed, villains killed, shootings, beatings, stabbings, bombs, not even getting into ray guns and transmogrification's of the Golden Age Spectre and Stardust kind. Throw in the EC horror titles: any one else ever read the EC story were a baseball team to get revenge on a opposing player ripped his body to shreds then played ball with the parts? Now that's gory, but still a more interesting story than the rise of Arsenal. Am I the only one who thinks Speedy #1's daughter will be brought back to life in a few years tops? Crossed is the comic book equivalent to A Serbian Film to me, I got no interest in either.
What kind of comics has Robert Kirkman been reading since he was 15? If that paraphrase is even close to the mark (I figure it is) I have to wonder if he ever came across Alan Moore's The Killing Joke just to name one. Kirkman also wrote one of the most violent rape/torture/revenge scenes I've ever seen in comics around about issue 33 or so of TWD. Ever since comics left the grocery stores racks their have been less and less children 'exposed' sales figures bare this out to me. Still Marvel and DC among others have comics targeted at kids, parents can just look at the cover and have a pretty good idea if they should or shouldn't buy a copy for their child. If they do any way, either you have a very mature child who can handle it, or a parent who doesn't give a shit. Parents who don't give a shit being the most obvious culprit in creating the future convicts of America everyone from Fredric Wertham to Parents Television Council seems content to ignore.

RKB said...

Two of the best issues of Air Boy I ever read (they hold up well too) featured rats eating people, a number of suicides from people to avoid being eaten by the rats, maybe not a truck load of blood and guts, but plenty disturbing. The censor bars is a gimmick I think because people do get tired of the less story you have, the more blood and gore you have effect. It's diminishing returns the more 'ultra violent graphic violence' you see, the less you go "I can't believe they did that!"
If Kirkman or anyone else wants to say parents need to stay vigilant about what their kids see or read, I agree. Read enough of the Golden Age you realize their's nothing much new under the sun. Even EC sometimes just went for the 'shock value' but Marvel, DC, and everybody else should realize that 'shock value' alone isn't what EC is remembered for.
Then 'less story, more blood' mood today is like the multiple covers of yesteryear, won't end till it's been driven into the ground and most comic fans are tired of it.

Jim Shelley said...

@Trey - you are correct and I've edited my article to better reflect the Kirkman quote.

Jim Shelley said...

@BrittReid - yeah, the CGI graphic display of guts and stuff was what I was referring to. Thankfully, there's nothing on TV in the same vein as Saw.

Jim Shelley said...

@MattComix - thank you for the great Kirby quote!

Jim Shelley said...

@RKB - it looked like you comment double posted, so I removed the first one (which had all the points you split into the other two)

Good points about the level of violence in the Golden Age comics. I thought about that as I was posting this article and wondered if anyone would bring that up.

I think the advent of the Comics Code (and it's removal) is responsible for some of this return to the old Golden Age/EC shock comics.

Anonymous said...

First, I have to wonder how much of the original comment by Kirkman was in jest... if he was even half serious, we have to wonder where the hell he gets off criticizing violence in comics. I'm rather fond of his work, but this is the man who couldn't write Masters of the Universe without mutilation.

Then there's the question of the "young children" the violence is hurting. Who are these children? Readership has been dropping for years precisely because children aren't reading comics, causing the companies to cater to adult readers--and then launch kid's titles and imprints in an attempt to get the younger readership back because the regular titles are too mature. This has been going on for well over a decade (and is the result of demographic shifts that took place over the several decades prior).

At the risk of getting into a "art imitates life/life imitates art" debate, that's really what's at the heart of comments like that. Richard Reynolds makes an excellent case in the book Superheroes: A Modern Mythology that the function of superhero comics is to uphold the status quo--to reflect society, not change it. This begs the question of the society that's being reflected, and brings us back to looking at the age demographics of comics readers: The majority are adults. The content will then invariably be of an adult level.

The sheer ignorance and lack of proof for the assertion that violence in comics is changing society is reminiscent of the much-maligned and roundly-discredited Frederick Wertham. A key flaw in Wertham's work that he purposely overlooked was that he lumped all comics together: superhero, western, crime, horror, romance, etc; all were "comics." Then, regardless of intended audience and actual reading demographic of the various comics and genres, he proceeded to take his "cause," assign effects that he had observed in troubled children, then assume correlations. Bad science in a nutshell.

I really, really want to say that Kirkman's comments were a joke, because I can't fathom him honestly thinking any of this. Taken seriously, it's terrible, awful, hypocritical logic at best. Personally, I'm more than a little offended and disturbed by what goes into/comes out of many comics today, but the "it hurts Junior's brain and destroys society" claim has no more ground now than it did nearly seventy years ago.

Anonymous said...

I think comics are a too violent, but not for the reason most people give. For me, its not the violence in and of itself that I object to (although some comics are too graphic for my taste). My problem is that its just senseless violence just to be as brutal with no pay off for it.

For example, I am reading old Cap comics, the ones with Sin and Crossbones. They are just violent as can be and it disgusts me. Yet, I've read plenty of Joker stories and while the violence is shocking, it doesn't bug me out as much.

The difference is simple. The writer made me enjoy Joker's presence. The dark humor makes is a great offset to the violence.

With the whole Sin and Crossbones thing, the villains weren't made remotely likeable. Making the violence more noticeable and less tolerable.

You can argue that over the top violence is to really show how horrible they are but all it did was annoy me to the point that I had to stop reading for a while and switch to another comic book.

If you are going to make read about a character who seems to be evil incarnate, at least make them a character I want to see. Anyone can make a character violent and brutal, it takes real talent to make them brutal yet enjoyable to the mythos.


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