Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Violence in Comics: How Much Is Too Much?

Doug: Today I'd like some feedback on violence in comics. I suppose that's a stupid question, as in the longjohn books we're somewhat disappointed if there are not at least a few scenes of sock-'em-up roughhousing. When I was a child, I'm not sure I dwelt on just what it would feel like if I ever got punched by the Thing. Sure, I'd stubbed my toe on the cement, maybe bumped my head on a brick wall. But I'd never had a solid piece of masonry smashed into my body at a high rate of speed. I imagine that wouldn't feel very good! Nor would taking a full-on swing from Thor's hammer. I think we've all missed a nail and hit our thumbs or fingers with a household-use hammer. That doesn't feel very good, either. But, in either case, it sure looks extemely cool when a super-baddie is sent flying out into the ocean, or even through a wall (another sort of pain altogether).

Doug: So I get violence in comics -- it's a given. But I'm talking about a modern trend toward bloody and even personal violence. I'm thinking of the cover below, the first issue of the much-anticipated (at least in this corner of the universe) Neal Adams Batman 12-issue mini-series. Seriously -- entry and exit wounds, with blood just a'spewing forth, on the cover? I'm thinking of the panel in New Avengers when Luke Cage gave Elektra (OK, Skrull-Elektra) a swift kick in the crotch (hey, Mom always said not to hit a girl). Time was these sorts of scenes were in the black-and-white magazines, or in books that didn't bear the Comics Code Authority's seal of approval. But now... now you can see this stuff in books set right out on the shelf at the local grocery store or Barnes & Noble. Right there for your mom to see (gasp! -- back to reading under the covers with the flashlight!)!

Doug: Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Or is it simply the evolution of the medium, our social mores, or what? Thanks in advance for chipping in to the conversation with a word or two.



Doug: You can find this cover, along with full-color pages, by clicking here.

6 comments:

jehingr said...

The over-the-top, blood & gore violence of today is a good part of why the comic book companies can't give their product away, let alone sell it.

The Thing panel that you used is the perfect example of what "comic book violence" should be.

The shower scene is Psycho is so scary precisely because you don't see the violence.

joe bloke said...

I'm thinking of the preview pages for the next volume of Marvel's Ultimate Avengers, the Steve Dillon ones, where there are panels blacked-out for being "too vioent to show." I'm thinking the first four or five pages of the current Ultimate Avengers run's first issue, which are just nicely drawn pages of the Punisher shooting the crap out of people. I'm thinking Sentry tearing Ares in half, in lovingly rendered technicolor.

I expect a degree of violence in my superhero comics. I'm cool with that. Who wants to read a Batman comic without the odd Biff! or Pow!? When the Hulk meets the Thing, I don't want them to sit around drinking tea, discussing the current state of affairs in the middle east, I want them to punch each other, a lot. But, yeah, I believe that there should be limits. I don't want to see Batman crippling bad guys. He's Batman. he's one of the good guys. the good guys don't go around crippling bad guys. I don't want to see Captain America using his shield to decapitate bad guys. that's not what Captain America does, as far as I'm concerned. heroes don't do that. that's what makes them heroes.

I guess the problem is that comics aren't aimed primarily at kids, any more. the target audience now is "young adults", and the generally held belief seems to be that "young adults" want evisceration and bone-crunching and blood and gore.

the other problem, I think, is that there just aren't that many writers who know how to tell a good story, any more.

I think jehingr makes a good point bringing up the shower scene in Psycho. there's a scene in David Lean's Oliver Twist where Sykes beats Nancy to death, and the camera remains focused throughout the entire scene on a terrified Bullseye trying to dig his way out under the locked door. that scene is one of the scariest things I've ever seen, and at no point ever do you actually SEE anything, everything is implied. now, THAT is good story-telling. Batman bleeding all over the place is lazy and sensationalist.

I tell you: the worst thing that ever happened to the comics industry was ditching the Comics Code.

Doug said...

In addition to Psycho, one could mention Jaws, where 3/4 of the film is over before the shark is even shown. That's storytelling.

Jeph Loeb is perhaps one of if not the worst writer working in the business today in regard to pushing (shoot, destroying!) the envelope in terms of the depiction and proliferation ofsex and violence. For some reason, as mentioned, the Ultimates seems to be the cesspool for this genre of "storytelling".

I think I'm with the two of you -- while I don't necessarily want the camp that was prevalent in the Batman TV show-era, I do enjoy stories from the Silver and Bronze Ages. Like Joe Bloke said, I get my share of Bam! and Pow!, and all tastefully rendered. Leave some of the implied sex and violence as just that -- let me, the reader, make up my own mind. That's part of the interactive nature of the medium. If you show me everything, then what's the point in having a reader's imagination?

Thanks for the comments,

Doug

Karen said...

I'll pop in here and pretty much agree with everything you fellas have said. I do believe that after repeated exposure to scenes of gore and violence, the reader tends to become inured. In turn, the comics creators keep upping the ante, trying to find something new to shock the readers. Typically this takes out any real element of emotion and reduces it to a crude thrill.

Something Joe said also has been on my mind for some time. These books are aimed at teens or older. Back when books were truly all ages, Marvel had a policy of avoiding gruesomeness. besides the Code itself, there was self-policing. Even after monsters were allowed back into the books, Marvel rarely showed any real violence. Personally, I'd love to see a return to those days. You still had intelligent stories but there was nothing in the book that you couldn't show it to a 7 year old either.

I know Marvel and DC both have 'kids' comics, but what I would rather see is that the majority of comics be all audiences, and then have a line of 'mature audience' comics -which is the way it was done when lines like Vertigo originally came out! Somehow the main line of both companies has morphed into the mature line. And the kids titles I've seen didn't look that great. how are we going to keep comics alive if you don't attract the young kids? I'd rather see high quality, all access books out there.

Karen

ChrisPV said...

I have a theory about this. It's pretty common these days that the average writer is a former fan, correct? Ergo, they were folks who not only read comics as a kid, but continued to do so well into young adulthood/full adulthood.

Given the distinct lack of any awesome Iron Man or Dark Knight films to make the characters widely palatable to the mainstream audience, I believe it likely that said fans/creators were probably mocked pretty incessantly for reading "kids stuff" or felt compelled to hide their hobby.

Now that they are running the asylum, as it were, they feel compelled to pump up the sex and violence in a desperate attempt to prove that they are telling "mature" stories. Doing so, of course, in only the most rudimentary and surface fashion.

And who does that type of story telling appeal to? Adolescents. Hence, you get the same kind of phenomenal success as a film like, say, Hostel. The kids go nuts for it, it makes tons of money, and then everybody embarrassedly pretends they didn't care for it five years later when we all agree how silly it was.

So, my roundabout answer? Spotting violence for the sake of violence isn't hard. Spidey getting punched in the face? Par for the course. Spidey getting an eye gouged out on panel for a stupid shock villain that has no depth whatsoever for the express purpose of having a sensational splash page that will be undone literally within three issues? Stupid, unnecessary, and I would argue detrimental to the medium as a whole.

Doug said...

In regard to the Batman: Odyssey comic, I bought it yesterday and read it right away. First off, Neal Adams' art is as beautiful and dynamic as ever -- it was like peeling away 40 years of time! His writing -- meh... There's quite a bit of set-up in this story. Overall the dialogue was OK, a bit clumsy and/or forced at times.

But in regard to the guns and the cover: Guns are actually talked down, so to be honest I find it curious that DC allowed that cover to be on the magazine and the promo pages they chose (while excellent artwork) really aren't indicative of the greater story. Just some attention-grabbing hype if you ask me, and furthering my notion that violence sells. Dispicable.

Doug

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