Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The JSA Killed My Mom

Here’s something I thought I’d never hear myself say… The amount of violence in comic books is getting out of control. And, another thing I thought I would never say, but comic books are getting close to needing a rating system that means something. OR maybe even the return of the Comic’s code.

What brings this on you ask? The latest issues of the JSA did. Well, it wasn’t actually the latest issues so much as the first five issues. Due to time constraints, I read more trades these days. And, due to personal consideration, I read more Euro and Indie books than typical superheroes. Jim was kind enough to loan me the first seven issues of the most recent JSA re-launch. As a generic superhero comic book I have to admit it was pretty good. As something I would like to share with my kids, it was awful. It was superheroes with lots of senseless slaughter and killing being touted as entertainment.

Think I’m wrong? Let’s look at the numbers:
Issue #1,
pg 3, one blood covered crime scene, the dead are a 33 yr old mother and her two children ages 12 and 10 (that's a nice touch!)
Pg 17, text description of their deaths, “they died slow”
Pg ?? (last page), Hero falls through a window and lies dead and bloody on the good guys meeting table.
Total Body count 4.

At this point, I should have recognized I wasn’t going to like this but it was generic superheroes. This wasn’t touted as a max book. This wasn’t touted as grim and gritty. This was the JSA. The JSA have been bright and colorful superheroes since the 1940’s. If asked, I would have said the JSA is one of the more benign superhero groups out there. I assumed it was safe to continue.

On with issue 2, no body count unless you count the 6 pages of the bloody body laying around. It was kind of gratuitous but nothing to-to bad. Body count 0, which is good unless you read the part where the villain states “women and children first”. That wasn’t a real positive sign for the next issue but I read on anyway.

Issue 3,
pg 3, Mother & daughter cut in half, one neck snapping,
pg 4-5, shows blood covered villainous speedster with, depending on interpretation, body parts falling around her,
pg 6, Mother of character being turned into steel (dying) while child watches,
pg 9, 11 bodies… one headless and one with throat slit

Body count, at least 14 as implied in a later issue. Lots of parents killed in front of children. At least this was somewhat off panel although the orphans were shown in a later issue.

So, in three issues there are at least 18 people dead in various brutal and horrific ways. At this point I would like to mention that this is not superheroes. Correction, these are not my superheroes.

My superheroes don’t show a mother and child being dismembered. DISMEMBERED! If I want to read about that kind of thing I can pick up the newspaper or just watch CNN.

But, it isn’t just limited to the JSA. Currently, we have Wolverine in X-Force where his objective is to kill people. Maybe lots of readers are too young to remember but when I was a kid, Wolverine was cool because he had to come up with new ways to beat the badguy WITHOUT killing him.

When we played X-men in the backyard, whatever lucky kid got to be Wolverine got to hack things up… like buildings and trees. Not kill people. The question we asked as young fanboys was “If Wolverine encountered an Adamantium safe could he chop the safe to bits or would he have to pick the lock?” not “How many people has he killed”

Honestly, am I the only one that thinks killing and death isn’t cool?

And this doesn’t even address issue 3’s porn star cover of the 19 year old. I mistakenly thought she was younger but that’s just because she’s drawn like a 12 yr old.

Yes, yes, DC and Marvel do Johnny DC and Marvel Adventures, but those are aimed, and written for a much younger audience. Do I need to remind everyone as recently as the 90's you could share generic superheroes with your kids and they were not “dumbed down” or overly simplified for a younger child. They were colorful and great adventures that challenged a younger reader, but kept an older reader interest. And if the JSA is the direction of typical superheroes then it’s safe to say that I won’t be reading, or sharing them, anytime soon.

This is a rant, and I’m not really upset at the JSA book. And, in truth, I’m not that upset at all. In fact, more than anything, I’m disappointed this is considered main stream superheroes. I want to be able to pass the love of comics that I have to my children and I can’t. This is material that I can’t, and won’t, show to my children. Which means the chances of them growing up to love the comic books the way I do are even smaller than they already were. And, that is really sad.


  1. First, what Wolverine did you grow up with? I started reading X-Men back in the late '70s, early '80s. He was killing people then, too. In fact, I thought it was a cop out when they revived the Hellfire Club lackeys that he chopped up in the sewers. Turning them into cyborgs made it "safe" in that he hadn't killed them, but it was a cop out.

    Second, since when was Marilyn Monroe a porn star? The JSA cover is reminiscent of the scene in "The Seven Year Itch", iconic as it is.

    There's an interesting comics presumption you've made, too. You are apparently equating voluptuous women with older and less so as younger, which is interesting. When or if a woman/girl becomes voluptuous doesn't have much to do with age, other than the basic of hitting puberty. It has a lot to do with genetics. If so, what does that say about what comics have taught you?

    On the whole, the rant brings up another issue altogether. As you noted, violence and sex are present in both news and entertainment, especially when the former bleeds into the latter. Many people are upset by this, but I ask myself why? Why the burning need to shield children from life? I'm not saying they should be taught to kill or have sex at an early age, but I haven't figured out why they shouldn't be aware of negative aspects of the world around them. At some point they're going to be adults and have to deal with those sorts of things, either first hand or simply by knowledge that they exist. Keeping them in some artificial bubble and then dropping these sorts of things on them when they're older seems counterproductive to learning to be happy, functional adults.

    Obviously, every parent has the right to decide what his own kids are ready to know, so if you don't want to share comics with your kids, that's your prerogative. I've bought the occasional comic for my kids, but neither of them have shown a great interest in them as yet. They see me reading comics, books, newspapers, magazines, and such all the time, so I hope to inculcate a love of reading to them. If that includes comics, so much the better. But if not, they have their own interests they like to pursue. Neither of my parents were interested in comics, after all, but they were perfectly happy that I was.

  2. Hullo Lee.

    This is actually the second time I answer this post. I think I messed up slightly and deleted my previous answer, but having found myself adamant on answering, I’m giving this a second try…

    In many ways, I agree with your post. I’m not very old myself, but I remember when superheroes weren’t gory for the sake of gore. The violence was a necessity of battle, not something thrown in for ratings.
    I grew up in a family and with friends pretty much ambivalent to the comic book world. Though I remember watching all the superhero cartoons I could get a hold of (the measly ones broadcasted by Swedish television networks in the days of pre-downloading) together with my brother. I still have my favorites from my kindergarten days, Batman and the X-men, and they hold their places.

    I do believe that even then, the violence and sex were quite frequently pictured. I can remember thinking Emma Frost and her poor excuse of an outfit didn’t really fulfill the picture of modesty, as an example. But all in all, it was so much more than blood and guts and trying to shock the reader by killing the most.
    In high school I made more friends with a similar love of comics. A friend of mine, ten years my senior, had issues of X-men dating way back to when Scott was still Slim Summers (I never really warmed up to the goody two-shoes, but they didn’t make it easy on the kid, that’s for sure…) and I felt like I hit the Las Vegas jackpot. All those comics, issues from more years than I’d been alive, it was a goldmine, and re-awakened my love for superheroes once again.
    It’s not just as you’ve said, the adventures, and the colorful displays that show more than dismembered bodies. I love the conflicting message in superhero-comics. It’s the ultimate collision between public and personal. The wanting of a life as the same time one’s bound to self-sacrifice in the name of righteousness. It is, in an ironic way, the very humane aspects of the many not-quite human superheroes that make them so fascinating.

    Today, I’m 22. My kid sister is 12, and unfortunately, I find her more engaged in Runway fashion than in my storybook love. Still she eagerly wants to be a part of my world as well, reading the occasional fantasy book I bought her, or going through the manga I think is OK for someone her age. Still I feel regret in that I can’t really share my superhero love with her in the same ways. The depth of the comics I remember is changing, and I’m much afraid she’ll go buy her own comics after my ambitious recommendations and find herself coming home with no more than tits, ass and guts.
    I do believe it is for the reader to form an own opinion. And she most probably is more aware of the world than I’d like 12-year olds to be. But still, I find it bothering me.

    I do believe that comics, like all media, are a mirror reflecting the world. We live in a crueler world now. I’m not talking about the warfare, however disgusting. I’m talking about young boys killing homeless people for fun, or girls ganging up on one innocent kid and beating her till she dies and ripping her hair off in handfuls because they were simply bored and annoyed.
    Pointless violence is the cruelty of today’s man. And comics mirror this, drawing in the hungry crowds. Yet I’m, as you, not angry nor really upset, but mostly just disappointed. Because to me, superheroes are still supposed to follow some sort of code. It’s still about the principles, of right and wrong and saving people however ungrateful, for the sake of doing it in the best way possible. Not in the most twisted, meaningless and messy way and becoming a part of the great money-machine. The charm of superheroes is that they are always apart from society, trying to change the world, not becoming the victims to our harsh reality.

    This post turned out to be much longer than common decency should allow, but I really felt engaged by your latest post. Other than that, I’d like to thank you, Gwen and Jim for your hard work. I stumbled upon Comics and… out of pure coincidence only two months ago, and now I drop by two-three times a week.


  3. Thomm-

    If I remember correctly the ONLY people he killed prior to #150 were the Hellfire goons and there was a huge stir because of it. AND, wasn't he in one of the berserker rages too. . I.e he couldn't control himself? What he does today is pointless and taken most of what his character interesting and made him dumb.

    Second, Marilyn posed nude. That doesn't make her a porn star, just an adult actress. AND, the scene in question, she was wearing underwear bigger than my boxers. The current cover shows a young woman wearing a thong backwards...

    You'll have to explain my presumption about age because I missed it.

    As for exposing your kids to the real world, there is a time and place. I agree with that... BUT, these books were extreme graphic exposure where there really didn't need to be any. That was my point.

  4. Nahal-

    We'll always take long posts! Especially well written ones.

    I think because we grew up when heroes were more escapism and entertainment it's harder for us. Superheroes were cool and no one really got hurt (on panel at least). So it could be fun. This stuff today... not so much.

  5. Thanks!

    Yes, it's most probably that. It's a sad day when you feel like saying that things used to be better in the old days. I feel like someones grandma when saying that...

    I think I'll just wait a while longer 'til sis is old enough for my Sandman and Fables. Though after reading Comics and.. I found myself really wanting to pick up a copy of Mouse Guard. It seemed great, and I think my sister might like it as well.

  6. See, now I appreciate the realism of today's comics, in the sense that violent actions have violent consequences, more than the older stuff when people were thrown through walls without consequence. Just look at Invincible for a great example of well told stories with a lot of violence with consequences.

    In terms of the JSA stories, I think my 9 year old daughter would be ready for it, if she had any interest in superheroes. It's certainly not a gory presentation like TV, film or even news magazines sometimes present, largely because there's a certain removal from such realism in the artistic style itself. Hellblazer (which I haven't read in many years) and Sandman had considerably more gory depictions, as one would expect in comics billed as horror. I'd be less likely to have my 9 year old reading those books, but in a few years the story would be different.

    As to Wolverine, I haven't read much with him in a long time because he's just so over used. His character development seemed to go off the rails around the time he was supposed to marry his long time girlfriend, then didn't.

    Marilyn Monroe, then. Adult actress? So, is "Some Like it Hot" an adult film, just because she posed naked somewhere else? As to the JSA cover, with all the shadowing I can't tell if that's underwear or part of a swimsuit sort of thing. You know, a one piece that's attached to the top we can see above the green fabric. In any case, it's not showing anything but some hip and thigh, which I've seen among all ages of women at the local pool. I'm not getting the sort of child porn conern you seem to have about this picture.

    I'm more interested in trying to figure out how the green fabric is blowing in two different directions. I mean, the bottom of the fabric and the hair on her head are blowing upward, but the top part of the fabric is blowing down from her shoulders. How does that happen? Shouldn't the top part be blowing in her face?

  7. I almost forgot to address something Nahal said. We most certainly do not live in any more violent times than in the past. There's more depiction of it in entertainment, but real violence, particularly in Europe is significantly down from the past, particularly if you consider such niceties as WWI & WWII. However, in the US, too, even if you're just talking about pointless violence like kids shooting up schools, a quick Google search of thrill killings in, say, the '20s or '30s, will come up with numerous archived stories about such things. And let's not forget the violence of the European settlement of the US, or the colonization of much of Africa and Asia.

    The truth of the matter is that humans, as a species, are violent. Individually we may or may not be, but we evolved as violent beings, both in terms of the hunter/gatherer basic survival and in the evolution of our social structures. Cooperative actions have only gone so far before someone decided to eliminate someone else within the cooperative, most of the time. Not to mention competing cooperative societies running into one another. We can work against such tendencies, but there are always some who will revel in them, whether there's actually any utilitarian aspect to it or not.

  8. Thomm:
    I agree with you fully. Even though I think that violence really has droppen in age (at least that is what is a current problem in Sweden) then yes, man has always been violent and cruel.
    It's just more commonly pictured in media as a form of entertainment today, as you mentioned, which was what I initially wanted to highlight.

  9. Justice Society is my kids' favorite comic right now. Not kidding. They love Stargirl and Cyclone. Ages 12 and 9.

    I think maybe folks who judge what kids "should" be reading are not being realistic about what kids actually enjoy reading and what they care about.

  10. It is a hard call as to what you will let your kids see or not see. I was very easy going in that respect and they saw Die Hard movies at the theatre (with all the bad words and violence). But at that time there was not the internet and graphic level of violence in the video games. Today it is a harder choice, but it is better if we are with them when exposed to that material to make sure they take it the right way, as oppossed to discovering it on their own, which is inevitable in today's world. Of course both of my daughters are now darkly violent and covert assassins, but they wear ultra-cool costumes.