Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sex and Violence

by Thomm

In recent years there's been an increase in the use of graphic violence in comics. Mostly this has been in the small publishers like Avatar, but Lee took on the issue as it appeared in JSA. Lee took on the killing of soon to be Citizen Steel's family at a picnic, but the killing of Mr America was no less graphic. Unlike Black Summer, though, I thought the violence in JSA was appropriate for the story being told. It didn't seem gratuitous to me.

A book like Invincible, also a superhero title, has even more graphic violence. Again, I think it fits with the story being told. When Omni-Man kills The Guardians of the Galaxy, it wouldn't have seemed right if it had been off panel. The subsequent world wide fight between Omni-Man and Invincible is no less violent. I think what makes the violence in these pages so appropriate is that there's an appropriate level of consequence on the other end. Particularly in Invincible, the dead don't come back. When Robert Kirkman kills off a characer, that character stays dead (which can lead to another conversation about the benefits of creator owned titles over company owned titles, but that's a major digression).

But the appropriate use of violence in comics is not really the point of this post. No, my question is, where's the appropriate use of graphic sex? I don't mean cheesey, embarrassed to be a fan boy cover stuff. I mean when characters in a story have reached the point where they're having sex, we get the de rigeur post coital bed scene with the strategically placed sheets. Dynamo 5 #17 pushes a little further by showing Maddie and Captain Dyanmo having sex, but it again has the strategically placed block of anything in detail. This time it's sheets and an arm, as Maddie's on top, but it's nothing to compare with the blood, bones and viscera present in Invincible.

Now, I don't read as much as I once did, but I'm pretty sure Marvel and DC, and now Image, have never done anything in terms of graphic sex to compare with the graphic violence. Even in small press, graphic sex in a story well told is almost unheard of. In fact, only Omaha the Cat Dancer has ever presented a really well told fictional story with graphic sex. Kitchen Sink also did a book called Melody that contained graphic sex, and characters that weren't anthropomorphised animals, but it wasn't a fictional story. (Come to think of it, both of these books were written by women. Maybe what's needed is more women writing stories with explicit sex.)

Most comics stories with explicit sex are similar to porn movies. They go for knock offs or humor, but writing is not at a premium. But what I'm looking for in comics is not porn. Porn's intended audience is just looking for a quick sexual arousal. Hence the lack of writing. Getting from A to B in porn doesn't take much thought.

What I want to see is sex in comics shown for what it is when its integral to the story. So, if Maddie and Captain Dynamo are shown having sex, why am I not seeing the naughty bits, as our British compatriots might say? A penis, vagina and uncovered breasts are generally present when a man and woman are having sex. Why do I need to be shielded from that? Prudence may be a rationale, but really, it's more titillating to obscure parts than to show them. There's almost a more objective, detached element to showing the actual sexual activity, akin to a health class film. Just ask any burlesque performer. There's a reason a fan dance is so popular and more arousing than a pole dance.

Clearly, graphic sex isn't for all comics. But a comic that's going to go the route of graphic violence has no excuse for holding back on the sex. The JSA hasn't approached the level of violence of Invincible, so I wouldn't expect that kind of sex in the JSA. But when I'm reading Invincible, I'm kind of disappointed when Allen the Alien has sex with his girl off panel. Granted, it was told with some humor using the off panel, but I just saw Allen in a knock down drag out with Viltrumites with people's guts hanging out. Not really on a par. So, if we're having stories with "realistic" violence, how about some realistic sex?

No comments:

Post a Comment