Where Have All the Editors Gone?
Remember how, back in the mid-1980s, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight influenced the comics landscape and so many popular titles from DC and Marvel became darker and grittier? It was a trend and we rode it out. Or did we?
I go to the comics store every week (insert SHOUT-OUT here to John Stangeland at Atlas Comics) and I read my comics every week. I hope you do too! But on occasions I'm finding to be far too frequent, I come across a scene in a mainstream comic that I feel is far too gruesome and/or disturbing. I'll give you a recent example.
Last month, Superman #666 was published. Click here for a reminder of what the cover looked like. In the story, Superman killed Jimmy Olsen. Wait, let's do that over. In the story, Superman killed Jimmy Olsen. One more time. In the story, SUPERMAN KILLED JIMMY OLSEN. Yes, I read the whole story and I realize that the "killing" was just a dream or a hoax or something, but the scene was very disturbingly and gruesomely executed. Kids still read Superman comics, don't they? If a youngster opened this comic book up to exactly that page without the context of the entire story, he would see Superman wantonly and recklessly killing Jimmy Olsen.
I consider the author of this story, Kurt Busiek, to be a good comic book writer. The way I look at it, everybody has a bad day every once in a while. But why wouldn't the editor yank the reins a little bit and tell Mr. Busiek to tone down the imagery somewhat? Are editors sometimes too frightened of the talent to do their job? Or maybe every story these days needs to contain at least one death to be considered passable? I, for one, don't think so. Good music doesn't have to be played loudly.
If only this were a dialogue, you might now counter with "But hasn't death been parlayed into a sensationalistic plot point in comics since long before The Dark Knight? How about Robin Dies at Dawn in 1963's Batman #156?" My response to your quick wit might be an emphatic "Touche!" if I had ever uttered that word in my life (which I have not). Here's a quick look at that classic cover, and here's a skewed view of it through a Hembeck-lens. I feel that even this cover goes deeper into morbidity than I would like it to, though I would hardly describe it as gruesome.
So it goes to show that I'm merely dancing around some matters that have been present in the comics for many decades, and nothing will be settled definitively in this article today. But apparently the gruesomeness factor in comics won't be scaling down any time soon; I just read a couple of days ago the latest issue of The Sub-Mariner, in which Namor rips out the tongue of Venom in retaliation for the latter having ripped off the ankle-wings of the former. Huh?