Welcome to the all-new, all-different relaunched Mania Entertainment website. I hope everyone likes the new design. After you read this week’s column, take a second to look around and check out a few of the new features. I might actually use the blog feature, so you can get an even more detailed glimpse into my personal life than I already subject you to. I open this week’s Comicscape with an apology. I intended to write about Grant Morrison and DC’s Seven Soldiers crossover that ended last week. However, a shipping delay from DC to Diamond means that I can’t buy the concluding issue until today. It frustrates me and amuses me at the same time that, even when the book finally drops, I get to wait another week. Still, I’ll run the Seven Soldiers column next week and all will be right with the world. Of course, that bumps my 52 column back a week, but whatever.
After the controversy over Craig Thompson’s Blankets and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home at the Marshall Public Library, the issue of acceptable depictions in comics lingers fresh in my mind. It recently and belatedly came to my attention that Joe Quesada banned any depiction of Marvel heroes using tobacco. This is not a new story, and either Quesada or someone above him implemented the policy about four years ago. However, it remains a controversial decision that readers still debate. A few months ago, Quesada responded to the belated controversy that began after a reader asked about the policy in the Joe Fridays column at Newsarama. You can read his explanation but, in summary, he claims sole responsibility for the decision and states that he simply doesn’t care to see Marvel heroes smoking. He cites the deaths of both his father and grandfather, along with four other relatives, from complications related to smoking as the impetus for his decision. And, of course, he doesn’t want some kid lighting up because Wolverine smokes a stogie. He also rightfully points out that, as a private publisher, Marvel can set whatever guidelines it wants for its creators. Just as they don’t allow explicit profanity in non-MAX titles, they don’t want Wolverine, Nick Fury, or the Thing to smoke cigars.
Quesada’s decision hardly qualifies as government censorship. It’s not the step preceding the unmarked black helicopters landing on your front lawn before the jackbooted thugs throw a bag over your head. As editor-in-chief, he retains the authority to disallow whatever he wants. It’s his show. That said, I think the decision poses an unnecessary level of creative restriction. While I realize that Marvel heroes stand as role models, they probably shouldn’t – or at least not in the straightforward sense that they once did. Over the last 20 years, fans have witnessed a rapid maturation of popular comic books and the heroes therein. Hank Pym beat his wife. Tony Stark almost died from alcoholism. Frank Castle and Wolverine kill people. The days of lilywhite heroes without humanizing moral complications ended years ago. I like my heroes imbued with – not necessarily a dark side – but those quirks and foibles that lower a character to our level. I can never be Batman. But, it helps to see him struggle with the same internal conflicts we all feel and, one hopes, emerge a stronger man. I can idolize that far more readily than I can someone that just foils bank robberies all day. We can’t fight crime in the alleys of Gotham, but we can overcome those personal struggles that define us.
Quesada doesn’t want kids to see Wolverine or Nick Fury smoke and imitate them. I understand his perspective. Smoking is bad for you. It poses numerous risks to your health and the diseases it can cause may kill you. Anyone that decides to smoke should understand the path they’ve chosen. Read the last three sentences again. Now, I confess to enjoying a cigar or two on the weekends. As part of my winding down ritual, I have a couple of glasses of Irish whiskey and a halfway decent stogie. And, I realize that my even occasional cigar smoking poses some risks to my health. If you’re wondering, I always ask everyone nearby if they mind. If they do, I wait. But, I decided to smoke cigars as in informed adult. Whether Nick Fury influenced me or not is irrelevant. Kids will see people smoking, good and bad and until tobacco becomes illegal, it’s their decision if they want to smoke when they become adults. You can restrict your children’s habits, but you can’t take their will.
In May of 2004, Jack Valenti, then head of the Motion Picture Association of America, rebuked calls to take onscreen tobacco use into account when rating films. He rightfully pointed out that if filmmakers felt pressured to take smoking into account, they’d have to cave into the demands of other groups that might demand that the film industry rate for alcohol use, animal cruelty, or any other misdeed that characters might commit outside of the usual ratings considerations. Sometimes, vices serve the story well. If artists removed everything that might potentially offend someone, there wouldn’t be many stories left to tell. Hell, if Hollywood started rating or removing tobacco use, PETA could easily ask filmmakers to regard onscreen meat-eating the same way.
I asked Darick Robertson, a former Marvel artist and co-creator of Transmetropolitan, what he thought of the policy. He replied, “I don't think it's a logical policy. I believe it's tolerated a bit in the MAX books, but I think it's a silly policy, as if putting a stop sign in your back yard would lead folks to not speed on the freeway. If they believe that they're protecting children with this policy, they might realize kids are going to see people, like their parents and relatives, smoking in the real world….It's corporate thinking, more concerned with their brand image than storytelling. It dehumanizes the characters and makes the world they exist in less realistic. I'm known for co-creating one of the heaviest chain smoking characters in comics (Spider Jerusalem) and I don't smoke cigarettes myself. Wolverine and the Thing smoking never lead me to want to smoke. People smoke, and have other vices, and that is what Jack Kirby understood. It's part of those characters, but that character building element seems to be lost at Marvel.”
Unfortunately, Joe Quesada has fallen for the “think of the children” argument – that you can protect children from sex, violence, and drug use by removing those things from art. Life is brutal. Mankind has killed, stolen, violated, profaned, and abused itself and everything around it since the dawn of time. When someone first got the idea to smoke or chew tobacco, they didn’t learn it from a comic book. Just because Wolverine quit smoking cigars, it doesn’t mean that it will stop some kid from picking up the habit. And, if Marvel doesn’t want to tacitly endorse dangerous habits like smoking through its superheroes, it has a few other things to fix. Characters probably shouldn’t drink beer, considering the number of drunk-driving fatalities. And, they probably shouldn’t eat fast food or junk food, given the obesity epidemic in this country. I also recommend that they give up the whole superhero-and-vigilante thing, because that’s a great way to get shot. No one wants to hear about some teenager putting on a mask to fight crime and ending up dead. But, all of those things occur in Marvel comics with little objection.
Human beings do bad, dangerous things to themselves and others. We always have, and we did so long before television, movies, and comic books. A good narrative requires conflict. Whitewashing the sometimes reckless and destructive things that even good people do rarely helps anyone. If anything, it just makes the real world that much more shocking. I seriously doubt any kid will see Ben Grimm without a cigar and think, “The Thing doesn’t smoke, so I won’t either! Now I’m going to go do my chores and get to bed on time!” Granted, they may not associate the character with cigar smoking, but they have plenty of people all around them that smoke and influence them far more. While I don’t necessarily think that Quesada should tell Marvel’s creators to increase smoking in their comics, if an established character shouldn’t lose a bad habit he’s had for years he for fear of influencing children.
None of us are perfect. And while our heroes can serve as moral beacons, their humanity resonates with us far more than their super-strength, their healing factor, or their invulnerability. In my relatively unexciting stint in the Marine Corps, I knew several outstanding Marines that smoked or dipped – real heroes, if there ever were such things – ones with a bad habit that didn’t negate their other qualities. Worrying about negative influences on children hampers creativity and stagnates art. The world already has no shortage of bad people and worse influences. Ultimately, everyone chooses his own life and worrying about whether Wolverine smokes a cigar or not will make little difference.
The Spinner Rack
By Al Brown and Kurt Amacker
Wow...we redesigned, I guess. Crazy. Where's the comments section? That's my favorite part! How will we know how lame everyone thinks our jokes are now? Boo, I say. Anyway, this week on the rack: Half of 52 is now! Two comic books about the news! Hulk smash! Hulk smash!
DARK HORSE COMICS
Apocalypse Nerd #4 (of 6) $2.99
Eden Vol 5 Its An Endless World TP (MR) $12.95
Ghost In The Shell 1.5 Human Error Processor #1 (of 8) $2.99
Al: Well, that sounds exciting.
Go Girl Vol 3 TP Robots Gone Wild $14.95
Al: See, now this is how to name a comic book.
Kurt: Wife at the quilting bee tonight? All right, I’ll stop.
Journal Tamagotchi $9.99
Rex Mundi Guardian O/t Temple Vol 1 TP Dh ED $16.95
Star Wars Legacy #5 $2.99
Star Wars Rebellion (new Ptg) #1 (PP #736) $2.99
Star Wars Tag & Bink Were Here TP $14.95
Kurt: Somehow, the proper grammar just takes away the sting.
1960s Tv Animation Batman & Robin Statue Set $149.95
52 Week #26 $2.50
Kurt: Well, I would’ve written a column about this for next week, but Seven Soldiers bumped it.
Adam Strange Archives Vol 2 HC $49.99
All New Atom #5 $2.99
American Splendor #3 (of 4) (MR) $2.99
American Virgin #1 Poster $7.99
Al: Buy this and give girls who come over to look at your CD collection the wrong impression!
Kurt: Um, there’s a guy sitting on a tongue. What idea would that give them?
American Virgin #8 (MR) $2.99
Kurt: Our intrepid youth minister finds the man that decapitated his girlfriend…in a gay club.
Battler Britton #5 (of 5) $2.99
Blue Beetle #8 $2.99
Detective Comics #825 $2.99
Kurt: Another one-shot by Paul Dini. This has been pretty good.
Ex Machina #24 (MR) $2.99
Exterminators #11 (MR) $2.99
Fosters Statue Frankie Madame And MR Herriman $125.00
Kurt: I don’t know what this is and I’m too lazy to look it up.
Gotham Central Vol 4 The Quick And The Dead TP $14.99
Al: Finally, the match-up we've all been waiting for: Batman vs. Sharon Stone.
Kurt: If my eyes could roll back any farther, my contacts would touch my brain.
Jonah Hex #13 $2.99
Justice League Of America #3 $2.99
Kurt: Someone tell me if this is any good or not. I’ve been getting it, but didn’t read the last one.
Justice League Of America Var ED #3 $2.99
Justice League Unlimited #27 $2.25
Looney Tunes #144 $2.25
Lucifer #16 Poster $7.99
Manifest Eternity #6 $2.99
Midnighter #1 $2.99
Al: Written by Garth Ennis, so expect violence.
Kurt: And cannibalism, and weird sex, and religious themes, and…you get the idea.
Midnighter Var Edition A #1 $2.99
Midnighter Var Edition B #1 $2.99
Musashi No #9 Vol 9 $9.99
Mystery In Space #3 (of 8) $3.99
Next #5 (of 6) $2.99
Nightmare On Elm Street #2 (MR) $2.99
Al: God, I hope they include the exploding bird scene.
Kurt: Someone e-mail me and tell me if it’s any good.
Nightwing #126 $2.99
Ninja Scroll #2 $2.99
Ninja Scroll Var Edition #2 $2.99
Other Side #2 (of 5) (MR) $2.99
Outsiders #42 $2.99
Kurt: Guest starring Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise.
Penguin Revolution Vol 1 $9.99
Al: Cutest revolution ever.
Kurt: Guest-starring Morgan Freeman.
Superman Confidential #1 $2.99
Superman: Dear diary, today a plane crashed in Pakistan and I just sat there on the subway, looking through girls' dresses. I just didn't feel like finding a phone booth.
Tower Of The Future Vol 5 $9.99
Doll & Creature Vol 1 Everything Turns Gray TP $12.99
Freshmen Vol 2 Conrad CVR #1 $2.99
Al: Volume 1 was a fairly likeable story about some college freshmen who got crazy powers and proceeded to make out with each other. Not earth-changing stuff, but it'll do in a pinch.
Kurt: When I get superpowers, I’m totally going to use them to make out.
Freshmen Vol 2 Migliari CVR #1 $2.99
Nightly News #1 (of 6) $2.99
Ted Koppel: Hi, I'm Ted Koppel and I can breathe fire. Next: I fight zombies.
Al: I'd tell you what this is really about, but I don't get it.
Kurt: This makes me yearn for the days of Naked News on Spice.
Renfield Tale Of Madness TP (MR) $19.99
Kurt: Dracula from Renfield’s point of view. This came out several years ago from Caliber Comics. Anybody who digs Dracula should probably check it out.
Agents Of Atlas #4 (of 6) $2.99
Avengers Next #1 (of 5) $2.99
Al: The Avengers from Spider-Girl's future reality battle...sigh...zombies.
Kurt: Zombies are so overplayed that I fought one on my way to work this morning and it bored the hell out of me.
Beyond #5 (of 6) $2.99
Kurt: Not directed by Fulci. In fact, I have no idea what it’s about.
Criminal #2 (MR) $2.99
Kurt: Really excellent crime comic by Ed Brukbaker.
Daily Bugle November Newspaper Replacement PI
Al: Not even a crappy newspaper - a crappy newspaper replacement.
Essential Spider-Man Vol 5 TP New Ptg $16.99
Fantastic Four First Family TP $15.99
Fantastic Four The End #1 (of 6) $2.99
Al: Know what'd be a really crazy way for the Fantastic Four to end? If, like, Reed turned into a crazy jerk and Sue left him. Nah, no one would buy that.
Fantastic Four The End Rough Cut Edition #1 (of 6) $3.99
Incredible Hulk #100 $3.99
Al: Double-sized issue; twice the smashing.
Incredible Hulk Michael Turner Poster $6.99
Incredible Hulk Turner Var #100 $3.99
Irredeemable Ant-Man #2 $2.99
Marvel Adventures Flip Magazine #18 $4.99
Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #21 $2.99
Marvel Heroes Flip Magazine #18 $4.99
Red Prophet Tales Of Alvin Maker #3 (of 12) $2.99
She-Hulk 2 #13 $2.99
Kurt: All right, can we drop the “2” now? It’s not like there’s another She-Hulk series floating around anymore.
Spider-Girl Vol 7 Betrayed Digest TP $7.99
Spider-Man And Power Pack #1 (of 4) $2.99
Uncanny X-Men #480 $2.99
What If Avengers Disassembled $3.99
Al: Uh, Hawkeye'd get killed?
Kurt: House of M and all that after, right?
X-Men Complete Age Of Apocalypse Epic Book 4 TP $29.99
X-Men Phoenix Warsong #3 (of 5) $2.99
Al: Just like fight songs for soccer teams, except with more gibberish about the White Hot Room.
Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.