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Thank You for Not Smoking

By Kurt Amacker     November 01, 2006


SEVEN SOLDIERS: SHINING KNIGHT #2
© DC Comics

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. 

DC COMICS 

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 

IMAGE COMICS 

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. 

MARVEL COMICS 

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 comicscape@mania.com. 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 26
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nax37 11/1/2006 6:31:24 AM
I hate the redesign. Because I'm a comic reader and we abhor change. However, I do have an actual complaint. The formatting for the Spinner Rack. Every line starting at the left in bold makes it a weird read. Indent your comments or something. "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. " THANK YOU! I friggin hate these stupid "2" or "3." It's not Ultimate's 2! It's Ultimates #25 or whatever.
albrown 11/1/2006 7:40:30 AM
Oh hey, the comments section is here after all. Okay, fine then. Also, did anyone notice the "Bang" thing on the top right of this column? I have absolutely no idea what that's for. I clicked the crap out of it though, that's for sure. Bang! Anyway, nax: We usually try to only have a single line between the comic title and our comments, which helps a little - sometimes our formatting gets inexplicably screwed up on the way to the interweb though. I like your idea of indenting, though! I'll see if Kurt wants to give it a shot for next time. 'Cause I agree, formatting could be improved. I can honestly see Quesada's point about smoking. I don't think there should be a hard-and-fast rule about it - writers should be able to characterize folks however they want to - but I like that Wolverine quit.
Mokin 11/1/2006 8:09:34 AM
...maybe bullet points for the comics and an indent for the comments? ...as for the new look, I'm not sure...it feels cluthered, too full and you don't know where to look...that was one of the main reason I stayed off the newsarama site...but I guess I can get used to it...I'll see... ...as for the smoking, I'm not sure I agree with Quesada, but I canh definitely see his point of view...my dad died because of cigarettes and alcool...but I don't like going to extreme to supposedly protect some people...and I'll be honest, I had not noticed (and I read many, many comics each month...my retailer loves me...)...
noblenonsense 11/1/2006 8:11:35 AM
While I see the point to allow writers to have control over the foibles and quirks about characters I gotta ask...does smoking really count? Wolverine has enhanced senses, retractable claws, a healing factor, and kills people. Does smoking really matter to him? He's not going to die from lung cancer. Its not an intergral part of his story. I want to see him in pain for killing someone. Hitting the bottle really hard and staring at a gun in his hand. NOT lighting up a cigar to wind down. He kills people and smoking is just wasted space. The only depth that smoking brings to any story is if its talked about in the story otherwise its not needed. Kurt you brought up movies but in movies sometimes smoking is really pointless. Unless it carries the story or enhances it then its just a distraction. Basic Instinct with Sharon Stone smoking while being questioned. That worked. It enhanced it. But in comics to see The Thing light up a stogie really won't carry it. I for one applaud Joey Q for standing by his convictions. But the second he puts in advertising in the panels (i.e. Captain America drinking a coke) I will be calling him a sellout.
bernini 11/1/2006 9:11:31 AM
This redesign is awful. I have no idea what I'm supposed to be looking at on the home page. There is no heirarchy or information, and ads look like they're content. What the hell is the "maniac stuff" section, and what the hell are all those links supposed to do for me? I clicked on the "spiderman" link (note to "Mania" editors: it's Spider DASH Man!), and got link to the trailer for the first (!) film. Stupid stupid stupid. Ditto observations for the Spinner Rack. Every line can't start with bold font.
evilron 11/1/2006 10:37:17 AM
SO now the Politicaly Correct Police have gotten to smoking in comics. Ah, the proverbial road to Hell and all that. People are so weird in what they believe. Kids see smoking in comics and they are going to smoke, but yet they won't emulate the violence in comics. They only do that when they watch TV. Kids won't become sexual deviants if they see a boob in National Geographic, but the universe might colapse if they see one on TV. Let's not even get into the millions of kids that are joining the Wiccan religion after reading Harry Potter, or that all of society ills can be traced via dancing all the way back to the Waltz. The fact is that all societies think their kids are going to hell, will become hoodlums, take drugs, start smoking, have sex, blow up schools, grow long hair, play cards, become artists/musicans because of what they see through various medias. They have for thousands of years, but that doesn't make it true. People did things they shouldn't long before comics, TV, movies, McDonalds, etc. They will continue to do so long after these things are gone. People will only change what they see as the cause for societies flaws. As a side note, I'm not impressed with the new format, especially this dinky box for comments.
citizenk41 11/1/2006 12:00:32 PM
For the record, Hank Pym didn't "beat his wife." In one terrible (not to mention poorly written and ill-conceived) unthinking moment of anger , he struck her once. I'm not trying to diminish the fact that what he did was wrong, but Pym is/was a well-liked character in the Marvel Universe, and Kurt's characterization is a bit unfair. It also ignores the tremendous price the character paid for that one shameful moment.
snallygaster 11/1/2006 12:15:07 PM
Ironic that this should appear the same day that the American Journal of Public Health announces the results of a study indicating that anti-smoking commercials may actually encourage smoking: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/31/AR2006103101158.html
agentkooper 11/1/2006 12:41:26 PM
Smoking is one of those bits that can be put into a movie or comic or whatever that carries a preconceived notion by the audience. Its something that we know about and helps us know about the character without the writer explaining it, the same way that after years of slasher flicks we already know that when some one is walking down a dark hallway they are going to get it or how if a person coughs then they are going to end up in the hospital with a brutal disease. As for Joe Q making this policy, I don't really have a problem with it. It wasn't some whiny moms going to court and suing Marvel that got it done, it was Joe feeling convicted of something, and being editor in chief that is his right.
larkcall_home 11/1/2006 1:10:20 PM
Just curious citizenk41, how many times do you get to hit your wife before it is considered beating? My wife seems to think once would do it for her.
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