On January 19th, the always “Fair and Balanced” Fox News’ Washington DC affiliate posted a condemning article on its website, admonishing (to put it nicely) DC Comics’ ‘New 52’ relaunch. The article, by Sherri Ly, features quotes by child psychologist Neil Bernstein, Ph.D. That’s right, I said “child” psychologist. (Not quoted at all, incidentally, is anyone from DC Comics.) This, honestly, is the typical uneducated outsider’s report on comics, using antiquated notions and stereotypes. The very first line in the article is “Most people think of comic books for kids, but many of today’s comics are anything but that.” Do they? Do most parents these days have kids that devour comics and beg for them every time they go to the grocery store or gas station? No, because they don’t even sell comics there anymore. I doubt most kids even know what a comic book is, these days.
No, it’s the typical witch hunting that comes from the outside, looking for a sensational story to rile people up. The bulk of the article features quotes by Bernstein about how damaging these comics could be to fragile young minds. For example, “I think too many kids would be put in harm’s way or at risk.” Or “We want our kids to think sex is an act between two consenting mature individuals who care deeply for one another. That doesn’t really come across and it’s too easily to misconstrue things particularly for a kid.”
In the latter quote, he is referring to the now-lobotomized Starfire over in Red Hood and the Outlaws‘. The character, formerly a loving and affectionate alien warrior, best friend of Donna Troy and former long-time love interest for Dick Grayson, has been wiped clean in the ‘New 52.’ She is a blank slate that doesn’t even remember the Teen Titans of which she was a member of for (in real time) decades. She is simply a “sex bot” who casually sleeps with both her male teammates. Okay, I’m NOT going to defend ‘Red Hood and the Outlaws!’ That book is awful and the depiction of Starfire is loathsome! But really, if any parent lets their kid read it, they need to be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The article mistakenly refers to the chaste Starfire from Cartoon Network’s ‘Teen Titans’ animated series as the original, stating “The character goes from a kids Cartoon Network superhero in a full-length jumpsuit to a scantily clad, voluptuous version in the comic Red Hood and the Outlaws.” First of all, the character in the comics has always worn a variation on a metallic bathing suit. Secondly, the version on the cartoon didn’t wear a full length jumpsuit, but a sleeveless minidress. That version was marketed to kids, so she was considerably tamed down from the source material.
Also under attack is ‘Catwoman.’ I reviewed both issue #1 and #2 of that series myself and trashed it, so I’m not going to defend it either. And in fact, I myself criticized the fact that DC labels these books as appropriate for teens. That’s something that also gets discussed in Ly’s article. Some of the graphic material isn’t in my opinion suitable for teens and certainly not for children. (Wait… did I just agree with Fox News?!) But the fact of the matter is almost no children are reading comics anymore. They’re busy playing Skyrim and texting. They’re about as interested in comics as they are radio serials of the 1940s.
There’s also discussion about violence, with the infamous Joker’s face (erroneously referred to as his “head” in the article) hanging on the wall from ‘Detective Comics’ #1. Yeah… that was gross. The article mentions an anonymous 12 year-old’s reaction, “It looks pretty awesome. It has a lot of colors … It’s pretty creepy to look at, but not too much.” So yeah, in an article about how inappropriate these books are for kids, they um, gave them to kids.
It certainly doesn’t help that they quote a few comic book merchants and fans, who should know better, but were probably just trying to drum up business for themselves. A collector named Joe Blackwell states, “They more or less darkened the characters up. Today, they introduce a lot more reality into it like homosexuality, adultery, all that stuff. It’s in the books now.” Oh he SO threw homosexuality in there because he knows nothing fires up a Fox News viewer more than that!
And finally, to top things off, they gave the books to some soccer moms and their reaction is pretty much what you’d expect so I won’t even dignify it.
This happens every time there’s a major development in the world of comics. People that know nothing about them chime in and talk about children and reference the 1960s ‘Batman’ series (which happens again here) and talk about how dark and violent and sexual modern comics are. Bottom line: Kids don’t read comics. Adults who read comics as kids read comics. It’s a sad reality. I do wish more kids read them… not these, but some comics. The Manga boom a few years back brought in some younger (and most notably female) readers. But it didn’t really last. I do take issue with DC’s rating system. ‘Catwoman’ and ‘Red Hood’ should be labeled Mature. I even think ‘Animal Man’ and some of the other not-sexual-but-still-dark books should also be labeled Mature.
But I’m tired of outsiders who haven’t picked up a comic since an old issue of ‘Betty and Veronica’ when they were in fourth grade (also mentioned in the article) attack comics and label them a threat and compare them to ‘Playboy.’ We’re grown-ups. We can handle it. The article was posted five days ago and hasn’t really stirred up the firestorm I’m sure they were seeking, so I’m guessing clearer heads have prevailed and people realize that this is the typical skewed, pot-stirring and have moved on.