Sex and Violence: Its Place in Comics
Comics are a strange little medium. They're not as widely consumed as TV or film, so they're not as tightly censored, but they still seem to make waves. Just take a look at all the recent news about Marvel's new Islamic Ms. Marvel
or the buzz that happened when Miles Morales, a half black half Hispanic kid, became Ultimate Marvel's Spider-Man.
However, one thing we haven't seen a push against in comics is the sex and violence. Well, since the 50s anyway. It's not like there hasn't been any
blow back. Image's Saga has had trouble
with the Apple Store as well as Sex Criminals
. Both for graphic sexual content.
So where does sex and violence belong in comics? This article wont be preaching from one side or the other, merely getting the questions out there. Starting a discussion.
(Warning y'all. Some of the following images and such are going to be real NSFW business)
Boning in Books or Lessons from Sex Criminals
In an interview, Matt Fraction said that, as a fan of movies like Some Like it Hot
, he noticed that comics had no equivalent. And this is true. There are no real sex romp comics. There are sex romp arcs, I suppose, but no true blue comics centered around the genre.
Do comics need one? Aren't comics sexualized enough? Well, here's the best part: Sex Criminals
is funny. I had a very rare laugh-out-loud moment from an issue where the main lady (I forget her name and am too lazy to Google it. I think it's either Suzie or Shadowfax) is playing around with Jon in a time-stopped sex shop and wears a Willem Dafoe mask. You'll just have to see it
No, I don't have a picture of it, but here's some innuendo:
For being one of -- if not the -- first sexcapades book, this is crucial. It's a book with a story built from
hard bonin', not for
hard bonin'. It doesn't exist solely to show two people going at it, it actually tells a story. Two multi-dimensional characters with goals and feelings outside of the Ol' In 'n' Out encounter actual obstacles and conflicts outside of the previously mentioned bone zoning.
Oddly enough, Matt Fraction has another comic that does the same thing: Satellite Sam
. Set in the early days of television, the pages of Satellite Sam
are dripping with sex. And to Image, even though it features murder, mystery, and some TV history, the boning seems to be the major selling point. Just check out the covers:
Right? You'd think this is just one thin plot thread away from straight up porn. However, there are a ton of plot threads in the book, most of which don't include women in bustiers having naughty adventures. It's an honest to gawd noir story -- that, yes, includes scantily clad dames. It could just be that Image thinks they could push comics better with mostly naked women on the cover. Which might actually be correct.
So has Matt Fraction set the gold standard? Is this how we make the case for, often times, graphic sexual content in comics? Does it even matter? Is sex just another tool used to tell a story? Or is this passing off smut as story? What's the line into smut?
The Crossed Conundrum or an Envelope Pushed too Far?
This'll be a treat for those not in the know. Garth Ennis started a short 10 issue comic called Crossed
that was a... unique
take on the zombie apocalypse trope.
Basically, it involves survivors of an outbreak that transforms the infected into rage-filled psychopaths driven to enact their darkest thoughts. A side effect of the infection is a cross-like rash on the subject's face. Perhaps more frightening than the standard zombies, The Crossed retain their human intelligence and reasoning skills making them a special kind of brutal monster.
The series is still going on now, albeit under new writers and artists, and has not gone without controversy. The comic is filled with the worst the human imagination has to offer, after all. Here's some content, I'll let you make a snap judgment:
To be fair, some of those are special covers that are made extra brutal for shock value, and not what you'd normally see on the shelf. But you get a feel for what's on the inside. The Crossed raping, murdering, cannibalizing, and torturing any human they can get their hands on. Early on, there was even one Crossed called Horsecock because he beat people to death with a horse's penis
. Yes. This is that kind of comic.
So is this too far? Is this what the Comics Code was trying prevent during the entire Silver Age? There were horror comic before the code, horror comics that some worried were corrupting the youth of America. Is this a kind of moral decay that needs to be outlawed? I mean, most of this is shock horror for shock horror's sake. It's not like there are substantial stories built around this. Indeed, if you look at comments sections and message boards around the web, most Crossed
fans complain about "talky" issues and seem to be in it for the insane levels of violence.
Or could this just be harmless entertainment? The Crossed represent a thrilling letting go of the social contract. It's a power fantasy, like superhero comics or Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, even if Crossed
is about as violent as anything else out there in any medium. If we say violent video games and violent movies have no hand in making violent people, then why should violent comics?
Mainstream Meat or Stupid Sexy Comics
The discussion on how women are treated in mainstream comics is old and thoroughly hashed out. You can find some of it here
on Entertainment Fuse. It's a worthwhile discussion, but not one I'm here to make. Everyone in comics is the representation of an "ideal" look, because comics -- superhero comics in particular -- are fantasies. No one wants to triumphantly punch evil in the face with a doughy normal body.
However, that same idea applies to most aspects of comics. Things are filtered through the ideal fantasy.
For instance, Batman should be meat soup. Every night he gets into intense physicality that often times includes all out brawls. I don't care how focused he is, he's still a man. But he lives in a world of ideal violence. He gets superficial damage while dishing out devastation to wrong doers. He gets cuts and scrapes, but a few hours of Alfred bandaging him up in the cave and he's good as new. He can be broken, but not for long.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="410"]
I'm sure he'll be fine[/caption]
Oddly enough, you'd think that sex put through this same ideal filter would have impossibly good looking people boning 24/7. They are, however, not. Well, not 24/7. I mean, come on, everyone's impossibly good looking so that's not really anything to go by--okay, I'm getting side tracked.
Sex in mainstream comics is a tricky thing. Of course, I'm excluding the Vertigo comics like Sandman
and focusing on capes and masks.
Can you count how many female characters have a strange fetish angle? Think of all the ones in black leather. How many with whips? How many with fishnets? It's not like it all fits in with their back stories -- only Catwoman was an actual prostitute at one time and only Emma Frost has stated that she wears underwear all the time because she uses sex as a weapon -- so it's just a weird artistic choice.
Hell, there are already people
pointing it out:
What is it? My thoughts: it's because of the old Comics Code. Actual relationships in the comics are shown with a few chaste yet passionate kisses, or some in bed lounging, or some titillating semi-nudity. Things can't be explored in full because that's not the norm.
Because of this, you get a weird twisting of sexuality. It bleeds through into everything from costume design to the ham fisted use of characters (coughcoughStarfirecoughcough
So what do we do? Can we allow a Matt Fraction-esque exploration of a relationship -- bone zoning and all -- between two classic characters? Can we change the norms of comics to allow for real, unidealized, un-fantasized sexuality? Should we? Is there anything particularly wrong with how people and sexuality are portrayed in mainstream comics? It's not like comics are some weird example that people look to for guidance, they are, as I've said, power fantasies. Right?