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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Robert Kirkman, X-Force, and violence in comics

A quote from a GQ interview with Robert Kirkman last month just gave me a spark.

I think that's the most obvious part. When I was reading comics when I was 15, Superman didn't deal with rape so much, you know? There weren't a lot of dark elements to mainstream superhero comics. I think that it's pretty obvious that one of the things that's hurting comics is that the subject matter is so inappropriate for a mass audience. You know, Marvel just did an intercompany crossover which was supposed to be something all of their readers can read, and it had guys ripping each other in half and intestines were flying all over the place. That's the kind of thing that you would see in a Walking Dead comic. I don't want to see Spider-Man swinging around, tripping in intestines going, "Aw, crap! What a mess!"

I know some may liberally stone me for this, but personally it's a stance I wholeheartedly agree with and support. While I appreciate the irony of the guy who writes about superpeople punching the intestines out of each other and formerly heroic zombies eating human flesh lamenting on violence in comics, I think people are missing the crucial point: mainstream comics have become a brutal place.

Kirkman opines that popular and established characters that could become 'stepping stones' for people (kids, even) wanting to get into comics, shouldn't be tackling too much mature and violent themes. Just look at the stuff that's happened in the past few years...Superboy punches someone's head clean off. Sentry rips Ares in half. Sue Dibny is raped right before our eyes. Arsenal's arm is cut off and shown in gory detail. Archangel shreds people to bits with his blade wings on-panel, leaving the colorist the hand-numbing job of filling up all that red in one page.

Is it a problem? Some people might think so, and it seems a fair amount of people don't. But I feel there's a disconnect that happens when gore meets cape comics.

Kate Fitzimmons, in an article in the Comics Beat, put it succinctly:

I’m going to come right out and say it — when you don’t know if a heretofore demure superhero title is going to dissolve into an orgy of rape and disembowelment in the next issue, it makes it that much harder to recommend to a new reader.

Now, violent and mature situations have been used as long as anyone can remember, but not in the level that some of today's comics have been quick to use to bring home a point, especially with well-known characters. I'm not arguing for a sterilization of comics, that's just dumb. I happen to love my stories with a dash of comic book violence. I love it when a villain gets his comeuppance with a swift jetboot kick to the face, or when a bad guy turns a woman's body into a decomposing Rubik's cube. I mean, I bought the X-Force trade to see X-23 cut people up, for goodness sake!

Which reminds me. Uncanny X-Force, Rick Remender and Jerome Opena's take on Cyclops' former wetworks team, was unveiled recently. I was a fan of the last incarnation of the team, and the fact that it's got guys like Fantomex and Deadpool, people who are actually stone-cold killers, intrigues me so much that I'll be picking it up once it comes out. I mean, their first mission is to kill freakin' Apocalypse. How boneheaded-ly awesome is that?

I had no problems with X-Force before, and thought of it as a welcome change to my comics reading. But the very fact that guys like Uncanny X-Force exists illustrates what I've been meandering for since the first paragraph. The state of mainstream comics necessitates this team, encourages it. The world is a deadly place now and a sissy-punched approach just wouldn't cut it anymore, so people just have to be deadlier. There's a place for guys like X-Force in comics today, I won't argue that. They're there for a purpose, for a deadly reason.

Unnecessary, gory violence? Especially in comics that don't particularly demand them? There's a reason for it, but for the life of me I just don't see it.

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