Monday, September 15, 2008

Potty Mouth Batman

OK, so by this point everyone in comics fandom has heard about the infamous (can you even achieve infamy in less than a week?) "Potty Mouth Batman" issue. And, if you haven't, check it out here at our buddy Kevin's blog. He recaps it quite well. But be warned, there's some bad, bad language used.

Cliffs Notes version, though: DC Comics printed an issue of All Star Batman and Robin, a book without a "Mature Readers" warning logo on the cover mind you, with little black bars to cover over explicit language.

Which is fine. But, well, those black bars? Yeah, they didn't cover up the bad words. Instead, you have nearly translucent black marks over a veritable cavalcade of offensive words. And, boy, are they offensive words. (Several F-bombs, c-words, etc.)

Now, this thing has already been blogged to death, with numerous people weighing in on several issues pertaining to this, uh, issue. From those upset at the treatment of the characters by writer Frank Miller to those offended by the words used, I can understand where everyone's coming from.

And, though I really don't want to harp on it for too long here, I will say this, and it's a bit of a different perspective than I've been reading the past few days. I find it pretty horrible that something like this happened. And not because there shouldn't be cursing in a comic, or because there shouldn't be cursing in a Batman comic. I'm all for cursing if said cursing is important to the story being told. Words have impact, and strong language carries with it strong emotional weight.

So, to be clear, it's not the fact that there were curse words used that gets me angry. Instead, I find this occurrence to be deplorable because, well, I'm an editor by trade. That's how I make my living--I edit things, this blog included. And, even though we do this blog for fun (and for no money!), I like to think that Nathaniel and I pore over each post to make sure it meets certain standards we've set. (And, as someone who can't even get a return phone call from DC Comics when it comes to open positions, I might just dig the knife in a bit too deep here, but hey, it's half my blog.)

Now, to think that the dirtiest of the late, great George Carlin's seven words you can never say on television were used in a mainstream superhero book is pretty hard to believe, and I have to admit, kinda cool. On one level, I kinda dig the fact that some bad language was used in a Batman comic, because censorship sucks and it's evil. But, please don't get me wrong here--the words used in this comic are degrading and disgusting and awful and foul.

And there's simply no arguing with that.

Do the words carry an important emotional weight? Do they advance the story? Can the book have the same impact on the reader without using those words? Well, I dunno. See, DC ordered retailers to destroy all copies of the book that they couldn't catch before shipping. Of course, there are copies out there. Certain retailers are making a killing on Ebay, with issues selling as high as $200.

I haven't been able to get my hands on one, so I am yet to read the entire story. And that makes me pretty cautious about making a judgment about the story as a whole, or any of its content.

But, from what we've all seen online, and to Miller's credit, it was the bad guys using most of these words, a clear indication that these are bad dudes saying bad things. Their actions and their words are evil in the bits of the issue I've seen online, and that's what makes these bad guys...bad.

And, yes, Batgirl (a very kid-friendly character, by the way) uses crude language, as well. However, it can be argued that she is defending Gotham City from bad guys and she's in the right and she's just venting her spleen and teenagers do curse in real life and...well, you get what I'm saying.

But, and this is the big BUT--none of what I've written pertains to the main point of what is wrong with this issue leaking out. Yell and scream all you like about the "destruction" of the characters, or the inappropriate words uttered, or the fact that DC should have used the comics-typical @#$% to cover up the swear words instead of using black bars--but those things simply ARE NOT WHAT WE SHOULD BE ENRAGED ABOUT.

The point that I want to make is that, no matter what actually happened, DC certainly DID NOT want these words to be printed. They wanted them to be blacked out and covered, to be left to the readers' imaginations. And that would have been OK--still offensive to many, but certainly within their rights as the publisher. But that's not what happened. And that means someone over at DC screwed up.

Big time.

Maybe bigger and worse than any other comics editors have ever screwed up. Maybe that's a bit too dramatic, but I mean, c'mon, this one was bad. Now, I completely understand the pressures of editing and deadlines (like I said, it's how I make my living) and I, too (like others online have mentioned), suspect that some poor assistant is going to take the brunt of this one. And, obviously, that would be totally unfair.

But, if I were editing this book--a book with the harshest language EVER used in a mainstream, ALL AGES DC comic--and I had to check just ONE thing before sending it to bed, no matter how late it was...I would have checked the black bars.

And I would have made darn sure that those black bars covered up those naughty, naughty words. And, after I checked those black bars, I would have checked them again.

And again.

And one more time before I sent it off, just to be completely, 100% lose-no-sleep-that-night-sure.

But someone didn't do that. And, instead, comics are in the spotlight again. And bad language in comics comes to the forefront of discussion about comics. And the local news runs a story about it. And then it's in the newspapers. And then FOX News does a segment about it.

And, all of a sudden, some parents out there are questioning just what in the heck that guy at the local comics shop is selling to their kids.

I won't bother finishing this little point, folks, mostly because I can't bring myself to write the logical conclusion. But you know as well as I do how chilling the rest of it can be. And I hope we don't see it go down that road--AGAIN.

For the hundredth time.

And I don't blame Frank Miller for this. He's done more to advance this medium than almost anyone else in the history of this medium ever has or ever will. No, I don't blame Frank Miller. He wrote some words, and Jim Lee drew some pictures, and they created a book. Yes, a book with an edge, a book with bad, disgusting, demeaning language.

But a book nonetheless.

They knew the rules. And they knew--they KNEW--that DC was going to cover up the words with those little black bars. That was the deal. That's ALWAYS the deal. But this time, DC didn't cover up the words.

And that's not Frank Miller's fault. That's DC's fault. And, if the chilling factor I spoke of earlier comes to fruition, well, THAT'S DC's fault, too.

Sleep well.

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