Seriously, just what is wrong with DC lately? Have the editors in charge taken leave of their senses? Has the success of Marvel as of late completely rattled them?
First the horrendous sexualization of women in the New 52 (and everything else idiotic since then). Then the horrendous death of Lois Lane to spur a video game. Then the creative team behind the Batwoman title quit because of anti-gay policy. And now they think that a way to find new talent is to see who is best at drawing sexy suicides: DC Comics Contest: Draw a Naked Woman Committing Suicide. (And on the eve of National Suicide Prevention Week!) UPDATE: Harley Quinn writer Jimmy Palmiotti is trying to pass off this ‘contest’ as satirical and ‘Looney Tunes’-esque in his Twitter.
@BoochGnome I feel and understand you but this is done loony tunes style. Cartoon style
— Jimmy Palmiotti (@jpalmiotti) September 6, 2013
Two words. Loony toons. On to the con.
— Jimmy Palmiotti (@jpalmiotti) September 6, 2013
A friend on Facebook, Lauren Ortega, recently made suggestions for what could be done to fix DC, and perhaps superheroes in general (although Marvel is perhaps less egregious in this matter than their older rival). And her first point was to return superhero comics to being for all ages — to remember that superheroes are first and foremost a children’s media.
Now, the main thing to remember is that just because you are going to go and label and make content directly aimed at children does not mean it has to be stupid — just the opposite, in fact. Some of the best children’s media has some of the smartest storytelling, from the Oz series to the Harry Potter series. If you tell these kinds of stories, then you will get readers of all ages, which means you’re profit margin will widen with new revenue sources. It just means you cannot be as ultra-violent, ultra-sexy, ultra-gritty as comics have been for several decades (again, perhaps DC moreso right now).
When a children’s media is as good as that, it can be inspiring. And that is what superheroes are supposed to do. They are supposed to inspire children in the ways of being good in your society. To inspire children how to be a hero in their own lives. How to fight for the little guy, use technology to help people, use your power with great responsibility, and so forth. Children need to read these stories with these heroes, just like they need to hear from their parents, teachers, religious figures, and so forth about what is the right and wrong way to live in this world and with other people. Superheroes can be a great source of moral information.
But not if the women are objectified, tortured, non-autonomous entities in their own comics. Not if the men sexualize women, if they engage in gratuitous violence, or if they are just as likely to kill as they are to not kill (looking at you, Man of Steel.)
Right now, those elements are put into comics because the comics writers either a) really hate their characters or b) think that is the only way to get older audiences or c) hate themselves and what they have been made to do by those who think that is the only way to get older audiences. And yet we can look across the media landscape and point to all kind of examples that cross-generational lines — that are children’s media yet have strong adult audiences (ex: My Little Pony, Adventure Time, Doctor Who, etc).
Comics could learn a great deal from these other examples about how to target children and reach other audiences as well, and do so in a way that doesn’t reduce their work to pornography, on the one extreme, or mindless dribble, on the other extreme. There is a wide latitude in which a happy median could be found — if only they have the balls to do it.
Every once and awhile, you’ll go into a used bookstore, and after you finish wondering about the future of the print industry thanks to e-readers, you’ll browse the musty collections and find a gem.
A gem like what I have deemed to be the “Awesomest Cookbook Ever” — and that’s awesomest in the original sense of the word. I mean I got down on my knees and thanked the mystical forces of Asgaard for leading me to that day. Or I would have, if there was room in the tiny bookstore I found myself in.
Here is the item that inspired the awe:
Back in 1981, Random House put out this cookbook for kids featuring the main pantheon of DC superheroes, those that form the front guard of the Justice League. (Nerd time: The Martian Manhunter was not included in this book because at the time of publication he was not a regular within that pantheon; he is now considered to be one of the fundamental members).
Currently, used copies of this book are selling at Amazon for $88 — I bought mine for $4.50: there were a few torn pages that needed taping, but other than that, it was in as good of condition as you would imagine a book that old to be in.
What I love about this book is how it utilizes the semantics of superheroes to instruct children on “Good food kids can make themselves” — even if it means using sharp paring knives.
The book is choke full of recipes and helpful healthy advice for children and their parents.
By using the superhero genre, the information is being distributed without completely talking down to the kids. Instead, the kids can learn the recipes and healthy tips by getting the in-jokes from their favorite superheroes.
Using superheroes, and other cartoon characters, is a classic advertising tactic when addressing children — for either prosocial or commercial purposes. Using their favorite superheroes allows adults to make the information more accessible by making it more relevant and more attractive to the intended audience. It is a tactic for addressing the children on their level, by respecting their affection for these characters and the role of these characters in their lives.
We may see the use of standard superhero genre tropes and semantics and gimmicky —
— but this “playfulness” has repeatedly been shown to appeal to the intended audience.
The playfulness is most apparent in the variety of “healthy” recipes in the book. Following the standard cookbook format, the recipes are categorized by type of food being presented: breakfast, main meal, snacks, and so forth. Each recipe is designed to reflect or refer to a specific superhero or superhero duo, as is the case for Batman and Robin.
The recipes are all clever and humorous, and written to illustrate the process of preparing the food as a way to help the young cooks and to allude to the comics medium the children would be familiar with.