Warning! If you have not yet read JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #4, you may want to stop reading this article now: spoilers below.
By now most of us have picked up and read JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #4 and in the process, we've witnessed the apparent death of a particular character that takes place rather abruptly in the issue. And even if you haven't picked up the issue, chances are that you have at least checked out an article where this is discussed (like the Five Developments from JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #4 article, for example), or happened upon a forum post or two on Comic Vine or listened to the Comic Vine podcast. Basically, you know that Catwoman was shot in that fourth issue of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, and it is likely that you are also aware of how very graphic that moment was when she was killed: being shot in the head was enough, but the series' artist Brett Booth really zeroed in on the panel making sure audiences could see there was no question about whether or not the character was brutally murdered. This scene happened to take place in a rated "Teen" comic, but was it too graphic for its target audience? After reading the scene I admit it triggered an immediate response in me: putting aside the fact that one of DC's most famous heroines was brutally murdered on panel, the scene begged the question of whether or not comics were still being written for kids. Was this graphic scene too graphic?
Let me be clear: there are comics which are specifically being written for kids. Comics like Skottie Young's OZ series which serves as a retelling of the Wizard of Oz story consists of at least six collected volumes thus far. Another good example is the recently released HEROBEAR AND THE KID, a series by comic creator Mike Kunkel which, if you haven't read, you can do so by checking out the full Free Comic Book Day story that was posted on Comic Vine by going here. And although these are two very good examples of all-ages comic book series, they very specifically target a particular audience. Picking up and issue of HEROBEAR or Oz you can bet there won't be suggestive themes or violence, just a lot of wholesome fun.
Yes, as an adult, I still love Herobear and find I can still appreciate the way the story pulls at the heart strings of my 6 year old inner child, but when I pick up that book I know exactly what I am signing up for. While I can appreciate the depth of a story that was written for a young target audience I still recognize that this comic is written with a child in mind. But can the same be said for so many of our superhero titles? And should our superhero books be written with kids in mind?
Going back to Catwoman's murder in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #4 for a moment, let's consider the rating of that particular comic: "Teen." What does that mean? Well, according to DC Comics' ratings website, "Teen" is "appropriate for readers age 12 and older. May contain mild violence, language and/or suggestive themes." Comics, in general, (superhero comics, specifically) tend to be relatively violent. But what exactly signifies "mild violence"? What's the threshold? Maybe a punch or a kick, but a gun to the head and a bullet through the brain? The death of Catwoman in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #4 was rather graphic in general for any comic book of any rating, be it Mature or otherwise, but a rated Teen comic for "kids 12 and older"? I remember wondering whether or not that moment crossed some sort of line. Who can determine what the threshold for violence should be in a particular comic? Who knows, really. Yet it's not everyday you pick up a comic book and see that a well known character (or otherwise) has been shot to death through the head. That a pretty big deal. And it is certainly not a scene I expected to see in a "Teen" book.
Back in 2011 Graphic Policy conducted a survey using Facebook that looked at the demographic of comic readers based on the total population of Facebook users in the United States who "liked" comics on Facebook. That total number came to around 1.2 million individuals in total. This data was then broken down first by gender and then by age. According to this data (which is really skewed and problematic), 31 to 45 years olds "out-number" the "17 and under" population by a pretty wide margin. Readers ages 18 to 30 that were surveyed came in at around 771,340 while readers "17 and under" tallied at 168,280. Although this information is only taking individuals who use Facebook into account, it is indicative of the fact that the majority surveyed are, very obviously, young adults. So what about all those kids who aren't allowed to use Facebook at the age of 12 or 13? They, obviously, were not surveyed and therefore unaccounted for.
So let's go back to the original question: do you think that sometimes comics are too graphic? Should the ratings on the cover match what happens on the inside of the issue? Do you think that many of our superhero comics are still written with younger readership in mind, or do you think they are mainly being written for adults?