By RazzaTazz 16 Comments
In the movie “Dead Man Walking” the main character Matthew Poncelot (played by Sean Penn) is sort of playfully testing the faith of his legal and spiritual saviour Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon.) At one point he asks her how it is possible to live life without engaging in sexual intercourse. She responds to him that this is but one form of compassion and love which a person can experience in a lifetime, that you can love a friend or even a stranger and have more reward than the immediate satisfaction of sex. Of course most movies don’t have the same gravity as a movie about the death penalty and redemption nor do they have a nun as one of the main characters, so this is not the common approach to sex. Of course elsewhere sex is prevalent in all forms of mainstream media.
Sex in comics has always been a strange dilemma for me. Of course in the era when comics first started sex was a taboo (for instance the level of intimacy between Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor was of the holding hands, kissing and hugging variety) and remained so for a number of years before comics gradually moved away from a primarily child based fan base to a more adult one. Operating alongside this increasingly wide fan base came more realistic characters. The realistic and flawed Marvel characters such as Daredevil, Iron Man and Spider-Man made these characters closer to relate to. In terms of comics I believe that one of there greatest advantages is that they are effectively unlimited in their ability to be relatively easily produced while also offering a form of creativity where the only limits are the drawing ability of the artist and the imagination of the writers. This means that things like interstellar travel is possible, but then conversely where does this go on the opposite side of the spectrum. If everything is possible how necessary is it to look at the mundane degrees of life?
Certainly most people regard sex as a pretty important part of a healthy lifestyle (as do I) but as it relates to a comic book story it is almost always superficial and unnecessary. There have been certain cases where it is necessary, but with some debate over Greg Rucka’s recent debate over whether the Punisher would be distracted by sex, it raises some questions as to how relevant it is. Hawkman and Hawkwoman or Elongated Man and Sue Dibny have been featured in many comic book issues over the years, but despite being married, sex is usually only hinted at and never shown. On the other hand sex among certain characters (who I might call more edgy) like Daredevil, Green Arrow or the Punisher becomes more of a prominent aspect of their nature. The question I pose though is how often does sex actually add to a plot or even the characterization of main characters and when does it simply function as a vicarious pleasure for the reader?
It is no great revelation of mine to let it be known that sex is pretty mainstream in our society. The fitness industry across the developed world is booming in modern years, and although it is not directly related to sex, there is a connection there. The same thing with the beauty industry. In a different sense the internet has made access to pornography simpler than ever before and really the amount of porn available on the internet makes sex more of an open topic to talk about as opposed to something which is ignored and not talked about. With this ready access to sex it raises the question of how to portray it in media. In terms of comics it is invariable that certain people live through their characters. Some people like the concept of associating themselves with their characters and sort of living life alongside them. This is partially why people feel so betrayed by the departure of a writer who they feel got the character “right.” This is essentially to say that they thought the character was being written in a way which made them feel as though they could relate to the character better (I tend to look for more philosophical meanings myself than associating with any character). Still if there is this sort of vicarious pleasure with a character, should it extend to the bedroom. Sex is certainly one of the major aspects of life, and really beside eating and defense is probably the strongest desire of any living thing, but how relevant is this to the characters? In terms of superheroics I would think that something like their choice of breakfast cereal would have more of an impact than if they had had sex recently, but then again fans get no vicarious pleasure from seeing a panel of a mild mannered alter ego going to the store to pick up their Wheaties.
As long as I have been reading comics I tend to look at the strength of characters and the strength of stories above all else. These are after all the backbone of what becomes the finished product of the comics whether it be Archie or X-Men. In terms of the introduction of sex into stories though, it usually feels as though it is unnecessary and pandering to certain groups of fans. I am a big fan of creativity is stories and in art when it comes to comics, unfortunately sex usually does not fall in this domain.