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    Violence In Comics: How Far Is Too Far?

    By | September 29th, 2011
    Posted in News | 2 Comments

    Last week saw an uptick in controversy as DC published two comics featuring some less-than-flattering portrayals of women and sex in the comics to the point that they are alienating potential fans. It has been an ongoing issue in comics, and a reasonable one at that; certainly something that needs attention brought to it when fans are able to do so.

    However, as Bleeding Cool pointed out last week, nobody seems to be focusing on the excessive amount of pointless violence. Not to compare apples to oranges too much here, but we’re slowly reaching a point where violence is becoming common place, no matter how ridiculous it is, yet it is not discussed or valued on the same level — which seems rather odd.

    That’s generally always been the case; gratuitous violence is usually considered fairly common place in media (Michael Bay does have a career, after all), whereas people often have more issues with sexuality (or swears/inappropriate language). I mean, it’s not like comics are stranger to excess violence, especially in super hero comics.

    The question then becomes — at what point are things going too far?

    Let’s talk a bit about this after the cut.

    This week, with the latest issue of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass #4 (the “MUST-READ BOOK FOR PSYCHOPATHS!”), we not only get the above ridiculous murder of children by the renamed character The Motherfucker, but the following scene as well:

    For those curious, this leads to a mentioned-but-not-shown three-person rape train on Katie, Kick-Ass’ love interest of the book. It’s a scene of violence for violence’s sake and nothing more; it’s fairly deplorable and it is entirely pointless. It instantly recalls the event of Sue Dibny’s rape in Identity Crisis, but here is the prime difference between the two: Sue Dibny’s rape is a historic comic scene and a controversial piece of DC history which attempted to have a meaning (even if it didn’t succeed with a large chunk of DC’s audience in the way they had hoped). Is anyone going to care about the Motherfucker’s rape scene by next week? Is this ok in the first place, since it’s not Doctor Light raping Sue Dibny? This scene is certainly just as blatant as Identity Crisis’ controversial scene.

    Isn’t this scene a modern equivalent of the “fridgeing” in Green Lantern v3 #54?

    This is every Saw film. This is Hostel parts 1 and 2. It’s The Hills Have Eyes remake, it’s Captivity, it’s Wolf Creek or The Collector — as fellow MC writer David Harper put it, this is “straight-up murder porn.” It’s not even done in a clever way like Funny Games, that turns the tables on the viewer and asks the audience to debate the meaning of the violence and its impact. Nope, this is like watching The Human Centipede, except it assumes you think this is supposed to be “cool” and not grotesque.

    Mark Millar’s original Kick-Ass comic book, a notably mature comic book that was certainly always over-the-top and meant to be excessive, seemed like a satire of superhero comic books and the various tropes surrounding them, fixated on the subculture of Real Life Superheroes. Now that Kick-Ass is a New York Times Best Seller last year with a film adaptation earning $96 million worldwide at the box office and holding a Fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes aggregator, Kick-Ass is just a surface value comic of violence. It doesn’t seem like Mark Millar is really trying to tell good stories anymore so much as he is trying to tell crazy bananas stories.

    With that in mind, it doesn’t seem improbable to believe that the collected edition of Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall will hop on the New York Times Best Seller list, and that the eventual film adaptation will try and be just as over-the-top as the first film (which is notably rather ridiculous). Not only that, but it doesn’t seem unlikely to assume that given how well Kick-Ass did, Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall could probably reach just as great an audience of irregular comic reader as the DCnU 52 hopes to (if not greater than). Heck, I’ve seen people in my local shop show up just to buy Kick-Ass volume 2, and have several people who don’t regularly read books inquire with me as to when the next issue is going to be released. This type of book is giving the readers exactly what they want.

    Continued below

    So what happens when it’s time for Christopher Mintz-Plasse to rape Lyndsy Fonseca on camera?

    Kick-Ass isn’t the only book to feature this type of thing of course, both in the past and in the present; Garth Ennis has certainly had a fair deal of this sort of material in his various works, from the Preacher to the Boys. If you look at Mark Millar’s recent output, from Nemesis to Superior, there’s certainly a recurring element in his storytelling that now appears to be “the Mark Millar Trope” in the same way that Frank Miller has cultivated a trope to his own storytelling. This just the current way of things, and it almost seems silly to look at a book called Kick-Ass and wag a finger at it. What else were we expecting?

    But these scenes serve absolutely no purpose other than to show off how evil the character is. As I mentioned already, this is violence for violence’s sake; I mean, his name is The Motherfucker! He leads the group the Toxic Mega-Cunts! This is certainly a “we get it, Mark” scenario if there ever was one. Even so, it stands as noteworthy when an entire audience is generally able to let this just slide by or clamor for it, even in a book geared towards older audiences and people looking to get away from traditional superhero books. That doesn’t change a few facts, though: this is still our medium, and this is still a high-profile title; this should be more controversial, shouldn’t it?

    While it is still early to judge reactions (the book came out 24 hours or so ago), it seems odd to see so few comments on it. This is an entire issue dedicated to supervillains being super villains in an unconventional fashion, and it is at the point where I as a reader, who buys Mark Millar books solely to because I just “have to see what that wacky Scottish bloke is going to do next!”, am asking myself why I bother. Sure, I probably could’ve asked this question twenty Millar issues ago, but there’s something to be said about watching the once important, prolific and influential writers let himself go. After Mark Millar’s rape train on Katie, there’s no real reason to go further, is there?

    Kick-Ass is not a mainstream superhero book in the same way that the DC books in question of last week are, but it does seem rather important to pay attention to the existence of these scenes and stories, both in Kick-Ass and elsewhere. Kick-Ass is a high-profile title, and one that irregular comic readers are aware of just as much as they are aware of an event like 52 new comic books from DC. There’s a Kick-Ass movie on DVD and Blu-ray, and there’s going to be a sequel; this is the material that will inform that feature film, and Mark Millar has been very honest about saying that he is now writing the book with the film in mind. Are we really ready to let people’s opinions of comics be solidified in the future by men getting hacked up and given severed dog heads to wear and child assassinations?

    Well said, Mark.

    Hardcore comic fans have every right to be upset about scenes like the Catwoman finale or Starfire’s beach exposé, but when it comes time to talk to the irregular comic reader who is here just to see what Mark Millar is up to, how do we explain this to them?


    Matthew Meylikhov

    Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."