Sunday, June 14, 2009

Variant cover to Blackest Night: Superman #2--too graphic?

Steve here.

I just came across this image via IGN...

For those unwilling to click on the link, it's an image of the variant cover for Blackest Night: Superman #2, which shows Superman and Superboy being menaced by a zombified Psycho-Pirate in Black Lantern garb. DC fans may recall that Superboy-Prime punched a hole through this character's head during Infinite Crisis, which is why his resurrected corpse has been depicted in this image with its face missing, a gory hole where that face should be, and a lone eye dangling horrifically from where his skull once was.

Remember that this is the cover of a Superman comic. Admittedly it is a variant cover, so shop owners would have to specifically order this kind of thing and could only get one copy for every 25 of the regular cover they order. But still I can't help but feel that this choice of cover image is asking for a bit of trouble.

Personally, I think the image looks great, and it is in my mind a totally appropriate image to sell adults on a story of zombie superheroes and villains coming back for revenge. But as a cover image, even if it IS just a variant one, it runs the risk of being seen by people outside of the context of the story contained within it, and that can be a dangerous thing.

Keep in mind that around 55 years ago, comics got into pretty big trouble for using cover images such as this.

That's one of the most famous images in comics, an image which got hauled out during the Senate hearings in 1954, which Gaines famously defended as "in good taste... for a horror comic," which led to EC's demise and to the creation of the Comics Code Authority. And it is an image I would argue is much less gruesome than this Superman cover.

Can you imagine what kind of uproar might have resulted in 1954 if a parent had seen this comic? You could argue that public understanding of comics would be such today that people would realize that this is not a comic intended for children and that kind of outrage would never happen in these modern times. But I would point towards the Gordon Lee case, in which one comic with what was judged as a potentially graphic image in its interior art accidentally wound up in the hands of a child and a five year legal battle ensued because of it. And that's the INTERIOR art, which is much more difficult to see than a COVER image, which even for a variant cover could end up being seen by children during a visit to a local comic shop.

And the cover in question is to a book that is not an indie nor a mature readers book. It's a mainstream superhero book, which most people today still associate with children's fare.

Obviously parents should take on the role themselves to police the reading and viewing habits of their children as they wish, but if it's a cover image the children could accidentally come across, I could understand why in such a case the parents might feel that the publisher should bear some responsibility. I could definitely see a few parents, who might feel (justifiably so) that it's their right to determine for themselves which images of violence and sex their children are mature enough for, being upset that the decision has been taken out of their hands by such a cover image and might then pursue some sort of legal action.

Luckily this image IS a variant cover, and the likelihood of it being seen by children is next to nil. But I still can't help but feel it might have been a poor choice for DC to make. What say you? Too gruesome? Or not graphic enough? In keeping with the tone of the story? Is THAT in itself a problem? Is this choice of cover image ill-advised on DC's part or a shrewd marketing ploy? Please weigh in with your thoughts.