Comics Aren't Just for Kids Anymore

Here is a research paper I did for my English class this semester in college. It's about my favorite subject, comic books. My instructor graded it as my rough and final drafts and gave me a perfect score, which I'm really proud of.

Josh Ralls
Stephanie Peterson
ENGL_02511I_20092
12 October 2009
Comics Aren’t Just for Kids Anymore

When a lot of people think about comics, they think it’s just kid’s stuff. They think “Pow!”, “Biff!”, “Bam!”. But comics aren’t just for kids anymore. In fact as writer, editor, publisher and president of DC Comics Paul Levitz puts it, “Comics not only aren’t only for kids, they’re not mostly for kids today (“Comic Book Superheroes”)”. Comics have become more mature and sophisticated over the years, and there has been an increase in adult readers. Comics being for kids has gone from being a fact to being a stereotype. I remember an episode of the MTV reality series Room Raiders. The premise of the show is that one person goes through the apartments or houses of three different people, not knowing who is who and decides who they want to date based on their living spaces. In this specific episode a girl was going through one guy’s closet and she found a Punisher comic. I don’t remember her exact words but it was something to the effect of calling the comic kid’s stuff. Me being a comic book person I thought that was absurd. The Punisher is one of the less common anti-heroes in Marvel comics who kills. As Wikipedia puts it, “The Punisher is a vigilante who considers killing, kidnapping, extortion, coercion, threats of violence and torture to be acceptable crime fighting tactics (“The Punisher”)”. He was, pretty tame up until the 2000s when he had a violent, gruesome series from Marvel Comics’ line of comics titled Max Comics.

Part of the reason people still believe comics are kid’s stuff is the 1960s Batman tv show. The tv series, starring Adam West as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin, among other cast members, was very campy and featured those illustrations of sound effects like the previously mentioned “Biff!”, “Pow!” and “Bam!”. Those sound effects have actually been shunned until recently in the new Batman and Robin comic book series from DC Comics. Except in those comics they’re incorporating them into the action like “Vroom!” coming out of a vehicle as a cloud of smoke. The Batman comics in the 1960s more or less reflected the tv series. But about the 1970s Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil came along and returned Batman to his more serious roots. But Frank Miller is the one who made Batman really dark and gritty again, which he hadn’t been since the 1930s or 1940s. Batman was already a little lighter in the 1950s and 1960s before the tv series came along.

In 1993 DC Comics started a comics imprint called Vertigo which was geared more for people who are in their late teens or are adults. These comics “may contain graphic violence, substance abuse, frank (but not explicit) depictions of sexuality, profanity, and controversial subjects (“Vertigo”)”. Swamp Thing, which was published long before Vertigo was founded, began to be published in the imprint. Hellblazer is one title that has been published by Vertigo and it is a dark horror series. Preacher was pretty graphic and crude. I remember seeing in an issue of Wizard, a comics magazine, a panel showing one of the characters getting maimed by a dog, and another where he was about to wipe another man’s bottom. Marvel started a similar imprint titled Icon. And later in 2001 another mature readers imprint titled Max Comics, which is a mature reader line of comics like Vertigo. Among the series is The Punisher. One story line in the Max Comics Punisher series was titled “Welcome Back Frank” and the Punisher movie starring Thomas Jane is based on that story. It’s an R rated movie and it is pretty graphic, but not as much as the third Punisher movie (the first being the one starring Dolph Lundgren). They have had series from Alias (Not to be confused with the tv series starring Jennifer Garner), about a former costumed superhero turned crime fighter, to horror comics like Werewolf By Night, to Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather, in which Rawhide Kid is a gay man. Homosexuality is a topic not covered until the 80s. Comic’s first gay superhero was Northstar. Northstar came out in the Marvel Comics series Alpha Flight, which debuted in 1983. John Byrne said about this, “One of the things that popped immediately into my head was to make one of them gay. I had recently read an article in Scientific American on what was then (the early 80s) fairly radical new thinking on just what processes caused a person to be homosexual, and the evidence was pointing increasingly to it being genetic and not environmental factors. So, I thought, it seemed like it was time for a gay superhero, and since I was being 'forced' to make Alpha Flight a real series, I might as well make one of them gay. . . . I settled on Jean-Paul, and the moment I did I realized it was already there. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I must have been considering making him gay before I 'decided' to do so (“Northstar”)”. Gen13’s comic book debut was in 1994 in a comic titled Deathmate Black at Image Comics. One of their team members, Sarah Rainmaker, is bisexual. The Authority is a comic from Wildstorm. It’s characters Midnighter and Apollo are both gay male superheroes who got married and adopted a girl named Jenny Quantum as their daughter. The new Batwoman in DC Comics, Kathy Kane is a lesbian. And it was revealed that she and Gotham City police officer Renee Montoya had a romantic relationship in the past. DC Comics wrote the new Batwoman as a lesbian to connect to modern day readership (“Batwoman”). Homosexuality and bisexuality in comics had been unheard of for the most part until about the 2000s, because comics used to be just for kids, and that’s one of those things kids aren’t told about until they get older and more mature. But now that homosexuality and bisexuality is more accepted parents might want to explain it to their kids so their kids don’t get confused about it.

Drugs are a subject in comics that parents discuss with their kids. It seems like drugs are only featured occasionally in comics, especially in all ages comics. Two historical comics issues, each from a different publisher and series, show the dangers of drugs. The Amazing Spider-man numbers 96 through 98 depicted the negative effects of drug use. The Nixon Administration’s Department of Health, Education and Welfare asked Stan Lee to publish an anti-drug message in one of Marvel’s top selling titles. So they published a story about Peter Parker’s (aka Spider-man) friend Harry Osborn being a drug addict. Spider-man defeats the Green Goblin (aka Norman Osborn, Harry’s father) in a fight by revealing Harry’s addiction. Although it was an anti-drug story Stan had to publish it without the Comics Code Authority’s approval. For those issues their seal was not published on the covers. The issues sold so well that “the industry’s self-censorship was undercut and the Code was subsequently revised (“Spider-man”)”. DC Comics followed with a two-part anti-drug story in Green Lantern volume two number 85 titled “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” in which Green Lantern and Green Arrow discover that Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy is a drug addict. Green Arrow “lashes out at his ward” and Speedy, ashamed, quits heroin cold turkey. (“Snowbirds Don’t Fly”). Green Lantern and Green Arrow fight the kingpin Speedy bought drugs from, a pharmaceutics CEO who claims to be against drug abuse while secretly selling on the streets. Then Green Lantern and Green Arrow visit the funeral of one of the buyers who died of a drug overdose. At the time when Green Arrow was in the series it was known for social commentary. I remember on the special Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked on the tv channel History they discussed this and one issue dealt with race.

Social commentary in comics deals with issues for all ages to understand and learn about. Such as Batman: Seduction of the Gun, which deals with gun violence and Batman: Death of Innocents, which is about land mines. One big issue that was dealt with in comics was the events of September 11, 2001. Three months after the tragic terrorist attacks of that day, Marvel published The Amazing Spider-man #36, in which we see how Spider-man and other heroes cope in the aftermath. Marvel also published a tribute comic titled Heroes. It was the first tribute comic for September 11 that reached the stands, which it did in December 2001. Several creators worked on it and each had two pages to make any statement they wanted. On the front page, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada wrote “What happened on September 11, 2001 was not God’s will. God’s will was in the courage of every man, woman and child who stood up and came to the aid of their fellow humans. God’s will was in the strength that was shown in the face of great tragedy and the desire displayed to rebuild, to move on and to do so with love. What you hold in your hands was created with love, and love will prevail… (Smith)”. Proceeds went to the Twin Towers Fund, which provides financial aid to the families of firefighters, police officers and other uniformed personnel who died during the attacks on the World Trade Center. As of now “it’s unclear whether the Twin Towers Fund still exists, or has been absorbed into another charitable organization (Smith)”. But whether or not it still exists it was a great cause. Two volumes of a tribute were coordinated by various companies, 911: September 11, 2001 (Artists Respond) by Dark Horse Comics, Chaos Comics and Image Comics, and volume two (The World’s Finest Comic Book Writers and Artists Tell Stories to Remember) by DC Comics (“9/11 (Comics)”). Alternative Comics published 911: Emergency Relief and Joseph Michael Linsner published I Love NY Benefit Book through his company Linsner.com.

Comics are for all ages now. Whether you’re a little kid, a teenager, or an adult like me. Whether you’re a girl or a boy, or a woman or a man, like me, anyone can get into comics. Comics aren’t just for kids anymore. As Will Eisner once put it, “the format of the comic book presents a montage of both word and image, and the reader is thus required to exercise both visual and verbal interpretive skills (8)”. “The reading of the comic book is an act of both aesthetic perception and intellectual pursuit (8)”.

Works Cited

“Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked.” History (Tv channel). 2003.

“The Punisher.” Comics. Wikipedia. 13 October 2009. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Punisher>. 7 September 2009.

“Vertigo (DC Comics).” 12 October 2009. Wikipedia. . 7 September 2009.

“Northstar.” 8 October 2009. Wikipedia. . 8 September 2009.


“Batwoman.” 6 October 2009. Wikipedia. . 8 September 2009.

“Spider-man.” Wikipedia. 12 October 2009. .

“Snowbirds Don’t Fly.” 5 September 2009. Wikipedia. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowbirds_Don%27t_Fly>. 9 September 2009.
Smith, Wesley. “Comics 101: What is Heroes the Marvel Comics 9/11 tribute?” Examiner. 11 September 2009. . 9 September 2009.

“9/11 (Comics).” Wikipedia. 7 October 2009. . 10 September 2009.
Eisner, Will. “Comics and Sequential Art.” Poorhouse Press. 1985, 1990, 2004.

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