What Is DC Thinking? Sex, Violence, Racism, and Marketing

Red Hood and the Outlaws #5

DC’s in the news again, and not necessarily for good reasons.

First, there was the report done by a Washington, D.C. TV station. According to ICv2, the story was introduced “with the titillating lead-in ‘Graphic violence and sex: that’s what you’ll find in the pages of DC Comics today.'” While I’m against dragging out the old falsehood that all comics are for kids, like many other people, I was disturbed by the bottom-feeding adolescent approach of such titles as Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws. I suspect some parents will want to know about this kind of material in books that they think are for kids, especially superhero comics with a tie-in to the best-known media version, Batman.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #5

Does any disagree that those two books, in particular, are selling themselves based on sex and violence? Just check out this latest cover, with a barely-clad Starfire in a puddle of blood. The first issue of Catwoman was about the title character and Batman having sex — the news report is not misrepresenting the content. I’m against sensation-mongering (although you may see more of this in February, which is a ratings sweeps month), but I’m also against DC putting out this kind of material and pretending there’s nothing wrong with it.

I agree with the basic premise, that the levels of sex and violence in DC’s comics has increased over the past few years. I think that’s a communication problem, fundamentally — DC can’t expand the mass media presence of its superheroes with material aimed at all ages or kids particularly (as with its cartoons) at the same time that it’s aging up its comics content WITHOUT clearly stating that these books are not for kids. A tiny “T” doesn’t communicate that message effectively, in my opinion. (I also don’t think their ratings are fairly determined, in terms of actual content, but that’s a different debate.)

In response to the report, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund released a retailer advisory on “how to manage a media attack”. There’s a lot of good advice, but nothing to address the publishers, who are the source of the problem attention in this case.

Co-Op racist ad

For a different example of the kind of attention the comic industry doesn’t need, there’s this co-op ad (using DC funds) placed by a comic shop in Orlando, Florida, that plays on racism and jingoism to draw attention. First, there’s the matter of calling Cyborg “Robama”, because of course all young black men can be mistaken for our President. (Tacky reminder that to some people, “they all look alike.”) More problematic is the offer to trade in a manga volume for any new DC 52 #1 issue. I guess the retailer wants more customers that are economically stupid, since manga retails from $9.99 to $16.99, while the new DCs were mostly $2.99 each. Then there’s the caveat, limiting the offer to one “per American citizen”. Does this charming shop check ID at the door?

I’ve seen this kind of “manga aren’t real comics, because they aren’t from here” attitude from retailers before, but never one who was so proud to advertise his dislike of the most successful new comic format of the past decade. Many manga readers aren’t that interested in American comics to begin with, but if you are serious about converting customers, maybe you shouldn’t insult what they already like? It runs the risk of driving them away. As marketing, it’s a failure, since it gives them no reason to sample the new product, besides the fact that you think they aren’t patriotic enough.

I have to wonder about DC’s standards for its co-op program, since I have a hard time believing they approved this use of their logo and characters.

Speaking of the logo, last week’s rumor is true: DC is changing their logo. Only it’s more complicated than thought: “The “C” can be customized to the colors and qualities of the property it’s promoting: silver and gray for the corporation, blue for DC Comics, or — as suggested by the graphic below — sparks for The Flash, green for Green Lantern, or a mist for Batman.”

DC logo versions

So what’s the black Alien-looking version in the top middle, then? And what, no Superman version? I guess he just isn’t as important to the company these days. Unlike Watchmen, which gets its own version in the bottom left. More changes are yet to come, including a revamped website:

[Amit Desai, senior vice president of franchise management] is building a new website that will showcase all DC properties, not just publishing, as it does now, and take full advantage of the logo’s interactive capabilities. Throughout the year, it will begin appearing on consumer and home entertainment products, TV and film graphics, games, and packaging.

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