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Young Avengers

Edit 2005-07-06: Corrected my mispelling of Jim Cheung’s name.

Young Avengers, Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung et al.

[This began as a post of brief thoughts on books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched in the last week (a new column-type thing I hope will get me posting at least once or twice a week), but my piece on Young Avengers #4 & #5 ended up so long that I decided I’d better put it in its own post.]

I almost wrote a response to James Meeley’s latest correspondence, but why bother? I will note that Heinberg diplomatically explains to him that Young Avengers is not an all-ages book. (Meeley, one imagines, objects also to teenagers reading about sex.) It is an intelligent book about and for teenagers. The art is pleasant; Cheung draws reasonably anatomically correct figures and costumes that look like real (albeit exceedingly tight) clothes. The story is pregnant with identity crisis both fantastic and realistic—the fuel of a good superhero story in David Fiore’s neo-existentialist romance mold, I think. The typical secret-identity confusion (and these kids’ secret identities are multilayered) is enhanced by the liminality of adolescence.* Iron Lad of the 30th century (ha ha) knows he’s going to grow up to be Kang the Conqueror (apparently a particularly infamous supervillain)—unless he refuses to do so, a decision which would irrevocably change not only his own 30th-century future but, thanks to Kang’s time traveling, the future of the 20th century, causing who knows what temporal chaos. Patriot is the grandson of Isiah Bradley, the black Captain America. Cassie Lang, Ant-Man’s daughter, thought she was normal, but it turns out she has superpowers too. Kate Bishop has no superpowers and isn’t even related to any superheroes, but she’s turning into one of those Batman-type characters who outdoes the superpowered but inexperienced—and, it must be said, inept—guys with pure human skill and cool-headedness. We don’t know much about Hulkling and the Asgardian yet.

Patriot (who, if he’s the kid from the end of Truth: Red, White & Black, is named Litigious) and Kate are the most interesting characters so far, I think. Patriot is a kid with a chip on his shoulder about Captain America’s role, however unknowing, in Isiah Bradley’s ruin, who finds himself with a power and responsibility he doesn’t want because of his heritage and who tries to compensate for his basic immaturity with a dubious attempt at macho bravado. Kate, on the other hand, is a girl who saves the day when the Young Avengers botch an attempt to rescue two hundred wedding guests in a church from hostage-takers; she decides to tag along with Cassie when Cassie goes on a search for the Young Avengers, and she grabs some superhero weapons and leaps into battle when Kang the Conqueror attacks. Their relationship begins with typical “no girls allowed on our superteam” posturing by Patriot, but it veers off in entertaining directions all its own when his attacks whither against Kate’s unassailable confidence. That their mundane adolescent sparring plays out in the midst of superhero battles heightens rather than diminishes the human drama. As Rose says (of Scott Pilgrim):

The reason I like superhero stories is because they have so little to do with the smashing and stomping that are supposed to be at their core, at least if done correctly. Instead they’re a heavy template for readers to fit themselves into a reality where certain narratives make sense and the readers can make sense of themselves. It’s not about the power fantasy but about both power and fantasy, which is something over-specific “slice of life” stories can miss.

Pretty much all the stories I’ve encountered in my life that I really enjoyed (as well as many that I didn’t enjoy) have at least a little bit of magic to undermine the alienating specificity of realism. Kate and Patriot are very good. Iron Lad worries me, though, because Kang the Conqueror threatens constantly to overwhelm the story and turn it into a dumb fight between the Avengers and Kang. Battles and backstory minutiae don’t interest me in themselves, and they quickly bore me when they become detached from more entertaining storytelling concerns. That’s always the danger with a mainstream superhero story, that it turns into series of fight scenes and explorations of minor points of backstory, with the moral or philosophical problems of the story typically degenerating into inchoate muttering about heroism. An most infamous recent example is Identity Crisis, a story whose only reasons for existence are to explain apparent inconsistencies in some supervillains’ characterization and to engage in hand-wringing over superheroes’ inability to protect their loved ones (due mostly to ineptitude and negligence, as far as I can tell). The latter might have made for a good story, but nothing ever comes of it except faux-tough-guy narration from Green Arrow about the tragedy of your wife getting killed because you’re never home and you forgot to secure your house against tiny people crawling through the phone lines.** So I worry that Young Avengers will degenerate into a big fight, with Iron Lad doing the right thing because he’s a hero (or doing the wrong thing because he’s destined to become a villain). Issue #5 remains entertaining, but it’s walking the fine line between a story with fighting and a story about the fighting. But I’m not very worried, because the last page (which genuinely surprised me) all but guarantees an entertaining conclusion for Iron Lad. Still, I never underestimate the corrupting influence of Marvel.

* A note on adolescent power fantasy and the mainstream of superhero comic books. To suggest that superhero stories are immature power fantasies is to commit careless synechdoche in considering genuinely (if not self-consciously) immature power fantasies as the totality of the genre in ignorance (sometimes real, sometimes feigned) of more sophisticated stories about power and fantasy and identity. (Moreover, they tend to ignore the potentially interesting parts of otherwise banal or objectionable stories, such as the metafictional weirdness of Crisis on Infinite Earths.) In truth, superhero stories are a subset of a larger genre of fantastic fiction that includes, in addition to obvious superhero stories: Scott Pilgrim; much of Grant Morrison’s work in comics, especially The Invisibles but also Kill Your Boyfriend and Sebastian O; Eightball #23 (”The Death-Ray”); Dune; Wings of Desire; Joan of Arcadia. Perhaps I shouldn’t call it a genre; it’s not a coherent body of works like, say, film noir. It’s a disparate collection of fantastic stories with potentially interesting thematic relations. Occasionally there is clear intertexuality, but the mainstream of superhero comics is largely insular and doesn’t invite comparison with anything outside. Those few superhero comics which escape the stultifying effect of that insularity may be more fruitfully considered, I now think, in the larger context than in the context of the superhero mainstream.

There are several common elements in these stories, viz.: confusion and ambiguity about identity, represented in the protagonist both by a fantastic secret or unknown identity and by more realistic identity crises; a problematic power relationship enhanced by the protagonist’s preternatural abilities; significant romantic and existentialist influence; stories about stories (e.g., flashbacks, frame stories, storyteller characters); rejection of naturalism in favor of artificiality, often through narratorial and authorial discussion of the story (instead of remaining unobtrusive to assist ‘willing suspension of disbelief’) and extensive use of allusion and intertexuality.

This is a problematic statement, probably too much so. I should distinguish between, um, storytelling and journalism. No, I don’t like those terms, but I mean narratives that are about more than their specific events and narratives that are about only their specific events. When I write story, I mean the former class of narrative. The latter kind is not a lesser art; the only lesser art is an attempt to create the former class of narrative using only the tools of the latter.

Needless to say, the nature of the magic used in service of stories has a profound effect. The superpowers and secret identities in Young Avengers encourage one kind of story, and the ubiquitous blue tv glow and mysterious guy who paints “Ghost World” graffiti in Ghost World encourage an entirely different kind. Obviously, I don’t consider ‘magic’ necessarily to be actual magic; I consider ‘magic’ to encompass any non-realistic storytelling device. I shan’t presume to guess how other people read, but I wouldn’t be surprised if even the strictest adherent of realism could find the realism-undermining magic in a beloved story or, failing that, recognize that the ’story’ in fact belongs to the second class of narrative mentioned above.

E.g., Grant Morrison’s Animal Man.

** Not all such stories are bad—1960s DC comic books abound with five-page stories explaining how Superman used to hang out with Jay Garrick even though Jay Garrick is a fictional comic-book character in 1960s continuity (there’s a second Earth with Jay Garrick and a second Superman, which emits psychic radiation or something into the minds of comic-book writers) and why nobody realizes Clark Kent is Superman (Superman unwittingly transmits hypnotic disguise rays to people around him). Plenty of comic-book readers love stuff, obviously, so good for them. Identity Crisis’s crime is taking up seven long issues and being aesthetically offensive and dumb.


  1. Leigh says:

    I do believe you’ve misspelled “Cheung.” Otherwise, very well put.

    — 6 July 2005 at 9:09 pm (Permalink)

  2. Steven says:

    So I did, thanks.

    — 6 July 2005 at 9:33 pm (Permalink)

  3. James Meeley says:

    Well, I’m a bit disappointed you didn’t write your letter about my concerns and thoughts. Lord knows that the image of letters pages as nothing more that a “cheer page” for the creators of a given series is one that has helped to make the pages themselves all but disappear. A good and intelligent discussion certainly would be nice to show others how the letters page can still be an interesting, and relevent, part of the comics experience.

    Be that as it may, I think you fail to fully see exactly what my concerns are. I’ll admit that I might be partly at fault in my expression of them, also my letter (both in YA #3 and 5) were edited (presumably for space reasons), so allow me the chance to clarify things.

    My issue is with inappropriate material being maketed in a kids wrapper. I have no problem with more mature and adult-minded topics being discussed in superhero comics. Heck, I read plenty that do it. But I feel that in the quest to try and compete against other forms of entertainment (such as video games, DVDs and the Internet, just to name a few) comics have slowly been maturing the content of comics that have, for decades, been aimed partly (if not primarily) at young readers.

    Heinberg’s promise of exploring the sexuality of the characters in YA is really what set all this off. And while he’s certainly not the ONLY one to do it (Meltzer did it in Identity Crisis and JMS did it in the Sins Past storyline of ASM, to cite a couple recent examples), he was certainly one of the most upfront about it.

    While it has recently been noted that Young Avengers is not rated for younger readers, this is fairly new information for me, as well as others (because, even Heinberg didn’t know this until he was told by the editor). So, while my original issue might seem a case of mistaken accusation, it’s not really. Because of the lack of properly giving retailers and parents a clear indication of exactly who such comics are aimed at, Marvel (and pretty much most other of the big publishers) have created a system that seems to have no sense of checks and balances.

    The new rating system that Marvel have since put into effect over the last month (There T+ = Teens and up) has greatly eased my mind on the subject. While as a reader, I still think it’s not right to mature the classic superhero universe that Marvel is known for, by giving clear ratings for the books, they have at least elimiated the problem of people not having enough information to know if a book is right for a certain age group. After all, before these new ratings, a parent might not mind letting there child read Amazing Spider-Man, because the parent probably remembers the classic days of Stan Lee and would think the book is fine for their child. But with sexually charged stories, like the recent “Sins Past” storyline, that will not always be the case.

    And as a retailer myself, I don’t have time to read EVERY comic that is published. I can’t keep up with everything. So, the new rating system gives me the information I need, to keep the wrong materials out of the hands of kids. It gives me the ability to protect myself from allowing kids to have material that in inappropriate for them and not have to deal with angry parents who think I’m a “smut supplier.”

    As for your comment about me obkecting to teens reading about sex, well, you are right and wrong. I do think they should have access to more mature themed materials, but it also muct be coupled with guidence from their parents. Because no comic, no matter how well written, can give them that.

    Sorry if I droned on there for a bit, but I felt that the matter really needed to be clarified. I hope you see now, that my letters were not written out of hatred or some misguided attempt to set people on “the right path.” It was done out of a real concern, that I as a reader and retailer have to face every day. I spoke up, because I felt it was important to do so. Comics are much more sexually charged today in their storytelling, than in times past. It has been something that has really grown, especially over the past few years. It’s a trend that should be watched and monitored.

    Everyone always talks about finding new ways to bring in a new generation of younger readers. Perhaps the best way to do that, is not take away the material that was created for them to begin with. Just a thought.


    James Meeley

    — 9 July 2005 at 10:42 pm (Permalink)

  4. Steven says:

    Actually, the part of your latest letter I disagree with most is your assertion that morals and role models don’t belong in all-ages stories.

    I think teenagers ought to be reading stories with sex, especially ones written by such intelligent and insightful authors as Heinberg seems to be. And teenagers certainly ought to be reading stuff without parental guidance—adulthood is too late to become intellectually and morally independent of one’s inheritance.

    Nevertheless, exploration of sexual identity does not imply depiction of sex. But She-Hulk and Daredevil, both rated PSR, have already had at least clear post-coital bedroom scenes; so the damage, such as it is, was done long ago.

    — 10 July 2005 at 1:39 am (Permalink)

  5. Rose says:

    — 10 July 2005 at 2:11 am (Permalink)

  6. James Meeley says:


    I appreciate your feelings, just as I hope you can appreciate mine. I feel that real role models are a much more substancial factor to a young childs development, than any comic book one could ever hope to be. I think the fact you are suggesting that comic characters (by way of the writer’s words) should be role models, speaks to the problem of just why we do need more real ones. We obviously don’t have enough.

    And I never said they don’t belong in all-ages comics. I simply said that perhaps we should look to make more in the real world first. Because no comic, no matter how well-written it is, can replace a real person.

    As for “the damage already being done”, you make a fair point. But again, that only speaks to my issue and point. Should the fact some lines have already been crossed mean we should simply sit back and let the spiral downward continue? Should we just stand idle, while something that is already “damaging” continues to grow? I don’t think so. That’s why I wrote in the first place. I’ve noticed the trend. The last few years especially so. That’s why I made my feelings known. Some don’t agree with them and that’s fine. The worst thing we can do, however, is to simply remain silent to an issue. Whether you are with the position on it or not, isn’t really the most important thing. What is most important, is speaking up and letting your voice be heard. It’s just like with voting. Your choice might not win, but you can’t let that possibility stop you from making your voice heard.

    That’s what I did. And I’m glad I did it. I hope you can at least appreciate that.

    — 10 July 2005 at 7:31 am (Permalink)

  7. James Meeley says:


    And did anyone ask for clarification from me? Did anyone ask me, “Hey, do you mean to say that adult-minded themes have NO place in comics at all? Is that what you are saying?” But did they? Did you in your little rant about me? Nope.

    Did I take Heinberg’s words in their worst context? Yes, I did. But it wasn’t just his words which fueled my letters. It was the trend I have seen happening within supposed all-ages comics myself over the last few years. Stuff like the on-camera rape of Sue Dibney and Gwen Stacy’s role of the tramp in Amazing Spider-Man, were both very fresh instances of the lines being crossed with more and more frequency. And that’s bad enough, when the writers never even told us that material was going to be in books that supposedly were for all ages. Then, we have Heinberg practically make a declaration of his plans to do so. Gee, wonder why I might have been thinking the worst?

    So, I took him at face value on what he said. Obviously, as things have changed (both Heinberg giving more clarification and Marvel’s new rating system being primary among them), so to has my level of concern. Perhaps if Marvel had created this rating system, beofre they dumped the comic code, all of this could have been avoid from all side. Hindsight is ever 20/20, isn’t it? I appreciate Heinberg’s replies to my letters (which, as stated earlier, were edited in the printed versions) and he has gained a lot of respect from me because of it. While I certainly won’t be allowing younger kids to buy Young Avengers, I’ll gladly tell age appropiate folks to check it out, not the least of which is due to the respect Heinberg has gained from me.

    So, before you go casting stones at the “sinner”, who merely was trying to watch out for his own six (I’m a retailer, don’t forget), if nothing else, make sure you reinforce your own glass house on the same matter.

    After all, “do as I say not as I do” has never been a very good way of teaching a child. It also makes a pretty feeble defense for a person’s actions, too. The latter of which you (and plenty of others online) might do well to take note of. Or not.

    — 10 July 2005 at 7:49 am (Permalink)

  8. Rose says:

    — 10 July 2005 at 11:22 am (Permalink)

  9. Steven says:

    — 10 July 2005 at 12:12 pm (Permalink)

  10. James Meeley says:


    I do think adult-minded moral discussion should be kept out of all-ages comics. But that doesn’t mean it should never be discussed within comic at all. And I certainly never said anything like that. There are more mature themeed superhero comics, such as Supreme Power, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and a large amount of non-mainstream series, which can discuss those types of themes and topics, yet leave the all-ages heroes exactly that… for all ages.

    All-ages should be just that, for all ages. Sure there has always been some form of moral discussion in comics (heck, good trying to defeat evil is one to be sure), but of late the morals have been less broad-minded as they have been in the past. They’ve been getting more specific and more sophisticated. And that starts putting the material of all-ages comics out of reach and range for the younger readers. Yet, everyone is always saying how we need to tap the next generation of younger readers to strengthen a sagging comic marketplace. Well, wouldn’t simply letting the all-ages books remain that be a good step in doing so? I think so.

    The problem, as I see it, is that the current reader fanbase is unwilling to let the all-ages heroes of their youth remain as they were created. They want them to mature and age along with them, deal with the more sophisticated themes which they now deal, ect. What they don’t see is how that takes away the younger readers ability to enjoy the works that were made for all ages. I have no problem with more mature superheroes. I read Supreme Power and enjoy it very much. The aging reader fanbase needs to let go of the heroes of their youth, if the all-ages format and design of them no longer appeals to them. There’s plenty of other great books out there, which are dying to be read. Older fans who no longer get “that same old feeling” from the all-ages heroes should move on to those books, not drag the all-ages character with them into adulthood.

    As for my comments being taken in the worst context, that’s fine, too. I don’t hold myself about that. But Heinberg didn’t berate me for my feelings the way so many online did. Instead, he did try to clarify his meaning (which I thanked him for in my follow-up letter). If folks had done the same for me, I’d have gladly done the same, just like I have here. As for my comment about Ed Cunard, that was a statement made in anger. I felt Ed was button-pushing me and I lost my cool. If that is enough in some folks minds to think the worst of me, and allow it to completely undermine what my point is for them, so be it. I just hope they don’t take it to heart, when someone does the same to them, if they lose it for a moment. Because, if you take note, no where in either of my letters (edited as they were) do I personally insult or degrade anyone. That wasn’t by chance or accident. You can take a person’s words in the “worst context”, yet still remain civil and respectful of them as a person. That’s what I did and what wasn’t done toward me by others online.

    As for Mark McCraken words, I did see that he was unable to find real role models. That just goes back to my words about working to make such role models in real life. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with creating sophisticated fictional role models for folks who can’t find them in the real world, I still feel that it is a disservice to force them into all-ages books. As I said, there’s a plethora of other non-all-ages books out there, which can be used to such effect. This isn’t 1955, where freely expressing such things is forbidden by govermental interference. The comic landscape of today is vast and diverse. So then, why do we have to mature the all-ages books, so more sophisticated-minded people can have more relatable role models? It doesn’t make sense. Isn’t the comic marketplace big enough for BOTH? I would think so.

    A part of the problem no one else has looked at (and I’ll admit I was remiss to address), is that Marvel’s (and DC’s) classic super-heroes have been all-ages fare for decades. The company has built themselves of providing all-ages entertainment to the masses. And by having such a reputation, I think it’s very cavalier and irresponsible of them to change that. Because folks have to trust that characters, such as Spider-Man for example, will always be something that kids (including adult ones) of all ages can enjoy. If you darken and mature the character, that is no longer possible. Add to that, that until very recently, they have done a very poor job of providing a clear indication of what books and material are suited to what age groups, and you begin to see why I have (or had, I should say) such a problem with this.

    And now, having said all of this, I have to disagree with you that the possibility of the discussion remianing good and intelligent is something to view skeptically. All the letters to Young Avnegers that my first letter created, all managed to let people have their say about what I said, yet kept it civil and intelligent. Maybe that was due to the editor. Maybe not. Regardless, I noted in my follow-up letter, how by having such a discussion and keeping it respectful to all views and sides of the matter is something which makes not only for a good letters page, but can be a symbol of how such discussion should be conducted by people. I think I’ve done a fair job of doing that here, as have you. We still may not agree with the other, but we respect their right to feel as they do and not belittle them for it. And for that, I thank you.

    — 10 July 2005 at 7:26 pm (Permalink)

  11. James Meeley says:


    Yeah, they asked for clarification, in-between judging me and “preaching to the sinner.” No one there really cared about clarification. They cared about putting down something they disagreed with. Yet, as it seems is the norm online nowadays, they forget that there is a real person attatched to the text. I don’t want to go too far off topic here, but in my many years online, I think folks have come to regard their words and actions online as disposable. That what they say and how they act is forgotten, once they turn their computer off. But that isn’t the case (and probably never has been). It seems in the rush to show how open-minded they were, a lot of folks only served to show me just how close-minded they are (even when compared against me). But I digress….

    As for mischaracterizing Heinberg, I don’t think I did so. I will admit that my original point is lessened, now that Marvel has their new rating system. Since Young Avenegers is not all-ages, if Heinberg wants to do the things he states, even in the context I thought them to be, it’s fine. Of course, my feelings simply go back to the point of how Marvel has built their reputation on all-ages comics for decades. I, as I’m sure many adults, have come to see them as a company that caters to all-ages. If they now want to change that, well, that’s fine. But the poor job of informing people on exactly what material they produce is intended for what age group, still speaks to my original issues and concerns. It’s a problem that has been addressed recently, so my concerns are no longer what they were. And while the READER in me still might take issue with darkening their formerly all-ages heroes, the RETAILER in me is satisfied with finally being able to have the information needed to keep the wrong material out of the wrong hands. Which, of course, was the bigger part of my original concerns.

    As for me not being sophisticated enough of a writer to express my points, well, you are entitled to your opinions. But I’ve heard from folks who did understand what my issue was and they agreed with me (at least in part) on it. So, while I’m not going to say you or anyone else is deficiet in their reading comprehension skills, I do think it speaks to my point about how online communication has become disposable in the eyes of many of it’s users. Maybe that includes you, maybe it doesn’t. I’m not going to argue that point.

    I will agree with you that since the first “outbreak” of this discussion happened, there has been some benefit to it and if I have gotten people to perhaps look a little closer at the issue of how certain material is marketed to specific age groups, as well as looking deeper into how supposed all-ages fare has been changing over the last decade (and especially within the last few years), then I guess in spite of the verbal lynching I took online, I can take some comfort and solice in that. And I hope that by coming here I’ve given you the clarification you say I didn’t give at GRF. Of course, had the reaction there been like the one I have gotten here, it could have saved all of us a lot of wasted energy and hurt feelings. Perhaps that’s something we might all think about for the next time an issue like this pops up (as I’m sure it will).

    — 10 July 2005 at 7:53 pm (Permalink)

  12. David says:

    I’m not really sure where to start, so I’ll just limit myself to one point.

    James, if you’re going to hearken back to the days where comics were pure entertainment, didn’t focus on social issues or sexuality, and didn’t try and present super-heroic characters as role models, you’re going to have to abandon Spider-Man as an example.

    If there’s a character in the spandex canon more clearly intended to be a role model, I can’t honestly think of one. The whole concept of “great power/great responsibility” and the context of a guy who sacrifices his personal happiness at every turn to do the right thing is morally instructive on practically a cellular level. He takes role-model behavior to the point of martyrdom, and if you think that wasn’t intentional from the outset, I’d humbly suggest you’re mistaken.

    As for the insertion of social issues into comics narrative, that’s hardly a recent development. Drug abuse, racism, government corruption, gang violence, and dozens of other issues have tumbled in and out of comics from the outset, admittedly with varying degrees of success. I surely don’t need to point to Uncanny X-Men or Astro Boy with their parables of marginalized minorities and social injustice. Heck, even the Golden Age comics had an evident social agenda with their Nazi-busting adventures, War Bond ads, and other incitements to patriotic action.

    I really don’t know what comics you’re talking about when you call for “pure entertainment.” I don’t think they’ve ever been as simple as you claim. And I don’t think challenging or complex material makes a title inappropriate for a younger audience. To suggest that shiny, flat, punch-em-up stories are the only appropriate material for kids is an incredibly depressing assertion. Surely we can expect better for readers of every age, can’t we?

    — 10 July 2005 at 8:49 pm (Permalink)

  13. James Meeley says:


    I don’t deny there has always been some moral dimension to superhero comics, even in the “brighter days.” But it seems to me that the writers of today don’t have the “trick” to it, that guys like Stan Lee, John Broome, Jack Kirby and many other of the classic greats did. The trick to writing all-ages fare, is to make it simple and accessable enough for your youngest readers, yet add in just enough sophistication and dimension to keep older readers interested. It’s a challenging balance. The devil, as always, is in the details. Perhaps if I gave you another example.

    In Superman #217, Lois and Jimmy visit Supes at his new Fortress of Solitude. At the end of one page, Lois and Supes are snuggling in in shadow in fromt of the moon. The very next page, they are laying in bed together and Supes has to duck out fast, when they hear Jimmy coming. The problem with this scene? When Superman duck out, the bed sheet raises to show that they were both nude under it. Of course, all the “naughtiest parts” remain covered, but the intention is clear. They had just finished having sex.

    Now, while you or I as adults know what married people do behind the closed doors of the bedroom, is that really appropriate to show in a mag that is supposedly for all ages? Why couldn’t Lois and Supes have had on some kind of bedware? Us adults still will know what happened, but the younger readers don’t have it pushed into their face and minds. This way, if a kid were to ask their parents why Superman and Lois were in bed together, the parent gets to choose how much the kid gets to know. Not the comic writer. Not the comic publisher. It’s these little things that have been added to supposed all-ages comics that have matured them beyond what I feel is needed for a comic to truly be for all-ages. Sue Dibney’s on-camera rape in Identity Crisis is another one. Why not just show Doctor Light’s shadow falling over Sue, then cut away to a scene where the JLA arrived after it happened? Adult readers still know what happened, but younger readers aren’t having it throw up at them.

    I don’t think “shiny, flat, punch-em-up stories” are all that’s appropriate for kids. I do, however, feel that writers today don’t use the “shortcuts” that great all-ages writers before them used, to keep the material suitable for the entire reading auidence.

    With the diversity within the comic marketplace today, shouldn’t there be room for both the all-ages fare that I’m talking about AND the more sophisticated themes writers today want to address, without altering formerly all-ages books beyond the reach of the younger readers? If not, I find that an even more incredibly depressing assertion, than you found my statements to be.

    Still, I thank you for your thoughts and your civility in discussing the matter. The moral of showing respect to someone, even if you disagree with them, is surely something that should be related to all ages.

    — 10 July 2005 at 9:22 pm (Permalink)

  14. Steven says:

    Very good points. I have nothing to add except my agreement.

    Mature readers comics, adult comics? OK, I suddenly see the fundamental disagreement, I think: when Heinberg says exploration of sexual identity, you think darkening of superhero comics as in Identity Crisis &c.; I never made that connection. I think all-ages stories absolutely should have gay characters. Should all-ages stories have sex scenes? No, of course not. But anyway, Young Avengers isn’t all-ages, as everybody knows at this point. It always seemed pretty obvious to me that PSR stands for Parental Supervision Recommended. Marvel’s ratings are stupid and inconsistent (although no more so than movie ratings); but I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of All Ages rating, so I don’t think PSR could really be confused for an all-ages rating.

    As for the separate problem of the darkening of superhero comics—they’ve been moving away from all-ages fare for at least twenty five years (I’m thinking of Frank Miller’s Daredevil; there may be earlier examples), so that’s pretty much old news. In fact, didn’t Batman’s orginal 1930s incarnation carry a pistol and kill people regularly? That’s at least as bad for kids as Superman/Lois Lane sex. There are still plenty of all-ages comics, though, even published by Marvel.

    — 11 July 2005 at 12:33 am (Permalink)

  15. Steven says:

    By the way, since I neglected to mention this in the comment-moderation warning, our blog has a white-listing feature (after you’ve had one comment approved, subsequent comments are automatically improved) which is keyed to e-mail address. So commenters who don’t provide e-mail addresses will always have to wait for Rose or me to approve their comments.

    — 11 July 2005 at 1:08 am (Permalink)

  16. James Meeley says:


    I don’t mind gay characters in all-ages comics, either. I do mind them being used to preach to the reader and I do mind deep eploration of their sexuality (but then, I feel that way about hetrosexual exploration, as my Superman example shows). I don’t want the Superman/Lois scene done with Asgardian and Hulking, for the same reasons I don’t wwnt it donw with Superman and Lois.

    Of course, as you say, the point is fairly moot for Young Avengers, since Marvel has clearly defined the rating of the series. And don’t think that PSR was of help to a lot of folks. The two other retailers in my town, along with some online folks who comment at my blog and their personal retailers, knew what PSR meant. That’s what I was saying, when I said how poorly handled Marvel’s rating have been, until very recently. The confusion comes in, I think, when you look at the past of Marvel’s series that were labeled so. Spider-Man, the Avengers, The Hulk… all of them were perfecftly suitable reading for younger audiences, when most of the parents today might have read them. As a retailer, I know that I have had no problem selling those types of titles to kids. But if Marvel is going to change the tone and subject matter within them to something more mature and sophisticated, they need to be blatantly obvious about it. Because they are going to be fighting against the reputation the company has had and been founded on for nearly four decades. This new rating system does that. Thus, the confusion is lifted and so to is a lot of my concern.

    As for the darkening of comics, I know it’s not new OR news. But it just seems lately that the past few years has seen a “growth spurt” in it. Identity Crisis, Avengers Disassembled, Sins Past, Countdown to Infinite Crisis… it seems there is a very strong push to darkening and maturing things even more than before. And I think it’s time someone said something about applying the brakes a little bit. I know there is still some all-ages fare available for younger readers, but compared to what was available 10 to 15 years ago, the number has gone down substancially. All which perplexes me, since everyone always goes on about tapping the next generation of younger readers. It would seem the content output goes against that supposed desire to reach out to them.

    I’m glad that we were able to have this discussion and I was able to clarify my position. I’m even glader that we have kept the discussion civil and intelligent. I guess perhaps you were wrong about the discussion not remaining good and inteeligent, which I’m sure you are very happy to be wrong about. Thank you for the respect and thought-provoking way this was handled. It ever so slowly restores my faith that such discussions CAN be done this way.

    — 11 July 2005 at 2:56 am (Permalink)

  17. Steven says:

    OK. You’ve made a big show of being civil in the current discussion. I have studiously avoided acknowledging that, because you’re obviously maneuvering to contrast the relative civility of the current discussion with your supposedly poor treatment in other discussions. I’m afraid I have to disappoint you, James, because I still think you were by far the most unreasonable participant in the Grotesque Rampage discussion that Rose linked to. If Ed was needling you, maybe it’s because your immediate response to his initial perfectly reasonable disagreement with you (in the Fanboy Rampage comments) was an overwrought accusation that his disagreement infringes your right to free speech. At any rate, I wouldn’t expect a genuinely reasonable person who vehemently denies being anti-gay to resort to heterosexist slurs about Ed’s bisexuality, even in the heat of anger.

    I also remain unconvinced of the intelligence of the current discussion. I’m not a retailer, and I know that Marvel has a specific all-ages rating. The name of this rating is, in fact, All Ages. There are many reasons to complain about Marvel’s rating system, but your apparent inability to distinguish between All Ages and PSR is not one of them.

    You seem to realize that your argument that morals and role models should be kept out of comics is ill-advised, but you keep weaseling out of admiting it by changing the subject to the “darkening” of superheroes. You ignore the substance of David’s argument in favor of complaining about an unrelated Superman/Lois Lane sex scene. If you think Identity Crisis would be more acceptable if Sue Dibny’s rape were kept off-panel, you have completely missed the point about the problem with the “darkening” of superheroes. See also Rose’s point above about Gwen Stacey being labeled a tramp because she had sex once with an older man.

    Child fans who grew up and demanded that their favorite characters grow up with them are not making it more difficult for today’s children to find comic books. There are superhero books, there are manga, there are small-press books like Owly and Amelia Rules!. There is no shortage of comics books for children. Rose and I both began reading comic books as adults, so we don’t fetishize the heroes of our childhood; we don’t believe that our lifelong relationship with Spider-Man gives us any authority of the character, whereas readers like you seem to think that Marvel should listen to you when you give them advice. You seem to think that your letters had some influence in Marvel’s decision to change their ratings system. You’re convinced that, with your letter-writing campaign, you’ve taught us all a valuable lesson about the importance of letter columns. Your sense of entitlement is amazing.

    If this reply seems surprisingly harsher than previous ones, it’s because I wanted to give you give you opportunity to have a genuinely respectful discussion in which you, for example, answered other people’s arguments rather than weaseled around them and didn’t brag about how civil we all are. As far as I’m concerned, this discussion is finished. Discussion of Young Avengers itself is welcome.

    — 11 July 2005 at 2:32 pm (Permalink)

  18. James Meeley says:


    Wow. I’m actually pretty blown away by your last reply here. Even more, I’m disappointed by it.

    I had thought I was doing a somewhat fair job of trying to clarify my position and feelings on the matter. Obviously, you don’t agree. For that, I’m sorry. I’m sorrier still that you took my stating how civil thing have been as “bragging,” because it was nothing of the sort. I was truly thankful for folks showing respect to someone whom they may not have agreed with. I wasn’t out to weasel people, just give them my appreciation for not degrading me over a matter of opinion.

    As for your list of issues with me, well, I could try to further clarify things for you, but it seems pretty obvious that you’ve made your mind up about things (and me), given the fact you state you are done with the discussion. So, I guess I’ll simply say I’m sorry you think that way of me and leave it at that.

    I will again say that I truly appreciated the civility and respect shown to me during this discussion from those involved. I’m sorry it had to end on such a sour note.

    — 11 July 2005 at 6:27 pm (Permalink)