Thursday, July 21, 2016

Think of the Children

Well, the genie’s out of the bottle now. His name is Deadpool, he’s a superhero, and his movie got a pile of rave reviews and made an even bigger pile of money. It was also rated R, and for a slew of good reasons: over-the-top violence, nudity, sex, adult situations, and swearing out the yin-yang. Not the kind of movie you want to take the little kiddies to, though their mid- to late-teen siblings would probably get a kick out of it.

Deadpool is hardly the first superhero movie to earn big bucks at the box office, and it’s not the first R-rated superhero movie. (I’m not sure what that was. Punisher: War Zone? One of the Blade movies? I don’t think it was Watchmen.) However, as far as I know, it was the first superhero movie to be both popular and earn massive moolah with an R rating attached. And with Hollywood involved, we all know what that means: more, more and even more of the same, as Tinseltown rushes to cash in on what they think made Deadpool so profitable. Which means we’ve got a tidal wave of R-rated superhero flicks looming in our movie-going future.

I can think of a couple comic-book characters that could handle and even benefit from the adults-only treatment. Wolverine, for starters. Let’s be honest: Wolvie’s shtick is that he goes into berserker rages and guts people. That’s what the claws are for. Check out this scene from X2: X-Men United. This is the Wolverine we know from the comics. This is the scene we wanted to see in the first X-Men movie but had to wait for. Wolverine is beloved by fandom. Put him in a film with no ratings restrictions and people will line up around the block.

I’ve already mentioned the Punisher and Blade. If the upcoming Suicide Squad isn’t rated R, there is no justice in the world. We deserve to see Harley Quinn in all her psychotic glory. Batman? Not necessarily. His is a whole other breed of nutzoid, and doesn’t require ratings restrictions. The Joker? Definitely. DC is releasing an animated version of The Killing Joke graphic novel, and it’s rated R. Yes, you heard me. A cartoon based on a mainstream comic book has been given an R rating. If you’re familiar with the story, you know why.

There’s talk the recent Superman v. Batman should have gone after the R. I think the Blu-Ray has added scenes that bump the rating up a notch.

Whoa. Superman? Are you telling me Superman belongs in an R-rated movie? No. Just no. No way, no how. Superman and Spider-Man are where I draw the line.

Aren’t you people forgetting something? All these big-budget blockbuster flicks are based on comic books. Once upon a time, comic books were disposable entertainment for kids. Little kids. Interest in comic books generally waned around the time puberty hit, when girls became more interesting than musclebound guys in tights. But until hormones kicked in, comics were something to keep kids quiet on rainy afternoons.

All that began to change in the 1960s, when Marvel Comics discovered their reader demographic was mostly college students and older, and adjusted their sights accordingly. Also, the comic-book readers of yesteryear had grown up to become the comic-book pros of the present. They wanted to tell stories for the people they were now, not the children they’d been. So the storylines began to skew upward, into more grown-up themes.

Then Watchmen came along, with its deconstruction of standard superhero tropes, and showed violence, nudity, heroes having sex, and “heroes” who were flat-out wacko. It was hailed as ground-breaking. It made a lot of money, which meant from that day forward all heroes must be violent emotional basket cases. If you’re sick to death of all the “grim and gritty” comics that have clogged up the stands since the 1980s, go blame Alan Moore.

Or maybe not. In Back Issue magazine #79, artist/co-creator Dave Gibbons had this to say: “The message that was perceived by a lot of creators was, ‘Oh yeah! We gotta get really dark! We gotta make all our characters mentally ill and emotional wrecks.’ We didn’t ever intend that to be the case and we felt very sorry for all the depressing comics that came in the wake of Watchmen.”

What he said.

There should be room in the market for a little of everything, but comic books for pre-teens seem to have gotten squeezed out. Bad enough we’re now paying $4 for a flimsy pamphlet we can read in ten minutes and we don’t even get a full story. Those stories aren’t even aimed at the kids that were once comics’ primary market. Publishers like Harvey, that catered to little kids, aren’t around any more. Archie Comics, for decades a cartoony bastion of all-ages comedy, recently revamped its line into a more realistic style, with teen-centric realistic stories. And now kids can’t even go to the movies based on these comics unless they’re 18 or older. Where’s the audience of tomorrow going to come from, if there’s nothing for them to get hooked on early? Will nobody think of the children?

That’s why I feel Superman needs to be exempt from the grim-and-gritty grownup world. He was the first. He epitomized what used to be the traits we wanted our kids to aspire to. The alien being from another planet showed us all the heights a human could achieve. And you want to make him a scowling, psychotic jerk who solves all problems with punches? Batman already is a scowling, psychotic jerk, and even he stops short of killing people. We don’t need another one.

Ditto Spider-Man. He was the first teen superhero who wasn’t somebody’s sidekick. He was a geeky science nerd who couldn’t get dates and was bullied by the football team. Even those of us without spider powers could relate. Spider-Man taught us “with great power comes great responsibility.” And he did it without going dark.

Ease up, creators. Give Superman and Spider-Man back to the kids. We took all the other heroes away from them. They should get to keep the icons. If you want to make an R-rated superhero movie, then show us Wonder Woman in all her 1940s glory, with the bondage and the fetishism intact. I’ll bet Deadpool himself would pay big bucks to see that.

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