Even on the slowest day of the week, we will ask this question a minimum of five times at the store. With over 300 ongoing or limited-series titles covering our comic wall all with teen plus ratings, it is not surprising that this question has become a requirement. What is surprising, however, is the amount of confused looks from parents we receive.
Over the past 77 years comics have been filled with messages towards the political agenda, adult themes and bad guys with maniacal plans to take over the world. But before the 1980’s any improper joke would go over a child’s head, imagery was less outright sexual or violent and the attitudes of the superheroes were far more chummy. Then there were also the comic based media characters like Adam West’s 1966 Batman or Christopher Reeve’s 1978 Superman. These superheroes were pictured more as boy scouts than crime fighters. They laughed in the face of evil, voiced a silly quip, escaped the villain’s trap and always, always saved the day.
But those are no longer our superheroes. Captain America has gone from punching Hitler in the face to a man in his 70’s still holding on to his soldier mentality. And Superman went from saving Lois Lane from burning buildings followed by playful flirting to having sexual forays with Wonder Woman before running off to join the Justice League.
Though many of the underlying themes may not have changed, the comic industry as a whole has. Superheroes are still saving the world from evil but instead of a pun and a good punch to the jaw it is with graphic violence, sexual overtones and honest language. This makes for a far more entertaining story-line with our ever expanding acceptance to realism in both the fictional and non-fictional realms, but is creating a huge gap between mature and all-age titles.
“My kids love Deadpool! They have all his stuff; clothes, backpacks, toys. I am sure the content cannot be that bad if they sell his product to kids!”
My jaw dropped when I heard that response. The woman was standing with one of her aforementioned children who MIGHT have been six-years-old. My staff and I are not the type of people to ever tell a parent how to raise their kids. It is not our place. So the moment a parent approves their children reading books at all maturity levels, we back off. But we always double check when parents, understandably, cannot believe (or never even considered) a book’s rating when characters as graphic as Deadpool are marketed to their children. At those points we usually dwindle just long enough to explain the character’s contents before walking away. And the difference between explaining that a book is rated teen and explaining that Deadpool’s upcoming film is rated a hard R often causes the parent to question the book.
Deadpool has been a PG13+ character (we only suggest him to 15+) since his inception in The New Mutants #98 (1991). His creators Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld have often fielded questions about his adult language (which Deadpool even mocks during an appearance in Wolverine Origins #23), aggressively comedic attitude and even his sexual orientation. He breaks the fourth wall, makes penis jokes and kills with a passion. He can be hilarious and obnoxious at the same. All and all, that equates to some of the best lose-yourself, empty-your-mind reading currently available. But it is specifically aimed at mature readers.
Yet Deadpool is not the only character that should be the hot seat. As a devote Bat-Family fan, it is hard to not be able to offer kids some of the best Bat-titles that have been on the market in years. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman (N52) has been a page turning, event filled, mind trip. But I cannot offer it to children. Batman has been fighting conspiracy, gangs and super villains in Gotham for 76 years, but the reality Snyder and Capullo’s series carries is far too much for a child to comprehend. Besides, Death of the Family (Batman N52 Vol 3) is one of the most graphically dark Joker-centric Bat-books. EVER! But that is not all, in 1988’s Batman: A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin, the DC Comics fan base actually phoned in a 1-900 number and decided whether or not to kill off Jason Todd, the second Robin. If you have not read it yet, spoiler: He dies!
And I have not even touched on titles from small-press and independent publishers. These books will have a multitude of themes ranging from space operas like Bryan K. Vaughan and Fiona Staple’s Saga to historically based graphic novels, such as Art Spiegelman’s 1991 series Maus, a biographical comic based on his father’s Holocaust Survival story. (A book that is still required reading in thousands of High Schools across the United States.) Or even to books like Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead. A series that was received so well AMC snatched it up and turned it into one of the most popular television shows currently on television. But there is a large dissimilarity between allowing your kids to watch a cable regulated television show and a non-restricted creator own comic book series.
Yet, the problem does not simply lay with a lack of knowledge of the rating system. It truly goes back to marketing. Stores like Hot Topic have almost as much Walking Dead product as Harry Potter and, no matter the rating nor her limited amount of clothing, Harley Quinn toys and merchandise are available in stores like Target and Toys ‘R Us. Then, like so many other things, it circles back to Deadpool.
Marvel has put his face on everything. Clothing, school supplies plus every sort of toy and statue imaginable. He is also available as a playable character in LEGO Marvel’s Super Heroes which has only carries an E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) rating. The unrated YouTube videos featuring scenes from his self-named M (Mature) rated video game are only a Google search away. And he has even made a guest appearance in DisneyXD’s Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-man. With his easy accessibility, can it be considered unreasonable that children would not be interested in Deadpool? Why wouldn’t they want to read a book centered on an outspoken, sometimes sexually driven, unkillable, gun-happy Mercenary?
At my store, we have fifty feet of comic racks hosting over 300 titles. A few of them can, potentially, be glanced through by pre-teens, but none of them are truly considered appropriate for all ages. No, not even Boom! Studios Jem and the Holograms, just ask their creators! With mass marketed characters like Deadpool but only meant for enjoyment by a specific demographic, this only creates frustration and widening gap in the market.
But! Even though the hole is only getting deeper, there are still a few options for your kids. Whenever you stop into your local comic’s retailer please ask for assistance. We love showing off our comic knowledge and will happily help you find something for your child. Even for the young Deadpool fan:
Just in time for the opening of his upcoming film, Marvel released the Deadpool and Woverine Digest appropriate for all ages. Well, really it is more kids eight-years and up. The book has four separate, previously printed, mini-stories: two Deadpool and two Wolverine (also considered a mature-only character). The wording is not only plentiful and may become too much for smaller children, the font is also too tiny for newer readers. There is also the fact one of the characters uses guns and swords as their main fighting tools and, though the word “kill” is never actually used, Deadpool is Deadpool and he outwardly admits that he is a Mercenary. But, for those kids really desperate to try a Deadpool book, it is only $9.99 and does not have any heavy themes that require much explanation or an over abundance of violence. A perfect pick-up for your would-be Deadpool fan!
Make sure to ask about it at your local comics retailer today!