Batman’s Comedy of Eros, by Dennis O’Neil
Way back in the late 80s, or maybe early 90s, an inker working on one of DC’s superhero comics rendered a female form rather more like the Lord made female forms than the mores of the time allowed. The editor dealt with the problem by putting a color hold – a purple one, I think – over what some would have deemed offensive nudity. Sex always wins. The lady’s charms shone clearly though the purple haze and a fuss ensued.
I remembered this anecdote when I saw, in the New York Times, an item about a Batman comic describing “a two page action sequence that is filled with foul language…uttered by (a) heroine…
“A black bar covered the blue words, but it was too transparent and allowed the text to be read.” Sex always wins and maybe “foul language” at least doesn’t fight fair.
According to the Times, the print run was destroyed. Having made more than my share of blunders when I sat in an editor’s chair, I know how easily goofs like this can occur and I hope the ensuing fuss doesn’t devolve on the editor, whoever he or she may be. As a certain Secretary of Defense said, stuff happens.
But I’m curious. Did the creative folk always intend the offensive language to be covered? Surely not. Why go to the bother and expense of lettering copy that no one will read? Easier, one imagines, to simply do the black bars in the first place, though as a storytelling strategy, that would be questionable; why pull the reader out of the story while they puzzle over the meaning of the black bars?
Okay, the copy was meant to be seen? Didn’t somebody wonder if such language could cause trouble and…I dunno – ask around?
Maybe someone saw it as a free speech issue. If so, I’d demur.
I think the First Amendment is the crown jewel of the Constitution, and, personally, I can be a potty mouth. Much of my choirboy vocabulary was left on an aircraft carrier and much of whatever was left in the gutters of the East Village, pre-gentrification. But I think the way things are marketed creates expectations, and it’s not playing fair with the customers to thwart those expectations. Anything – and I do mean anything – should be allowed in the public arena, but if one buys a book bylined Henry James, one should not be subjected to a story by Mickey Spillane.
Comics have come a considerable distance in the few years since I left editing. Hell and damn, once verboten seem okay both in comics and on TV, and a few gamier locutions are beginning to pop up. But I don’t believe the medium – comics – has evolved to the point where authentic street lingo is expected.
A final consideration: The question in matters like this is always a simple one. Does it help the narrative? Is the vocabulary the writer is using his way of showing off, or does it serve a larger purpose? Any vocabulary that tells the story is almost certainly the right vocabulary, though I’d expect to get argument on this. In the case of the Batman comic we’ve been discussing, I don’t know, and probably never will.
RECOMMENDED READING: Redemolished, by Alfred Bester
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and The Shadow– among others – as well as many novels, stories and articles. The Question: Epitaph For A Hero, reprinting the third six issues of his classic series with artists Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar, will be on sale in September, and his novelization of the movie The Dark Knight is on sale right now. He’ll be taking another shot at the ol’ Bat in an upcoming story-arc, too.
Denny, I think this comes back to your comment about Henry James and Mickey Spillane. If you buy a comic titled "All-Star Batman and Robin" you should not be getting a Vertigo book.Apparently they intended the words to be there and then blacked out, the equivalent of "bleeping" on a TV program. Obviously, not the best plan.
The best laid plans, the best laid plans. It was supposed to be blacked out but just barely visible over the edges of the bar. A silly affectation, but there you go. There was a sketch on Saturday night Live once when Tony danza was hosting. It was a performance of "War of the Worlds", as performed by a acting troupe from Brooklyn. The main gag was that all the lines were delivered in a thick "Des Dem and Dose" accent, including news reporters when they reveal that the Martians' weakness is "Goims", actually spelled out that way on the art behind her. Also, every other line of the script featured some accent-garbled mutation of the four-letter euphamism for carnal knowledge; fuggin', funklin', fargin', etc. It was clearly obvious that they weren't dropping the F-bomb, they were just "supposed to be". To this day, when that sketch is run on E!, they bleep the fake fucks.
Does it help the NARRATIVE?Is there a STORY there?Right!
I haven't seen, nor am i likely to, the comic in question – but which "heroine" uttered the offending dialog?(This being, as i understand, a Frank Miller script, i'm not amazed that it was a heroine.)
Cripes.What has Frank Miller got against women?
Actually, most (if not all?) the words are said by the street toughs who are chasing Batgirl.
Batgirl does get the line, "I'm f**king Batgirl," though.
Yeah. But who wouldn't want to be?(ducking and running)
"…i'm not amazed that it was a heroine.)"If one character in a book can swear, then all of them can. Women are not excluded from this club. I worked in a factory, so I've heard quite a bit of language from women, but it is mostly men who swear.All Star Batman is one of the best selling comics at my LCS. Sometimes, though, I think some of us buy it in order "to see what that fucker wrote this month!"
My understanding of the situation was that the inked over bad words were at the insistence of the writer, Frank Miller. He insisted that the words actually be printed but then inked over. A problem at the printer, where the "inking over" process was treated as a color hold, wound up with the color not being dark enough and slight misaligned so that the words shone through.Myself, I don't know what Frank was thinking. WHY did they have to be there if they were going to be covered over anyway?I've used the four letter words in GJ recently and some readers were not pleased. I, on the other hand, felt it was appropriate to the style of story that we were telling. iI think some of those always should have been in GJ and now we weren't prevented from doing so.The language used in GJ, however, was appropriate to GJ. One can question if it is EVER suitable in a book starring Batman in ANY incarnation. I guess the editor might have said NO to the author but can ANY editor tell Miller no these days and make it stick? Denny, any thoughts?
It was a silly stunt. We would have gotten the point if the dialog was blacked out at the lettering stage. I know a guy who lost his position over such production errors. I don't know if you can work at DC and say no to Frank. That reminds me of a situation a long time ago at Disney. They wanted to build a new administrative building where six of the seven dwarfs were hold up the roof. Like ALL Disney projects, the plans were sent over for on-model approval, so Disney could maintain consistency on all their characters. Problem is, if you kept the Dwarfs on-model, you'd have either an extremely tall building or an extremely wide one. The characters were not on-model. The poor schmuck who lucked out on the approvals knew what this building meant to the people who ran the company at the time. He also knew the drawings were not on-model. If he approved 'em, he'd lose his job. If he nixed 'em, he'd lose his job.The building got built. The editor lost his job. This is why people climb towers with semi-automatics.
I was one of the readers who commented on the use of four letter words in GJ. But at no point did I say that GJ's swearing was out of character. I just suggested that similar effects might be achieved in the dialog without touching the etymological third rail of "FUCK." I will also point out that John Ostrander's use of salty language in GJ was judicious and pertinent to both character and story. In short, GrimJack is WELL written. From what little I saw of Frank Miller's writing on ASBAR, his potty mouth was salacious, over-indulgent and lazy. The fowl language doesn't set the scene, advance the plot or add detail to character as much as it just seems to fill space. Worse, having Batgirl swear is TOTALLY out of character! That's not just lazy writing, that's stupid writing that has no respect for a character or the audience who have been fans of that character for decades.Swearing has become a defacto verbal pause in our culture. No longer do people feel hamstrung by the use of "Uhm" or "Ahh" when they are looking for the next word to string into their sentences. Now we can just toss in "Fuckin'." But writers usually edit out the verbal pauses. It makes for better reading.I have already given my opinion of ASBAR here, and I used some Karking bad language when I did!http://www.comicmix.com/news/2008/09/10/examining…
John Ostrander said:The language used in GJ, however, was appropriate to GJ. One can question if it is EVER suitable in a book starring Batman in ANY incarnation.Particularly for Batgirl.
Having only seen a poor reproduction online of the printed words, I think it was a problem that could have easily been fixed in the lettering stage if the overprinting was set correctly. Both the blackout bars and the lettering should have been set to "overprint fill". This would have made the letters indistinguishable from the bars. It's an easy thing to forget, though, as the normal view in Adobe Illustrator, where the letterer works, is to NOT show the effects of overprinting.
All I can say is…I cannot wait until David Mamet takes over All Star Batman and Robin…That'll show Frank ##%#&^@ Miller what for!