Issue #14 of 35   INDEX

Joel Grineau
by: Joel V. Grineau
The Comics Code Authority: A Boogieman Walks Among Us
Previously in this column I have described the events which lead up to the creation of the Comics Code Authority and done an analysis of the Code's contents. But the question remains: How does the Code affect modern day comic books?

To be blunt, the Code is nothing more than a "boogieman".

How can I say this? After all, the Code says no nudity, and there is no nudity in todays Code authorized comic books, so therefore the Code is binding. Yes, on this (one) point you are correct.

But, to recap last weeks column, we have a list of words embraced by the moral majority of 1954:

  • established authority
  • good taste or morals
  • respect
  • the moral code
  • clothing acceptable to society
  • a moral issue
  • value of the home
  • and the sanctity of marriage.

It is easy to find many examples where todays comic books do not even come close to these precepts.

The number of crooked cops, lawyers, judges and governmental figures are legion. DC's Vigilante was a judge by day, and vigilante at night, in order to get at those that the law couldn't touch.

Respect has also taken a beating. For an example, look at the formation of paralegal groups such as the X-Men or the Outsiders.

The moral code, such as "Avengers don't kill" has also fallen. A group of Avengers murdered the Supreme Intelligence (well, not really, but they thought that they had), which caused a rift in their membership.

"Clothing and costume acceptable to society." Yeah, right. The X-Men's former nemesis, the White Queen, had a costume that was little more than a bustier, some fruit of the looms(TM), a pair of garters, and some spiked high heel boots (all of them white of course). Tell me that's Code approved.

When they referred to "moral issues" in the Code... I don't think they meant having a balanced understanding of famine in Africa, drug abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse and AIDS.

The value of the home was also stomped on, for several heroes of the Marvel universe are hated by their parents, simply because they're mutants.

Lastly: the sanctity of marriage? Well, Giant Man and the Wasp are divorced (I think, don't know anymore, due to the currently reformulated "Avengers"), or there is single parent Ant Man? And what about the playboy images of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark?

But there are even larger infringements.

"Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of Brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gun play, physical agony, gore and gruesome crime shall be eliminated." Hear that Daredevil, Batman and the Punisher? "Wolverine #1" (1988) had everyone's favourite pint sized psycho kill something like 37 guys in 32 pages.

"Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates desire for emulation." So there should be no wealthy evil guys like Lex Luthor, or the Kingpin.

"Evil shall never be illustrated as alluring". Really? Then what about Dracula or Poison Ivy?

"Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities." Hah! It's not possible for so many women to have such long legs and breasts bigger than their heads!

So, in most cases the Code is all but toothless today; Code approval on a comic book stops very little.

One last important point. In the past, it was very risky and possibly economically or legally damaging to publish a non-Code approved comic book. But today, about five percent of Marvel and DC comic books are not Code approved. This is where one can find the 'mature reader' lines, such as Vertigo, and Epic.

Beyond the big two companies, the majority of Image, Valiant, and Malibu (before it was bought out by Marvel), do not carry the Comics Code. Any comics dealing with erotica or extreme violence, such as "Vampirella" or "Void Indigo" (Epic 1984/5) and many Asian imports are also not Code approved. Many of these comic book companies flourish or hang around for years.

In conclusion then, the code carries almost no power today. It's a modern-day "boogieman" - a powerless, ineffectual creation only intended to "scare" the naive into submission by it's presence. It has about as much weight in reality as the boogieman.

Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos" Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of 1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.

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Text © Joel V. Grineau, 1997,1998.
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