If there was one thing on people’s minds at New York Comic Con 2018 it was Batman’s penis. But not in a good way.
While it’s still not clear how much of the furious Barcon gossip was fevered speculation and how much actual facts, it all points to the few shadowy panels of Batman naked in Batman Damned sending shockwaves throughout the WB/DC executive suites.
In particular, the Batjunk arrives just as WB’s new President of Global Brands and Experiences Pam Lifford was taking over the job running consumer products and DC and all things branding. It seems she was not happy with being greeted with this tempest on her first week, and DC publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio were strongly admonished (some say chewed out) that this was not the kind of thing that sells Batman lunchboxes for children.
Potential bodies to be thrown under the bus to atone for the mess include DiDio and Lee, Vertigo editor Mark Doyle, editorial consultant Will Dennis, and creators Azzarello and Lee Bermejo. A rich rogues gallery there.
Although these are all speculative, it does seem that the #1 perp on the list is the Black Label line itself. I was told that it’s basically dead in the water at this point. Batman Doomed #1 will not be reprinted, and the next issues may not be printed individually – instead the whole thing will be collected in an edited version, although this could still change.
That the whole Black Label thing is being reconsidered was backed up in an interview by Susana Polo over at Polygon, where Lee and DiDio are seen madly rethinking the line:
But the reception to Batman: Damned #1 has prompted some rethinking at DC, even if it’s just a more cautious approach.
“It’s made us, certainly, look at what Black Label is and think about whether these elements are additive to the story,” Lee said. “And that’s something that we’ll be mindful of going forward, because I don’t think we want necessarily a repeat of what happened with the first issue.”
“It’s something we wished never happened,” DiDio chimed in, “because it really took the attention away from what we thought was quality storytelling, and that’s not the way we see this imprint. As a matter of fact, we’re excited by all the books that we have under Black Label. And it’s an important line for us, so much so that we’re actually repositioning some of our older material that has that same tonality and bringing it in and reprinting it under the Black Label name.”
One can only marvel at the guileless, wide eyed innocence on display here with no one EVER expecting that full frontal nudity for one of the world’s great superheroes might cause a ruckus or three. Batman’s Average Dick Energy is not welcome here!
But anyway, it seems there is a lot of scrambling internally over what is now allowed to be shown, even in adult themed books. I’m told that several Vertigo projects have gone back for redrawing – either on the basis of clear directives from above, or just skittish editors who have had the fear of God thrown into them again.
Also compounding matters: lower than expected sales for Heroes in Crisis, which suggests that the kill and maim events of the ’00s are not working as well these days.
I didn’t hear this mentioned specifically, but spitballing here that a lot of this anxiety at WB/DC is could be due to the AT&T takeover. While AT&Ts John Stankey, who has taken over running their WB holdings, has limited displaying his terrifying bean-counting powers to making portentous statement about HBO, eventually, Celestial-like, his gaze will land upon WB and its chronically underperforming DCEU movie arm. It’s an educated guess based on how these corporate takeover things go that DC might had have a year before they came under scrutiny while bigger fish like the overall WB movie slate and HBO are examined…I’m sure the biggest fear for many is that the Bat Junk may have accelerated that schedule.
The following is MY OPINION ONLY, but I’ve said repeatedly that the Black Label line is a great idea but the announced titles thus far sound solid but manufacturing classics like Watchmen and Dark Knight can’t be done on a schedule. Those are two singular masterpieces that were a reaction to an industry that doesn’t exist any more. Just as Blade Runner’s stunning graphics were mind boggling for the time and influenced so much on screen and IRL that came after that its hard to see the influence any more, Watchmen and DK have subtly and not so subtly influenced every super hero story that followed.
I’m told that the Bat Junk was just a random creative idea, one that any number of people with oversight could have sunk as inappropriate. Some things are best left to the imagination. And nudity doesn’t make adult content.
It was all a bit silly, to be honest.
But sinking Black Label and neutering Vertigo seems to me to be the worst possible reaction. I have great respect for Pam Lifford’s achievements in marketing and branding kids content. She took WB’s always dicey consumer products and cleaned up the line immensely. I can see where she’s coming from on this.
The reality is that adult content and Batman toys have coexisted peacefully for more than 30 years.
And even in this world of instantaneous social media outrage, they can continue to co-exist peacefully. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are ideals that can exist on many levels at once. And both DC’s bottom line and the comics medium as an art form have been greatly benefitted from the pioneering work done at the Vertigo line.
That said, it’s a very different world in 2018 than it was when Watchmen was created – although the world we live in today seems not so far removed from the dystopias that both Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons and Frank Miller envisioned.
Vertigo, Batman and the rest should be reexamined and updated for how they relate to the world today. It’s the role of great creators and editors to do just that. The Bat Junk may have been a mistake, but if it’s a mistake that used to take us back to an era where valid creative ideas can’t be explored, we’re in even bigger trouble than I thought.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.