Dwayne McDuffie Week continues!
Two of the many qualities I admired about McDuffie were his idealism and honesty. Perhaps he was a little too honest for the tastes of mainstream comics publishers.
Anyone who saw the “The Color of Comics” episode of Robert Kirman’s Secret History of Comics documentary series on AMC about Milestone Comics may remember the behind-the-scenes controversy regarding the infamous cover to Static #25, featuring the title hero in an amorous embrace with his girlfriend.
Pretty standard stuff on the surface, but look closely and you’ll notice that Virgil/Static is holding some condoms in his hand. For the most part, the documentary series accurately depicted the disagreements between Milestone and DC Comics, as well the internal fights within Milestone itself between McDuffie and co-founder Denys Cowan. The episode references McDuffie’s editorial within the issue that unsurprisingly ruffled DC’s feathers and strained Milestone’s relationship with the publisher.
What the AMC series neglected to mention, however, was that Dwayne’s objection wasn’t simply to DC’s censorship or attempt to control the content, but the publisher’s own double standards when it came to sexuality. McDuffie was told DC had a policy of not showing sex on the covers. The irony isn’t lost on anyone familiar with 90’s comics. In an interview, Dwayne recounted that as he was being informed about this policy, he saw the cover of an issue of Legionnaires “with the very attractive female team member, her ass pointing at the camera, she’s looking over her shoulder sort of come hither, and saying, ‘We’re back!'”.
In my scholarly pursuit of all things Dwayne McDuffie, I actually found the comic he was describing: Legionnaires #16 with a cover drawn by Adam Hughes.
Compare the above issue of Legionnaires with the Static #25 cover and ask yourself which one is more sexually suggestive.
Read Dwayne McDuffie’s “The Cover They were Afraid to Print!” editorial below to get a better sense of the atmosphere at the time:
Several months ago I heard a rumor, third-hand that our partner at DC Comics didn’t want to print the cover to Static #25. I didn’t take it seriously. Wilfred had done a funky, sexy sketch that perfectly captured the awkwardness of adolescent passion. Zina Saunders turned that sketch into a beautiful painting and captured everything Wilfred had in his drawing and added a wonderful quality of sweetness besides. It is, as you can see on page one, a terrific cover. In any case, DC had never insinuated themselves into Milestone’s editorial process before, why would they do it now? And if they were suddenly going to start, wouldn’t somebody call me up and tell me? Stupid rumor, I decided and the incident passed from my mind.
A month or so later, the new issue of Coming Comics, the publication your comic book retailer uses to help him decide how to order upcoming DC (and Milestone) Comics showed up on my desk. Inside was the expected blurb about Static #25 attached to a picture of the wrong cover. I remembered the old rumor. Okay, now I’m paranoid.
Eventually, I call up DC. It’s confirmed. DC Comics refuses to print the cover. I ask why. Nobody will give me a reason. A couple of people around the office have a theory. “It’s the condom, stupid.” It’s possible, I suppose. I mean, I’ve read about people who believe that condoms cause sex, and even though I think that’s a bit like believing that raincoats cause rain, everybody’s entitled to a point of view, right? I decide that, in order to get the cover, I’ll offer to have the condoms removed.
I call up DC’s executive Vice President and Publisher, Paul Levitz. I tell him I’ve heard about the problems with the cover and offer to have the condoms painted out. No go. DC will not print that picture on the cover of Static #25. Paul conceded that it was, in fact, a lovely panting and entirely appropriate to the contents of the issue. Further, the thought it would be fine to run the cover on the inside of the book, perhaps as a splash page. However, he said, “DC Comics has a policy of not showing sex on the covers.”
“Was this,” I asked diplomatically, “a new policy?” I was told it was not.
“Well, it’s not sex,” Offered. “It’s foreplay.” Paul didn’t seem to find the remark funny.
So, all kidding aside. I understand that teenage sexuality is a difficult subject for a lot of people. And, as is the custom, I won’t even mention black sexuality. But I don’t think that the people who read Static are afraid to explore storylines grounded in the issues of contemporary life. Static is a fun comic but it’s never shied away from topics like gang violence, homophobia and racism. It’s not about to start now.
Here’s the sad part, if I had commissioned a cover where Daisy was wearing a thong and kicking one leg high in the air so everybody could get a really good look at her crotch, or if she had her back to the camera and her spine arched at an improbable angle to accentuate her ass, or if her enormous breasts, miraculously immune to the effects of gravity were positioned so you couldn’t quite tell whether those shadows were nipples, there would be no problem. Problem? Heck, we’d probably have a “hot book” on our hands.
Don’t believe me? Let’s do an experiment. Take a look at the covers of the past twenty superhero comics you bought. At least five of them fit the above paradigm and none of them created the slightest bit of controversy. But Static #25 went too far. It shows a picture of teenagers. Kissing.
So that’s the story of “The Cover They Were Afraid to Print!” No heroes here, or villains, just an honest difference of opinion between creative cultures. I hope to someday live in a world where an open expression of healthy sexuality would be considered less offensive than cheap T and A. But while I’m waiting for that world to come into being, I plan on taking regular, even breaths.
Editor In Chief