Todger Turmoil: Batman’s junk may have sunk Black Label line

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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.

 

16 COMMENTS

  1. Well this sucks. The idea of the Black Label line was going to bring me back to DC. I like the idea of place were creators could tell standalone stories free from having to be on brand or continuity. With the upcoming edits to the Vertigo books I don’t think I can trust anything DC is putting out. It feels like the problems of the New 52 all over again.

  2. As a retailer, I sell SIGNIFICANTLY more dollars of “Mature reader” DC-published backlist material than I do of “teen” rated stuff — WATCHMEN, PREACHER, SANDMAN are still massive hits for us, while we’re currently in the process of dramatically trimming our “standard” DC backlist because the vast majority of it has no legs.

    DC Comics is meant to be in the business of creative expression from my point of view as a retailer, and the periods that they have offered CREATIVE FREEDOM have been the most commercially successful times for them, and have been the times that created work that continues to sell sometimes even MULTIPLE DECADES later.

    This is also the case in bookstores: DC’s top selling book is KILLING JOKE (featuring the clearly implied sexual torture of Commissioner Gordon) followed closely by WATCHMEN (featuring Dr. Manhattan’s Big Blue Wang) — and neither of those decreased Batman toy sales by one tiny iota.

    -B

  3. Black Lable Batman = ADULT comics. Why do people get upset with nudity in art? Batman’s nudity makes the scene more realistic. It’s not like he has a hard on. It’s not sexual. Grow up people. I’ll bet this ground breaking art in this comic will be a sellout and a collector’s item.

  4. Outside of Batman’s peen I can’t imagine anyone would be talking much about this comic.

    Haven’t we seen auteurs-do-a-Batman-OGN-split-up-into-single-issues story before? Esp. Azzarello and Bermejo. I feel like these guys have been hovering over the pit that holds Auteur Batman Projects like whatever predator hunts those. Perhaps telling their own Batman stories are their gift. I would never stand in the way of that.

    The vitally important thing I would argue here is the peen, however. Therefore Black Label’s original intent must be preserved.

    The possibilities are endless. DC Black Label. Naked possibilities.

  5. That’s just so bad, if anyone is fired over this. Loss of momentum for DC, and a breakout writer like Tom King has gone on record a lot saying just how much he appreciates Dan Didio. Shooting self in foot, so hopefully not.

  6. Honestly, I don’t understand the fuss. For some people, full or implied nudity in comics is okay, but JUST. NOT. BATMAN. Get over it; we all have what our parents gave us. Plus, I am fully confident that Batman’s birthday suit will never be the costume of choice for the lunch box art. For other people, they can’t understand how nudity or adult-oriented content would be allowed in a DC owned comic book (has Vertigo never shown nudity?). And for that matter, DC can’t produce an adult comic book but every other publisher can? From what I understand, “Batman: Damned #1” sold a fair number of copies to retailers before anyone knew of the naughty parts. So the creators, concept, and marketing were successful in getting an adult-oriented Batman comic into the market. If anyone is offended by the content, they can stop purchasing it for or from their comic store. Instead everyone is in a tizzy over what is art and what is comics? Fact is retailers shouldn’t sell “Mature” content to kids, publishers should exert editorial control even when giving creators creative license, and everyone else should leave the selling and marketing of comics to the professionals. Read what you enjoy and makes you happy.

    And I agree 100% with Mr. Hibbs’ comments above. DC’s best selling material is edgy and has outright nudity and violence without censorship. If the market doesn’t think “Batman: Damned” rises to the level of Dark Knight, Watchmen, or Killing Joke, then it will fade away into obscurity and collect dust in 100,000 long boxes.

  7. Also, to touch on Heroes in Crisis – it has never been a good idea. Tom King may be a good idea, but wanton killing of heroes is not a good idea. It’s shock for shock’s sake. And I would venture to bet most readers realize its consequences won’t stick long beyond the event. Tom King spent all his good will on the wedding-that-wasn’t. Why buy a 9 issue series about PTSD that promises to kill beloved characters?

  8. This just sucks. Looks artistically justifiable to me and it lends itself to character. Shows that the people outside of readers get to decide what comics is. The same forces omnipresent and akin to the Seduction of the Innocent stuff. Again.

  9. I think some commentators are missing the point. The problem isn’t the nudity in the art, the problem is that it’s Batman’s nudity. Higher ups aren’t going to see Batman as a vehicle for creative expression, Batman is a specific IP worth Billions of Dollars. Anything that may put that IP at risk, such as a mid-sized Todger, is a problem. Dr. Manhattan’s dong (or various other DCU dongs) isn’t a problem, it’s not worth much. Any IP that is well known by the general public and therefore worth billions cannot have it’s bits hanging out. Period. Given how inessential the dong actually was to the story, I”m honestly surprised no-one in editorial colored it out of the story. “DON’T DO IRREPARABLE DAMAGE TO THE BIG IP” should be the top thought running through every editors mind at all times.

  10. Black Label is an adult comic line and that issue would be lucky to reach 100K readers without the pearl clutching. I don’t why there is a furor about the Batdong when Robin is screaming “Fuck Batman” on TV and they are killing off characters appearing in popular animated programs actually watched by children.

  11. This is a controversy manufactured by crappy clickbait sites like bleeding cool, CBR and Kotaku and they got exactly the reaction from DC management that they could have wanted. DC should have said “it’s a non-story move along” and corrected the art for subsequent printings but instead they completely shat the bed.

  12. “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.”

    I know aging fans who are still upset over Beverly Switzler’s bare breasts being shown in the first issue of the black & white “Howard the Duck” magazine.

  13. “I’m told that the Bat Junk was just a random creative idea, …”

    “The reality is that adult content and Batman toys have coexisted peacefully for more than 30 years.”

    …in these days with Miley Cyrus, Minaj and too many “etc” to tell the magnitude of stupidity in the media-light, and all the free porn on the net with kids, teens, adults, animals, all blessed by legal abuse of free-speech and the dumbness of parents – I can only respond,”What’s up?”…

    The ecosystem outside has been destroyed by the corrupted ecosystem within our mindset…

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