Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Molestation Situation

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 22nd, 2011

Among this week’s new releases from Marvel Comics was Thunderbolts #156. I’ve been enjoying the new direction for this series since writer Jeff Parker took it over last year, and regular artist Kev Walker’s gritty, harsh depiction of some of the unsavory and unusual characters who comprise the cast adds to the non-traditional take on the super-hero genre that’s been a part of this property from its inception in the 1990s. On its cover, this particular issue — and many of those that came before it — boasts a T+ rating. Marvel’s website defines its ratings as follows:

“Each Marvel comic gets a rating: A is appropriate for ages nine and up, T+ is appropriate for ages 12 and up and Parental Advisory is appropriate for ages 15 and up. Other ratings you may see are self-explanatory.”

Given that information, Marvel’s saying that the content in its T+ comics is appropriate for 12-year-old children and older. So you tell me… is the following image OK for a 12-year-old?

The image is part of a scene in which the Thunderbolts’ new member — the sorceress Satana, so named because she’s the daughter of Satan — introduces herself to her new colleagues. And just in case the moment is too subtle for some readers, the word “bosom” has been incorporated into Satana’s dialogue in that panel. It could be argued she doesn’t limit herself to just violating Moonstone. She nibbles Juggernaut’s ear, phases through the Ghost’s body (specifically his pelvic area) and leaves her mark on Man-Thing.

In any case, I wonder what made Marvel’s editors think this was an appropriate image to include in a comic book it professes is OK for a pre-teen kid. Is it because the molestation of Moonstone’s breast is hidden behind a word balloon? Is it OK because Satana’s demonic origins make it clear this is bad? Is it OK because Moonstone is a criminal and a manipulator herself? Is it OK because it’s not a man who’s doing the violating?

While the image and scene in question may boast a playful tone, it’s important to bear in mind that what’s depicted is a sexual assault. Yes, it’s at the lower end of the spectrum of such sexual offences, but it’s nevertheless a sexual assault (at least it would be defined as such under the law here in Canada).

I’m not suggesting Marvel shouldn’t ever include such imagery or plotting in its comics. Obviously, its core audience are adult men (whether they’re all “mature” or not is a different issue). I’m not in favor of writers and artists being subject to censorship when it comes to storytelling either. But there are other factors to consider. If this comic book is going to be labelled as appropriate for children, shouldn’t there be an effort to ensure it complies with the publisher’s own criteria? Why can’t Marvel change the rating if elements in a particular issue go beyond it? Wouldn’t it be in Marvel’s best interest to avoid raising the ire of an offended parent who found this among his or her child’s reading material? And isn’t it in Marvel’s best interest to offer age-appropriate material in light of the medium’s shrinking readership over the past couple of decades?

The biggest problem with the panel is it represents a moment of poor storytelling. It takes the reader out of the story, spurring the audience to consider the creators and the product rather than the characters and the plot. On the bright side, that poor choice isn’t representative of the issue as a whole, which is an entertaining read and an accessible jumping-on point for new readers.

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9 Responses to “Molestation Situation”

  1. Alex Says:

    Thanks for your consistent questioning of mainstream comics sexual content, including the near pornographic images of women in some books. A while back, I stopped reading Amazing Spider-Man just because, as a T+ rated book, it included a scene of Peter waking up after a drunken night of sex he didn’t remember. Sure, I see movies (rated appropriately) with such content, but it irked me that Marvel is selling such scenes to young readers who are supposed to see Peter Parker as something better than a debauched 20-something.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Alex wrote:
    A while back, I stopped reading Amazing Spider-Man just because, as a T+ rated book, it included a scene of Peter waking up after a drunken night of sex he didn’t remember.

    I remember that comic and that scene, and it irked me as well. I think it’s a logical and valid plot point in a character arc, but like you said, I didn’t care for it in the context of something that was deemed appropriate for kids.

    On the other hand, I don’t think Western society as a whole is paying much attention to what kids are watching and reading these days. A lot of parents seem to pay no attention to the fact that kids are watching Friends and Seinfeld reruns in the late afternoon/early evening, and Two and a Half Men has been touted as a “family show” despite the fact that irresponsible and experimental sex are treated casually, as are alcohol and drug abuse.

  3. Curtis Says:

    I honestly don’t have a problem, with this… I don’t think everything a 12+ year-old is exposed to has to be “positive”.

    Whether it’s negative sexual behavior, or (even worse) violence, I think it’s the parent’s job to use this type of scene in a movie, book,or comic as an opportunity to teach their child right from wrong.

    Personally, I am much more cautious when it comes to violence. There are tons of violent movies that will disturb me, at age 34… I do not want to subject my kids to those kinds of images, but in my opinion, something like the above is perfectly appropriate for a 12-year old. At a much younger age, kids are likely to have experiences that are inappropriate (a lot of kids want to show their anatomy to each other, etc.)It’s up to the parents to teach their kids what is appropriate, and what isn’t. I think for a kid who has benefited thoughtful and open parents, they would read a scene like this, and immediately know that this is “villainous” behavior. If they don’t, maybe it’s time for a parent to have a good talk with that kid on that very subject.

  4. Curtis Says:

    One more comment… When it comes to poor storytelling, I can’t comment at all, since I haven’t read the issue. If the panel doesn’t serve the story, that’s the point where I would say the editor should have cut it.

  5. Don MacPherson Says:

    Curtis wrote:
    I honestly don’t have a problem, with this… I don’t think everything a 12+ year-old is exposed to has to be “positive.” Whether it’s negative sexual behavior, or (even worse) violence, I think it’s the parent’s job to use this type of scene in a movie, book,or comic as an opportunity to teach their child right from wrong.

    You make an excellent point. I think what bothers me more about the boob grab in Thunderbolts #156 was how casually it’s treated. If Moonstone or someone else protested about the violation, then the script would reinforce that it was wrong. Instead, it’s treated somewhat playfully. The characters make a bigger deal about Satana’s “tattooing” of a semi-sentient heap of plant life than they do the sexual assault.

  6. Matt D Says:

    Well, some of that has to do with the characters present, their dubious moral leanings, and the fact that Moonstone is almost universally loathed by them.

    If Captain America or Sue Richards was there that wouldn’t have made as much sense.

    That’s neither here nor there, but I didn’t feel like the scene was written incorrectly for the characters involved, even if it probably wasn’t appropriate for a 12 year old.

  7. Don MacPherson Says:

    Matt wrote:
    I didn’t feel like the scene was written incorrectly for the characters involved, even if it probably wasn’t appropriate for a 12 year old.

    I agree to a certain extent. I’m not saying what Parker wrote/Walker drew should never appear in a comic book. I’m saying it doesn’t seem as though any thought was given to the fact that this series is rated T+ and is therefore deemed appropriate for ‘tweens and up.

  8. TreJohn Says:

    I think it’s funny that in an issue of Thunderbolts–this, the book that about a year ago had Venom consuming people–that these are the things that people get upset about. One panel. Not that a given issue has people getting whacked in the face, shot at, burned by lasers or whatnot–none of the given, voilent superhero tropes–but this. Just seems…funny.

    I agree w/ the previous poster-these issues (objections, not floppies) are much more reflective of the need of parental guidance/support in understanding what these things mean–I’m guessing most of these ‘tweeners aren’t buying such things with their own money, and therefore it’s most likely parents’ money, and therefore, most likely parents should be involved in the purchase somehow. I tend to think these instances say more about the objector than the writer/artist.

    ….I’m also curious as to how many 12-15 yr olds are reading Thunderbolts.

  9. Don MacPherson Says:

    The issue isn’t the content — the issue is that the content has been labelled as appropriate for kids aged 12 and up. I’m not saying such material shouldn’t be published; I’m saying Marvel should take more care about how it labels the material.

    If it’s going to offer a rating system to its customers, shouldn’t it endeavor for the ratings to be accurate from issue to issue?