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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