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Posts tagged ‘Comic Books’

Moral Panic and You

Panic not in the disco

Today I decided to post about our favorite class topic: moral panic.  Keeping it light, I decided to feature’s top six most ridiculous moral panics in America.  Low and behold, comic books is at the sixth spot.  You’ve also got a reference to a drug made from excrement, Dungeons and Dragons, and backward rock and roll messages, among others.  What the site is getting at, and which I think is pertinent to class discussions, is the fact that often times moral panics don’t really need to exist anywhere but in the mind of wary adults.  As society increasingly becomes more saturated by information (without too much of a stop-gap) and becomes more overworked, it seems the reliability of actual moral panics fade into the background.


The very nature of moral panic is the thought that something is corrupting the youth.  There seems to be a predisposition amongst adults of a certain stripe to fear what possible influences the outside world may have upon their children.  This is referenced in Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt” which we read some time ago.  In that story, the children turn into monsters through their addiction too technology.  In that story, the parents don’t understand the tech as well as the children.  This ignorance – and fear of it – seems to be essential to moral panic.  Instead of having a freakout over rainbow parties, parents could instead converse with their children.  This may not be the most comfortable thing, however.  In this light, we can almost see moral panic as a knee-jerk reaction standing in place of true understanding of children and the actual repercussions of the stimuli presented to them.  Yes parents should look out for their children, but this act requires the very simple function of looking.  This Cracked list points out the absurd lengths crazed adults will go to to put fictive fears to sleep without actually checking to see if such panics have a leg to stand on in reality.

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation

From as far back as I can remember, I have always had a love for video games. My earliest memories of video games are of my sisters and I playing Mario World on the Super Nintendo. Almost all of the games my sisters and I owned were Mario games for the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64. Then, the PlayStation was released. Because Mario was a Nintendo franchise, I began to play other, more challenging games. One of the first PlayStation games I owned was Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation was developed by Core Design Ltd. and published by Eidos Interactive, Inc. in 1999 for PC, PlayStation, and later Sega Dreamcast. This action and puzzle-solving game, set mainly in Egypt, presents Lara Croft, tomb raider, who, after uncovering a lost tomb and unwittingly releasing the ancient god Set, must do whatever it takes to reimprison Set and save the world from total annihilation while also being pursued by her arch-rival, archaeologist Werner Von Croy.

While I enjoyed the adventure and puzzle-solving aspect of this game, perhaps the aspect I loved most about Tomb Raider was the fact that the main character of the game was a female. In video games especially, it is rare to see this. However, when I grew older I realized that, while the main character is indeed a girl, she is obviously sexualized. In the game, Lara Croft has a ridiculously proportioned body, with her hips and breasts being way bigger than the rest of her body. She is seen multiple times in the game wearing clothing that is way too small for her and also climbing and sliding down poles that just happen to be in the tombs. While reading David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America, I couldn’t help but relate the comic books that portrayed women with poorly proportioned bodies in skimpy clothes to Lara Croft, because it is essentially the same thing. This is especially true with comics like Wonder Woman, in which the story line revolves around a dominant heroine saving the world. However, even though these types of comics books can almost be directly related in terms of content to this game, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation faced a significantly less controversy than the comic books, which shows how society’s views on pop culture have changed over the past fifty years.

PlayStation disc cover of "Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation" game, developed by Core Design Ltd. and released in 1999 by Eidos Interactive, Inc.

The Death of Superman and the rise and fall of the comics marketplace in the 90s

Superman dies so that you may live!



Way back in the early nineties, DC Comics decided to jump-start sales of their Superman comics by killing the Man of Steel!  I was ten years old, and not too familiar with comics.  I knew Superman, of course, and Batman and Wonder Woman and Spiderman, etc., but mostly through cartoons and movies, not actual comics.  This time was also long after the moral panic Hadju describes in his book, long past Dr. Wertham and his Seduction.  In fact, because of those days of moral panic and the overall dismissal of comics as a valuable medium – the resulting lack of preservation of comics – that old comics were seen as valuable collector’s items.  That carried into the present and provoked collecting crazes across the comics landscape.  Superman 75, the Death of Superman – which to me was simply a comic displaying Superman falling in the line of battle, protecting his city from the hulkish Doomsday – was a prime collecting event for others (mostly adults).  They assumed such a historic comic would be very valuable later.  Lock it in a safe for thirty years, then make a fortune.  This did not take place, unfortunately for most collectors.

In both the moral panic of the fifties, and the collecting craze of the nineties, the adult world collided with the adolescent to transform the sales of comic books.  During the moral panic, sales slumped, especially of the highest selling crime and horror comics.  This allowed abysmal and silly “children’s” based superhero comics to rise to the fore and dominate the medium for the next several decades.  With the collecting craze, however, the entire medium exploded in sales.  This was mostly due to the perception that comics of any type would be valuable someday.  Most didn’t take into account the laws of supply and demand.  Simply, the comics of by gone eras were treated poorly and were rarely preserved in mint conditions, hence their value as commodities based on the relatively small supply of cherry comics.  Modern day collectors immediately bagged comics and put them away from harmful sunlight, hoping to preserve the form and content of the pages.  But because this practice was done en masse, the books still have little value today.  It would take another comic book death march perpetrated by parents, harping on their kids to get rid of the silly things, for comics of the nineties to rise in value.  This may still happen, but probably not.

Again, what was to me a seminal experience of idol destruction, was for others an opportunity to make a buck (the comics industry equally guilty in that conceit).  The comic that was mostly meant for kids again broke through into the adult world and caused sales to sky rocket.  The unfortunate result, however, similar to the moral panic of the bygone era, was a huge sales slump following shortly after.  Collectors eventually got wise to how inflated the comics market had become and left it overnight.  This caused many comic companies to go out of business, and seriously wounded the bigger companies.  I still love Superman 75, especially the final blows both Superman and Doomsday administer to one another, mortally wounding each.  Superman dies as the savior of Metropolis and the world.  But this one comic almost killed the industry, too.  Again, the creators allowed adult interest dictate the format of their industry, and sales plummeted eventually as they had during the moral panic of the 1940s and 50s.



Eminem wanted poster

Eminem wanted poster (

When the white rapper Eminem, formerly known as Marshall Bruce Mathers III, came on to the hip-hop scene in 1998, he quickly became every parents’ worst nightmare; he was overtly homophobic, excessively violent, and blatantly misogynistic, but most importantly, in a hip-hop culture largely dominated by African Americans, he was a face that middle-class, white children could relate to.

For a mere fifteen dollars, which could easily be saved up from allowance and lunch money, any kid (myself among them) could purchase one of Eminem’s albums on their own, despite the Parental Advisory sticker on the cover of the album, which was supposed to prohibit children under seventeen from buying the album but which was loosely enforced.

Much like the moral panic of the 1940’s and 50’s surrounding comic books, the controversy surrounding Eminem and his impact on children became a national talking point, with much of the public split between whether he should be considered a poetic genius or whether he was simply corrupting the minds of the youth. Just as comic books were thought to have been “the direct contributing cause of many incidents of juvenile delinquency and to the imbedding of immoral and unhealthy ideas” (144), so too were Eminem’s vulgar lyrics, though perhaps with a bit more merit.

Following the release of Eminem’s second album, The Marshall Mathers LP in 2002, the Eminem controversy boiled over even further as Eminem began to receive criticism from an audience he had not expected: kids. Students at Sheffield University decided to ban their own radio station from playing any of Eminem’s songs because, according to Dan Morfitt, the head of music at the station, “three people out of a student community of 20,000 complained.” This event, similar to the comic book burnings cited by David Hajdu, begs the question of whether kids themselves were actually offended, or whether the decision to ban Eminem was actually just “the puppetmastery of reactionary adults exploiting children too sheepish to defend their own enthusiasms” (119).

The controversy surrounding Eminem hardly hurt his sales, however, as he went on to be the best selling artist of the decade, proving, just as comics had during their golden era, that the more parents hate something, the more kids can’t get enough of it.



The Return of the Superhero

With the upcoming 2012 Toy Fair looming in New York City today, children, adults, and toy fanatics alike are anxiously awaiting the release of the year’s newest playthings.  People from all over will flock to New York to have a special look into the newest special action figures, games, and other child playthings making their debut this year. Playthings from the ever-popular Mattel, LEGO, Hasbro and Diamond Select toy-makers will be previewed in at the annual event.  Previews have suggested the return of everyone’s favorite comic book superheroes, most notably Batman and Superman.

Mr. Potato Head as Superman for the 60th Anniversary of Mr. Potato Head products

Superman, a favorite superhero and “Champion of the Oppressed” during the Depression Era (Hajdu 30), returns in new form, this time coming to stores as a Mr. Potato Head. Batman will also be returning in Potato Head form, in the first time DC Comics will be represented as the iconic plaything. Toy-makers are going beyond the Potato Head toy to bring the ever-popular Batman into this year’s newest toys. Mattel and LEGO are joining in on the revived DC Comic superhero fanatics and bringing the comic heroes even more into the spotlight. LEGO is bringing in new sets of the favorite superheros from the DC Comics, formerly known by National Periodicals, of the previous century with Batman, the Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America. (Hadju 31)  Mattel is staying to true to the popular trends of the current century by building and continuing their line of Batman action figures and toy sets.

The 2012 Toy Fair brings toys from all facets of current popular culture  in the New York debut, but continues to hold onto to the favorites created during the early comic era, appealing to children and adults alike.