(Herein lies some disturbing imagery. It is intended to make a point. I tried to keep the grosser stuff to comic panels that aren’t terribly realistic and toward the bottom. You have been warned.)
As my pod partner Luke likes to remind our five listeners over at The Last Chance Salon podcast, comics are a medium not a genre. They are not all about superheroes. They are not all bright and colorful.
And they are not, by a very long shot, all for children.
I repeat: Comics, or properties based on comics, are not inherently intended for children.
Those who don’t partake, or know and love someone who does, often make the mistake of assuming that because comics are illustrated stories, the primary intended audience are the young ‘uns or, at least the young in maturity level. That those of us who spend time time lost in the funny pages are emotionally stunted in some fundamental way.
I know, I know. I’m probably preaching to the choir. But I bet there’s someone in your life who doesn’t get it. Who has made comments or judgments about you or someone you’re close to when they find you, or him/her, immersed in the fruits of a pull list.
Do those judge-y folks a favor: Show them Gail Simone’s The Clean Room or Tom King’s The Sheriff of Babylon. Perhaps Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Bitch Planet or Pretty Deadly. Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals. Kurtis J. Weibe’s Rat Queens and Peter Panzerfaust. Lauren Bukes’ Survivor’s Club, Scotty Young’s I Hate Fairyland. The late and lamented Gotham by Midnight. Have them take a look at Deadpool.
Ah, Deadpool. The Merc With the Mouth whose impending presence on the big screen has launched me, once more, unto my soapbox.
Because there’s a campaign to clean him up. To make him appropriate for children.
There is one particular instance someone brought to my attention earlier today, a Twitter campaign by a woman pleading for a version that would be tailored for her eight-year-old son. This child is not terminally ill. He is not a child being served by the Make a Wish Foundation. He’s just a kid who wants to see a movie intended for adults based on a character whose sole purposes in life are to: 1) kill people, 2) kill those people in as bloody a fashion as possible, 3) use as many weapons as possible while killing said people, and 4) being snide and swearing as often as possible.
Has this woman every picked up a Deadpool comic? Well, crap, if her kid is reading them I hope she has, though somehow, I doubt it. I also really, really hope the kid isn’t reading them because, sheesh, I wait until my kids are in bed or about some other business before I call mine up on the iPad. Yes, the Merc has made a few kid-friendly appearances (I think he may have popped up most recently in Little Avengers vs Little X-Men). The straight-up Deadpool books, however, are about as far from kid-friendly as you can get while remaining on the same planet. Hell, half the time I’m not even sure it’s me-appropriate and I’m a nurse. I’ve watched neurosurgery and helped detox people from heroin. Do you have any idea how much people puke when they’re detoxing from heroin? Even having seen those things, and a million more, Deadpool regularly grosses me out. I mean, the body parts and blood fly everywhere.
Granted, Wade is also hilarious (I swear, it isn’t as screwed up as it sounds) and he talks to you. (For those of you unfamiliar, Deadpool is one of few characters in comics to regularly break the fourth wall and addresses his readers directly. Such instances are signified in the comics by yellow speech boxes.) These two disparate aspects of his being create a cognitive dissonance there is no possible way a child can resolve (even if the imagery weren’t gruesome and all of the subject matter/language was appropriate). I get it. You get it. Because we can read relatively well. We can also compare and contrast what we’ve read and what we know. Having lived a little, having taken care of very sick people, having been with people at the moment of death, having comforted families and then gone home to my own, I understand that sometimes the only way to survive the day is to swear a lot and make inappropriate jokes (cops, firefighters, medics, and nurses share a sense of humor) when you finally get to step away. Even if you’ve never done those things, something unpleasant or unsavory or just plain s&^$$# has happened to you or someone you love and that naughty word or totally inappropriate joke has escaped between your teeth before you can stop it. Through those moments, we forge a connection with characters like Deadpool. Conversely, he is a reactive character who does things wherever, whenever, and with whatever force he deems desirable; he is our catharsis when we can’t make that joke. Or when we can’t punch someone in the face no matter how much he or she might deserve it.
As adults, we can suspend our disbelief and then turn it back on again as needed. We have context. We have adult (usually) brains. I mean, okay, yes, I enjoy a good fart joke from time to time (by which I mean all the time) but I have spent years cultivating a certain live in real life-escape into fiction neuroplasticity that only comes with, well, years. It’s not that I think Deadpool will induce kids to violence. I don’t. At all. Most kids who read Superman don’t suddenly think they can actually fly. Most kids who read Batman don’t think it’s okay to punch people in weird costumes (and let me tell you, if you’ve seen Batman lately, you’d know he isn’t any more kid-friendly than the Merc). Admittedly, there has been some mighty shield throwing in our house, but it’s plastic and it only gets thrown at the walls, the fireplace, the fridge, and occasionally, the cats. Neither of my children has ever tried to steal anyone’s prosthetic limb. My daughter did once think she made it snow while she was wearing her Elsa dress, but come on, that’s totally harmless and adorable.
Do I think children should be shielded from reality? No. My son, for example, asked my mother about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination today and they discussed it. They discussed racism and segregation. We’ve talked about death and dying, about bullying. They have watched the four (yes, only four) extant Star Wars movies. They watched most of Clone Wars (we drew the line at Darth Maul murdering Sateen for reasons I’ll explain a bit further on). They watch Rebels (have you ever counted how many Stormtroopers are indiscriminately sacrificed per episode of a family friendly show?). We did let them watch Guardians of the Galaxy which, in all honesty, isn’t any more violent than Star Wars, though there is some salty language. (We have a deal in our home: You can say what you want in the house when it’s just the four of us; you’d be shocked at how well the little ones can stick to that. And to be honest, I’ve said way worse than they heard come out of Starlord’s mouth.) Stinky Two recently watched Captain America: The First Avenger and the first Avengers movie with me on a plane (and just to prove how perceptive kids can be, she thought Red Skull was hilarious but she was terrified of Loki).
Would everyone judge my choices appropriate? Nope. And they’d be entitled to their opinion.
Do I think there should be hard limits? Do I think there are things that are across-the-board inappropriate for kids?
Because kids don’t have the context for some subject material yet (see above: Darth Maul’s avenging himself on Obi-Wan by killing Sateen, knowing that would be more painful to the Jedi Master than losing his own life). Because many instances of humor intended to temper horror go over their heads (Deadpool sniffing his recently fired gun barrels after massacring a bunch of dudes on a bridge and discussing how much it gets him off), leaving only the horror. Because seeing Luke loose a hand bloodlessly is one thing; watching a guy in a red suit shoot people in the face and splatter more brains than a head can contain is another.
Because some things are for kids and some things are for families and then, there are things that are intended for adults and should stay in the adult realm. Deadpool contains the holy trinity of adultness: sex, violence, and a complete lack of inhibition on the part of the protagonist. That his original incarnation in an illustrated story doesn’t make those three integral aspects of his being any more acceptable for young eyes and young minds and young sensibilities.
Both of my kids know who Deadpool is. They think the chimichanga thing is funny. Stinky One asked me if he could see the movie. I said, “no.” He asked me why. I explained that there were things in it that weren’t appropriate for him to see right now but, if he still wanted to watch it when he was older, he’d be able to do so. He grumbled a little and asked me why he, “… always have to wait to do everything cool,” (which at this point in his young life includes: seeing Deadpool and getting a tattoo). Five minutes later, he promptly forgot about it and went to do something else.
Your kids will get over being denied Deadpool, I promise. Limits are good. Limits, even the ones they kick back against, means you love them and you’re doing everything you can to keep them safe. They appreciate it, even if they don’t know it yet or can’t, or won’t, tell you.
Somethings are for adults. Movies, comics, heroes. It’s okay for them to be for adults. You are not diminished in partaking nor are you diminished in telling your kids they’re not ready to do the same.