You know, the very first comic I read was about four soldiers who go on a mission to an Eastern European type country to rescue a journalist. Well, the mission goes bad. Two of the soldiers are badly wounded, the journalist is killed and the group's leader orders the fourth soldier to leave them behind and report back to their commanding officer. The scene ends with that guy hiding in a sewer as his buddies' blood drips down through a grate and onto his face. Subsequent issues reveal that they survived and were sent to a gulag, where they were beaten and starved. The story arc ends with the group escaping and their leader shooting the gulag's commander in the head with a sniper rifle.
This particular comic was not a Vertigo book or a Garth Ennis book. It was an issue of Larry Hama's GI Joe. Was this story as graphic as some stories today? No. But it sure wasn't G-rated either. Even back then, with the Comics Code, comics pushed the envelope more than other mediums. You never would have seen anything remotely like that on the GI Joe cartoon.
That envelope has been pushed very far in the last twenty years. There are things in PG 13 movies today that would have gotten a R rating twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, a show like 24 would never have gotten on network TV, not in a world where NYPD Blue and Murphy Brown were controversial. Twenty years ago, you couldn't wear a Simpsons T-shirt in school and it was being condemned by politicians. Today, it is lauded by the Vatican. There was no video game like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty twenty years ago.
The fact of the matter is that violence and darkness are FAR more appealing to kids than most adults are willing to admit. I don't know, maybe I'm just younger than most of you, but I was a kid when things like Howard Mackie's Ghost Rider and Mortal Kombat came out. The former featured a hero who transformed into a flaming skeleton biker by having his skin melt off (and quite graphicly depicted by Saltares and Texiera too). The later allowed the player to do things like rip off his opponent's head. Both were incredibly popular with kids my age precisely because of the level of darkness and violence. Now maybe most of you aren't in the right age group for that, but surely you must have done something like sneak into an R Rated movie, right?
Punchy's right about today's all ages comics, most of them are pussified. That's because unlike the all ages comics of twenty years ago, they're not geared towards kids. They're geared towards their parents. If we really want to instill a lifelong love of comics into kids, we need to forget about what is appropriate in the eyes of their parents, and figure out what it is that kids want.
GI Joe Classic Vol 3 by Larry Hama, Mike Vosburg and company
The Mourner by Richard Stark