Chicago Spanking Review

Whatever Happened to DC Comics Spanking During the Bronze Age?

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By Web-Ed

At the current time (2012), there are 56 known spankings in DC comics, including some given by their top heroes Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and there are certainly at least a few others yet to be documented. There was a time when the DC reader almost couldn't help running into a spanking panel, a fact which was much remarked on even outside the spanking scene. And yet something happened during the Bronze Age (1971 – 1985) to cause the M/F scenes to disappear, leaving us with only a few weird M/M scenes that few were interested in. How can we explain this complete turnaround?

Basically, there was an undercurrent of darkness pervading DC’s superhero books, increasing throughout the BA, that militated against anything as seemingly pedestrian as spanking. At its mildest, this took the form of “social relevance” – well-intentioned Left-Liberal flapdoodle like the Green Lantern/Green Arrow of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. For those unfamiliar with these GL/GA stories (probably most of my readers today), I’m thinking of all that wailing in one issue about our “plastic” society, which was puerile as social criticism and anyway ground The Graduate had already covered years earlier; or that old black guy complaining to GL in another, “I hear you work for the blue skins, and on some planet you saved the orange skins, and you done considerable for the purple skins, but you never did squat for the black skins” which causes me to burst out laughing whenever I think of it. O’Neil’s heart was in the right place, but what exactly was it that he (and the old black guy) thought that a long-underwear hero like GL should do? Join a protest march? Overthrow the government? Presumably black people benefited as much as anyone when GL extinguished a blazing fire, or put a criminal behind bars, or did whatever could be done through means of brute force - the only tool available to a superhero, when you come to think of it.

green arrow moans about plastic christmas trees

Green Arrow wastes his time and ours by moaning about plastic Christmas trees, instead of kicking ass like a superhero should!   © DC Comics, Inc.

My point isn’t that spankings could not have been fit into plots that revolved around these two heroes riding across America in a pickup truck to “find themselves”, or whatever the hell they thought they were doing, it’s that a mind so unaware of the pomposity and unintentional hilarity of these stories could not have possessed the sense of humor or erotic adventurousness needed to conceive of adult disciplinary or romantic spanking. Contrast this to Steve Gerber’s acute sense of the absurd, and you’ll see why Gerber (who wrote the satirical Howard the Duck) and Marvel wound up with more spankings than DC during the Bronze Age.

At its most extreme – Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Dark Knight Returns, and Watchmen (which could be considered BA as it was conceived of in 1985) – this darkness was less an undercurrent than a raison d’etre. Although far more ambitious than anything Marvel was doing and commercially very successful, I wouldn’t call any of these series an artistic success, but I would say the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons Watchmen was probably the most interesting and worthy failure the comics medium had ever produced, at least up to that time and probably to the present day. With the deaths of Supergirl, Flash, and others, Crisis revisited and indeed amplified DC’s disturbing SA tendency toward a kind of morbid sadism (think of all the deaths that occurred in their “imaginary stories” – even Superman himself in 1961). Frank Miller's Dark Knight lived up (or down) to its name, and obliterated every last trace of Romantic heroism in Batman (it was also spectacularly successful). It’s not that Batman could or should be played as Little Mary Sunshine, but alongside the grim crusader’s need to avenge the murder of his parents there had to be a noble purpose – making the world a little better – to give his stories, and his life, meaning. Batman had this in the 60’s and even during the grittier 70’s, which is why the 1966 Batman could spank a reckless playgirl while the 1986 Dark Knight never could.

batman spanks marcia

Above: 1966 - Batman spanks reckless playgirl Marcia Monroe (click on image for more information).   © DC Comics, Inc.

Right: 1986 - The Joker dies fighting The Dark Knight, who is seriously wounded himself. You can't fit spankings into this grim a view of the world. (Click on image to double-size).   © DC Comics, Inc.

batman dark knight returns
rorschach investigates the murder of the comedian in watchmen #1

© DC Comics, Inc. One superhero investigates the murder of another as Rorschach tries to find out who killed the Comedian in Watchmen #1 (1986, Web-Ed's collection). Too serious for any spankings even in its original proposal as a way to do something with the former Charlton characters then owned by DC, by the time Moore and Gibbons finished transforming it into perhaps the comic of the decade any spankings would have been woefully out of place. Had the rest of DC's output been this good, we have to admit it would have been worth sacrificing the possibility of any spankings, but as it was, all DC's later books could do was copy the dark atmosphere of Watchmen and Dark Knight without their originality or creativity, thus we lost the opportunity for any good spanking scenes without any compensating sophistication of content.

Again, it’s not that you couldn’t have fit any spankings into the plots of these series, although of course it would have been wildly out of place to insert one, say, into the middle of Rorschach’s investigation into the murder of the Comedian, it’s that the nihilistic mood of pervasive darkness at DC left no room for the playful humor that characterized the Marvel spankings of just a few years earlier. If a spanking had appeared one would have expected to see it used to symbolize the decadence of American society. In fact, Moore had almost done just that in his earlier V for Vendetta, where an onstage cabaret caning (we don’t quite get to see it) represents the perversion of erotic love, and is intended to symbolize the degradation of once-decent British society into totalitarianism.

the cabaret in v for vendetta

V for Vendetta Book 5 (1988, Web-Ed's collection) © DC Comics, Inc.

The sophistication of Moore's narrative technique requires the reader exert a little effort in order to follow this night club scene. The captions relate the thoughts of Evey, who at sixteen doesn't fully understand what's going on between Robert, the club owner, and Creedy, new head of the Finger, the government's security apparatus. From their conversation we understand that the elderly are simply killed and that Robert's mother will no longer be spared. Meanwhile, Evey isn't paying attention to the Cabaret taking place on stage. The MC's dialogue is conveyed through the jagged-edged word balloons:

"And one... And two... Aren't they gorgeous?" While Moore deliberately does not permit us to see exactly what's happening on the stage, I infer that the cabaret girls, called The Martinettes, are receiving strokes of the implement they're named after or perhaps the cane. Just as in the musical play Cabaret, the purpose of these stage antics is to symbolize the degeneracy and moral failure of the society which attends them. An erotic caning of the kind Moore's fellow Briton Lynn Paula Russell does so well would have undercut this point. It's very likely that BDSM isn't to Moore's personal taste, but even if it were, his artistic judgment to use it here as a symbol of decadence was unquestionably correct.

These tendencies continued during the Modern Age (1986 - Present), for example with The Death of Superman (2nd, 1992) and Infinite Crisis (2005), which is why we don’t have any M/F spankings from DC’s books during this period either. I refused to read either of these series when they came out; in 1992 I hadn't quite given up on DC although I was repelled by the direction I saw them taking, and by 2005 I was long gone from comics altogether.

I would like to make clear that I am not opposed to artistic seriousness – far from it; I know perfectly well, for example, that tragedy is ultimately superior to comedy. It would be preposterous to employ spanking as the primary yardstick by which we judge a work of art, and say of Hamlet or Anna Karenina that they were very fine works but it was too bad they didn't have any spankings! Category fiction is always of a lower order, and that is what comics were from their beginnings through the Silver Age. If you're only going to have simple stories of superheroes or girl's romances anyway, there's no reason they shouldn't be enlivened with the occasional spanking, which in fact they were except for that one dark period from 1956 – 1966 (see Part 3 of “The Effect of the Comics Code on Spanking”).

Frank Miller's Dark Knight, Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, and Moore/David Lloyd's V for Vendetta aspired to be something more, and while the degree of their success or failure is beyond the scope of this article, it is fair to say that their rather dark vision (somewhat relieved by a note of hope in the final chapter of each) was part and parcel of a greater artistic whole. Had DC's other, later books been as ambitious and imaginative as these three, the rewards they supplied would have been more than adequate compensation for the loss of spankings during the Modern Age. The problem was that lesser talents merely copped the dark atmosphere – they could copy the look but had to fake the substance. Darkness became not a by-product of a complete artistic vision, but an end in itself – the dead end of nihilism. There is a difference between an unflinching portrayal of evil as part of a greater artistic whole, and simply relishing its presentation in an indifferent, or even worse, in a loving way. Thus we lost spankings along with simple but generally well-crafted melodrama, in return for which we received - nothing! And it is for that I condemn DC. As far as I know, they are still wallowing in evil to this day, which means we shouldn't expect anything from them as lighthearted and innocent as a spanking any time soon.

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