Breaking the Code (or, How Mom and Dad are Ruining Your Life)

Aaaaaaaaannnnnnnnd we’re back for a new season! It’s time to reinstate martial law in the land and grab yer shotguns! Hide the children and mark your doors with sheep’s blood! After far too long, Tact is for the Weak (the column that eats flogged horses for breakfast) finally returns to its normal, weekly schedule! As dedicated readers know, the author has had a pretty crazy summer (between spending three weeks in China, a month in New England, and relocating to a brand new apartment) and has regrettably been unable to publish the column on the normal weekly basis; however, with the University back in session, Tact is for the Weak is here to stay…at least until next summer.

So, what crisis de la settimana has raised the ire of Tact is for the Weak? Disgustingly enough, this week’s topic stems from a reader’s letter printed in *shudder* Wizard magazine. In Wizard #179, Bob D. from Willcox, AZ expresses his “disappointment” and “shock” at the content found in the first three issues of DC Comics’s weekly title 52. He says that “a good COMIC BOOK story means my son can pick it up and read it without me worrying about the content of a series that has been designed to be accessible to readers of ll ages… my concern is for the parents who naively think that comics are okay for their children to read.

Sure, these are all fair complaints–if you’re Amish. As Wizard staffer Chris Ward pointed out in his response to Bob D., “There are plenty of superhero options for younger kids,” such as the titles featured in DC Comics’s “Johnny DC” line (titles such as Batman Adventures, Teen Titans Go!, and Justice League Unlimited). If Mr. D. was truly concerned about the content of his kid’s comics, he could do the logical thing and read through the issue first, just to be “safe.” By letting his child browse unsupervised through the comic shop, big baby Bobby is affording an implicit degree of trust to his child, and if the child is mature enough to be given this trust, he is certainly mature enough to handle the contents of 52 (it’s not like the kid was rooting through Alan Moore’s latest sex comic…or was he…?).

However, the problem doesn’t end with Bob D.; as Ward the Wizard word guy sees it, “The Comics Code was ridiculous, but should a new self-regulatory code… be instituted before it’s imposed on us?…Would anyone be opposed to a courtesy “Comic-MA” rating on your monthly pull list?” Noble sentiments, Mr. Ward, but a bit misinformed. For starters, what’s this “was” business with the Comics Code Authority? Just take a gander at the cover of this week’s Justice League of America #1 below, directly to the right of “of”; that’s the mark of the CCA, alive and well, protecting us all from the dangers of uninhibited creativity!

Furthermore, the vast majority of comic publishers do provide labels on comic covers indicating any mature content; lines such as Vertigo clearly display that certain titles are “for mature readers only.” Again, if a child gets his hands on one of those books, is it really the publisher’s fault for printing such smut, or should Mom and Dad have been paying more attention as Tiny Tim was thumbing through the latest issue of American Virgin?

The main problem that Bob is having is not the lack of censorship, but the standards by which titles are judged. For some people, the word “hell” is just an accepted part of the common vernacular; for others, it’s a punishable offense to even spell the word out. Given that the publishers do sit down and determine what’s acceptable for what age group, someone out there is always going to end up pissed off. However, good sense usually prevails, and the decrees of the publishers usually follow the moral trends of society. Simply put, we can’t abandon our current standards just because a few isolated individuals feel the need to over-shelter their kids from a medium that can be easily filtered by these parents in the first place.

“Wait,” you must be thinking, “how can we condemn this man to ridicule simply for adhering to a moral code that just so happens to be different than our own? Shouldn’t we applaud his efforts, however unsuccessful these comics may have rendered them? Just who do you think you are, judging this man?” I’ll tell you who I am; I’m the mutherf***ing Tactmaster, and this man (and those like him) is not owed an apology. I’ll tell it to his face: it’s time to either walk the walk or cut the umbilical cord aleady.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for following your own convictions; I’m a non-drinking, non-smoking student wallowing in the beer-sea known as the University of Georgia. However, the moment you give your child the freedom to run amok and choose his own comics without your approval, you not only shuffle off your parental responsibilities; you do your child the disservice of not consistently reinforcing the high moral standards you wish to impart upon him (and before I go any further, let me point out that I am aware that I’ve been assuming this child is a “he”; all you P.C. Police out there can kiss my ass).

Of course, the Comics Code Authority may not be as effective as originally intended; perhaps the Comics Code Authority is a bit infantile and superficial, but at least there is the ILLUSION of restraint. Still, with lines such as Johnny DC available, the only distinction that really needs to be made is whether or not a title is for “mature readers.” If parents allow their children to read titles outside of child-specific lines such as Johnny DC, they do so at their own peril. A few over-anxious individuals may not be entirely happy with the lack of PG or PG-13 ratings available, but nonetheless, the idiots who take their five-year-olds to the shop and buy them titles like “American Virgin” or “Y: The Last Man” deserve nothing more than public flogging for their ineptitude at proper parenting.

Again, I hate to agree with Wizard, but as Chris Ward concludes, “…the first line of defense is parents.” If the book says “suggested for mature readers only” on the cover, why in the blue hell would you grab a copy for little second-grade Timmy? Besides, he hasn’t figured out what to do with the PLAYBOY you got him yesterday… So, in conclusion, let me gently remind you all one last time that if you really, truly are worried that the content in your child’s comic books might end up warping their fragile little psyches into twisted little hedonist cells…then read the damn books before you buy them for your f**king 7-year-olds!

Well, no Tact is for the Weak edition would be complete without my favorite part: the handing out of this week’s (really, this summer’s) Tactless Book of the Week Award! For those of you who are internet-savvy, you’ll probably see this one coming, but that merely goes to prove the veracity of the award! This week’s award goes to…last week’s Ant #8, published by Image Comics. Ant, known for leaning towards the racy side, let loose with both barrels as readers were plunged into a story involving the worst language imaginable, a strip club, and the closest thing to nudity one will find outside the pages of Hustler. The thing is, this issue was not labeled as a mature title, and neither retailers nor readers knew what was in store. Now, granted, the book has, according to, “been labeled as a pure T&A book by critics and non-fans alike,” which would (hopefully) lead to a drop in sales of Ant to 7-year-olds, but the fact remains that the book was sold unlabeled, and for that, those responsible must pay. And I really mean “pay”; the book’s creator, Mario Gully, has issued a notice to all retailers that he will personally buy back (out of his own pocket) any unsold issues of #8. This sort of situation is exactly the kind of thing that could be avoided, if not at the very least officially punished, with the existence of a seperate governing entity over the comics industry. Hmm, that sounds familiar…

Well, I hope you enjoyed our return to greatness here at Tact is for the Weak! No more plane trips, no more moving; for the next nine months, it’s just gonna be you vs. me every Friday at noon! Oh, and how about a big hand to Tact is for the Weak fan Scott Adams, whose title graphic submission was chosen as the winner of the Tact is for the Weak Title Graphic Contest! The irony doesn’t escape me; there’s just something creepy about a man in a top hat reading a comic book. Although, I think it’s the particular book he’s holding that convinced me. Way to go Adams!

Well, I’ve done about as much stalling and shameless self-promoting I can do (sh**, Wizard is starting to rub off on me!), so for now I’ll bid you all farewell with the promise that, this time next Friday (and every Friday after that), a brand new column will warmly greet your computers! Now go play outside; daddy’s got a headache.

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