The world of comic books has sure changed a lot since we were young. It was a singular pleasure of a bygone day to gather an allowance and head for the corner drugstore for an issue of "Superman" for 12 cents, a quarter for a book with three -- three! -- stories. Today, comic books still seek an audience of young men (and to a lesser extent, young women) hungry for heroes. But that's where the similarities end.
Today's comic books have undergone a Starbucks transformation. They are now called "graphic novels" and are bound on fancier paper, selling at Borders or Barnes & Noble for $2.50. Even more striking is the business formula: The comic book industry is making the big bucks not on paper, but on the silver screen. Marvel Comics has had an amazing run at the movies, with massive box-office results for the "Spider-Man" films and now a monster third sequel in the "X-Men" movie series. On the other hand, Marvel isn't making much money in the old-fashioned publishing way. One recent estimate had them making only 22 percent of their revenues on the printed page.
Why is this important? Because by branching itself into the movie business, the comic book industry is no longer focusing solely on the freckle-faced 10-year-old. It's now big, big business, aiming to reach the 30-year-old audience with more adult messages, even though children will also be exposed to them.
So here we go with another delivery vehicle for children sacrificing innocence at the altar of controversy, in the hopes of gaining notoriety -- and press attention. In 2003, Marvel went homosexual, trying to draw attention to itself by creating a gay superhero, the Rawhide Kid, but the "Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather" comic books never sold well, despite the initial raft of publicity.
Now DC Comics is trying to create its own gay shockwave by transforming Batwoman, a character killed off in 1979, into a lesbian socialite-turned-superhero in black and red latex. Spokesman Dan DiDio claims DC wants to strike a "more contemporary tone," and an openly lesbian character that still keeps her sexual preference hidden from certain family members has a lot of "strong emotional layers."
That isn't the only blow DC Comics is striking for diversity -- and its search for a bigger audience. Others include the Blue Beetle, Firestorm and The Atom -- now reinvented as Mexican, black and Asian heroes, respectively. Then there's the Great Ten, a government-sponsored team of Chinese superheroes. Some have joked that DC could really be groundbreaking by creating a superhero that's ugly or fat, which would add quite a dash of diversity.