DC Comics has come out with a mature imprint called DC Black Label, and its first title has elicited controversy for showing uncensored images of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the nude. The issue became more contentious as the company announced plans to censor the comic’s digital edition and any future printings.
The story in question is the first issue of a series called “Batman: Damned,” released on September 19, 2018. It was written by Brian Azzarello and drawn byLee Bermejo. Three bimonthly issues are expected.
Context, or: Throwing the “Batawang”
In the first issue, Batman discovers that his arch-enemy, the Joker, has been murdered. Nobody knows who the culprit is, and Batman begins to fear that he may have snapped, done the deed and then blocked it out. Further confusion comes when he receives several near-fatal injuries that heal incredibly quickly, implying that supernatural events may be afoot. He ultimately decides to team up with the magical detective John Constantine to solve the case.
Coming home to the Bat-Cave, Bruce takes off his suit in order to inspect his body for now-vanished wounds; somewhat dazed by his odd circumstances, he then remains undressed as he wanders into his mansion.
During this scene readers can thus see one shot of full-frontal nudity, including his genitalia not quite hidden by shadow, as well as another panel where his buttocks are fully visible.
DC Comics Backtracks
However, the male frontal nudity will only be available for those who managed to buy physical copies of the first printing. Digital copies, available on DC Comics’ website or Comixology, will have Bruce Wayne’s groin completely obscured by shadow, leaving his genitals hidden. This sort of technique is standard for most mainstream comics when nudity is necessary for the plot.
The excuse here is a fairly logical one: the comic is meant for mature audience, with an age rating of 17+ Only. While one can expect the workers at comic shops to keep the issue from kids, this standard is impossible to enforce for digital copies, leaving the company with little alternative.
However, DC Comics has also announced that future printings will be censored like the digital copies. According to a statement, the company found the nudity to not be “additive to the story.”
There have been calls by some to make the issue returnable for readers who do not like the nudity. DC Comics’ later censorship plans were presumably done in hope of ending this controversy, but naturally has only inflamed it.
There are several arguments that defenders of the nudity are making. For one, the comic is intended for mature audiences, and the image is non-sexual. Batman’s nakedness is used to emphasize his unusual state of mind at the moment, and seeing his genitalia is simply realistic.
Some have also noted that comic books used sexualized imagery all the time, mostly of women; these infamously include ridiculously tight clothing, panty shots and poses that are sometimes physically impossible.
Drawing the line at Batman’s crotch could thus be called hypocritical. A counterargument, however, would be that mainstream comics rarely go so far as to show anyone, male or female, naked without censorship.
It remains to be seen how DC Comics will ultimately handle this issue, as well as what kind of “mature” material may come in future DC Black Label books. Upcoming titles include “Superman: Year One,” “Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons” and “Wonder Woman: Diana’s Daughter.