Thursday, May 24, 2007

Grocery Store Artifact: Heroes for Hire #13 & Captain America #29 not for sale?

I just realized that the store I work for probably wouldn't display for sale Heroes for Hire #13 or Captain America #29.

See the covers here (NSFW link)
Captain America #29 and Heroes for Hire #13

While any business would of course be concerned about being the subject of a Georgia v. Gordon Lee-type event, it is more likely that the bondage and sexual assault theme of the cover for Heroes for Hire #13 and the image of a black man being burned alive on the cover of Captain America #29 would not meet the standards of the community or the image of the store, so we would have the stocking vendor remove it from the shelf.

The cover of Captain America #29 would certainly be considered a bad idea by many if not offensive or overtly racist by most customers. While comic book fans understand the context and are familiar with the back story of the characters the public at large does not and will only react to what they see displayed. Technically, the Heroes for Hire #13 cover isn't pornography, but it would certainly be considered mature fare if noticed by a store manager. Those in the know also get that most comic books are not for kids any longer and haven't been for some time, but no one can really defend that they are also not aggressively marketed to a younger demographic.

Since Heroes for Hire #13 and Captain America #29 would not packaged in sealed bags like the other young adult magazines such as Maxim or FHM and is still perceived by the public and marketed as kiddie fare there would be no expectation that it would be placed on a higher shelf or behind the counter. It would be displayed as usual with Mad, assorted gaming magazines and other comics like Archie and the various Marvel and DC titles.

If nothing else the cover to Heroes for Hire #13 or Captain America #29 could be considered inappropriate for public display and I imagine would certainly generate complaints to the corporate offices from our customers. I'm confident that most of the messages would consist of overly-dramatic or hysterical complaints and would miss the actual point of what is wrong about the thematic layouts of the covers, but the reaction from the store would probably be the removal of the comic books. The store could further probably decide that monitoring the content of comic books after would not be worth the effort and would inform the vendor not to stock any at all. I have witnessed similar situations occur for various products.

On nearly every site I have seen addressing Heroes for Hire #13 (and a lesser extent Captain America #29), the images are labeled as NSFW. That is, not safe for viewing while at work. For those not familiar with the term it refers in this instance to the display of inappropriate imagery in a work environment and would cause a hostile work place. You can get fired from your job, even if no one found the image offensive, because the cover of Heroes for Hire #13 and Captain America #29 meets the legal definition of harassment. Keep in mind that the images would not be displayed in the venues of the comic book company that produced it, a comic book store or an art display in a museum. It would be shown in a retail environment open to the public. This isn't a censorship issue either. Censorship would be if someone from city hall drove down to the store with a marking pen and blacked out all the material they officially deemed offensive. So if an adult can't look at the art on those two books on his work computer in a private office full of like-minded people due to it meeting the definition of harassment, why would it be okay for it to be displayed in public?

I know that chain bookstores like Borders, Books-A-Million and others stock not only comic books, but some have a pretty good selection of Manga and comic trades also. The comic books are typically shelved as face out as they are too slim to stock sideways so the covers are exposed to public view. While in these stores myself I have observed it is mostly a younger crowd that are seated on the floor reading Spider-Man, Batman, etc. while the parents browse (most older comic book readers undoubtedly go to comic book stores for their titles and are not casual in-store readers).

The question is would a large retail or book chain, knowing in advance what the covers look like, carry and display for sale Heroes for Hire #13 or Captain America #29?



  1. Would they display them? Sure, they would. The Heroes for Hire cover will feel right at home in the amime section. (But if the reproduction on the actual comic is as dark and muddy as this solicit image, it may not be possible to tell what it's a picture of)

    As for Captain America, well, clearly it's not the black man that's on fire, but the flag, which makes it protected free speech.

  2. The TPB's in the Manga section I've seen are usually displayed edge-on.

  3. You know, I don't think it's going to be a question of free speech - no one is saying burn all the copies of Cap 29. Frankly, I see the artistic merit in that cover much more than I do the HFH cover.

    But I do think Marvel will note if we vote with our dollars. I don't think either cover needs to be where an 8 year-old can see it, so I won't buy the issues at a store that has them mixed with younger fare. However, I would buy them from a store that has them where I have access to them and my child does not.

    Therefore, if I don't buy from one store, that store will not order that comic in the future, whereas the store I purchased the comic from will. We can easily regulate ourselves if we buy responsibly - the same goes for other mediums like movies and television as well.

  4. clearly it's not the black man that's on fire, but the flag

    I don't think that's clear at all. I can infer that was the intention based on the simple fact that I don't expect Marvel to offer overtly racist cover art, but I don't think that the cover supports that reading. The man's left arm is clearly in the fire. Some of the seems to be emanating from the side of his face. His shoulder appears to be on fire. To my eyes, that is the picture of a black man set aflame or bursting into flame. He appears to be in pain and I can ascertain no other source of injury but the fire.


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