A few days ago, illustrator Justin Halpern told Variety that a sex scene between Batman and Catwoman had been censored in the animated series of Harley Quinn. The reason? According to Halpern, DC Comics executives made it clear that superheroes “don’t do that.”
Specifically, the new episodes would include a scene in which Batman practiced oral sex with Catwoman. But in the end, the entire sequence was removed at the request of the executives. When Halpern asked for specific explanations about the removal, the explanation was a very straightforward one. “We sell hero toys. It’s hard to sell a toy if Batman also performs oral sex on someone. ”
And while both Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker, co-creator of Harley Quinn, they clarified that they enjoy complete creative freedom, the restriction never ceases to amaze. Is it a new limit of what can or cannot be shown in animated series? What causes censorship in a creative field that is usually very broad and little given to restrictions?
It is not the first time that an animated product has been censored, but it is certainly one of the most striking occasions. The fact that DC made it clear that the scene would be deleted because it would affect the market and marketing is a declaration of intent. Does the censorship arise due to the pressure of the possible sale of products? Or is it something more related to editorial lines that are becoming increasingly complex?
Sex, a mask and an auspicious setting
The Serie The Boys by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson on Amazon Prime Video caused commotion at the time of publication. It was his twisted take on the world of superheroes based on the extreme use of violence and sex. For its television version in live action, showrunner Eric Kripke managed to capture the tone and rawness of the animated version. With just one exception.
Kripke himself commented that for the first season the series left out a controversial scene. The sequence showed Homelander (Antony Starr) masturbating in front of the city. The reason? The possibility that “it was too much” for television, especially in a series that had broken all stereotypes.
However, for the second season, the scene was included and caused little stir. Is it an evolution in the way superhero cinema and backstory is understood? In an age when the superhero genre is the most profitable in cinema, and therefore the one that sustains the most successful franchises, the question is valid. As the number of films have multiplied, the question about the sexuality of their characters has become more complex.
The claim that Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are asexual it has been prevalent for the past ten years. Also, that DC’s epic versions of its universe often ignore the life and sexuality of its characters. With the exception of the classic couples of Superman and Lois or Diana Prince and Steve Trevor, little has been seen about the emotions of the characters. This despite the fact that the canon in the world of comics is quite explicit in some cases. Is it self-imposed censorship?
There seems to be no reason for the sexual neutrality of superheroes beyond the commercial fact that they are products for the whole family. That includes ensuring a rating for all audiences. The exceptions – Logan ODeadpool – they have exceeded the usual limit, but the target audience they are targeting seems to be different. So the great symbols of franchises continue to be figures who do not demonstrate their sexual orientation or gender.
That, until the world of comics and its on-screen versions began to coincide more frequently. And some things started to happen.
Fluid genders, sexual orientations and other debates in the world of comics
A few days ago, the almost casual revelation that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki would have gender fluid in its version for the Disney Plus series it raised controversy. Until now, the god of lies had not had a context in which their orientation or gender identity needed to be known. But apparently, the show that bears his name will make the necessary moves to show a deep development of the personality of the Marvel villain.
The moderate scandal recalled the one that caused Ruby Rose’s character to become bisexual. o Batwoman, in the series of the same name. There were questions about why Kate Kane, who has the same sexual orientation in the comics, became a queer icon. And in the same way that has happened with Loki, it was debated whether it is legal to endow characters with sexuality in products aimed at the whole family.
That seems to be the big difference between the world of comics as opposed to its versions on film and television. Censorship seems to work like a bottleneck that prevents controversial material from reaching a less diverse audience. While in the comic, the sexual scenes and the gender of the characters have not been an uncomfortable subject, in the mainstream media they often seem to be.
As the DC executive pointed out, a large part of the great productions in film and television depend on your ability to be commercial. Decisions about what to show or not are often related to the acceptance of the target audience.
For now, comics seem to find themselves in an uncomfortable gray space that often sparks debate.
When sex is the norm, censorship of the term from the comic to the screen
Censorship does not work in the same way on television as the comic. In fact, there are a considerable number of examples that make it clear that in the world of paper sex is not a problem.
One of the most remembered is the partially explicit sex scene between Harley Quinn and Deadshot. The vignette appeared in Suicide Squad # 3 from writer Adam Glas and artist Cliff Richard. In it you can see an erotic scene between both characters, which included sexual jokes and insinuations described as sexist.
The same happened with the Catwoman by Judd Winick, who even went beyond the explicit limit to border on the pornographic. The same could be said for one of the sex scenes between Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn in Amazing Spider-Man de J. Michael Straczynski.
However, there have also been some cases of censorship. One of the best known was the scandal around Batman’s frontal nudity in Batman: Damned, published in 2018. The story of Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo is featured in DC’s new line of comics for adult readers, Black Label.
The illustrations showed the batman’s penis in detail, causing considerable scandal. The images went viral and the drawing was retouched to make the batman’s genitalia less visible. Was it a reaction to pressure from fans and readers? At least there is a precedent in this regard.
The girl, the fear and the cover
One of the hardest scenes in Batman: The Killing Joke Alan Moore’s is The Torture and Rape of Barbara Gordon. The author raises aggression in a creepy way. It is an act of humiliation with profound psychological implications that affect the victim and the development of the story. Sexual violence, which Moore shows without extenuating, sustains a whole series of crude reflections on sanity and humanity.
The Joker subjects Commissioner Jim Gordon – Barbara’s father – to the unthinkable torture of looking at his daughter’s tortured body. It is from that point that the story takes an unknown course towards a puzzling kind of philosophical reflection.
So it is not surprising that when cartoonist Rafael Albuquerque decided to pay tribute to the work, controversy broke out. In 2015, and on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Joker, DC Comics decided to relaunch one of its most iconic works. For the occasion, Albuquerque created a reinvention of the mythical cover. In it, Barbara Gordon, wearing her iconic Batgirl outfit, appears bound and fragile with her face covered in tears. The Joker holds her up, pointing a gun at her head.
The scandal was immediate and highlighted the complicated boundaries between censorship and public pressure. The criticism sparked an awkward discussion. Not only about the use of sexual abuse as part of plots in the comic world, but because of its glorification.
Albuquerque asked DC Comics remove the controversial cover of number 41. “My intention was not to bother anyone with my work. For this reason I have recommended to DC to remove the cover ”, assured the artist. For better or for worse, pressure from readers and the public had proven its power.
In the end, censorship passes for profits
Does the censorship of the scene in the Harley Quinn series mean the extent to which the public is putting pressure on the product? A year ago, a group of women accused comic book legend Warren Ellis of inappropriate behavior. The accusations were even harsher after the controversy third season from the Netflix series Castlevania, written by Ellis, will show a stark sex scene.
The pressure was enough that Ellis was removed from the project based on the Konami video game. Finally, the series ended in a season in which the emphasis was on action and which closed the story arcs of the characters.
A few days ago, Samuel Deats, director of the series, announced that the universe would expand in aspin off in which Ellis would not be involved. The abrupt end of the series and the restart of the plot was rumored to be a reaction by Netflix to the accusations against its creator.
Until now, the various forms of censorship within the history of pop culture have been context-related. Amid the great modern discussions and a renewed sensitivity to hot topics, what happened with Batman is a concrete sign. In the end, pop culture is a reflection of their great drives.
Maybe, Zack Snyder has the last word. The director joined the discussion on social networks and included in a Tweet the image of Batman and Catwoman in a sexual scene. Then he wrote “Canon.” A way to make it clear that the world of entertainment follows its own rhythm. One increasingly unpredictable and powerful.