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Batman’s nudity controversy made DC Comics publishers reassess other Black Label books

‘That’s something that we’ll be mindful of going forward.’

From Batman: Damned #1, DC Comics (2018). David Azzarello, Lee Bermejo/DC Comics
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

A flurry of media attention over the depiction of Batman’s penis in an official DC Comic series has prompted the publisher to be more mindful with its new imprint going forward, according to DC Comics co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio.

DC announced Black Label in March of 2018, and defined the imprint with three factors: Big name creators, big name superheroes, and big helpings of creative freedom — including freedom from DC’s main continuity. But that message was confused when Batman: Damned #1 went to print with full-frontal nudity.

DC edited panels of a naked Batman in digital and further print editions of Damned, but conversation around the issue was irrevocably centered on the maturity of content in Black Label, rather than the work of the artists behind it or the potential offered by Black Label’s open space for creativity.

At New York Comic Con 2018, Polygon asked Lee and DiDio if that conversation was a hurdle for the imprint to get over now, or just an example of “all publicity is good publicity.” Lee acknowledged that Batman: Damned garnered a lot of attention for it’s “production errors,” but said that, ultimately, the book would bring readers back to read issues #2 and #3 on the strength of its overall content, not just a few panels.

“I think we made some choices after it went out,” he said, “and there were some production errors that led to the book being published the way it was ... that ended up being a big story. But thankfully people were very pleased with the story and the content, the beautiful art, and the story that Brian [Azzarello] and Lee [Bermejo] had come up with really resonated with readers.”

But the reception to Batman: Damned #1 has prompted some rethinking at DC, even if it’s just a more cautious approach.

“It’s made us, certainly, look at what Black Label is and think about whether these elements are additive to the story,” Lee said. “And that’s something that we’ll be mindful of going forward, because I don’t think we want necessarily a repeat of what happened with the first issue.”

“It’s something we wished never happened,” DiDio chimed in, “because it really took the attention away from what we thought was quality storytelling, and that’s not the way we see this imprint. As a matter of fact, we’re excited by all the books that we have under Black Label. And it’s an important line for us, so much so that we’re actually repositioning some of our older material that has that same tonality and bringing it in and reprinting it under the Black Label name.”

Those reprinted titles, announced in June, include books as old as Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One and Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier — and books as young as Sean Murphy’s Batman: White Knight.

Other upcoming original Black Label titles include Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman: Last Knight on Earth, which finds Batman wandering in a strange wasteland accompanied only by the Joker’s talking severed head; Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.’s Superman: Year One, about the first year of Clark Kent’s work as Superman; John Ridley’s The Other History of the DC Universe, about major events in DC History seen through the eyes heroes who belong to marginalized identities; and Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Jimenez’s Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons, the lost history of Wonder Woman’s Amazonian forebears as told in their own words.

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