The shocking debut of Batman's penis in the pages of Batman: Damned helped DC Comics launch its new, mature label with massive publicity. But the publishers have made it clear that the headline-grabbing nudity wasn't a marketing scheme, but a mistake - one they're going to make sure doesn't happen again.
When the first issue of Damned released - the first new comic released under DC Black Label, a new prestige comic imprint recruiting the industry's best writers and artists to create boundary-pushing graphic novels - a Batman nude scene fit the bill. Some might even have assumed DC deciding they would censor Batman's penis in all versions going forward was the second layer to the publicity stunt. But that's not DC's official story, and they do make a case for avoiding a repeat performance.
To say that Batman's penis (and its subsequent censoring in digital versions, now future reprints) caused a stir would be an understatement. And while some might believe getting late night hosts to joke about the new Batman comic is publicity you can't buy, that's not how DC sees it. At least, that's not why they want people to know the name 'DC Black Label.' And at New York Comic Con, the publishers reiterated their official stance.
When asked about the controversy surrounding Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's Batman: Damned #1, and DC's decision to censor it after it was already published, Jim Lee explained (via Polygon) that the nudity may inform future decisions. Specifically those related to DC Black Label... even if his allusion to the nudity as an "error" may only raise more questions:
...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 and Lee had come up with really resonated with readers.
It’s made us, certainly, look at what Black Label is and think about whether these elements are additive to the story. 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.
That comment may not sway the opinion of those who see this entire thing as a publicity stunt - and if it were, all the more power to DC for a shrewd scheme - but DC's co-publisher Dan DiDio didn't mince words with his view of the Bat-nudity:
It’s something we wish never happened, because it really took the attention away from what we thought was quality storytelling, and that’s not the way we see this imprint.
Whether the uncensored, print release of Batman: Damned was a production error, a risk taken, or conscious decision, it's easy to take DiDio's words as an honest assessment of the fallout. When DiDio first described his desire to bring more prestige graphic novels - on the level of The Killing Joke, Watchmen, or The Dark Knight Returns - back into DC's identity, the 'maturity' referred to was in tone, subject matter, and boundary-pushing. And the first comic released under that "mature" descriptor including full-frontal male nudity sends the wrong kind of message.
Not to mention all the other reasons to be talking about Azzarello and Bermejo's first issue, dropping Batman and John Constantine into a dark, supernatural nightmare. Oh, and Joker finally getting killed. Whether or not the same amount of people would be discussing those elements of the comic had Batman's penis not stolen headlines, preventing DC Black Label from being seen as "the DC books that show nudity" is probably the right call.
Batman: Damned #1 is available now from DC Comics.
Source: DC Comics (via Polygon)