WARNING: The following article contains nudity and major spoilers Batman: Damned #1 by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, on sale now!
Lurid subject matter and comic books have had a very long and tumultuous relationship. In the late 1960s, underground cartoonists like Robert Crumb and Trina Robbins started releasing books known as “underground comix” in an attempt to push back against The Comics Code Authority, a set of standards and practices to self-regulate content. Comics that adhered to the CCA were devoid of sex, nudity, glamorized hedonistic behavior and, of course, graphic violence.
The books being produced by underground artists portrayed all the no-nos the CCA saw unfit for funny books. They were not distributed to the masses widely or through by conventional means. They were comic books that had to be sought after in head shops or underground comix artist circles.
In mainstream comics, however, adult content was mostly eradicated, especially in superhero books under the CCA stamp, until 2011 when DC Comics, the last remaining big publisher still adhering to the code, decided to adopt a rating system like the one Marvel Comics had implemented. Out from under the CCA, mainstream creators pushed the envelope by incorporating more lurid material in books that were widely consumed.
For instance, a comic book like Watchmen was a huge title that contained strong language some, horrific violence and full frontal male nudity. Instead of burying this book in a sea of adult-oriented independent comics, it was lauded as one of the greatest comic books ever created, blue genitals and all. But writer Alan Moore an artist Dave Gibbons had a luxury of telling their story in a world that was not initially connected to the main DC Comics continuity (the same could be said for Frank Miller's Ronin, as well). So what is the state of the naughtier aspects (specifically nudity) in current day superhero books? Well, it's complicated and shockingly unbalanced.
With the exception of panels featuring a superhero's buttock (more like Buns of Steel) or an obscured female curve hidden in shadow, nudity is pretty nonexistent in superhero books. Recently, though, Sean Murphy's amazing limited series Batman: White Knight attempted to change this in a sex scene between Harley Quinn and Joker. The scene was ultimately censored by DC, and it is yet to be seen if an unedited version of the book will ever see the light of day.
Now, however, DC has launched a new imprint called Black Label, which will feature major superheroes from their pantheon in more adult situations, all taking place outside the main DC continuity. So, just how adult and fringe will these stories be? Well if the fact that, in the imprint's inaugural release, Batman: Damned, Bruce Wayne bares it all for a few panels is any indicator, there isn't much these titles won't tackle.
And look, when we say that Bruce Wayne bared all, we mean it. Our boy goes full monty, and there is nothing left to the imagination. So, if there was ever a debate between you and friends over the perceived endowment of Batman, well, you can put that discussion to rest. Batman: Damned gives you the answer whether you wanted it or not. And while we are by no means prudes, it is a moment that is a bit jarring.
In nearly a century's worth of Batman stories, we never in a million years would have thought that DC would give us a glimpse of Batman's nether regions. It is a moment that makes us question why DC Comics put the kibosh on Batman: White Knight's nudity (which, for the record, was pretty tame; Sean Murphy even put the uncensored images on social media), but let Batman let it all hang out without blinking an eye. [EDITOR: The digital release censors out Bruce's genitalia.]
What this all means for the future of the Black Label imprint is anyone's guess. There has always been a bit of crossover between books for mature readers and the main DC continuity. Books like Hellblazer and Swamp Thing operate within the greater DC Universe, but were quick to get down and dirty when they were published under the Vertigo imprint. It's a weird world we live in, and it's suddenly gotten just a little bit weirder now that we know Batman is circumcised. What you decide to do with that information is completely up to you. Maybe it'll pop up at a bar trivia night. Probably not, but maybe.