This should probably end the way it began.
Welcome back to DC-Talk with Hal!!! This may or may not be our farewell post, because Scott may or may not have fired me. Look, all good things… Dial H, Prophet, Breaking Bad (if you don’t count Better Call Saul). Things change.
Anyway, I’m Hal and I’m here to talk about DC. I assume you’re here to read. So let’s do this. *Spoiler Alert* – This may be a short post…
Smoking. Thoughts? Leave a comment below.
Oh, apparently I have to reach 100 words before it can officially be considered a post. Well, there you go. Keep the change.
Fine. Smoking has become a socially stigmatized activity. Lots of people smoke, but you’re not allowed to do it in restaurants, or movie theaters, or nearly anywhere else indoors. And when you smoke outside you have to be at least 300 feet from an exit or any other artifact of civilization. Oddly, as smoking marijuana is becoming more socially accepted, the smoking of tobacco continues to be demonized and marginalized.
Smoking used to be a staple in comics, but now it’s taboo. At one time, tobacco use among comic characters was roughly equivalent to its use in the “real” world. But nowadays you’d be hard pressed to come up with a list of characters who could currently be considered smokers. I tried the experiment with Scott: name all the comic characters you can think of who currently smoke…
John Constantine (maybe)
The Smoking Man (from X-files comics, although I’m not sure he is a current character)
But if I asked you to name all the characters who used to use tobacco…
J. Jonah Jameson
My point is that you don’t see it that much in comics any more. Was this the result of pressure from anti-tobacco forces, changes in society, or both? It’s tough to say, but I think that in general it’s a loss.
Now, let me be clear, I don’t smoke. I (was indoctrinated from my youth to affirm that I) believe smoking is a destructive and disgusting habit. Tobacco use has impacted (and shortened) the life of members of my family. To be completely honest, I really don’t like smoking. But I feel that if it is legal, then people should have the right to do it without being treated like some tobacco-dependant sub-species. My view may be skewed because during my formative years my favorite restaurant had a cigarette vending machine, and the “smoking” and “non-smoking” sections were partitioned by a five-foot-high half-wall.
Comics are all about imagery, and for a long time smoking has been a form of signaling. During the “Mad-men” era smoking signaled you were cool (plus 9 out of 10 doctors agreed smoking was good for your Q-zone). From the 60’s through the 90’s smoking signaled that you were out of the main stream (not in a hipster way). Smoking signaled that you played by your own rules and couldn’t be reined in by “The Man.” But from the 2000’s to the present, smoking has fallen out of favor.
In the past, comic characters (like Dick Tracy) smoked because some people smoke, deal with it. Some characters have hard, stressful lives, and some smoke. Other characters could frequently be seen chomping on a cigar, as an additional signal of their larger than life persona (see J. Jonah Jameson, Ben Grimm, Grey Hulk, etc.)
Then, in the 80’s in 90’s adults realized that cartoons can be used to influence children. This resulted in the rise and fall of Joseph Camel, as well as the conscription of Superman into anti-smoking propaganda. Superman was pitted against Nick O’Teen, a caricature created to make kids simultaneously hate tobacco, teens, and the Irish.
In this era, only villains smoked (at least in mainstream comics), as a sign that their heart was as black as their lungs. But then, there was a trend toward grittiness, and the bad guys became the focus of the story. And with a renewed interest in anti-heroes, it was okay to let characters like Frank Castle, Wolverine, and Jonah Hex smoke so they’d seem less heroic. Meanwhile, independent comics were, and continue to be, a free-for-all, so characters like Ennis’ Preacher would smoke whenever.
But nowadays, smoking has become worse than forbidden; it has become unmentionable. So you hardly see anyone in mainstream comics lighting up, even long time smokers like Nick Fury, Lobo, and J.J. Jameson. In fact, Scott and I had difficulty thinking of any recent occurrences of characters enjoying a cigarette. Apparently smoking is so evil, that an illustration of anyone smoking might immediately get a child addicted to nicotine.
That sounds hyperbolic, but in places like New York, legislators are trying to outlaw electronic cigarettes for the sole reason that they look like real cigarettes, so impressionable youths might see them, think they look cool, and start smoking. (Apparently they haven’t seen the vapes that look like a weird inhaler; or maybe they have and they’re afraid asthma will also become cool.)
And that’s what’s weird to me. It’s like there’s a new unspoken “comics code” in place. A significant number of people smoke, but you can’t show it in comics. And I’ve never seen an electronic cigarette in a comic, probably because it would take some awkward dialogue to make it completely clear that it was not a real cigarette and it contained no tobacco. Currently there seems to be a boom in the e-cigarette/vape market, but I doubt they will ever be acknowledged in comics, except if characters travel to a future where everything is sterile and artificial.
So why is this a DC topic? I guess it’s not, but I wanted to give DC props for maintaining a few smokers among their ranks. I know I saw Nelson Jents smoking in Dial H (maybe that’s why it was cancelled?!), and I assume John Constantine still smokes… I mean I can’t remember a specific panel of him smoking recently, but he’s British so probably.
Anyway, what do you think about it? I saw Superman laser vision someone’s arm off and then hit them with it, but they can’t show Batman’s dad smoking after drug fueled orgy with his mob friends. Does that make sense? Comment below or don’t.
Since this may be my last post, I wanted to thank you for reading and tie up one more loose thread.
***FOREVER EVIL – SPOILER ALERT***
Stop reading if you haven’t seen Forever Evil #6 and you care about spoilers.
Forever Evil #6 was an entertaining issue, with Black Manta stabbing the Outsider to death and Captain Cold freezing and shattering Johnny Quick’s leg. But the best part was that they revealed the identity of the Crime Syndicate’s mystery captive. It turns out that Scott and I were both correct. The secret prisoner is Alexander Luthor (they didn’t specify junior or senior, by age he looked like he would be junior, but in the New 52 there may only be one) and he is also the evil version of Shazam (formerly Captain Marvel).
“Wait, Hal, do you mean he’s another Black Adam?” No, he is literally the inverse of Shazam, so his name (and magic power word) is Mazahs! He also seems to be able to absorb powers from other people, Highlander style (see, there can be only one) so he ends the issue threatening to Amazo the Crime Syndicate and Lex Luthor’s rag-tag bunch of goons.
That’s all for now. Be blessed and keep musing.