DC Comics has officially abandoned the Comics Code Authority. That familiar logo, letting parents know that the content within was okay for their children, will no longer appear on DC books. Marvel had already dropped the CCA way back in 2001, replacing it with their own in-house rating system; DC’s abandonment of the system means that only Bongo and Archie submitting to the CCA.
The CCA has been a staple of comic book covers since 1954; spurred by Frederick Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent and the ensuing congressional investigation that all but destroyed EC Comics, the industry turned to self-regulation in order to stem further government intrusion in comics, which were being touted by the panic-loving media as a threat to the nation’s youth. Here, via Wikipedia, are some of the highlights of the original Comics Code, which was loosely modeled on Hollywood’s Hays Production Code of the 1930s:
Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
No comic magazine shall use the word horror or terror in its title.
All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be presented in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste or morals.
Over the years the Code was changed; eventually ‘classical’ monsters were allowed back into comic books, although zombies never got the okay. Corruption in law enforcement and government were eventually allowed in, as were sometimes sympathetic portrayals of criminals. It took until 1989 for the code to allow homosexuality, which goes a long way to explaining the dearth of gay superheroes.
But the Code always remained behind the times. Famously, Marvel first dropped the Code for a three part Spider-Man storyline in 1971. Stan Lee, acting on a request from the US Department of Health, wrote a story where Harry Osborne was hospitalized after a bad acid trip. The Code reacted in a knee jerk way and refused to certify the comics; Marvel published them anyway, creating a landmark moment.
As the direct sale market was created the Code was left off of more and more titles; even though DC had been with the CCA for the last ten years it has submitted mostly only its young readers books. The drop feels mostly like a formality.
DC will be replacing the Code with its own rating system, which is:
E – EVERYONE
Appropriate for readers of all ages. May contain cartoon violence and/or some comic mischief.
T – TEEN
Appropriate for readers age 12 and older. May contain mild violence, language and/or suggestive themes.
T+ - TEEN PLUS
Appropriate for readers age 16 and older. May contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and/or suggestive themes.
M – MATURE
Appropriate for readers age 18 and older. May contain intense violence, extensive profanity, nudity, sexual themes and other content suitable only for older readers
Vertigo books will continue to sport the standard Mature Audiences labels; I imagine that the vast, vast majority of DC Comics will be labeled T+.