The bar scene of New York Comic Con is very different to that of San Diego Comic-Con. San Diego has about five main hotel bars in which everything in the comics industry happens. And two of them are in the Hyatt. Add the Marriott, the Bayfront Hilton and the Omni – and their respective smoking areas and you are 90% done. You could do the entire convention there and never step foot in the Convention Center.
That kind of concentration is a lot harder in New York, the social scene is multiplied and spread out across Manhattan, even into Brooklyn. It's not happening. But it does mean that it's easier for professionals to escape their editors and handlers and behave in a most unprofessional way – and gossip.
And some of that reaches me. Stuck here in London, waking up to all sorts of loose lips, overheard conversations, and stray observations.
I've been mocked for writing this kind of thing up. No more so than at an NYCC a couple of years ago when I reported that Marvel Studios was killing the Inhumans movie, in favour of a TV show from another division of the company. Until, you know, that's exactly what happened and then even my biggest critics had to concede that maybe, just maybe, my sources were good ones. Even if they were propped up in Molly's or Tir Na Nog at the time.
Anyway, while some have criticised the fans and the press for their reaction to Batman: Damned, it seems it was the only thing that comic book professionals were talking about as well.
For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, the recent Batman Damned #1, the first of DC's Black Label mature readers line of superhero comics, by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, featured a naked Bruce Wayne walking through the Batcave, his penis dangling in the breeze.
It became an item of immense interest, with Bleeding Cool devoting much of our reporting resources to it. The Batawang as one wag dubbed it, his national headlines, was featured on late night talk shows and drove sales of this relatively expensive first issue so that it became the biggest speculator item going, despite DC Comics having printed 110,000 of them. Issues now sell from $60 to $100, more if it is signed or slabbed.
There was also some controversy, as the preview that some retailers had seen, did not have the Batpole as another wag dubbed it displayed as prominently. And the digital preview version didn't have it at all. And that was also the version that DC sold digitally, with the Batpenis hidden in shadow.
Then DC Comics stated that only the censored version would appear in future printings.
But last night, I heard a repeated version of events that would explain a lot. And corroborated by a number of sources, names that you would recognise in association with the comic book industry.
First, let me tell of you of a story of BBC woe. Once upon a time, one of their brightest stars, Jonathan Ross, was on another of their brightest stars, Russel Brand's radio show on BBC Radio 2. Russell was due to have the actor Andrew Sachs on the line to interview but for some reason, he wasn't picking up the phone. They included this in the show, with Jonathan making various innuendoes about Russell's relationship with Sachs, alluding to the fact that Russell had been in a sexual relationship at one point with Sachs' granddaughter. It was aired with very little fuss until a week later, the Mail On Sunday decided they were outraged about it and a 50,000 letter writing campaign hit the BBC. The controller of BBC Radio 2 resigned, Russel Brand resigned and Jonathan's own show was cancelled.
But a far greater effect, still felt today, is that the BBC lawyers suddenly held a far greater grip over content. The use of words, and any suggestion of live comedy, was manhandled by suits, looking for anything that might offend anyone and the creative community, basically, up sticked and went elsewhere. It is something the BBC has struggled with ever since.
How is this relevant to the Batpenis?
Well, DC Comics has a new President in town, Pamela Lifford. And the Batpenis basically landed on her desk in her first days of office. Yesterday at NYCC, Jim Lee called it a 'production error' but that is disputed by people closer to the comic, who tell me that it was always intended to be this way and was signed off like this.
And suddenly lots of DC's comic books are under the microscope. And they're not just looking for penises but anything that may frighten the horses. Bad language, overly violent scenes, political references, whatever can be jumped on. The main line of DC Comics characters has had a loosening of language of late, the likes of bullshit, piss, ass, bollocks and the like have appeared in non-mature readers titles of late. The suggestion and innuendo has also upped its levels too. I am told to look for that to be dialled back a lot.
As for the rest of the Black Label line, that is especially under the microscope and I am told to expect some bowlderisation going on there too. And creators and editors are not happy about the increased interference in their titles – or the expected interference – and the amends being demanded. Some are wondering why they are doing it for DC in the first place. There is division and dissent among the ranks, and looking at Warners to blame for this new puritanism that has suddenly descended upon the publisher. After all, Walmart might not want to get into bed with the Batpenis people…
And at ground zero for the many demands of changes is Batman: Damned #2 – which apparently featured more Batpenises. It wasn't just a one-off. These have now been censored, the art changes explaining the second issue's month delay.
As for why Batman Damned #1 wasn't reprinted, even censored? Apparently, I am told that was down to an original agreement with Brian Azzarello, that DC Comics wouldn't censor the art in Batman Damned after publication. At the time, I am told that was down to Brian's fear that the final page of Batman Damned, featuring a statue of the crucified Jesus Christ painted to look like the Joker would so upset people that they would demand it be changed, This is also why the final page was not included in Batman Damned previews.
But it turned out that no one gave a toss about that, it was all about the Batpenis. And stores tell me they could have sold two, three, four times their number they ordered of the comic, even with a severed Batpenis, after all the fuss.
I love NYCC. Even when I'm not there, it gets people chinwagging… and then emailing me.
You may start your doubting engines… now.