There's already been a lot of talk surrounding whether the theater attack in Aurora, Colorado will negatively impact the financial well-being of the already-struggling cinema business in the long term, with many openly questioning whether midnight movie screenings, which are after all a relatively recent phenomenon and only rose to real prominence in the last several years, might fall out of vogue completely.
And while nobody, including this reporter, wants to belittle the tragedy of the shooting by focusing on the financial and entertainment aspects of it, the rapid increase in stories relating to a theme of "the shooting has made _______ impossible" has made it seem like it's time to at least consider some of the ramifications for the comics that have been inspiring so many of the biggest hit movies of the last few years.
Gangster Squad may be delayed or go back for reshoots, after its trailer was pulled from theaters for depicting a scene eerily reminiscent of what happened in Aurora last Friday. The weekend box office for The Dark Knight Rises came in about 25% below expectations, with the shooting and anxiety over potential copycats shouldering much of the blame from forecasters. E! Online is even speculating that next year's Superman film, Man of Steel, may be "tainted" by the killings, which could create long-term problems for Warner Brothers. Since the shooter called himself "The Joker," Heath Ledger's father issued a statement in support of the victims, urging people not to blame his son, or the iconic character he famously portrayed, for the actions of a madman.
There's also a sense that, combined with the unprecedented popularity of the Nolan films, it may simply be too difficult to reboot the Batman movie franchise anytime soon after this. There will be critics on the one side attacking the filmmaker as compared to Nolan, critics on another who claim it's insensitive to put another Batman movie out so soon, and that third group who are just uniformly opposed to reboots. Pile on the fact that between Ledger's tragic death and this shooting, it will be extremely hard to sell The Joker, Batman's most well-known and popular villain, on film for a long time to come, and you've got what could be a real problem for Warner, who had planned to carry on making the films in order to get Batman into their planned Justice League movie.
And that's just the movie-business stuff, forget about the social and political fallout, plus the additional incidents that have already turned up on the news, ratcheting up the already-high anxiety levels surrounding the event.
Shortly after the Columbine massacre, in which a pair of Colorado high school students went to school heavily armed and killed 13 people before turning the guns on themselves, there was a lot of discussion about whether the mass media was to blame in some way. Violent video games were targeted by parents' groups, and singer Marilyn Manson, popular at the time and a favorite of the troubled youths who committed the murders, was singled out by the mainstream press as a target. This time, there's been a good deal of focus on comics and comic book films (for obvious reasons), leading some fans to wonder whether there could be longer-term repercussions for the industry.
The delay of Batman Incorporated #3, which was supposed to be in stores tomorrow, may be the final concession made to the killer's rampage, but it's difficult to know yet. Certainly DC Entertainment seems to be focusing its efforts on the shooting full-time thus far, working with Warner Brothers and local government in Aurora to minimize any association that their company or intellectual property might have to the shooter.
There's the additional wrinkle of a now-infamous sequence in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, in which a patron opens fire in a crowded adult movie theater during a pornographic film. The phrase "Batman-inspired porn shootout" is one that you can probably Google right now and get far more Google News hits than at any point in history.
When the New York Daily News picked up on that story as a potential inspiration for the killer, best-selling mystery novelist and comic book writer Brad Meltzer rejected the idea, evoking once again the Columbine parallel.
“Listen, you’re talking about a character that’s been published over 60 years with a million stories, if you want to look through all those panels through Comic book fist fights, you’re going to eventually find one that’s could be construed as similar,” Meltzer is quoted as saying. “But that’s as like blaming the Columbine school shooting years ago on rock and roll music.”
Going back to our earlier point about The Joker, it's clear that some people will not be comfortable with that character anytime soon. Nevertheless, DC recently teased the character's return at Comic-Con, which would be the first time that fans have seen the Clown Prince of Crime on-panel since DC's line-wide "New 52" relaunch nearly a year ago. The first issue of Detective Comics featured a grisly, bloody Joker face, an image that was repeated on some of the promotional materials for his upcoming return to comics.
It's obviously unlikely that comics will see the kind of widespread censorship that gripped and crippled the industry and the art form following the publication of Seduction of the Innocent in the 1950s, but it seems like a perfect storm that the mainstream media is taking a critical look at "violent comic books" at the same time The Walking Dead #100, featuring the brutal, fatal beating of one of its main characters, is selling out around the country.
It's impossible to accurately predict what, if any, long-term impact the attack will have on the comic book industry. In any case, expect a lot more conversation about it in the coming months.