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The Comics Code Seal

The general guidelines for the code, to protect youth corruption, may be a little too general

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Squint, and you can see the stamp-size box on many comic-book covers: ”Approved by the Comics Code Authority.” It’s the industry’s Comics Code Seal, dating from the days when comic books, not video games, were being blamed for corrupting our nation’s youth.

Administered by the New York City-based Comics Magazine Association of America — a 40-year-old consortium of the Archie, DC, Malibu, Marvel, and Now comics companies, plus a few wholesale distributors — the panel reviews comics voluntarily submitted by publishers. But parents should note that code guidelines are exceedingly general, and odd hairsplitting sometimes occurs. ”Hell” and ”damn” get through, but the May issue of Milestone Comics’ Icon was denied the seal, says its editor in chief, Dwayne McDuffie, ”because someone said she had to ‘pee all the time.”’ Some code-approved books, such as Marvel’s recent Sabretooth, have body counts as gruesomely high as Die Hard 2. And despite a restriction against glamorizing tobacco use, some heroes dramatically light up a cigarette or a stogie after a fight.

The seal can be helpful. But ultimately, says John R. Tebbel, who’s writing a book about the code, ”You can’t avoid the parental responsibility of checking your kids’ literature yourself.”