Kevin Smith talks comics. The ''Clerks'' director and frequent writer explains the difference between DC Comics and Marvel
The Hulk, Superman
Credit: Superman Incredible Hulk Illustration by Mark Zingarelli

While the layman may not be able to distinguish between the two universes in which the most popular superheroes dwell, it’s always easiest to explain thusly: Hulk and Superman don’t hang out together. The former is a Marvel character, and the latter belongs to DC. EW felt that, having cashed checks from both companies, I was in a rare position to offer insight into not what’s great about both companies (and, believe me — there’s plenty), but what stinks about both. Because, y’know — negativity sells.

When I was writing ”Green Arrow” at DC, there were a few content issues that I found puzzling. The first occurred when I included a reference to the cartoon ”The Powerpuff Girls.” It wasn’t a smutty, Jay and Silent Bob-level reference, but instead, it featured a female character talking about how great it was to have cartoon characters for little girls to model themselves on, as opposed to the Rainbow Brites and Strawberry Shortcakes of old. I was told that the references to both Rainbow Brite and Strawberry Shortcake had to be altered to Rainbow Sprite and Raspberry Shortcakes, which I understood. However, I was also informed that the ”Powerpuff” reference (a positive one) had to go. This blew my mind, as ”The Powerpuff Girls” are owned by AOL Time Warner… which also owns DC Comics. What, was there the chance in this highly litigious culture that AOL Time Warner would sue itself? Weird.

Though not as weird as when I was informed that the term fart couldn’t show up in the book. Lest you think less of me than you probably already do, the use of fart wasn’t in relation to the expulsion of bodily gas; I had Green Arrow referring to Green Lantern as an ”old fart.” This was excised from the story, and the term ”old toot” was used instead. Mind you, this was in the same month that Superman and Wonder Woman had such passionate sky sex that it shattered the earth in Frank Miller’s DC-published ”The Dark Knight Strikes Again.” The lesson: A Kryptonian can knock red boots with an Amazonian, but at no time can either fart.

Meanwhile, over at Marvel, you can not only use the term fart, but you can use the other F word too, as writer Garth Ennis does in the recent Nick Fury miniseries. Marvel, it would seem, accepts the fact that kids don’t read comics anymore. I can verify this sad fact, because I also own a comic-book store (Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, in Red Bank, N.J., plug, plug). The only time we see kids in there is on Halloween, and they’re looking for free candy.

What Marvel doesn’t understand is the importance of having any given comic available for any potential customer. See, back when I was writing ”Daredevil” for Marvel, when stores sold out of their first prints of issue one, they were able to order second printings to meet the demands of the customers who didn’t get their hands on a copy. Now, however, not only doesn’t Marvel overprint (i.e., print more comics than are ordered by retailers), they also won’t go back to press if a book sells out. This works against the supply-and-demand theory. If the grocery store runs out of Cocoa Puffs, they order more — they don’t mark up the remaining boxes to $20 or $30 bucks a pop.

Granted, having a book that sells out creates the illusion of a ”hot” comic (one that audiences are willing to pay well over cover price for), but I’d much rather have a reader be able to walk into a store and say, ”I’d like a copy of Kevin Smith’s ”Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do” (in stores June 26, plug, plug)” and actually get one. At cover price, too. But what do I know?

Well, I know Green Arrow can’t say fart.