A few weeks ago Scott corrected Walt and Chris when, on the Comic Culture Radio Show, they referred to some upcoming title from Marvel’s All Ages rating as kids comics. Scott was correct in noting that these comics are rated for consumption and appeal to readers of all ages. But, and here’s the thing (as Chris and Walt would say), All Ages does mean kids comics. I wish that it were not so but it is an unfortunate side effect of creating a rating system by age group.

Marvel currently has the following rating system:

  • All-Ages: appropriate for all ages.
  • T: appropriate for ages 9 and up.
  • T+: appropriate for most readers 12 and up, parents are advised that they might want to read before  or with younger children.
  • Parental Advisory: Similar to T+ but featuring more mature themes and/or more graphic imagery. Recommended for teen and adult readers.
  • MAX: Explicit Content: 18+ years old. Most Mature Readers books will fall under the MAX Comics banner, (created specifically for mature content titles, with the “MAX: Explicit Content.” label very prominently displayed on the cover. MAX titles will NOT be sold on the newsstand, and they will NOT be marketed to younger readers.

The problem with this ratings system is that it was developed to denote appropriateness of content to a specific age category. It is not created to note if any such material is interesting to that age category but merely to inform the public of content which may or may not contain images and subject matter that would be objectionable if read by someone outside of that age group.

So when Marvel has the All-Ages banner it really means that these stories could be read by anyone and they would not be offended by the content. It does not necessarily mean that All Ages will enjoy them.  Most Marvel comics are rated T or T+ as that is their target audience. Looking at the latest previews there are 5 All Ages titles: A reprint of Avengers #1, John Carter: The Gods of Mars #2, Toy Story #2, and the 2 titles that started this discussion Ultimate Spider-Man Adventures #1 and The Avengers” Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Adventures #1. Marvel is putting out 74 titles in April 2012 and only 5 are all ages.

That, to me, is a problem. Marvel is essentially saying that their core line isn’t appropriate for anyone under 9. But whether or not content is appropriate for a 9 year old but not for an 8 year old is a bizarre call for a company to make and one that arguably should be up to a parent. The movie ratings system set by the MPAA is far from perfect but it doesn’t have as many divisions and is clear that appropriateness is really in the hands of the parents.

But I digress, as I mentioned earlier Scott was correct in that the comic books were rated All Ages, but generally this means that the subject matter appeals to young children but anyone of any age could read the comic book and not view inappropriate content. Scooby Doo is all ages but it isn’t a comic book that everyone purchases. Same with Toy Story or any of the Archie comics. There is a target audience in mind. That audience is young and it is disingenuous to pretend that the book is produced for everyone. All that being said it is my hope that these two new Marvel Titles actually are All Ages. Both have very strong creative teams and, in the case of the Avengers, the television show is marketed to youth and their comic reading parents.

As comic books grow as a form of art the industry will need to grapple with its broken rating system. Currently All Ages means for children or stuff that is so old that it kind of gets a pass (like Flash Gordon or Prince Valiant). When I think of All Ages it is hard not to continue the movie analogy. G movies could be for everyone but are really mostly for children. PG is the actual rating that fits in our meaning of all ages. Take the Princess Bride for example: I think that we can all agree that the movie is an amazing classic and in general a movie that parents and their children can both enjoy. Comic books need to move to creating more Princess Brides, that is books designed for everyone, not simply intended for a target audience and then stamped with an appropriateness sticker of 0-80 years old.