Purge Code Authority – All Words Are Legal.

§ May 19th, 2023 § Filed under publishing § 23 Comments

So in talking about nudity in the Planet of the Apes film and comic I somehow neglected to awkwardly squeeze in my old joke about the French sex farce installment of the franchise Do the Carpets Match the Apes? Ah well, maybe next time.

Anyhow, last time I was talking about how the comic book softened the language just a tad for the last lines of the original POTA, and that the particular phrase would not make its first Comics Code-approved appearance ’til an issue of Justice League in the 1980s. There was a question in the comments from “S” wondering if I meant the word “damn,” leading to this coming clarification.

“Damn,” as we know, has a long history in the funnybooks, though I feel like Marvel kinda avoided using that and “hell” throughout the ’80s, despite leaning hard on them in the ’70s. I do wonder what the first appearance of both would be in comics?

What I was referring to was a slightly stronger epithet, as Taylor says here in the clip from the film. He says “damn” first, then the term I was specifically referencing. NOTE: this spoils the end of the 1968 Planet of the Apes, so if you somehow haven’t seen it yet, please don’t let me be the one who ruins the surprise. BEHOLD THE CLIP.

And as presented in issue #6 of Adventures on the Planet of the Apes (again, reprinted from the black and white magazine), a somewhat bowlderized, certainly less scene-chewing, version of the same event:

That’s the difference of which I was speaking. One invokes God, the other does not.

And here, from Justice League International #12 (1988), is what I believe to be its first use in a Code-approved book:

I presume separating it out in different word balloons helped lighten the impact to let it slip through.

As long as we’re on the topic, the first Code-approved use of “shit” (almost certainly by accident…someone in the Comics Code offices probably just assumed everything was good and rubber-stamped this approval, if anyone bothered to submit it at all) was DC’s adaptation of Star Trek: Generations (the newsstand/”standard” format edition).

First Code-approved version of “pissed off” was, I think, 1989’s Justice League International #23 (Justice League, always pushing that edge!), which I pointed out just a few months ago.

“Asshole” didn’t make it into a Code-approved book, I’m pretty sure, but it did pop up in the first issue of Final Crisis, which was a big DC event book and a weird place for it to appear. (I can’t spot it in the digital version, and my print versions are currently in reorganization limbo, so I’ll have to follow up later.)

I’m sure “ass” all on its lonesome appeared in a Code book at some point, because it sure turns up all the time in superhero comics now. I don’t think “dick” (as in “that guy’s a…” not “whoa, look at the size of that…”) got the CCA stamp at any point, but I think it’s been in the mainstream superhero books of late on rare occasions.

With the Code dead, we’re not going to get to watch more naughtiness still slip through its net (like a “hey, fuck you, Wolverine!” in Uncanny X-Men #Reboot+), but maybe more past examples will show up. I would be curious as to what the earliest examples were of each word appearing in a Code-approved (or at least otherwise standard mainstream superhero comic, either Pre or Post-Code).

I hope I don’t come across as some pearl-clutcher, aghast at such salty language appearing in Little Billy’s comics. Honestly, I’m just amused by how standards change over time, or (in the likely case of the Trek comic) just get bypassed entirely on occasion. It does make it harder for me to just tell a parent “oh sure that comic’s fine for your kid!” only to have that parent march up to me a few minutes later and point out someone in the story shouting “oh hell, my damn balls!” or whatever.

Not that it was easy before, like that one mom who objected to reprints of Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man comics because the women were “too sexy.” …Um, are we talking about the same Steve Ditko here…?”

23 Responses to “Purge Code Authority – All Words Are Legal.”

  • Andrew Davison says:

    F**k on the cover of Ka-zar #1, August 1970

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    “Damn,” as we know, has a long history in the funnybooks, though I feel like Marvel kinda avoided using that and “hell” throughout the ’80s, despite leaning hard on them in the ’70s. I do wonder what the first appearance of both would be in comics?

    The CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED version of MACBETH, first published in 1955, retained the line “Out, out, damned spot.”

    This may have been preceded by the series “Johnny Dynamite,” which ran 1953-1954 in a comic entitled DYNAMITE. Its covers bore the legend “Exciting Adult Reading,” and the stories tried to live up to that. Johnny chain-smoked, drank, slept around*, only occasionally waited for his enemies to give him the excuse of self-defense before gunning them down, and swore quite a lot. The latter was mostly handled in the usual @#$% fashion (the difference here being that you can usually figure out exactly what word is meant), but I am fairly sure that “damn” got spelled out a time or two. You must pardon me if I do not go and verify this–it was a VERY text-heavy series, so there is a lot to sift through.

    *Nearly every story has a panel in which Johnny and his latest lady fall into a clinch, with the next panel beginning with the caption “The next morning…” and the picture showing Johnny either leaving her apartment or sitting down to breakfast with her.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    It occurs to me that I can tie the theme I introduced of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED (which was never Code-approved) getting away with naughty stuff to the theme you introduced of “bare buttocks in comics.” In the CI biography of Benjamin Franklin (issue #65, first published in 1949), there is one panel depicting a port in Martinique. Standing there is a naked child, offering the reader a look a somewhat sideways look at his bottom. I can only suppose that the illustrator (Alex Blum) copied this panel from a painting or an engraving, but I do have to wonder why no editor ever asked, either at the time of the first printing or on any of the occasions in which the issue was reprinted (I first encountered it in a late ’60s version), “Do we really need this detail? What does it have to do with Benjamin Franklin?”

  • Randal says:

    I wonder when the first use of boner was. Probably too obscure.

  • Oliver says:

    In DC’s mid-80s, CCA-approved mini-series ‘Legionnaires 3’, Lightning Lad calls someone a bastard. Still amazed that got through.

  • Chris V says:

    I thought the epithet of which you implied which was too strong for 1970s comics was “dirty apes”. That is quite offensive to certain primate ancestors of humanity.

    Also, we need this subject added to collectible price guides. “First use of ‘damn’ in CCA comic book.” Etc. Watch the prices soar on the backissue comic market. On EBay: “First use of ‘damn’ in Marvel Universe, $200”.

  • Dave-El says:

    Writers would try to substitute “Hades” for “Hell” but there was some inconsistency on how that was approached.

    There was an issue of JLA written by Gerry Conway (Dick Dillin was still alive so this was around 1977 or so) where Superman was mad as hell about something. We know this because Superman is looking out at the reader and said “That makes me mad as hell.”

    A year or so later in World’s Finest in a Superman/Batman story also written by Conway, Superman says something makes him mad as Hades or something to that effect.

    I also recall a Green Lantern/Green Arrow story where someone has hurt GA really bad and Black Canary is really ticked off and yells at the fiend who attacked GA, “DARN YOU!”

    I suppose an alternate ending for POTA could’ve been “Darn you! Darn you all to Hades!!”

  • MisterJayEm says:

    I always interpreted the final line of PotA as an invocation of divine wrath (the other meaning of ‘cursing’) rather than as a profane expression.

    Noun, verb, direct object, prepositional phrase.

    #imho #ymmv #etc

    — MrJM

  • Mikester says:

    Andrew – okay, what I meant was any official in-story use, not hidden profanities like on the Ka-Zar. Or the few they got past editors at Seaboard/Atlas!

    Randal – OOOOOH I meant to make reference to my “Joker’s Boner” posts in this entry, but totally forgot. Augh. Anyway, everyone just search “boner” in Google and I’m sure they’ll pop up.

    Oliver – hey, I remember that! Yeah, I don’t recall that appearing before. There was a TV mini-series called The Bastard a bit prior, so maybe that helped loosen the reigns on its usage by the CCA.

    MisterJayEm – yeah, that’s a fair interpretation. It’s still a pretty strong exclamation!

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    “In DC’s mid-80s, CCA-approved mini-series ‘Legionnaires 3’, Lightning Lad calls someone a bastard. Still amazed that got through.”

    “Oliver – hey, I remember that! Yeah, I don’t recall that appearing before. There was a TV mini-series called The Bastard a bit prior, so maybe that helped loosen the reigns on its usage by the CCA.”

    So, I will be THAT guy, and point out that the TV mini-series THE BASTARD was actually broadcast in 1978 (and the best-selling novel on which it was based was published in 1974). It was syndicated, not shown on network television, and individual stations were given a choice of two versions, one with the original title, and one called THE KENT FAMILY CHRONICLES.

    I will be even more obnoxious and point out that the word is used here in the dictionary sense, meaning a male child born out of wedlock. I have trouble believing this gave any legitimacy to using it in the insulting sense.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Being really picky, I shall now correct myself, and point out that I erred above in defining “bastard” with “a male child born out of wedlock.” In fact, it is a word without gender. Any illegitimate child, whether male or female, qualifies as a bastard.

    It is in the insulting sense that it is exclusively masculine.

  • Mikester says:

    I did say “maybe.” I remember the book as well (my parents had it, and, y’know, I’m a former librarian), but figured “Bastard” being the title of a TV show going into everyone’s (well, everyone’s in certain markets) homes would have had more impact on normalizing its usage in polite company more than the novel. But who am I to say.

    Reminds me that one word/phrase I left out of the discussion was “bitch/son of a bitch” which I think was first used in its vulgar sense on regular TV in M*A*S*H. Don’t know if it made it into any Code-approved books, but I’m reasonably certain I’ve seen it pop up in post-Code super-books. (I think its first comic strip use was in Doonsebury when B.D. lost his leg.)

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    In a 1974 episode of MAUDE, Maude calls her husband a son of a bitch after learning that he has been cheating on her. (If my nearly fifty year old memory can be trusted, this was literally the last line of the episode, presumably to limit the damage done by shocked viewers turning off the TV or changing the channel.) Norman Lear has always since claimed that this was the first use of the phrase on network television.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    …it was, at any rate, before the episode of M*A*S*H, if you have in mind the same one as I do, as that was from the Colonel Potter era, and so could not have been earlier than 1975.

  • Chris V says:

    Of course, we can’t forget John Ostrander’s continued use of “Balzac” by Jim Corrigan in the pages of Spectre. I’m pretty sure that was a first for a superhero title.

  • Sean Mageean says:


    Interesting article in Esquire Magazine on how writers on LSD changed Marvel Comics in the ’70s and broke down the doors for the creative boom of the ’80s…

  • Wayne Allen Sallee says:

    Saving this for when we got past the swearing stuff, but I recall a Dollar Comic World’s Finest with GA/BC. Dinah has just gotten into a shower and there’s a werewolf (I believe) stalking her.

    Then the text was NEXT ISSUE: WATERSPORTS!. I’m sure it got by the CCA because I never got the term until the internet.

  • will richards says:

    Let’s not forget the classic ‘wank!’ sound effect in Captain America, which may have passed by without comment in the States but had us choking on our crumpets the other side of the pond.

  • Wayne Allen Sallee says:

    will: some words are regional here. Crankin’ your wank was big in Kentucky when some farmhand was screwing around. And no doubt a wank might have been slang for some farm equipment, like an oddball screwdriver. My dad grew up on a farm and I was born in Chicago and we weren’t as inventive.

    My favorite panel is of Spider-Man on the sidewalk looking up at Superman and saying something along the lines of “Why are you so hard?” Ross Andru had Spider-Man basically staring at Superman’s crotch, though Superman’s arm blocked of the scene. You had to laugh because of Spider-Man’s wide eyes.

    In Grant Morrison’s GREEN LANTERN, he meets some of the multiverse Batman and after some talk, GL says “Good to know Batman is a dick in every universe.” That was just a fun one.

  • Wayne Allen Sallee says:

    Sean: if it has been mentioned, sorry. But Grant Morrison’s SUPERGODS is a great read. LSD, everything. Cosmic stuff. Whether Jim Starlin is to be believed or not, he has said that he really doesn’t recall exactly when the concept of Thanos was in his brain. As a writer, I sort of get that, as an abstract. But I never did LSD and I’ve been sober since March of 2007.So I kind of get what Starlin says.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “certainly less scene-chewing, version of the same event”

    It’s not the same w/out Chuck Heston, that’s fer sure!

    “Justice League International”

    Re-reading some of those recently. Good stuff!

    “I don’t think “dick” got the CCA stamp at any point”

    With the exception, of course, of Dick Grayson!

    “”one mom who objected to reprints of Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man comics because the women were “too sexy.””

    She’s clearly never seen John Romita’s women. VA-VA-VA-VOOM! I LOVE Ditko, but Romita, Sr. was the king of sexy women (at 1960’s/1970’s Marvel, anyway).

    “everyone just search “boner” in Google and I’m sure they’ll pop up.”

    they will, and fully erect!

    ” Spider-Man on the sidewalk looking up at Superman and saying something along the lines of “Why are you so hard?””

    He’s called SUPERman for a reason, folks!

  • Sean Mageean says:


    I always guessed that Starlin had two things going on: 1. An interest in Jack Kirby’s New Gods, and 2. An interest in Death. And so Thanos, I supposed, was somewhat based on Thanatos, the Greek personification of Death, and also on Kirby’s Darkseid. Other New Gods parallels might be High father and Mentor, and Lightray and Eros/Star Fox to a certain degree.

    Snark Shark:

    That Mom might have been on to something. Supposedly Ditko shared an art studio with fetish artist Eric Stanton back in the day, and sometimes they would ink over each other’s pencils if there was a deadline crunch…so maybe Stanton, uncredited, inked over some Spider-Man pages and thus the women looked a little “spicier” than if Ditko had inked them. Just a thought. But there also comics out there where Wally Wood inked over Ditko pencils and turned up the heat!

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Supposedly Ditko shared an art studio with fetish artist Eric Stanton”



    I think his Catholic upbring has a LOT to do with his Warlock/Thanos/Death/cosmic stuff!