Retailer Steve Bennett knows where Penance came from, and it’s not those magazines that Joe Q has been hiding from his wife:
It’s the same thing that’s been behind decades of attempts to make the super-hero genre more “relevant,” meaning “respectable”–a desperate fear that someone somewhere is laughing at us for reading super-hero comics, the gnawing panic knowing what we love and devoted so much of our time and energy to is still being held in contempt by the general public and intelligentsia.
So with a bit of micromanaging and a hint of social engineering we now have super-hero comic books that could never be confused with “kid stuff.” This new model owes a debt to such basic cable shows as Nip/Tuck and The Shield which takes genre material (doctors, cops, etc.) and plays with both audience expectations and the envelope of what’s acceptable. This is how we’ve gotten to the point where full frontal male nudity can somehow “sneak” into the pages of Spider-Man: Reign #1.
Of course the difference between these two examples is that no matter how realistic you make super-heroes they’ll never be realistic. None of it, the names, colorful costumes, dedicating oneself to a never ending war on crime, makes a bit of sense; and dressing up super-heroes in spikes and black leather doesn’t make The Pajama Game any more reasonable an enterprise.