Back in early 2000, Joe Quesada, Marvel’s then editor-in-chief mandated that all superheroes under the Marvel banner would no longer smoke cigarettes. Among the more iconic smokers were Gambit, Thing, and Weapon X himself Wolverine. Fans were outraged; the sight of Wolverine chomping on a cigarette had been such a mainstay that many felt it was wrong and inorganic to make this change. Quesada’s reasoning was an admittedly personal one: he lost his grandfather to lung cancer, and around the time of the mandate, his father was suffering from a collapsed lung and still was having trouble quitting. Quesada felt these characters that children look up to shouldn’t be a potential advertisement for cigarettes.
Fans were still irked; type in Wolverine and cigarettes on Google and you’ll likely find a message board still furious with Quesada. Some feel Wolverine is a character with many unsavory qualities, among them his propensity to kill (often eviscerate) his enemies. But Superhero comics are an action oriented medium; we read them for a mix of engaging characters and visceral thrills that are a few degrees removed from reality. There is a larger debate about violence in our media that frankly we’re not even going to broach, but if Quesada were truly worried about susceptible youth, why draw the line at cigarettes?
Keeping an eye on what ideas comics promote isn’t a bad idea, but since different characters and companies are geared towards different demographics, it should be a case by case basis. For the two examples discussed above, I support Quesada’s mandate to limit cigarette use among superheroes. Its unpopularity is understandable, but I don’t see many stories being affected by it. The Constantine mandate is more frustrating, he’s never been that iconic of a hero, and certainly never a kid friendly one; he has one of the only R-rated superhero movies to his name for god’s sake. Constantine’s smoking doesn’t affect the demographic that needs protection, making the no-smoking mandate frankly unnecessary.