A Case of Two Covers. One Created Controversy. The Other Under the Radar.
If you’ve been living in a cave, you might have missed the uproar over Rafael Albuquerque‘s variant cover to DC Comics‘ Batgirl #41 which depicts Batgirl held in terror by the Joker. The cover evokes the “classic” story The Killing Joke written by Alan Moore in 1988. The story features the Joker kidnapping Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl’s alter-ego) and torturing her to drive her father, Commissioner Gordon, crazy.
The story was controversial then, and still so today, featuring a pretty brutal torture of Barbara including her being shot int he spine, stripped naked, and photos taken of her in a pool of blood. It’s cringe-worthy, and today even Alan Moore disowned the story thinking it doesn’t add much value.
If you knew The Killing Joke, Albuquerque’s variant cover was an homage to that, evoking what happened. If you were unaware of the history, the cover shows Batgirl helpless and afraid. Its tone does not match the story or character the current creative are building up, and that’s one of a strong character, and a more lighthearted tone. The clash of tone was my issue with the cover, it sent the wrong message.
The creative team made it clear they didn’t want the cover, and after an explanation Albuquerque agreed with those “against” the cover, with DC Comics eventually removing it from sale.
This same week, BOOM! Studios released the news that Curb Stomp #1 had sold out and a new printing was coming with a new cover by Devaki Neogi. I’ve had issues with the series name since it was announced. You can read my full explanation of the troublesome title, but the short version is the act of the curb stomp is a “move” associated with Nazis, Neo-Nazis, and White Supremacists, and has been depicted in pop-culture such as American History X (a movie about Neo-Nazis) and the video game Gears of War. It involves placing a persons mouth on a curb and smashing their back of the head with your foot. Nazis did this to Jews in World War II to save bullets, and Neo-Nazis continue today. As someone raised Jewish (non-practicing now), I personally was well aware of the history, and every time I see the title I have a visceral reaction, I actually get slightly nauseous. But on to the cover…..
Neogi, in the second printing cover to the first issue, shows the act itself, with an individual biting down on the curb and the boot looming over, all in a Warholesque style. The cover itself has issues, with the person biting the curb have a look of anger, instead of the fear knowing they’re likely about to die as their jaw is broken and massive trauma induced.
Two covers released in a week’s span with one creating a PR and Twitter firestorm, and the other shrugged off like it was no big deal. The two covers both received a similar release, being sent to mostly comic blogs, neither was promoted to mainstream press, though in the case of Batgirl, they eventually covered it. One has implied violence, and different connotations depending if you know the character’s continuity. One depicts real world violence that’s not implied at all, but “in action.”
To me, both covers have issues for different reasons. One just doesn’t fit the tone of the series. The other uses a term and act associated with Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists in its title and now directly on the cover, as well as buried deep in the pages. One has implied violence rooted in fiction, while the other has violence and an act depicted rooted in a real world atrocity and genocide. Both you need to know either fictional history or real world events to get the context behind it.
In other words, why is one cover ok, while the other isn’t?