A new Twitterstorm has kicked up over one of the variant covers for DC Comics in June. The theme for the month is Joker variant covers, and folks aren’t too happy with the choice of cover for Batgirl #41. The cover drawn by the talented Rafael Albuquerque features Batgirl in tears and victimized by the Joker. The cover is a not too subtle reference to a classic Batman story The Killing Joke written by Alan Moore in the 80s. The story saw Barbara Gordon kidnapped, shot in the spine, and then stripped naked with photographs taken of her, all by the Joker. There are hints of sexual assault and molestation beyond being stripped naked, all the increase the angst of her father. The variant cover in other words features a “victim of sexual assault with the man who molested her wrapping his arms around her shoulders and painting a smile” with what looks like to be blood, another visual reference to The Killing Joke.
Doing some research, again the controversy has sprung from Tumblr, a popular platform for armchair clicktivism (and a threat of starting a Change.org petition). I’d normally cite the person who sparked the movement (and I quoted above), but in this case I’m not going to and I’ll explain why further below.
My personal opinion is, the cover is stylistically amazing. I’m a fan of Albuquerque’s art, and this is another fantastic piece. Art can be fantastic, but also tasteless at the same time. Art should spark debate. But, it’s not so much the image as it’s the choice of DC Comics to go with this cover is what’s really at question here.
Barbara Gordon, after her run in with the Joker, has been built up over the years as a character of strength, beginning in her role as Oracle, a computer expert and information broker who became integral when it came to fighting crime for the Bat family. She was a prime example of strength, both as a woman and also being confined to a wheelchair, though the story that got her there was rife with controversy.
DC’s New 52 did away with the wheelchair, though The Killing Joke still took place in continuity. Instead through some miracle physical rehabilitation and experimental surgery Barbara was once again able to walk, and don the cowl as Batgirl. Though it was justified that such surgery and rehabilitation exists, there was public outcry taking away one of the few disable characters in comics. Writer Gail Simone did address the past though and looked at the after-effects of PTSD and the trauma one would have after what Barbara went through.
With sales flat, a new team was brought onto the series with issue 35 giving the character a praised new look, new location, and new friends. It was a re-invention of the character into a more modern hipster version of herself, a new direction breaking the traditional mold and the creative team got their much deserved praise. Through adversity came strength, growth, and re-invention for the character, and she became a feminist icon in comics during it all.
Six issues later from praised re-invention, DC Comics is now under fire for their choice of variant cover, much like Marvel was for their choice of a variant for Spider-Woman. Instead of a cover with Batgirl triumphant, instead we’re given an again victimized character. As The Outhousers point out, you see that with no other variant.
What’s stranger is, the cover seems to have little to do with the interior (as is often the case with variants) so could have been anything, just like the “triumphant” idea mentioned above. Here’s the solicit text:
There’s a new Batman in town…and that spells bad news for Barbara Gordon! She’s already got enough upheaval in her life, with her roommate Frankie in on her biggest secret…and now she’s looking to get even more involved in Batgirl’s business!
The Tumblr post I can find that seems to be the spark of this debate doesn’t feel The Killing Joke should be swept under the rug, quite the opposite. It’s a much more thought out and nuanced piece. As they point out, there’s been a use of cameras as iconography with Batgirl since, especially lately. A reference to the story, and a way for the character to take back strength from the situation.
There are a lot of potential Joker variant covers that would have been amazing. I would have loved to see Barbara stepping on the joker’s face after punching him to the ground, perhaps using that iconic camera of his to take a selfie. But a violent, bloody cover of a weeping Batgirl as the man who molested her smiles by her side is sickening. It’s disgusting. And I am tired of her scenes in The Killing Joke being referenced while the serious issues involving her assault are casually ignored.
And instead of just asking for change, the poster makes a call for an alternative instead, taking a voice and platform and attempting to turn it in a positive direction. Not just calling for a ban, protest, or boycott.
The reason I only allude to the poster, is the reaction to the #ChangetheCover. In the days since its launch about 3000 tweets have used it a day, and the hashtag has been clutched by many who are also involved in the harassment campaign that is #GamerGate. This hashtag is evidence that the movement that’s all about “ethics in journalism” is nothing more than a campaign to intimidate and harass, and I don’t wish that upon anyone, whether I agree or disagree with them. Many of the same personalities involved in the GG movement, are now decrying SJWs, aka social justice warriors, and claiming censorship. Irony, since they themselves are attempting to censor through intimidation. Though it hasn’t quite gained steam, there’s an attempt to hijack the debate, and turn it into something much sinister and toxic.
DC Comics has changed covers before, and it’s unknown what will happen here. What’s for sure though, this is just the latest flash point in the comics world, as the debate about inclusion and sensitivity continues. DC Comics recently announced the jettison of the New 52, and their embracing of diversity (and ironically less reliance on continuity). While they’ve said they want more “girl power,” catering to an ever-growing female market, this is anything but. Since a cover is the first thing so many see, and delivers the first impression, this one shows continued victimization and fridging. It’s off-brand, it’s off-message, and people have a right to be angry. The creative team of the series should be angry, as the variant cover dilutes their take, their message, their vision and new direction for the character. If DC’s goal is to reach out to the 40 something percent female audience, this probably isn’t it.
The call to #ChangetheCover isn’t about censorship, it’s about holding DC accountable for a standard they set for themselves two months ago.
Updated: DC Comics has pulled the cover per the request of artist Rafael Albuquerque. Below are the statements both he and DC released.
MyBatgirl variant cover artwork was designed to pay homage to a comic that I really admire, and I know is a favorite of many readers. ‘The Killing Joke’ is part of Batgirl’s canon and artistically, I couldn’t avoid portraying the traumatic relationship between Barbara Gordon and the Joker.For me, it was just a creepy cover that brought up something from the character’s past that I was able to interpret artistically. But it has become clear, that for others, it touched a very important nerve. I respect these opinions and, despite whether the discussion is right or wrong, no opinion should be discredited.
My intention was never to hurt or upset anyone through my art. For that reason, I have recommended to DC that the variant cover be pulled. I’m incredibly pleased that DC Comics is listening to my concerns and will not be publishing the cover art in June as previously announced.
With all due respect,
We publish comic books about the greatest heroes in the world, and the most evil villains imaginable. The Joker variant covers for June are in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the Joker.Regardless if fans like Rafael Albuquerque’s homage to Alan Moore’s THE KILLING JOKE graphic novel from 25 years ago, or find it inconsistent with the current tonality of the Batgirl books – threats of violence and harassment are wrong and have no place in comics or society.
We stand by our creative talent, and per Rafael’s request, DC Comics will not publish the Batgirl variant. – DC Entertainment
Batgirl co-writer/artist Cameron Stewart also Tweeted to clarify about the threats: