Anatomy Of A Bad Decision: Batgirl #41 Variant Cover
CAUTION: There is discussion in this article of sexual assault, which may be a trigger for survivors, or not suitable for younger readers.
Everything blew up in DC Comics’ face this week over a variant cover for Batgirl #41, by artist Rafael Albuquerque, that depicted Batgirl, in her current costume, as a terrified captive of the Joker, who had a gun draped over her shoulder. It’s a striking and very graphic image that created a huge uproar among fans, especially those that do not appreciate women in comics being used as victims. To understand this discussion we need to review the events of Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, published in 1988.
In that issue, the Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and shoots his daughter, Barbara, who unknown to him is the heroine Batgirl. In an effort to prove that anyone can be driven mad, he torments the Commissioner with photos of his injured daughter stripped naked. Some have likened the attack on Batgirl as rape, which whether or not Joker raped Barbara Gordon is never made clear. What is clear is that Joker undressed her and took pictures. A sexual assault took place. Sorry to those who say it was implied, but being stripped against one’s will and photographed is a sexual assault. Which is what makes the variant cover so disturbing. It depicts Batgirl in her current costume, which implies that her attacker has returned to terrorize her again, which apparently does not occur in the issue, according to the solicitation.
Just as uproar over the cover was reaching the point where critics of the cover were receiving threats of death and violence, artist Rafael Albuquerque requested that DC pull the cover, which they did. They then issued statements about the cancelling of the cover variant.
First, Rafael Albuquerque:
My Batgirl 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,
Then we have DC Comics’ statement:
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
Rafael and Batgirl writer Cameron Stewart then had to tweet a clarification of DC’s statement that death threats were made against critics, and not himself or anyone at DC. DC has apparently made no clarification of their own, but essentially taking the discussion away from using sexual assault as a plot device and treating it as a gimmick to sell covers and turning it to a discussion of free speech, apparently misconstruing the report of death threats against critics as death threats against the creative team behind the book.
Women have been gaining a stronger voice in the comics community, both as creators and as fans. Part of this stronger voice is the reason that Batgirl has become a stronger character and while Albuquerque’s intent was to honor a great, albeit flawed, graphic novel, instead it reduced the character to a victim once again, which is the type of storytelling, even in a cover, that comics needs to reign back on. While his error was easily recognized by himself, there was an editor or editors that were responsible for exercising poor judgement in approving the cover, and they have not come forward yet, either to explain themselves or to denounce those that would threaten the critics that do not want to see tasteless depictions of victims of sexual assault.