When it comes to female representation in comics, it seems every step forward comes with two steps back. Just recently DC relaunched Batgirl with an awesome redesign that put the young superheroine in a cool costume that didn’t turn her into a lust object, but a point of aspiration for girls. Behold below:
It’s an outfit that put function over sex appeal, representing a comic meant to be playful and adventurous over dark and bleak. And it seemed a promising turn for female comic book fans—or really any comic book fans who don’t demand women in comics be ever wank material. But here we are a few short months later, and DC delivers this:
It’s a variant cover for the upcoming June issue of Batgirl #41, which was revealed last Friday. It’s one in a line of variant covers meant to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Joker. It’s artist Rafael Albuquerque’s reference to a memorable and horrifying storyline called “The Killing Joke” where the Joker shot and paralyzed Batgirl. It’s also an image that suggests more than just violence. It suggests sexual violence.
Blame the way Batgirl cringes at his touch. The character so often portrayed as brave and sassy is shown frigid with terror. And there’s something about that gun and its focus that reads phallic. Plus some have long believed “The Killing Joke” implied Joker also sexually assaulted Batgirl in that arc. So basically, to some comic fans this is another sick suckerpunch to comic’s female audience. Oh, did you think you could come and play now? Sorry. We’re still going to turn your heroines into sex objects or victims of sexual violence at will. Is that not cool?
The internet exploded with fans outraged by the cover. With the hashtag #changethecover battle lines were drawn. Now, it’s not an issue of whether or not this painting is “good art,” (though some are happy to derail the conversation this way). It’s about the audience it’s intended for and what that art says. Imagine a plucky adolescent girl coming to the comic book store to pick of the latest issue of Batgirl and picking up this.
The fighting online soon turned to threats of violence against those who demanded the cover be pulled. Because of course it did. But there’s been a bit of good news in the midst of so much shitty, DC is pulling the cover. And they are doing so at the urging of its creator.
CBR reveals his full statement:
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,
For me, I don’t think Albuquerque is to blame. His inspiration point makes sense. His cover is striking. But someone at DC should have read the room on this and realized how this cover was going to play within the context of comic book culture right now, and as a cover for a more light-hearted comic book aimed at girls. If nothing else, I take some solace in that both the artist and DC responded to the outcry with understanding and tact. Here’s hoping this will prove a valuable lesson for comic book makers from here on out.
Kristy Puchko is less an angry feminist and more an exhausted one.