To paraphrase the immortal words of Ron Burgundy… Well that escalated quickly.
Ever since the Joker variant cover for Batgirl issue #41 was released for preview a few weeks ago, the artwork has caused more chaos within the geek community than the classic Batman villain could ever have hoped for. So much so, that our community could head toward another polarizing standoff similar to GamerGate. And after this is all said and done, it very well may be the true majority who will be caught in the middle of the argument and ultimately suffer.
As it was mentioned on a recent GSB Podcast, we have come a long way in a short amount of time when it comes to women and comics. Last year alone saw both female characters and creatives alike make waves in the comics industry in a big way. We saw G. Willow Wilson’s new Ms. Marvel become one of the most popular new characters of the year. We saw a woman character – whose identity has yet to be revealed – become the new Thor, with sales of the title making an impact in a short amount of a time. We have seen Captain Marvel’s popularity pick up even more popularity with an announcement that the character will receive her own movie with a definitive release date. Gotham Academy, with two girls as the leads and written by Becky Cloonan along with Brenden Fletcher became a breakout hit of the September releases. Storm received some much needed attention after so many years as a team player, and has been met with nothing short of positive responses both in the blerd community and the geek community at large. We had an alternate dimension Gwen Stacey and Silk be an integral part of a revitalization of Spider-Man, so much so that each received their own titles. Women creatives have also been important on other books such as Supergirl (which now has its own show pilot), She Hulk, Catwoman and Angela: Asgardian Assassin.
Not only did comics at the big two change, but a lot of smaller titles – many that have female creatives – have gained notice as well. Lumberjanes, created by Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson, received major acclaim amongst women geeks. There are also numerous female creative teams working on a wide range of projects from Adventure Time to Edward Scissorhands.
And, of course, there was Batgirl’s revamp by the creative team of Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr. Not only did we see her receive a new costume, but a whole new approach to the character; one that is a more positive approach for the character. It is pure girl power, plain and simple. It is truly a refreshing change of pace for a character who – despite having been violated a couple times over the last 25 years – has been a fan favorite.
So I can see why, after only recently bringing the character in this direction, why people would be upset about the variant cover illustrated by Raphael Albuquerque. In the end, it was Albuquerque himself who asked DC to pull the cover after people protested the release, including the title’s creative team. In a statement after the request, Albuquerque cited “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.”
Personally, I found the cover was brilliantly illustrated by Albuquerque. It is a great homage to The Killing Joke. It served its purpose in merging the dark events of Barbara’s past to her current status. But, therein lays the problem with DC’s decision. It is the characters past; a horrible, tragic past that saw her not only the target of barbarism by a psychotic character, but suggestively sexually violated as well. Yes, without that past she would not have become Oracle. She would not have become not only an important part of the Batman family, but the entire Earthbound DC universe as well. But it is still the past. Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr want to bring the character into the future and be a role model for girls everywhere. To attach the cover to the 6th issue of this new direction is not simply a complete lapse of judgement on DC’s part, but a slap in the face of both the creative team and the fans of the book. In light of this, pulling the cover at the request of the artist was the only decent thing DC could have done at this point.
And there was no ugly protesting or embarrassing walkouts of staff like what occurred during the infamous Batwoman incident. DC respected Albuquerque’s wishes. Yet, despite the decision, there was a backlash by many on social media. Erik Larsen – the creator of the stereotypical 90’s macho, violent superhero known as The Savage Dragon over at Image – ranted on Twitter over the decision, accusing DC of backing down from the cover due to the “vocal minority.” Others joined him and complained that this was blatant censorship, and that no one complained that Batman was raped by Talia al Ghul, among other examples. That artistic freedom has been sacrificed to comply with the whims of an irate few. It is all the markings of what incited GamerGate. Before this issue gets out of hand, there is something that needs to be said…
Calm the Hell down!
This is not an issue of censorship or artistic integrity, as another editorial pointed out very clearly. The cover simply does not fit with the direction the book is heading. The fans do not need to be reminded that Babs Gordon has had it rough. We know it occurred. Leave it in the past where it belongs. Albuquerque’s cover is a piece that many (myself included) would not mind owning a print of, since it is well done and honors the history of the character. But, this is about moving forward. That is how we, the silent majority, feel.
Ultimately, the fault does not fall on whatever this “vocal minority” is or who they represent. It does not fall on the artistic integrity of Albuquerque or the creative team of the book. All of this solely rests on the shoulders of DC’s corporate personnel. And I hope in the future that these same individuals would pay closer attention to not only sales numbers, or the kinds of books they currently publish, but how their creatives and fans may or may not respond to these kinds of stunt promotions.