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Thoughts on that controversial variant Joker cover to "Batgirl" #41?

Discussion in 'DC Comics and Collectibles' started by Wonder Woman, Mar 17, 2015.

  1. Wonder Woman

    Wonder Woman Well-Known Member

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    So this cover has caused quite a stir online and rightfully so:

    [​IMG]

    While a striking and disturbing piece of art (which turns Batgirl into a total victim and glorifying the perpetrator), it's also pretty tone-deaf for Batgirl's recent revamped all-inclusive direction. Feedback on this cover eventually led to DC Comics cancelling the variant cover by request of the artist. Do you think the reaction is warranted? Why or why not? I personally think it was the right call to make, especially for the new younger audience Batgirl is going for (that would be a horrifying comic for a young one to see). I'm not a great wordsmith but Young Justice artist Chris Jones put up a great blog post that sums it up better than I could:

    So about that Joker variant cover for Batgirl #41

    What are your thoughts? And please be respectful to others. This cover has really brought out the ugliness from both sides of the discussion.
     
  2. Magmaster12

    Magmaster12 Well-Known Member

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    It was a stupid move from a business standpoint because it's completely misleading to the entire tone of the book and covers like that are what turn certain people away from comics.
     
  3. rggkjg1

    rggkjg1 Batman v Superman

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    Everyone against this cover is discussing the portrayal of Batgirl, and the message it's sending. Which I have no problem with, but I don't see any focus on the Joker (other than a note about The Killing Joke). Maybe if VILLAINS haven't been glorified all these years, this cover might not even exist. I have no doubt in my mind that glorification of VILLAINS is partly to blame for the content of this cover.
     
  4. hobbyfan

    hobbyfan Well-Known Member

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    The idea behind the Joker variant covers on June releases is to mark his 75th anniversary. The artist on the Batgirl/Joker cover made the right call to pull it, and some unenlightened folks are over-reacting.
     
  5. TnAdct1

    TnAdct1 Ravioli, Ravioli

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    If that's the case, then how about some special variant covers featuring Catwoman as well? After all, Catwoman also debuted in 1940 (in the very same issue of Batman that debuted the Joker).
     
  6. hobbyfan

    hobbyfan Well-Known Member

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    Could happen, assuming plans are already in place.
     
  7. GWOtaku

    GWOtaku Moderator
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    I think the cover had nothing to do with the issue on sale or the tone of the comic book as it stands, that Killing Joke is a 27 year old story that even the creator doesn't like anymore (this is Alan Moore we're talking about, but still), and that Batgirl fans are justified in wanting to move on from that storyline being an albatross around Barbara Gordon's neck in perpetuity. The story was referenced just recently by the way, and pretty much happened without incident. So it's not that such a thing is NEVER acceptable. But that reference got the point across in a pretty understated way that didn't shove the victimization thing in everybody's face.

    It says a lot that this was all blind marketing (to aged fanboys, I'll note) and that all the creative staff had zero say in it until the cover got out there and they got blindsided by it. It's fine if you think Killing Joke is still cutting edge and legendary and that selling to people old enough to remember when it was new without regard for anyone else is fine. If you'd rather the "big two" face forward and do a better job of appealing to a wider group of readers, then you should probably want less of this kind of thing and more of what the Batgirl comic as-is, Gotham Academy, and some others are trying to do.

    This from Marvel's G. Willow Wilson (Ms Marvel) strikes me as a pretty even-handed take that sees the problem while showing some appreciation for Killing Joke (read bottom to top):

    [​IMG]
     
  8. wonderfly

    wonderfly Shaking things up a bit
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    Yeah, I hate the cover, and yeah, I think it's tone deaf. If this was an indie horror comic, sure, I might be fine with that...but not on "Batgirl", which as a comic book is all about "female empowerment".

    ...just to explore industry standards though (and the culture of modern day comics): From that link Spider-Man posted in the first post above, someone commented "Well, no one had a problem with this cover from just a few months earlier":

    [​IMG]

    One references "The Killing Joke", one references "A Death In The Family".

    Personally, I think the problem either way is too much fixation on storylines from 25 to 30 years ago...
     
  9. Ed Liu

    Ed Liu That's 'Cause I ATE IT!!!
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    I thought the cover was extraordinarily striking and I think, as standalone art, its quite impressive. I also think it's totally wrong for the comic and the audience they're aiming for with it and I fundamentally respect the wishes of the creators to get that taken off the book REGARDLESS of what their reasons to have it pulled were.

    I also think a lot of the people who are objecting to the cover getting spiked 1) are not reading Batgirl regularly, 2) had no plans to buy this until the cover was removed in response to what they perceive as bad-faith reasons, and 3) are using "free speech" arguments to completely trample the free speech rights of the creators to try and browbeat them into restoring the cover. I find Inigo Montoya's words increasingly useful in this and similar contexts: "You keep on using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means." When a lot of the "free speech" arguments are spouted, what they really mean is "free speech I agree with," which is fundamentally opposed to what "free speech" means as a principle.

    "But we have to soft- or hard-reboot our entire comic lines every few years to make sure our comics are ACCESSIBLE!!!!"

    Yeah, I'd say you've pinpointed the real underlying problem pretty accurately.
     
  10. wonderfly

    wonderfly Shaking things up a bit
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    Looking over G. Willow Wilson's comments above: Are we really saying "stories of women in peril" are no longer acceptable as a story telling device?

    Anyone remember that Jessica Jones comic from the early 00's, the classic Bendis storyline involving Jessica and the Purple Man?

    Jessica spends nearly the entire length of the comic (28 issues) being a drunkard and making questionable choices about who she sleeps with. And it all goes back to this incident in her past involving the Purple Man, who spent weeks abusing her. And that storyline is just 12 to 14 years old. This "Batgirl" comic reminds me of that - with Batgirl being unable to move, it's kinda like that with Jessica, who was unable to move, other than when Purple Man told her to move.

    That was a story of empowerment as well, if you go all the way through to the end of the series.

    But are we really saying that nowadays stories where someone's "basic human dignity is threatened" are a no-no? Should female characters never have anything bad happen to them anymore? Or is it more that THIS IS BATGIRL and we've been there and done that with "The Killing Joke", and she's supposed to moved on from that by now? I guess I'm just wondering how much of an indictment of the whole comic book industry this really is, versus "this is unique because it's Batgirl".
     
  11. Antiyonder

    Antiyonder Amalgam Universe Overlord
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    wonderfly: Honestly I think the best stories are done by writers who put storytelling and characterization first and everything less last.

    If the story is well written, the female in peril bit can be a decent element, but if the first priority is to be "shocking" and "mature", then it's best to axe the idea or at least put some thought into it than.

    To veer off course to explain my stance better, I'd say look at the Dark Knight Trilogy (film) and All-Star Batman and Robin (comic). The former while made with the intent to give us a dark, non-comic book Batman still puts priority in stories and characters. The latter has a story in there somewhere. Dick Grayson losing his parents and becoming Robin. Otherwise it's pretty much a comic containing many random events with profanity, gore and cynicism.

    And it just seems like the majority of "females in distress" are pretty much just ASBaR if you get my point.
     
  12. Ed Liu

    Ed Liu That's 'Cause I ATE IT!!!
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    Warning: much off-the-cuff thinking happening, leading to weird rambling discourse. This is your first and only notice; continued reading indicates your acceptance of these terms.

    ;)

    I don't think that's what G. Willow Wilson is saying at all, no. I think there's a few places where she says "this kind of thing" where it's a bit ambiguous exactly what she's talking about:

    - Stories like The Killing Joke which only use female characters as plot devices to be maimed or abused to motivate male characters
    - The use of The Killing Joke as a storytelling touchstone of importance in the DC Universe
    - The inability of DC to move past old glories and create new ones.

    I think she's even conflating more than one of those items at a few points, but conflating DIFFERENT ones at different points in her statement.

    I definitely don't think she's saying "women in peril" stories should be off-limits. Putting a character in peril is core to storytelling, and to superhero storytelling in particular. G. Willow Wilson puts Kamala Khan in peril all the time in Ms. Marvel. More important is WHY is this character being put in peril and what's going to happen as a result. Lara Croft and Red Sonja are in peril all the time in their stories, but they're being put there with the full expectation that they will get themselves out of that peril largely through their own efforts, the same way it's expected that Link or Solid Snake or Conan are expected to. Nobody is going to put Conan in peril just to give someone else a reason to come rescue him, or try to make that other character look good for doing so.

    I think there is a big difference between putting a character in peril and making them a victim. I'll make that distinction by saying that a character in peril can do something about their situation, but a victim is fundamentally helpless. Jason Todd in Gotham City was a character in peril, but Jason Todd in "A Death in the Family" was a victim (both in terms of the story and in terms of the external circumstances that put him there with that whole call-in vote thing). I bring up Jason Todd specifically because Barbara Gordon/Batgirl has the same sort of dichotomy going on, except that her "in-peril vs. victim" status is partially split between the two halves of her identity. As Batgirl, she's a character in peril (and got herself out of it through her own efforts often in the 60's comics, which made her more progressive than Wonder Woman at the time). As Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke, she was a victim, whose maiming and abuse was a plot device to motivate Batman. And then, again, as Barbara Gordon in Suicide Squad, she's back to being a character in peril because she refuses to stay a victim in her wheelchair when she becomes Oracle.

    If I have to point to my real ideological objection to this cover as it stands, it's that it conflates those two parts of Barb Gordon/Batgirl and turns Batgirl into a victim. The Joker had no idea of her secret identity, and for all we know, on that cover he still doesn't. He could be reliving his own past glories (in his own twisted mind) unaware that it's the same person (?) who he maimed all those years ago. But turning Batgirl into the victim is, to my mind, a fundamental mistake on a number of levels. There was a "tentacle porn" cover to Marvel's Heroes for Hire a while ago that turned Misty Knight and Colleen Wing into victims, chained to a post and looking forlorn as some unseen horror slithered up their bodies, while Shang-Chi was pointedly posed so he wasn't facing the camera. My objections to that cover at the time were rooted in the same ideological principles.

    And, as you point out, simply "being a victim" is not in itself a sign of a faulty story. The Jessica Jones/Purple Man story is one example of that, where "being a victim" is the setup to getting out of that circumstance. A lot of stories boil down to "character falls into a hole, then gets out of it." I might argue that the original origin story for Red Sonja did the same thing, and also the way they incorporated a past involving sexual abuse in the Kate Bishop Hawkeye in Young Avengers. The problem is that too many female characters are made into victims to fall into that hole, and many of them never get out.

    That's what "Women in Refrigerators" was really trying to underscore: it used specific, physically defined events (horrible death or mutilation of female characters) to highlight what purpose this abuse served (motivating male characters). I don't think people raising the point are trying to swing to "women in peril are not allowed anywhere, ever;" if someone is, then they're either choosing the opposite extreme as the first step to normalization, or they're delusional.

    Another example I can pick up on is Janissa the Widowmaker in the early Kurt Busiek run on Dark Horse's Conan. When we find out her past from the Bone Woman, it incorporates a heaping helping of physical and sexual abuse that stretches on for months, if not years. This is a horrible thing to contemplate, and they got enough grief about it to comment on it in the comic's lettercol at the time. However, it never bothered me because this abuse was fitting for the kind of swords-and-sandals stories in the original Robert E. Howard stories, meted out to male and female characters alike, and it was all part of an explicit effort to tear her down to the roots and rebuild her in what the Bone Woman wanted. But the victimization of Janissa was not a side-effect or used to motivate a male character. It was to motivate HER.

    And as a further expansion on that idea, Conan himself goes through a similar ordeal in the first movie, except if there was sexual abuse, it went unmentioned, but judging by stories in prisons throughout the world and throughout time, I think it would be atypical if he DIDN'T have to endure sexual abuse along with the physical. But women having to go through similar ordeals ALWAYS have to deal with sexual abuse as part of the same package. So why is it that nobody exploits sexual abuse as a motivating factor for a man the same way that it is so often a motivating factor for a woman? In principle, it should be the same, no?

    As yet ANOTHER expansion on these ideas, this is where simple representation matters. If you have 100 female characters in comics and 10 of them end up as victims, you still have 90 more that aren't shown in that light. Then the "being a victim" circumstance can be claimed as "driven by story needs." If you have only 50 female characters and the same 10 end up as victims, you still have a majority of them that aren't, but it starts becoming something that's noticeable if you're paying attention. If you have only 10-15 female characters and 10 are victims, the only conclusion to draw is that for some reason, people are writing female characters simply to be victims, which is just bad writing and a symptom of something else fundamental. What that "something else" is and how to address it is open to debate, but outright rejecting that the "something else" is there isn't helpful.

    And I think I'm gonna stop now before I burn even more time and brain cells on this instead of what I'm supposed to be doing...
     
  13. wonderfly

    wonderfly Shaking things up a bit
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    Oh man, I had forgotten that one...

    Janissa the Widowmaker always striked me as Kurt Busiek's attempt to give Conan a "Red Sonja" type character in the face of Dark Horse not getting the rights to do a Red Sonja comic. So her origin is kinda like "Red Sonja's origin - on steroids".

    The main thing I take away is that Twitter is an imperfect format for conveying your ideas. She made it sound like "We as a society should progress beyond depicting torture." Maybe, but the dark part of me enjoys a good revenge comic (like Garth Ennis' Punisher) where somebody's getting tortured...but that's not usually the "protagonist" getting tortured, admittedly. And no, I'm not into "torture porn" or whatever. The first "Saw" movie was compelling enough, but I saw from the commercials for the sequel what direction that franchise was heading in and never watched any of the sequels or any similar film. But that's in regards to movies, and I don't have a good comic book comparison. I hope I'm making at least partial sense.

    On the topic of covers - maybe it would help if comic book covers would stop being posters and go back to telling you what the comic book is about? All these "variant covers" where they are striving to create a work of art is getting out of hand. How about the return of a little exposition to comic covers?

    [​IMG]
     

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