ByKit Simpson Browne, writer at
Writer-at-large. Bad jokes aplenty. Can be gently prodded on Twitter at @kitsb1
Kit Simpson Browne

Suicide Squad hasn't even been filmed yet, and yet it already seems like The Joker's causing a world of pain to one of the DC universe's most beloved figures - - with an accompanying social media firestorm to match.

Over the past week, the internet has been more-or-less engulfed by fan reaction - in both critical and supportive directions - of a comic-book cover which, many feel, is in seriously bad taste.

The cause of the controversy? A variant cover to Batgirl #41 by artist Rafael Albuquerque, featuring The Joker standing beside an obviously traumatized Batgirl. You can check it out for yourself just below:

The first big question, then?

Why is it So Controversial?

Well, to answer that, we have to go back to the original comic-book that it's referencing - 1988's Alan Moore-scribed The Killing Joke. In it, The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon - a.k.a. Batgirl - in the stomach, and then kidnaps both her and her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon. He then strips them both naked, and forces the Commissioner to watch as his daughter seemingly bleeds to death.

As it happens, Barbara survived, but was paralyzed from the waist down, leading to her retirement as Batgirl, and the rise of her role as the fan-favorite Oracle.

At the time, the response from fans and critics alike was largely positive - the strength of the story outweighing the problematically dark events of the story - but in recent years that has largely changed to concern and, in the case of DC, the ret-conning of the event so that it never happened.

Add in the fact that the new Batgirl series is considered one of the more younger audience-friendly comics in DC's line-up - and, indeed, is very much targeted towards young women - and you have a pretty natural controversy, even without addressing the accompanying problematic depiction of abuse.

So, What Happened?

Well, with social media up-in-arms about the issue - and there being compelling arguments for both the defense of free artistic expression, and, conversely, the avoidance of potentially hurtful and unnecessarily dark imagery - the artist himself, Rafael Albuquerque, came forward, and released the following 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."

Which, it seems - by having the cover voluntarily pulled - may have finally put the story to rest.

Except, of course, that...

There's a Sting in this Particular 'Tale'

Take a look at the following - an extract from a statement from DC, confirming that they would indeed be pulling Albuquerque's artwork from the variant cover:

"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,"

The reason they had to write that? Well, it wasn't due to threats being made against Albuquerque - as Batgirl co-writer Cameron Stewart later clarified on Twitter:

Instead, those opposing the cover's release received threats from those who supported it.

Or, in other words, people supporting the release of the cover, presumably on the basis that free speech is a vital part of our society, chose to threaten other individuals for...taking advantage of the free speech which they themselves were so adamantly defending.

Now, as DC said, "threats of violence and harassment are wrong and have no place in comics or society" - which, no matter what side of the debate you fall on, must surely be a given - but there's something particularly unpleasant about threatening people for simply expressing their opinions.

In the meantime, though: Batgirl is awesome, and let's hope that the furor surrounding this variant cover doesn't distract from the fact that Barbara Gordon is a pretty darned fantastic comic-book role-model - for young and old readers alike.

Do you think DC was right to pull the Batgirl cover?



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