When, last week, DC revealed a variant cover for Batgirl #41 by artist Rafael Albuquerque featuring the Joker menacing the young hero, they almost certainly didn't expect that it would provoke so much controversy that its own artist would swiftly request that it be removed from circulation. Which, in turn, created a storm of controversy (and threats) from those who felt that the response was repressive and unfair.
And yet, perhaps such a response isn't quite as surprising as it might initially seem.
After all, when it comes to comic-books, there are few more sensitive - and divisive - issues than that of censorship. It is, after all, a medium hugely popular with both children and adults, and therefore filled with material aimed at both audiences - meaning adult content abounds. In recent years, then, balancing the risk of children seeing extreme violence or graphic sexual scenes against the danger of blanket bans inhibiting free artistic expression has become a huge issue for both comic creators, the stores and libraries which supply their creations to us, and us ourselves as readers.
So much so, in fact, that the list of comic-books being banned and censored is surprisingly long for a society as broadly liberal as ours. Here's a better look at seven of the most controversial of them:
7. Batman: The Killing Joke is No Laughing Matter
Interestingly, the recent controversy surrounding the release of that Batgirl cover wasn't the first time the Joker's horrifying treatment of Barbara Gordon caused problems for DC - the comic in which it first happened - Batman: The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore, prompted serious debate at the time of its release, and there have since been attempts to ban it from a number of local libraries.
Which, seeing as it depicts the Joker brutally torturing a naked female superhero while her naked father watches, may not be all that surprising.
6. Spider-Man Accidentally Gets Libellous
Or, at least, a Spider-Man comic's inker, Al Milgrom, did, back in Universe X Spidey #1. The problem arose when keen-eyed fans noticed that the book shelf in the background of one panel (above) read...
“HARRAS HA HA, HE’S GONE, GOOD RIDDANCE TO BAD RUBBISH HE WAS A NASTY S.O.B.”
...a very direct (and potentially litigation-provoking) reference to the then-recent departure of Editor-in-chief Bob Harras, a man who - from all accounts - made J. Jonah Jameson seem like a widely well-liked boss.
Once Marvel noticed the awkward background farewell jab, they swiftly recalled the comic - at which point a whole lot of ex-Harras employees presumably bought Milgrom a beer.
5. Elektra Was Accidentally Nude
Some withdrawals of comics from circulation, of course, occur not so much because of intense public outcry, but more because of catastrophic artist, printer or editorial error. Such was the case with Elektra vol 2 #3, in which Elektra was, inadvertently, completely naked.
Luckily for Marvel, some conveniently placed shadows kept things from going full-Game of Thrones, but the entire print run was recalled all the same...
4. Maus Offended a European Country
It isn't just superhero comics that have gotten into trouble over the years, though - even Art Spiegelman's Maus, one of the most critically acclaimed (and widely taught) comics of all time, has received its fair share of attempted censorship.
The comic - in which different nations' people are depicted as being different animals, in a vibrant and distressing allegory about the Holocaust - showed Polish characters as pigs (alongside Jewish mice and German cats), which, in California, caused controversy. As Nick Smith of the Pasadena Public Library explains, one member of the public attempted to turn his own struggles with the book into censorship under the guise of the protection of children:
"In our library system, Maus was challenged over its portrayal of the Poles. The challenge was made by a Polish-American who is very proud of his heritage, and who had made other suggestions about adding books on Polish history, for our library’s collection, so it was not out of the blue. The thing is, Maus made him uncomfortable, so he didn’t want other people to read it. That is censorship, as opposed to parental guidance."
5. DC Accidentally Microwaved a Baby
Now, thankfully that didn't actually happen in real life - but rather in Elseworlds 80-Page Giant, an anthology of non-canon DC stories.
One of which, “Letitia Lerner, Superman’s Babysitter,” featured the titular Lerner inadvertently microwaving Superman's baby. Now, fortunately, a Kryptonian kid can handle a little microwave energy, but with that being less the case for real-life children, the comic was swiftly recalled (and, then, having won awards, reprinted in a collection).
6. Ultraman Offends God
Or, more specifically, Allah. The Japanese comic - relatively unknown in the US, but huge in Japan - met with controversy in Malaysia for using the word Allah, the Islamic term for God.
The cause of the controversy? The use of the word Allah has been prohibited for non-Muslims in Malaysia since 2013, and though in Ultraman it was, in fact, being used in its literal meaning of 'God,' it still ran afoul of the authorities - who were concerned that it would "undermine public security and societal morals."
7. Saga Was Banned For No Particular Reason
Or, rather, the series - known to those who've read it as "the greatest thing to happen to comics in freakin' years" - saw its twelfth issue removed from Apple's app store prior to release for reasons that weren't abundantly clear.
Except, of course, the realization slowly dawned that it probably had something to do with the brief depiction of two men having sex on a robots face-screen, which if you've read Saga, makes way more sense than you'd think (and if you haven't read Saga, go do that right now).
The odd thing? The comic wasn't actually the victim of an overly restrictive policy on Apple's part - though it is fairly tight - but rather Comixology, the app which the comic would have appeared on, preemptively rejecting the comic themselves, assuming it wouldn't make it past that same tight policy.
The necessary conclusion (both to Saga's censorship, and perhaps to all the others)? This whole issue is a delicate tightrope to walk...