You were doing so well, DC Comics. So well. And then y’all had to go and screw it up again.

For the June mini-relaunch of DC Comics’ titles post-Convergence each book will feature Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker on a variant cover. As is the case with most themed variants, the cover art is released ahead of time to get readers excited and get them thinking about which titles they want to spend their money on for the cover alone.

So when DC released the variant art for Batgirl #41

BG-Cv41-Joker-variant-solicitation-68d7f-600x910

There were some understandable feelings of “WTF, DC!” coming from fans. This author included. Drawn by Rafael Albuquerque, the variant uncomfortably invokes Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke (1988) where Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, was shot and tortured by the Joker leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Oddly enough, The Killing Joke isn’t about Barbara at all, it’s about her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, and Batman with Barbara’s pain and suffering used to taunt and torture the two men. No wonder it’s one of the primary examples of the Women in Refrigerators trope, or fridging, where the death, injury, or torture of a woman is used to further a male character’s story. The book may have its fans, but it has plenty of naysayers, among them the book’s author. Alan Moore has since shown his regrets over the story, chief among them being the crippling of Barbara Gordon, which Moore states he was surprised went through at DC. By his own account, Moore was told by editor Len Wein that it was okay to “cripple the bitch.”

The silver lining to The Killing Joke is we eventually got Barbara as the computer hacking badass that is Oracle. Leader of the Birds of Prey and one of the most trusted heroes within the DC Universe, Babs became the poster child for the disabled community. In overcoming her disability by continuing to fight crime, Barbara proved her resilience to adversity, becoming a stronger character in the long run. After twenty years in the chair, however, DC decided to put Barbara back in uniform with the launch of the New 52. Unfortunately, the rebooted universe didn’t include erasing The Killing Joke from the current canon. Instead, Barbara had been disabled for about three years prior to the events of the relaunch with her #1 issue serving as her first outing in uniform since the surgery that gave her back the use of her legs.

What became obvious was The Killing Joke’s legacy as a defining moment in Barbara’s history, at least according to DC Comics. Luckily writer Gail Simone tried to make good on the aftermath of such a traumatic event, exploring Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and moving Babs’ story beyond being a victim. The current creative team of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr have taken a similar approach. By changing her uniform and moving her out of Gotham City proper and into the Greenwich Village-esque Burnside, Batgirl has become the bright spot amongst the grimdark Bat-books. Colorful, fun, and unabashedly pro-feminist, Babs’ time in the wheelchair is a sore spot, but doesn’t define her. It’s certainly a plot point worth exploring, as the creative team continues to do in the current arc, but The Killing Joke does not a Batgirl make. Babs is presented as a confident, smart, and resourceful young woman trying to be both superhero and college student. Her problems come in the form of anime-inspired motorcyclists and social media, not dwelling on the Joker.

So why then did whoever is in charge of commissioning the variant covers decide that Batgirl as Victim was appropriate? Every book has its own tone and style and Albuquerque’s work couldn’t be more tone deaf in regards to Batgirl as a book. Look at the picture again. Babs is frightened and crying while the Joker draws a bloody smile across her face. It’s grotesque, but also another display of how DC Comics sees one of their most popular female characters. None of the other variants have shown the heroes as victims in such an uncomfortable manner and it’s disheartening that whoever is in charge of approving this cover thought it was okay. What’s more surprising is the cover Albuquerque did for Batgirl: Endgame #1, which feeds into the Endgame storyline in Batman.

batgirl_endgame1 - rafael albuquerque

It’s a much more appropriate cover and conveys the same information without diminishing Batgirl as a hero. Why this for Endgame but not for the book proper?

It’s just mind-boggling when one looks at other variants for Batgirl that have come out over the course of the New 52 that all have one thing in common: Batgirl is a goddam hero. In fact, here’s a gallery of those covers. Check out for yourself how previous variants have emphasized the fun and heroism of Batgirl.

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Batgirl ’66 Variant by Michael and Laura Allred

Scribblenauts Variant

Scribblenauts Variant

Bombshell Variant by Ant Lucia

Bombshell Variant by Ant Lucia

Monster Month variant by Kevin Nowlan

Monster Month variant by Kevin Nowlan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robin Requiem variant by Mikel Janin

Robin Requiem variant by Mikel Janin

Batman 75th Anniversary variant by Cliff Chiang

Batman 75th Anniversary variant by Cliff Chiang

Steampunk Variant by JG Jones

Steampunk Variant by JG Jones

The Flash Variant by Aaron Lopresti

The Flash Variant by Aaron Lopresti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harley Quinn Variant by Cliff Chiang

Harley Quinn Variant by Cliff Chiang

Selfie Variant by Dave Johnson

Selfie Variant by Dave Johnson

Movie Poster Variant by Cliff Chiang

Movie Poster Variant by Cliff Chiang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments
  1. […] to all readers regardless of gender or age. The kicker being we’ve already gone through a Batgirl/Killing Joke controversy, one where the team asked that the Joker variant cover be removed from their book because it was […]

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