Last night on Twitter I ended up ranting on about something in comics that has me pretty annoyed. Now, not every follower agrees with my opinion, which is fine obviously, and I expect plenty of people are going to disagree with me again today. But that said, I feel pretty strongly about this and I wanted to take a moment to properly articulate why.
The Joker variant cover for Batgirl is incredibly problematic, to put it nicely.
In less nice terms, it’s tasteless, disturbing and painfully inappropriate. Oh DC, what were you thinking?
Batgirl’s re-launch by Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr and Brenden Fletcher was met with celebration from fans and non-readers alike. A new sensible costume, a more grounded story, an increasingly diverse cast and vocal genuine attempt to appeal to a new female audience, it was hard not to be excited.
Batgirl was stepping up to answer the demand for more grounded female heroes. There have been missteps, but the series has made a genuine effort to stick to its premise. However this cover is the opposite of everything the series claims to represent.
If you feel that there’s nothing wrong with the cover, then I ask that you stick with me for a moment and let me explain my point of view. I understand where you’re coming from, but the problems with this comic are a lot deeper than “Joker is scary and Batgirl is supposed to be fun”.
Here’s something that highlights how insensitive this cover is, imagine it’s someone else. Nightwing, Aquaman, Jason Todd, Damian, Batman, Flash etc. take any male DC character and pop them in and imagine there’s tears in their eyes as Joker stands behind them, arm draped possessively over their shoulder. Would that ever happen? I’d be stunned if it did, you’d never see that without some serious reservations. Yet here’s Batgirl in that situation. In a series where she’s supposed to be empowered she’s crying with fear while Joker has his arm around her. It reeks of the nasty portrayal of women in comics, where women are victims and fridged so the villains can look extra scary or dangerous.
Obviously it’s calling back to The Killing Joke and I’m not even going to start on why that’s a problem, it’s fairly obvious. You know, that story that where it’s often debated if Batgirl’s humiliating torture scene contains implications of sexual violence?
DC have implied since the start of the New 52 that The Killing Joke did happen, in some form. Gail Simone tackled it in her run by treating it as a traumatic event that Batgirl has had to move beyond. Here the cover almost seems to try tell us how memorable and “cool” the scene was (barf). We’re supposed to think… what? That’s it’s dark and creepy? That it’s edgy and shows how dangerous Joker is? Batgirl here doesn’t show any sign of getting over it or fighting back, she’s clearly terrified and can’t move while Joker draws on her face. There’s nothing appealing about that at all.
If DC really wanted to call back to this story there are far better ways to do it. There was no need to show her so vulnerable. Just look at the other covers with Joker, none of them have this sort of intense and demeaning tone to them. They’re celebrating Joker. Think about that in terms of the Batgirl cover. Joker is celebrated through Batgirl’s vulnerable humiliation.
Here Batgirl is no longer a super hero or a role model, she’s a doll. A prop used to show us that Joker is scary and that there was once a popular story where he did something especially evil so Batman could then be especially mad. So here’s a terrified Batgirl, reunited with her smiling abuser, so that we can see through her fear how evil the other character is.
This is so frustrating because I like Batgirl. It’s a good series and she’s a good character but it’s like DC just wants to drive me away and make me feel stupid for having high expectations. I don’t blame the creative team as I doubt they would have known this was coming, but DC editorial certainly knew what they were going for with this.
This makes me worry about DC’s upcoming soft relaunch. They talk the talk about improving their comics and making them more diverse but this cover just shows they do not get it. This is exactly the same sort of stereotypical comic book BS that we should be far beyond. Want to know one reason why non-readers don’t read comics? Because they think they’re worthless, shallow, male power fantasies. DC positioned Batgirl as a solution to that problem and this cover shows they’ve changed nothing. They’ll happily revert back to the same nonsense for the sake of an edgy cover.
Super hero comics can do better. There’s nothing wrong with a scary Joker, but there’s something wrong with showing it like this.