Well, the Hawkeye #22 review is still incoming for Friday, but today, I have to make a special post stemming from an argument that broke out on a friend’s Facebook page over an article from March about that Batgirl cover because this is bigger than a Facebook comment. I’m missing my weekly NXT date (with Charlotte and Sasha Banks main eventing!) to write this, so strap in. Trigger warnings for mentions of sexual assault ahead.As some of you might remember, I wrote about the Alan Moore/Brian Bolland Batman story The Killing Joke back in March in the wake of the controversy over the variant for Batgirl #41. While I think Emma Houxbois of The Rainbow Hub did a much better job into digging into why the comic doesn’t hold up, we’re both of the basic belief that the story is pretty horrible and sexist.
I thought I was done with The Killing Joke and that stupid cover until this afternoon when a friend of mine linked to an article on Time.com by Cathy Young, a writer for the libertarian outlet Reason Magazine. To quote the article directly:
” Sexism in popular culture is a valid concern. But when feminist criticism becomes an outrage machine that chills creative expression, it’s bad for feminism and bad for female representation. Making artists, writers, filmmakers, and even audiences walk on eggshells for fear of committing thoughtcrime against womanhood is no way to encourage quality art or enjoyable entertainment — not to mention the creation of good female characters.”
Basically, critique is bad and stopping creators and companies from creating actual good female characters because they’re walking on eggshells around it.
Leaving behind any fallacies about the argument, lets go over the basics about this cover again:
- It was not the choice of Team Batgirl to have this as a variant cover. They have no control over that. Those choices are all made by marketing and they were just as surprised as we were when it came out and they ended up getting way too much heat for it.
- Rafael Alburquerque, THE ARTIST OF THE COVER, was the one who requested that DC pull it once he realized the art was striking a negative nerve with people. It was ultimately his choice.
- Before that though, DC Marketing had requested that he make it more extreme.
- It’s still a gross reference to a comic where a young woman is sexually assaulted that was going to be on a cover of a comic where that same woman is trying to move on from her life and where the creators have promised that The Joker will never appear. I’ll say that first part one more time for the people in the back… Barbara Gordon was shot, stripped naked, and had photographs taken of her for the sole purpose of trying to break her father in The Killing Joke. That absolutely qualifies as sexual assault AND fridging.
Which brings me back to the point I’ve been wanting to make all day about this article: as sad as it is, most comics companies do not give a shit about this kind of thing.Sure, there are plenty of editors and creators working to make things better and listen to the audiences when creating a story. I remember Kelly Sue Deconnick at Dragon Con talking about the active strides she’s had to make realizing her own privileges in order to create Bitch Planet. Marvel editor and Director of Content and Character Development Sana Amanat has been vocal about what she’s tried to do with her work on Ms. Marvel in creating a character like Kamala Khan. Kieron Gillen, co-creator of the critically acclaimed The Wicked + The Divine, admitted that he knows that he could have done more diversity wise for the book and that it’s not going to be perfect. Even Team Batgirl admitted where they messed up when it came to issue #37 after they were called out, apologized, and promised they were going to do better.
Generally though, this kind of honesty and transparency in comics is a new thing and still kind of rare.
Let’s go back to another variant cover controversy with Milo Manara’s variant for Spider-Woman #1. Basically, Marvel stuck to their guns on the variant, even though they realized that people were angry about it. I agree that it overshadowed the book some when the creative team had nothing to do with the decision, but Marvel still showed a disregard for the audience when saying that it was going to stay.
It’s the same kind of attitude that has Marvel creating hip hop variant covers despite having no black creators working for the company currently. It’s the same attitude that has DC Animated moving forward with a movie based on The Killing Joke. It’s the same attitude that had Image proudly sporting a rainbow icon while publishing a blatantly transmisogynist comic. It’s the same attitude that has Boom! Studios bragging about their diversity while publishing an ill-handled comic about racism in the Deep South in 1927.
There’s tons of other examples out there, but at the end of the day, it still boils down to the bottom line for these companies. Things are changing slowly, but god, does it need work.
Not every piece of comics work is going to be perfect. Not every piece is going to be for everyone all the time. Not every creator wants a “Good Feminist Seal of Approval,” whatever that means. However, if the audiences that these stories are trying to reach don’t call out these companies and teams on their mistakes, who else is going to?