You’ve probably heard or seen the controversy regarding the Rafael Albuquerque variant cover for Batgirl #41. It caused quite a stir online, and yesterday DC announced it was canceling the variant at the request of the creative team.

The variant cover in question is a reference to The Killing Joke that featured The Joker brutally assaulting, shooting, and ultimately crippling Barbara Gordon in The Joker’s attempt to push her father, Jim Gordon over the edge, and coax Batman into killing the Clown Prince of Crime. There is also the implication that the Joker raped Barbara, though it has never been stated as happening by anyone at DC (for obvious reasons).

While The Killing Joke has become one that many people remember vividly, the question of how appropriate the cover is in light of the more inclusive tales being told in the current series was brought up on social media last week.

In response to the overwhelmingly negative reaction, artist Rafael Albuquerque shared a statement with CBR on why he made this cover.

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.

With all due respect,
Rafa

I agree with Albuquerque that this is a scary cover and it is instantly recognizable, but with the direction the Batgirl book has been taking, this image is probably not appropriate even for a variant cover, or even a cover where current Batgirl readers aren’t familiar with the source material. For those who have been victims of violent acts, this cover creates a lot of negative feelings toward a book and character (Batgirl) that contradicts what the creators are trying to do.

I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to even include the image in this story, because I know it may affect many of you. But we can’t talk about this issue, if we don’t expose ourselves to what is at the core of the argument and examine it for ourselves.

DC Comics did respond, saying it was pulling the cover.

We publish comic books about the greatest heroes in the world, and the most evil villains imaginable. The Joker variant covers for June are in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the Joker.

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.
We stand by our creative talent, and per Rafael’s request, DC Comics will not publish the Batgirl variant. – DC Entertainment

From the PR side, DC Comics has done what it needs to do to try and calm those who are upset, but for me, regardless if the variant cover is going to be printed or not, the damage has been done. Those who were/are offended or troubled by the nature of the image have already been exposed to it. It isn’t something the publisher can put back in the box and hide. This is also true with Marvel’s Milo Minara Spider-Woman variant – though they didn’t use the work, those that love comics have already seen it because they read sites like Major Spoilers.

The damage is done.

According to Cameron Stewart the creative team on Batgirl didn’t know anything about the variant until it was revealed.

Heidi MacDonald of The Beat, and former editor at DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, confirms that variant covers are done outside of the editorial team, which means someone isn’t communicating with artists hired to do variants and the creative teams on the books.

Recently, The Major Spoilers Podcast featured an interview with Dr. Scott Robson, chair of Communication Studies at Fort Hays State University, where we discuss how communication fails, how audience become primed to receive a message, and how messages and intent can fall apart based on how people communicate, or in this case, don’t communicate effectively with one another.

Does this all boil down to miscommunication? Is it a case of someone on the DC team not being sensitive to the nature of the material being sourced and how it impacts an audience that is not the same audience from 30 years ago? Or is this an example of a company who is trying to be more inclusive, stumbling to change its future while still being too locked to its past?

Use the comment section below to share your thoughts and reactions to the variant cover, and how the publisher handled fans’ concerns.

The Author

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment.

You can follow him on Twitter @MajorSpoilers and tell him your darkest secrets...

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16 Comments

  1. March 17, 2015 at 11:01 am — Reply

    Great article. When major spoilers goes beyond the press release for some genuine commentary and coverage I remember why I’m a VIP

  2. Nic
    March 17, 2015 at 11:14 am — Reply

    It does kind of present Batgirl as a frightened victim rather than a superhero.

  3. Alisha
    March 17, 2015 at 11:28 am — Reply

    I really must be missing something because I’m not really understanding why it was pulled considering it was a variant cover. If it were the main cover or the only cover available, fine, I’d see plenty of reason to axe it. But this was meant as a variant that was an homage to a particular story, so despite how creepy it is and how disturbing the image is to someone who has survived abuse (not something I talk about often), I am not really sure I understand why it couldn’t still go out.

    On the other hand, I have to give major respect to the creative team for being respectful enough to ask for the cover to be pulled themselves and not have to have DC editorial force it.

  4. gary
    March 17, 2015 at 11:33 am — Reply

    I understand why they did it and don’t fault them for it. But, I’m a little confused what their standards are then… Most super hero comics are about violence — typically using violence against evil to stop violence against the innocent. A comic with a female protagonist will often have her using violence against evil and likely have violence attempted against her. So, it’s OK to have a comic where the point is showcasing violence but it’s not okay to show that the evil characters want violence against the hero? That’s a bit schizophrenic to me. Additionally, to me the cover succeeds in one very critical way — it shows the evil villain as a truly evil villain. It’s not celebrating the Joker or rejoicing in violence against women. It is showing evil as something that is fearful and something that should be stopped. That is where it succeeds. Hiding these issues does not make them go away and it does no good to the victims. Exposing the issues and calling it as it is can indeed raise awareness, inform people, and indeed in the long run help.

    • Websnap
      March 17, 2015 at 12:06 pm — Reply

      @ gary

      This issue is that the original book, The Killing Joke, referenced off-panel rape of Barbra after she was shot. She was undressed, posed and as you can imagine the rest… which was the point of the sequence. Also keep in mind the well-known history of how editorial concepts of how the story came along to begin with (re: “cripple the b!tc#”). With that in mind this cover was trigger for many people – re-terrorized by a rapist – and a reminder that to have one of the best storied about the character and mind of a famous villain we needed to also brutalize, demean and debase a young female character. Even when the Joker killer Jason, that wasn’t done. There is general comic book violence, and there is this.

      • Ian
        March 17, 2015 at 9:52 pm — Reply

        The original book is still on the shelf for sale. If it is so offensive, why don’t they pull it?

      • Ashley Clark
        March 18, 2015 at 7:57 am — Reply

        She wasn’t raped. Way too many people assume, and argue she was raped, but if she had been, he would have taken pictures of that too. Do you really think he’d do something of that nature, and not show it off to drive the point home? Sexually speaking, what he did to her is about the most sexual that character is capable of being. Dini lovers, and Harley Quinn apologists aside, The Joker is a psychopath, and asexual. Sex does not drive him in any capacity. To suggest he raped Barbara simply because she was naked also suggests he raped Jim Gordon… because he too was naked.

        If it wasn’t written, it didn’t happen. Moore isn’t an author that pussy foots around. When he wants to do something vile (which is often), he makes it clear that’s what he’s doing. He did all these horrible things, not realizing any of it would become canon. But it did, and Barbara Gordon (in my eyes) became a whole hell of a lot more interesting. She transformed from a dumb cop’s kid who played make-believe hero (damsel anyone?), to a tough ass woman who uses her mind, and inner strength as a weapon against people. And boy did she ever. She became so amazing, even BATMAN needed her help all the time. That’s how great she was. She wasn’t a victim in the end. She was a survivor, and in the greatest way.

        People can question how appropriate The Killing Joke is all they want, but to freak out over a variant cover that no one had to buy if they didn’t like it? It’s just perpetuating this “I’m offended!!!” culture that’s growing and growing now. NOTHING can be done without some wave of social media rage from a bunch of internet users with way too much freaking free time. The backlash might not have made DC itself pull the covers, but it upset the creators enough that they decided it was just better to cave to all the pressure, and whining.

        Hooray for censorship! They can claim that’s not what it is all they want, but there is nothing grotesque, or that wildly spits in the face of what is and isn’t allowed on a cover. No nudity. No guts, or graphic violence. Just a psychopath drawing a smile on a scared heroine. But her being afraid is apparently impossible. She’s a robot. And Joker only wanted to draw on a smile like his own, but in lipstick, because she’s a woman, and sexism!!! Get over it, people. Seriously. That whole storyline was retconned anyway, so it was just a dude paying homage to a story he loved, that didn’t impact the inside story of the comic, or anyone’s lives in any way…. yet it’s this big deal with crying, and whining, and getting things removed because panties/briefs got all up in a bunch up some cracks.

        This world has turned into a bunch of crybabies who find excuses to complain about anything. These people need their internet taken away.

        • Websnap
          March 18, 2015 at 9:27 am — Reply

          @ Ashley Clark

          “She wasn’t raped. Way too many people assume, and argue she was raped, but if she had been, he would have taken pictures of that too. Do you really think he’d do something of that nature, and not show it off to drive the point home?”

          Are you kidding me? In what world would they actually show that in a Batman book – of course they wouldn’t show it. You actually think they would illustrate a shot, bleeding naked Barbra getting raped? You must be high. BTW – inform yourself – the majority or rape has nothing to do with sex, it’s about power and degradation. This has nothing to do with he be just scared – it’s about being re-traumatized by your abuser. if you can’t get that you need to get out of your bubble.

    • Alisha
      March 17, 2015 at 12:10 pm — Reply

      “So, it’s OK to have a comic where the point is showcasing violence but it’s not okay to show that the evil characters want violence against the hero? ”

      It kind of reminds me of some of the double standards of cartoons in the past. You can show Bugs Bunny or such going to Hell, you can show them meeting/fighting the Devil, but you apparently cannot say bad people go to Hell (like Dragonball’s English adaptation changed shirts on dead bad guys that said “HELL” to “HFIL” for Home For Infinite Losers).

  5. Susan Fairhurst
    March 17, 2015 at 11:35 am — Reply

    I’m puzzled as to why an artist would draw a cover that ,while a brilliant callback to a previous story, is so far away from the issue it appears on that the creators ask for its removal. I loved The Killing Joke but can we please stop portraying heroines as victims unless its intrinsic to the story.

  6. Chris
    March 17, 2015 at 12:50 pm — Reply

    Regardless of how you feel about the appropriatness of the cover you have to admit one thing: It’s quite effective. Credit should be given to Mr. Albuquerque for creating such a well done piece that can have this much effect on people. I don’t have a problem with the cover but think it would have been brilliant (and more suited for tone?) if the roles were reversed and Barbara was the one painting a smile on a terrified Joker.

  7. SpaceSong
    March 17, 2015 at 2:05 pm — Reply

    This article,is misisng one huge aspect of this story that people here in the comments aren’t hearing here.

    Rafael didn’t pull it due to the dark nature of the image. It was pulled because people,who were critical of it had been threatened. This made Raf uncomfortable, so to him: the people who were willing to harm another person in defense of his art loose the privilege of having this art.

    Also, i hadn’t put it together until this controversy blew up, but the Batgirl: Endgame one shot cover is actually a sister image to this one. Rafael Alburque did the art too. Provides a little narrative. She’s wiping the bloody smile of her face and is smiling confidently.

  8. March 17, 2015 at 6:07 pm — Reply

    A couple of things occur to me looking at this image for the variant cover. First, Batgirl doesn’t in any way look heroic. Now, there’s no law that says heroes have to always look the part on the cover, but the emotions this image evokes are clearly against the grain of what the current writing team is trying to achieve with the character.

    Second, and maybe more important, I picture this and imagine it on the shelf next to all the other weekly titles and it seems to me it just wouldn’t belong there. I wouldn’t want my 7 year old browsing her favourite bat-titles to come across this on the shelf. May be that’s just me, but it’s how I react to this.

    It’s not bad art. It’s very evocative, obviously, but it just doesn’t strike me as appropriate for a Batgirl cover.

    • justanothergeek
      March 22, 2015 at 11:03 am — Reply

      Please don’t take this the wrong way but, does this 7 year old actually have a favorite Bat-tittle, I mean you did notice all those Bat-tittle covers with the Joker wearing or holding a mask made out of his own flayed face right?
      This cover appears to fit well within how Bat-tittles covers portray, it’s even relatively tame all things considered.

  9. Rolina Eldis
    March 18, 2015 at 4:59 pm — Reply

    I’ve never read The Killing Joke, and even to me this is pretty disturbing… and if from what I’ve heard of this comic series is anything to be believed, completely out of place. Shouldn’t variant covers at least have something to do with the storyline?

    • March 18, 2015 at 8:24 pm — Reply

      You would think, but covers haven’t necessarily portrayed what is going on in the inside for a long long time.

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