Photo credit: bloody-disgusting.com
Batgirl has been showing up a lot in the news lately, starting last summer when her redesigned costume started what is becoming a trend of more practical, action-oriented costumes for female superheroes and a cast that included a transgender friend for Barbara Gordon. The title then lost some of its new fan base when the villain Dagger Type was portrayed as a glam-obsessed cross-dresser who many found to be stereotyped and a step back for the title.
Now, the title has caused controversy over both the reveal and subsequent cancellation of a variant cover by artist Rafael Albuquerque that pays tribute to Alan Moore’s iconic story “The Killing Joke”. The story famously starts with the Joker shooting Barbara Gordon, causing her paralysis and having her retiring the Batgirl mantle and take up the role of Oracle. When DC relaunched many of its series in “The New 52”, Gordon’s paralysis was retconned to be temporary with her taking up the role of Batgirl once again. “Batgirl #41” featured, as part of a celebration of the Joker’s 75th anniversary, a variant cover depicting the Joker in his famous “Killing Joke” tourist outfit painting a red smile across the crying Batgirl’s face. The cover drew controversy as fans used #changethecover on Twitter to express their dislike of the variant. At the request of Albuquerque and the creative team behind “Batgirl”, the cover was pulled by DC. This has created its own controversy, with some saying the move is akin to censorship and marks a lack of artistic integrity on DC’s part.
Love and respect of “The Killing Joke” is obvious among a large number of comic book fans. A combination of its iconic imagery and the fact that it was written by Alan Moore has made it sacred ground in a lot of people’s eyes. It is also arguably the most famous story in which Barbara Gordon plays a major role. The problem with this, however, is that Gordon’s role in “The Killing Joke” is to be shot, stripped, and photographed as part of a plot to push her father into insanity. While this does an excellent job of reestablishing the Joker’s nature while strengthening the resolve of Jim Gordon and Batman when they refuse to kill the Joker for what he did, Barbara is left as a victim of the events.
Present day Batgirl has become an important figure in the current wave of comics. Her look has inspired the remake of several female superhero looks such as Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen and Wonder Woman. The title became popular under the authorship of Gail Simone, a fantastic author and strong voice for the strengthening of female characters in comics. She could be said to be one of the new standards for what comics are becoming. On the other hand, “The Killing Joke” is secured as a classic. It has held against retcons, changing attitudes, and has been reprinted a number of times throughout the years. It is solidified, while this version of Batgirl is still developing. So when the fans of the comic say they don’t want to see Barbara Gordon in the position that the variant cover put her in and Rafael Albuquerque agrees to pull it, there is no artistic corruption. On the contrary, it is a statement that this iteration of the character has her own identity and wants itself separated from Moore’s ideas. Looking at it another way, isn’t it more jaded and artistically unsound to use a previous story’s success to sell your own?
Or, as head of writer of “Batgirl” Cameron Stewart said on Twitter, “If you’re concerned about artistic integrity and creative vision, that’s what we’re doing. Keeping the integrity of our book intact.”