TBU has been following the ongoing controversy surrounding DC’s Joker variant cover for Batgirl #41, including the decision to pull the cover from the variants for the month of June at the request of the artist, Rafael Albuquerque. This has prompted new discussion about The Killing Joke and Barbara Gordon’s sexual assault at the hands of the Joker as the image shows Barbara being held by the Joker with a tear rolling down her face, a bloody smile drawn on, and a gun pointed towards her. Many people, including TBU, have discussed the cover and whether it was appropriate for the title, but it seems like the story may be more complicated than earlier thought.
Bleeding Cool is reporting that the artist was instructed by DC to make the variant cover more extreme than Albuquerque had drawn it at first. According to their sources, “The first version was a lot less extreme. It still features Batgirl and The Joker. But there was no gun pointing towards the crotch. No finger in the face. No tears, lipstick smear or extreme distress.” Their sources went on to say that this decision did not come at the request or with the knowledge of Batman family editors or creative teams but was a directive from DC’s marketing/promotional divisions.
All of this comes right after artist, Rafael Albuquerque gave the following interview to Brazilian site UOL:
UOL – Do you think your cover was misunderstood?
Rafael Albuquerque – I think the cover has brought up many interpretations. But in the end, the problem is not the cover itself, but the comic where it would be published. A series aimed at the teenage female audience should not have a cover like this. Regardless of the question of who is right or wrong, the cover that I did do not serve its intent.
UOL: The classic comic “Batman: The Killing Joke” showed 25 years ago a much greater violence against Batgirl than your illustration. You think people criticized your cover without knowledge of the original material?
RA: I do not know. I think those who know the “Killing Joke” got the point. But again, young people aged 14 to 17 years does not have the obligation to know, and I think both myself and the publisher, even unintentionally, were wrong in thinking that the image would be appropriate.
UOL: The cover was dropped by your request, but did you ever receive any pressure by a department or person at DC Comics in this sense?
RA: No. I took the initiative. I see many people commenting on freedom of expression and that I gave in to pressure. I have always defended minorities. I think is the right and moral thing to do. I do not think a comic that aims to raise women´s self-esteem should have an image that may suggest otherwise. In another comic, maybe that image made sense. Not for the current Batgirl comic. Freedom of expression also means not saying what you do not want to say, and it was exactly the right that I exercised here.
UOL: Nowadays we see the content of comics being increasingly questioned regarding issues such as excessive violence and sexualisation of women. Do you think these questions are valid? Do you think that even if valid, these questions may be exaggerated and hinder the creative freedom of artists and writers?
RA: I think these questions are completely valid. In a general way, the industry has always been sexist. We are used to it and now we live a moment of opening of this industry. It is important that we review our values and our positions. I think, regardless of individual standings, dialogue and respect is essential for the industry not end up divided. Respect is my main flag here.
UOL: What would you like to be the legacy of this case?
RA: I think, despite one’s position regarding the cover, either prioritizing feminism or freedom of expression, it is important to learn to listen. Empathize with those who have a different opinion from yours. Put yourself in the place of other and consider what is being said. Discussion on the Internet tends to turn into childish tantrums, on one side or the other. That’s what makes people lose interest in things. I think criticism is always welcome. But respect for those who do, for those who publish and for those who disagrees is what validates criticism. Freedom of expression cannot be limited only to what you like or want. Freedom must come with responsibility.
Although the cover was pulled, what do you think? Sound off in the comments below.