Variant Covers and Context: Batgirl Battered

While I didn’t miss the shocking Turtle twist last week, it turns out I overlooked another major comics event last week: the Batgirl variant cover controversy.

By the time I found out, the issue – as far as some people were concerned – had been resolved. The contentious cover had been pulled from publication upon the request of the artist himself, and DC had acknowledged that it had been (in retrospect) in poor taste.

Of course, not everyone agreed that pulling the cover was the right move. There’s even an online petition asking to bring it back (not inclined to link it here, because it pretty much disrespects the actual artist’s freedom of speech – if HE decided that it should be pulled, then WE have no real right to say that this “hinders freedom of speech”). As such, it looks as if this conversation is not as behind us as it originally seemed.

Admittedly, I didn’t quite understand what the huge problem was when I first saw the image – mainly because I only came across it as a variant cover and I didn’t know what it was a variant cover FOR. But as soon as it became clear that it was for the Batgirl comic, I felt the horror.

Because it’s wrong. It’s just so wrong.

Considering context

Let’s get this one thing out of the way – the reason why I thought this was “okay” in the first place was because I thought this was for A GRITTY JOKER COMIC. Joker is a terrifying and dangerous character who had a frankly disturbing canon history with Barbara Gordon (see The Killing Joke), and in the context of a re-release of that book – or at least a Joker comic – this cover would have made sense.

The fact that it wasn’t for a comic focused on that villain and his insanity, that it was in fact drawn for a Batgirl comic, is baffling. The Killing Joke, as far as I’m concerned, is a JOKER story. Sure, it figured into Babs’ history for years afterwards; but it was still a Joker story. It wasn’t really a Batgirl story at all. Much besides, the current adventures of this particular heroine had clearly distanced itself from this extremely dark corner of the DC canon. To take her current heroism and regress it into this moment of victimization is pretty much infuriating.

Look, I understand that variant covers don’t necessarily have anything to do with the actual STORY of the comic that they’re covers for. But the enormous gap between this image and the current character arc is so vast that it spans entire universes. This just drives home the point that context is a VERY important factor when it comes to choosing or designing covers for books and comics alike – and variant covers should no longer be an exception to this.

Covers are serious business, y’all.

Sense and sensitivity

Of course, we all have different reactions to different things – reader-response based on personal experiences and all that – and that is a valid context against which we can hold up what is and isn’t appropriate on a personal level. The problem with this is that it is an extremely subjective means of approaching the world, one that tends to ignore logic and the fact that we live with other human beings.

Whether you’d want to admit it or not, this variant cover does NOT make sense in the context of the new Batgirl storylines and themes. It is NOT sensitive to the market that it’s catering to – I’m absolutely sure that the people complaining about the cover being pulled don’t actually read the new Batgirl run. It is NOT the right cover for this character, canon be damned.

There are, of course, also people who will say that this isn’t appropriate for ANY comic, even a dark Joker comic – my sister being one of them. I disagree with them, too. There are stories where this cover might work; there are stories that require covers like this to add to conversations about the horrors human minds are capable of. Banning or avoiding covers like this won’t make violence against anyone go away.

But the Batgirl comic, as it is right now, is NOT the right place to have this conversation. It doesn’t make sense in this universe. Shoehorning this into the discussion this title is currently trying to have with its readers is just downright rude.

I mean, really.

But what do YOU think?


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