Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Batgirl #41 Controversy: Think McFly, Think.

DC seriously needs to hire some kind of “feminist consultant” to look over their stuff before they release solicitations. Because once again, they’ve stepped in it with their controversial depiction of a female character. This time, Batgirl is in the eye of the storm.

Recently, in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Joker’s debut, DC unveiled a series of variant covers for many of their June releases. Among those releases was Batgirl #41. The cover, drawn by Rafael Albuquerque, can be seen below.
It’s important to note this cover is a tribute to The Killing Joke, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s widely popular 1988 graphic novel in which Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is shot in the stomach (and thus paralyzed), then stripped nude and photographed by The Joker. So the discomfort surrounding this photo goes beyond its simple creepiness, and the way the characters are positioned. There’s something implied here.

In light of the negative response to the cover, as well as Albuquerque’s request that it not be distributed, DC has pulled it from solicitations. Apparently no one on the Batgirl creative team was in the know about this cover, as series writer Cameron Stewart noted on Twitter. Stewart also said that while he stands by Albuquerque as an artist and friend, the cover was completely at odds with what’s being done with the series currently. If you’ve read an issue of Batgirl in recent months, you know that is indeed the case.

But let’s be frank, here…is this cover really offensive?

At the risk of offending people (Aw heck, it’s the internet. You’re always offending someone.), I’m going to say that on its own, the image is passable. It’s an eye-roller, and they’re really pushing the boundaries of good taste, but it’s passable.

However, in light of all the bad press DC has gotten in recent years in regard to their portrayal of female characters, they really should have known better than to go this route. Marvel isn’t blameless in this respect, mind you (the infamous Milos Manara Spider-Woman cover comes to mind). But DC seems to have a knack for stepping in this same pile of poo over and over again. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Here’s a quick refresher of all the trouble DC has been in as it relates to their female characters since the New 52 began in September 2011…

- The absurd objectification and sexualization of Starfire in early issues of Red Hood and the Outlaws.

- A similar oversexualization of Catwoman, followed by the anatomically absurd solicited cover of Catwoman #0.

- DC having Superman kill a pregnant Lois Lane as a plot device to get the story to Injustice: Gods Among Us going. In all fairness, the game was developed by NetherRealm Studios, but writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey were reportedly serving as creative consultants. The event was also depicted in the comic book adaptation by Tom Taylor and Jheremy Raapack. 

- DC hosting a controversial art contest, a portion of which challenged artists to depict Harley Quinn sitting naked in a bathtub surrounded by electrical appliances, apparently resigned to suicide.

I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind. Again, I can’t say that DC is alone in making this mistake. But if I had to pick one company that personifies the mistreatment of women in comics, sadly, it would be DC. As a longtime DC Comics fan, that’s a pretty painful realization to come to.

DC obviously doesn’t MEAN to piss off their fans to such an extent. Obviously a little controversy never hurt anyone. But this kind of stuff isn’t good for anybody. So why does it keep happening?

From my perspective, it’s a matter of DC continuing to fall back into an old trap. For the longest time, female characters in male-written comics book were often the victims of horrific violence, or simply used as gratuitous sex objects. The latter is nothing new, if you look at female superhero costumes. The former was so often the case that the trend earned itself a name: “Women in Refrigerators” (named from a story that saw Green Lantern’s girlfriend chopped up and jammed into a fridge). As comic books have for so long been catering to such a male-dominated audience, this wasn’t as much of an issue as it perhaps should have been.

But in 2015, writers and artists have to approach things a little differently. You’ve got to have a bit more of a conscience, and keep in mind that kind of content isn’t always what people want to see. Nor is it always necessary, for that matter. Did Lois Lane

need to die horribly for Injustice to start? Did Starfire need to be hypersexualized to sell comic books? And given how Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr have reinvigorated Batgirl over the last several months, was there even a need for a variant cover like that?

Please keep in mind that I’m not saying comic books should all be squeaky clean, or follow the same set of rules to a T. What it really comes down to is knowing your audience and what they want to see. This whole fiasco isn’t so much Albuquerque’s fault for drawing a picture, but DC’s fault for not being mindful of their audience, let alone the hot water they’ve been in recently.

So in reviewing their content for the foreseeable future, I would advise DC, and all comic book creators for that matter, to adopt a certain policy. It’s actually a policy that can be applied to anybody in any walk of life. It boils down to three simple words…

“Think, McFly. Think.”

Written by: The Fanboy Wonder, Rob Siebert

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