Posts Tagged ‘popular literature’
In the past couple of years, I’ve become a fan of the graphic novel. Based on my purchases, I’d have to admit to be being particularly interested in the mainstream North American superhero comic, the material put out by Marvel and DC and the like. At its best, this tradition’s combination of the grand-scale soap opera and science fiction can, with the right art, be sublime. Marvel’s The Dark Phoenix Saga comes to mind as one example of this. Smaller-scale triumphs are also possible, dealing with the struggles of characters to function as best as they can in a world not unlike ours. One of the smaller-scale successes I’ve been following is that of DC’s Batgirl, one of the strongest successes of that publisher’s–let’s say–problematic New 52 relaunch. First written by Gail Simone, then by a new creative time, Batgirl works for me as a character study of Barbara Gordon, a member of the Bat Family who in addition to coping with the minutiae of life as a customed hero in Gotham City is also continuing her recovery from her crippling by the Joker. It’s not a story without artistic problems, but on the whole Batgirl works for me quite nicely.
To start, the reference to the events of 1988’s Batman: The Killing Joke, wherein writer Alan Moore was apparently told by his editors bored with Batgirl that it was fine to go ahead and “cripple the bitch”, is problematic because the storyline there is itself problematic. Moore himself has said that he probably should have been reined in by his editors on this point. The Killing Joke is very good, an engaging and entertaining graphic novel that does a great job of examining the character of the Joker. Its signal flaw is that it does so by inflicting a crippling injury on the prominent female character of Batgirl so as to cause great angst for male characters, here Jim Gordon and Batman himself. The Killing Joke and this cover also very strongly evoke the imagery of sexual assault in the bargain. The consensus appears to be that, in Moore’s book, while Barbara Gordon was not raped, she was sexually assaulted, being forcibly stripped and photographed. The only thing that keeps the shot Barbara Gordon from being a stand-in for the prototype of Gail Simone’s Women in Refrigerators list is that, unlike Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend Alex DeWitt, Batgirl did not die.
The cover brings the reader back to that moment again when it really need not. The character of Barbara Gordon has been explored at length since 1988, both in the original DC Comics continuity when she became the wheelchair-wielding information superhero Oracle and in the New 52 setting where advanced medical treatments have healed her damaged spine. In each instance, Barbara Gordon has been explicitly depicted, at length and often, as a character who has been dealing with the legacies of Joker’s attack much more effectively than the character depicted in this image. She resists; she struggles; she even fights back. Here, she is shown defeated, looking out with teary eyes at the audience pleading for help. It just doesn’t fit with the character as developed for the past couple of decades by, among others, Gail Simone herself. As this recent Comics Alliance interview with the book’s current creative team makes clear, this cover just does not fit the content of the book.
For that matter, it doesn’t fit with the other covers in June’s upcoming Joker month feature. I first saw this cover as part of a collection of covers, still more covers being available via links at the Scans Daily post. The other covers are either light-hearted or surreal. Possibly the most vulnerable one features Wonder Woman dancing with the Joker as he holds a bomb to her back, but even in that one she is depicted as poised and prepared. Albuquerque’s cover is accomplished, but it misses the playfulness that the other covers seem to achieve. This is a major problem for a book that’s targeted towards–among others–a female audience that likes seeing an ongoing series about an accomplished woman superhero who isn’t just fodder for Women in Refrigerators.
If there is a tragedy to this at all, it’s that a simple change could have made this cover significantly less objectionable. A minor alteration to the cover publicized by Sam Sykes has recently been spreading across Twitter.
In Albuquerque’s original, Batgirl is begging her readers for help. In this retelling, simply changing the expression in her eyes and her mouth depicts a Batgirl who is angry, ready to take advantage of the Joker’s weakness for the camera to strike. This still would have been a dark cover, darker than the theme of the series to date, but it would also have been a cover that would have been a much better fit for the series and the whole Joker month.