So recently, there's been a kerfuffle over the "Joker Variant" cover of Batgirl #41. DC has been doing monthly variants for most of its comics and this month, the theme was the Joker. Unfortunately, the variant cover they chose for Batgirl didn't exactly match the fun tone that the book conveys. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite.
For those who want to see the cover, here it is:
As you can see, the Joker is in a position of power of Batgirl, who looks absolutely terrified. While this cover may work for a book that has the same dark tone (like The Killing Joke, which it homages), the Cameron Stewart-Brendan Fletcher-Babs Tarr Batgirl has always gone for a fun, Ms. Marvel-type tone, with Batgirl moving to a trendy neighborhood and going to college.
The release of the variant cover on Friday sparked a debate on whether it was appropriate, leading on Monday to the artist Rafael Albuquerque to ask DC not release the cover.
My Batgirl variant cover artwork was designed to pay homage to a comic that I really admire, and I know is a favorite of many readers. 'The Killing Joke' is part of Batgirl's canon and artistically, I couldn't avoid portraying the traumatic relationship between Barbara Gordon and the Joker.
For me, it was just a creepy cover that brought up something from the character's past that I was able to interpret artistically. But it has become clear, that for others, it touched a very important nerve. I respect these opinions and, despite whether the discussion is right or wrong, no opinion should be discredited.
My intention was never to hurt or upset anyone through my art. For that reason, I have recommended to DC that the variant cover be pulled. I'm incredibly pleased that DC Comics is listening to my concerns and will not be publishing the cover art in June as previously announced.
DC also released a statement:
We publish comic books about the greatest heroes in the world, and the most evil villains imaginable. The Joker variant covers for June are in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the Joker.
Regardless if fans like Rafael Albuquerque's homage to Alan Moore's THE KILLING JOKE graphic novel from 25 years ago, or find it inconsistent with the current tonality of the Batgirl books - threats of violence and harassment are wrong and have no place in comics or society.
We stand by our creative talent, and per Rafael's request, DC Comics will not publish the Batgirl variant.
On the face of it, this sounds okay. Except for the part where DC references "threats of violence and harassment," which is where this get weird. Because, according to both Albuquerque and writer Cameron Stewart, the threats weren't by those objecting the cover, they were towards them:
"Something to clarify, because DCs statement was a little unclear. @rafaalbuquerque did not get threats. People OBJECTING to the cover did."
The entire thing has sparked a debate over the internet, from those who object to the cover, like Mark Waid, who wrote "IMO, DC made the right call to pull the cover. It really was a step too far, and tone-deaf at this point in time especially," and Kurt Buseik, who wrote this:
Particularly in this era of variant covers, you still want the covers to appeal to the audience you want to reach with the books. So what the book is, who it's aimed at, what tone you want to project, all of those things are important, cover after cover after cover. So a cover that might be terrific for a revisiting of THE KILLING JOKE may not be appropriate for a more upbeat/positive BATGIRL run. Comics and covers aren't interchangeable. They send a message. We put naked and near-naked women on the cover of CONAN, in part because it tells readers who like that sort of thing that they'll find it within. It's good to put dark, scary stuff on the covers of dark scary stories. But you wouldn't sell THE SOUND OF MUSIC with a poster that looked like THE SHINING, or vice versa. (although online recut trailers for comedic effect? You bet).
That's why I think DC, the BATGIRL team and Rafael are making the right choice here. Let the covers fit the books, let them attract the audience they're trying to reach rather than chasing it off and attracting an audience that'd like darker, more horrific stuff that just isn't in there. Covers are about reaching out to readers. They're not an afterthought, or irrelevant. I've responded to this several times, but to do so generally: I'd say even variant covers need to do the job of a good cover. Variant covers don't necessarily show a story moment from inside. Nor do regular covers, these days. But all covers are still about reaching out to the audience you want to attract to a book. Welcoming an appropriate audience and making them want to sample the book.
G. Willow Wilson chimed in as well, saying that Batgirl looked like a victim rather than the hero on the cover. She praised The Killing Joke, while saying that many took the wrong message:
So it served a valuable artistic purpose and shattered some old stereotypes. I don't think the takeaway should be "torture pr0n is cool."
Artist Ray Dillon, on the other hand, responded to the controversy by illustrating a similar cover for Superman and Doomsday.
On the whole, this seems like DC was a bit tone deaf when choosing the cover. They've clearly been trying to change the way their comics are viewed — their post-"Convergence" comics include many aimed at women (Black Canary, Starfire) and they've clearly seen how big a hit both the new Batgirl and Harley Quinn have been. So this variant cover seems like a misstep, a la Marvel's Milo Manara Spider-Woman variant.
But there are those who say the cover is just a homage to The Killing Joke and that it's perfectly fine. What do you think?