Batgirl, Censorship, and You

DC Comics has pulled a variant cover for the new Batgirl, causing out cries of censorship from a section of the fanbase. Did it go to far?


I love com­ic books. Like all forms of art, it can in­spire in­cred­i­ble dis­cus­sion on any top­ic the writer de­cides to tack­le. They’ve been a form of es­capism for years, nar­rat­ing black and white bat­tles of good vs. evil in 12-panel pages since the 1940s. In more re­cent years, how­ev­er, com­ic books have shrugged off the sim­plis­tic to tack­le some of society’s more com­plex nu­ances. From mur­der to drug abuse, com­ic books as a medi­um have al­lowed for writ­ers to pro­vide so­cial com­men­tary us­ing bright­ly and bold­ly de­fined char­ac­ters. Since 1985 and the re­lease of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, we’ve been in the dark­er, more re­al­is­tic age of comics – well, as re­al­is­tic as one can get when telling a sto­ry about a bil­lion­aire ty­coon dressed as a fly­ing ro­dent. I’ve found over the last 20 years, the medi­um has ex­pand­ed to be a phe­nom­e­nal way of try­ing to sim­pli­fy some of society’s more grue­some as­pects. Take The Sandman for ex­am­ple: it’s one of the dark­est, most in­tri­cate­ly plot­ted tales ever to be told. The sub­ject mat­ter veers from the lit­er­al depths of hell to the much more ter­ri­fy­ing hor­ror present in every­day life.

What I’m try­ing to es­pouse is that com­ic books have grown up. There’s still so much room for light­ness and jol­li­ty, and they still take ad­van­tage of the more ab­surd (see Manhattan Projects for an in­cred­i­ble ex­am­ple of this). Ultimately though, comics have al­ways been a re­flec­tion of so­ci­ety and the is­sues peo­ple face. X‑men was es­tab­lished as a so­cial com­men­tary on prej­u­dice in the com­mu­ni­ty, whether some­one is fac­ing racism, ho­mo­pho­bia, or any form of big­otry. I grew up in­spired by the strength of char­ac­ter shown by Archangel, Storm, and Rogue. It was amazing.

Recently, how­ev­er, a whirl­wind of con­tro­ver­sy has been en­velop­ing DC comics. As a re­sult of the con­tin­u­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of the char­ac­ter, this June was to have 25 al­ter­nate cov­ers, all fea­tur­ing the Joker. One of these vari­ants, Batgirl #41, was met with a num­ber of com­plaints. The cov­er has since been pulled at the re­quest of the artist, Rafael Albuquerque, as a re­sult of the fall­out from the rather heat­ed dis­cus­sion cre­at­ed over the art­work. As ever on the in­ter­net, peo­ple have been quick to form opin­ions, and a de­bate has erupt­ed over whether the cen­sor­ship was valid or not.



Now, hav­ing seen the of­fend­ing cov­er, it seems the in­spi­ra­tion for the cov­er is quite clear­ly based on The Killing Joke, an in­cred­i­ble (and in­cred­i­bly dark) take on the ori­gins of the Joker writ­ten by the rather ec­cen­tric Alan Moore from 1988. It’s an ab­solute­ly icon­ic tale, and so­lid­i­fied the twist­ed per­son­al­i­ty of the char­ac­ter. In this sto­ry, it’s im­plied that Barbara Gordon, for­mer Batgirl and daugh­ter of Commissioner Gordon is sex­u­al­ly as­sault­ed by The Joker. It’s still de­bat­ed to this day, af­ter even al­most 30 years. I’m of the opin­ion that leav­ing it open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion is much bet­ter than out­right defin­ing any­thing, since that in­spires dis­cus­sion, some­thing I com­plete­ly en­cour­age. However, the al­lu­sion to this sex­u­al as­sault is the real is­sue with Batgirl #41. People have com­plained that it’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate with the cur­rent tone of the se­ries as it’s been es­tab­lished in the last year. I’ve read Batgirl, and it’s fan­tas­tic. As a huge com­ic book fan, I’ve been ex­cit­ed for such an artis­tic meet­ing of the cur­rent, in­cred­i­bly well-written run, and one of the most icon­ic scenes in the character’s his­to­ry. Now, that’s not go­ing to happen.

There’s not a con­crete an­swer to this re­al­ly. An in­te­gral fea­ture of art has al­ways been to chal­lenge peo­ple and their ideas, no mat­ter what the sub­ject mat­ter. There’s still this idea that com­ic books are for chil­dren, much like video games, when the fact of the mat­ter has been that it serves an au­di­ence that spans every gen­er­a­tion, from child to aged grand­par­ent. Comic books are for every­one, and as a medi­um, they are just as valid to pro­vide a cre­ative out­let as any oth­er. For artists to feel as if they have to cen­sor them­selves is a dan­ger­ous prece­dent. It’s not an out­right call for peo­ple to stop writ­ing about “sen­si­tive” sub­jects, but if peo­ple are less in­clined ex­press them­selves to due to a back­lash they fear, then all it will do is sti­fle cre­ativ­i­ty and expression.

People should be chal­lenged, peo­ple should be con­flict­ed. It’s healthy for the mind, and it should be en­cour­aged. If you don’t like some­thing, talk about it. Creating an en­vi­ron­ment where such ideas can nev­er be talked about though, that’s dangerous.

(Disclaimer: The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the author’s own and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent those of the staff and/or any con­trib­u­tors to this site.)

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John is a tat­tooed as­tronomer. He hearts games, movies & beardy mu­sic. He also bakes a lot and looks through tele­scopes less of­ten than he’d like. Helps with GamerGiving char­i­ty stream­ing as well!

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