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 SuperNerdLand.com staff and/or any contributors to this site.)