The Future Is Here
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​The Real Problems With This Controversial Batgirl Cover

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Hello, my friends and potential food source. Spring is dawning here in the post-apocalypse, with its requisite rain showers, blooming flowers, and of course, the cannibal horselords of Old Sante Fe. Now who wants to talk about how incredibly awful that Joker variant cover of Batgirl #41 is? I sure do!

Under the Cover

Hans A.:

Postman! hope you survived the attack o' de crabs. Sorry about that, I probably shouldn't have let my kids flush those down the toilet here in my time.

You may remember quite a hullabaloo around some joker-variant covers being released, including a Batgirl one being pulled.

Now, personally, I'm not a fan of the cover. I'm surprised it got through editorial- I'm not sure I go as far as SOME of the critics, but it does feel out of character for babs, and just isn't "fun," which -and I'm possibly showing my age here- I kinda thought comics were supposed to be.

On the other hand- there is an increasing feeling that any portrayal of anything "bad" towards a female character is no longer acceptable. I hate the women in fridges easy-writer-button: "hey, let's put Lois/mary-jane/pick-a-gal" in danger and/or rape/kill them! It's cheap and easy. But it can ALSO make for magnificent writing in the right hands, at the right time. Me, personally, I thought Babs became MORE fascinating when she decided to overcome her injury and become oracle (who was unique) as opposed to, bluntly, another cape.

So, where is that line? How do the comics companies correct decades of piss-poor writing towards women in comics while NOT veering sharply towards the opposite, "we can never threaten a woman with danger" 1954 comics-code type extreme?


There's no line. If there was, this stuff would be easy. But it's not, and the constant furor about this subject is proof.

But let me start with this: We're not heading to a "we can never threaten a woman with danger" scenario. Literally every single comic starring a female superhero in it features a woman in danger. They're fighting supervillains. Of course they're in danger. We're in no danger of them not being in danger. What do you think Black Widow's doing over at Marvel, the housework?


So that's not a problem. But there are several problems with the Batgirl #41 cover, including at its most basic, it's a picture of the Joker looking like he's going to sexually assault Batgirl. You may not see it — maybe artist Rafael Albuquerque and DC didn't see it when he drew and they decided to run it — but it's a direct homage to Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, where the Joker takes naked photos of paralyzed Barbara Gordon to torment her father. That's clearly sexual assault even if the Joker did nothing else, and the comic leaves this unanswered.

The image also suggests this by its very content — Batgirl, crying, powerless, and at the Joker's complete physical mastery, evidenced by the way he's touching her. Regardless of what it's an homage to, the tone could not be less appropriate for the current "Batgirl of Burnside" comic, which is fun and not dark and has many female readers, especially young ones. Moreover, it's incredibly sexist — I would hope even the most bitter of woman-hating male comic fans surely have to agree that a male superhero, unless he was a child, would never be drawn crying while held hostage by a supervillain.

Beyond the actual image, the problems stemming from the cover are myriad. The most obvious is, how did DC let this happen? I applaud DC for choosing to cancel the cover — at the artist's request — but it's still insane that this cover was ordered, approved, and going to be printed with no one at DC ever once thinking, "Hey, maybe a cover that directly references the time the Joker potentially raped Batgirl might just upset a few people." Or "Hey, maybe, given that we've let Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr try to make a Batgirl that appeals specifically to young female readers, having a cover where it looks like the Joker is about to rape Batgirl is a bad idea." It's great that DC fixed the problem as soon as they realized it was a problem, but eventually DC Comics needs to get to a point where it can identify these issues and prevent them from occurring in the first place.

The next problem is a bit more subtle: Batgirl, as a female superhero, is being defined by her trauma in a way other male superheroes aren't. Batman isn't obsessed with the time Bane broke his back. Even Jason Todd's gotten over the time Joker actually murdered him. But Barbara? She's haunted by this event, to the point where it came up constantly in Gail Simone's New 52 Batgirl run. This is not a problem male superheroes have, and it's a double standard.


When DC chooses to "celebrate" that moment in The Killing Joke by referencing it in a variant cover — and since variant covers are supposed to be exciting and fun instead of representative of what happens in the comic, "celebrate" is kind of the correct word here — they continue to define Batgirl by a sexist double standard, which is wholly inappropriate for a comic being targeted to female readers, especially young female readers. You can talk about how this cover is just a celebration of The Killing Joke, one of DC's masterpieces, but there's one thing it is not — a good Batgirl story. It's a story where Batgirl is perfunctorily shot and assaulted. Believe it or not, some people consider might that inappropriate material for a Batgirl comic cover. I'm one of them.

The last problem — and the one that makes me angriest, because it involves people being willfully awful to other human beings — is that some idiots are angry that DC has chosen to not publish the cover, but all of their reasons are complete nonsense. Here:

• Rafael Albuquerque has every right to ask DC to not use the cover. He drew it. DC also has every right to pull the cover. It's theirs. People don't have a right to own a cover of Joker looking like he's about to sexually assault Batgirl, no matter how much you may want it.


• If they don't print it, it's not censorship. It may be self-censorship, but it's perfectly legal.

• Even though the cover is a reference to The Killing Joke — although obviously many people feel its presenting an even more disturbing aspect than the actual comic — literally no one is condemning Alan Moore's seminal Batman comic. You can love The Killing Joke and hate this cover.


• Finding the cover gross does not mean you think women are fragile angels who must be protected at all times even in fiction. You know why? It's because it's a goddamn cover. It's not a story, it's a promotional image. And promotional images are supposed to make people want to buy the comic inside.

• And guess what? A cover where the Joker looks like he's going to sexually assault a completely helpless Batgirl makes some people — men and women, myself included — not want to read the comic. If DC, who is in the business of making people want to buy their comics, decided to pull the cover for that reason, it would be nothing other than a reasonable business decision.


But you know what? DC didn't pull the cover because people complained — DC pulled the cover at the artist's request because people were harassing the people who disliked the cover. Those assholes ruined it for themselves, and they have no one but themselves to blame. It's a shame they're too cowardly to do so.


A Long Time Ago

Tom H.:


Corporate synergy introduces possibilities both new and terrifying. So if they did add Star Wars and The Avengers to Once Upon a Time, how do you think they'd portray the lead characters?



Seriously, if OUaT suddenly brought Star Wars characters into the show, I would expect Once Upon a Time to cast Breckin Meyer as Han Solo. That should say enough about that.


Keeping Secrets

James R.:

Dear Postman,

As we both know (and recently saw proof of in Spider-Verse) Marvel's various movie universes exist in the same multiverse seen in the comics and as we've seen in the current Avengers titles that multiverse is collapsing.

My question is, how does the destruction on the multiverse in the comics affect the MCU?

Is it one of the 23 world that still exist? I'm guess they will all be used in Secret Wars so probably not. Was it separated from the rest somehow?

I realize it would be crazy to try an address this in a movie or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D but it is troubling me. I'm not usually one to ask for spoilers from the future but will Marvel ever put me at ease about this?


I feel 100% confident when Secret Wars starts and Battleworld is formed, out of countless Marvel realities, the MCU will not be among them. There are, after all, an infinite amount of universes, and Battleworld has, what — like, 40 different parts of them smashed together? I'm certain the MCU will survive unscathed.

Although, holy shit, if Marvel suddenly stopped making movies immediately after Secret Wars — because the MCU was one of the universes that was destroyed during the event. That would be the most amazing advertisement for the comics ever.


I mean, it would also probably be the stupidest decision in the history of comic companies, but holy hell.


Carol of the Hells

Lisa R.:

Dear Postman:

Thanks for responding to my previous e-mail. I hope you're up to a lively discussion about "The Walking Dead" (sorry!). I loved the most recent episode, "Forget," for many reasons, but it's really Carol and her cookie-baking, gun-stealing, child-threatening ways that have caused me to write. Like many fans (judging from the comments to the recaps of the show), Carol is my favorite character. Much of that is down to the brilliant and sensitive performance of Melissa McBride, and some to the writing of the character. But, for me, and for all her massive competence and bad-assedness, Carol seems to have become a monster, and so I wonder why we fans still are drawn to her.

[Carol is now] somebody who, in the real world, most of us would never admire or identify with. A child killer. A thief who steals weapons. A con artist. And most importantly, someone who will do whatever she believes is necessary to preserve her life and the lives of her group, and who won't usually even expose her plans to the others for a reality check, preferring to rely on her own judgment rather than that of others. If we met someone like that in real life, we would reject her immediately, whatever her motivations were.

I don't think the most likely answer to this argument — that the "Walking Dead" world justifies her actions and thus you can't judge her by the standards of the real world — is sufficient. We live in the real world, not the "Walking Dead" world. We can appreciate why Carol acts as she does, but still recoil from her. But I still find her appealing in spite of everything noted above and, again judging from the comments, other fans do too. I am not sure why. What do you think?


Just because a character is bad doesn't mean you can't like them. In fact, it's often part of any fictional journey — the main character messes up, realizes it, and gets better. Carol has definitely turned into Dark Carol since losing her daughter Sophia, and her callousness has turned her into a badass and one of Rick's major assets. Theres always something satisfying watching a character we love become a badass, especially when she used to be the meek, abusive housewife Carol.

However, if Carol doesn't ever redeem herself, it doesn't mean she can't be fascinating. Just because a character is bad — or outright evil, in some cases — doesn't mean we don't want to see all their adventures. Richard the III is the easiest old example, and Walter White from Breaking Bad the most recent. We like seeing bad people be bad for a variety of reasons. Just because you find them fascinating or entertaining doesn't have to mean you approve of their actions.


Critical Thinking

Brandon H.:

Mr. postman,

I have a short question for you. I read your weekly Gotham write up each week, and it's obvious that you do not like this show at all. So why do you keep watching it?


Uh… I get paid to?

That's the actual answer, but let me ask you one. Why would you want an episode write-up that doesn't actually examine the episode? What are you looking for? Do you really want to just read an exact blow-by-blow of what happened, with no analysis or opinion? If so, just watch the damn episode again. The rest of us want to hold a conversation about it.


For the record, I think Gotham can be pretty atrocious, but I actually enjoy it in many regards. If you want to see what my hate looks like, please check out my recaps of Almost Human. Man, now that's a show I didn't like at all.

Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!