10 Final Thoughts on the Batgirl/Joker Controversy

OK folks, this is pretty much all I have left on the Killing Joke/Batgirl #41 variant-cover debate:

I’m writing this because it would be impractical to answer every comment — good or bad — at this site or on social media. I’m also not inclined to do it. The pieces I’ve written so far stand for themselves and I’m not going to re-argue them.

However, there have been accusatory comments that misrepresent my point or at least misunderstand it, so here goes:

1. My original story can be found here.

2. The follow-up — in which I make the point that you can still have a twisted, violent Joker without the exploitation of The Killing Jokecan be found here. (You may not consider The Killing Joke to include sexual exploitation. I do. We can agree to disagree.)

3. My Batbook of the Week column this week, which coincidentally features comments by artist Cliff Chiang about his Killing Joke-themed Batgirl cover, can be found here. I strongly argue that Chiang‘s cover is a triumph of heroism and the human spirit. This is the cover that should have stood as Barbara‘s final victory over that dark chapter.

4. My arguments against The Killing Joke do not mean I don’t like adult, mature-themed Batman stories. Far from it. If you’re taking that away from this, you’re not reading this properly. In fact, in the first story I make the point that Batman: Year One is perhaps the best Batman story ever. I’m also proud of the original Dark Knight Returns poster that is framed on my wall. I also understand that “bad things happen to good people.” Don’t take my criticism of this one subject and say I’m indicting an entire genre of comics stories, Batman or otherwise.

5. I was accused of celebrating Rafael Albuquerque and DC‘s decision not to publish the variant because a friend congratulated me on Facebook. I’m not celebrating. I agree with the artist’s decision and with DC‘s decision. I never actually called for the cover to be pulled but I do agree with the move. Nevertheless, I’m not dancing over this.

6. There’s a fine line between censorship and sensitivity. That is, to coin a phrase, a never-ending battle. In this case, I came down on the side of sensitivity. Tomorrow, I might call out something in a different context as censorship. There are no absolutes. Context is everything. You could write dissertations on the difference and I’m sure people have. I just know how I feel in this case.

7. This decision — or any arguments in favor of it — does not mean that freedom is dead. Freedom lives because we get to debate and argue and make points and counterpoints. Just because a point of view on one issue leads to this kind of decision, it does not mean this is the end of freedom or creative expression. Again, there are no absolutes.

8. Connecting my point of view to Wertham and The Seduction of the Innocent is way off base. I cheered the end of the Comics Code. I’ve run excerpts of Wertham-bait at this very site. Wertham was a wrong-headed charlatan who provoked congressional panels and threats of state-sanctioned censorship. Criticizing this image and The Killing Joke is a far, far cry from that.

9. Some people have made the bizarre suggestion that I’d called for The Killing Joke to be banned or, at least metaphorically speaking, burned, locked away in some vault or taken from people’s homes. Untrue and laughably so. That’s absurd. I just happen to think it’s an unnecessarily mean-spirited story and don’t like the outsize influence it’s had for nearly 30 years. There are much better Batman stories out there. If you want to buy it, own it, read it every night, whatever, knock yourself out. My dislike isn’t an attack on your liking it. I never criticized fans who like the story. That’s their taste and their right, just as it’s my taste and my right to criticize.

10. Feel free to continue to comment. Just keep it clean and no-name calling, please. No need to be uncivil.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Between your posts and the one made by Comic Book Resources (http://www.comicbookresources.com/article/the-mission-the-continued-abuse-of-barbara-gordon-dcs-batgirl-and-a-publishers-spine), I thought I’d throw my 2 cents in.

    I think this whole situation has been blown way out of proportion. If someone has never read BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE (it’s over 25 years old), I can somewhat understand their dislike of this cover in light of the recent changes made in BATGIRL with the new creative team and direction. Personally, I loved the cover (it is the VARIANT edition, not the regular cover after all) and really dug THE KILLING JOKE storyline. Peeps can choose to buy it or not. No one has a gun to your head to make you buy comics. The variant simply harkens back to what happened in the past between the two characters. I love Batgirl in almost all her forms (Old School, Batman ’66, Oracle & Batgirl’s current incarnation thanks to the new creative team. I wasn’t a fan of the Simone stories or the character’s costume).

    That being said, the cover may invoke a reaction (good or bad) but the need to create a campaign to take it down was just ridiculous. I wished people care more about a do-nothing congress, our crumbling infrastructure or dwindling environment than they do about a cover that, at the end of the day, didn’t do anything more that other covers in the past have done.

    Case in point, Wertham used the comic cover showing one hand holding a bloody axe while another held the beheaded woman’s head by her hair as proof that kids were being corrupted. This is CRIME SUSPENSTORIES #22 from EC COMICS – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/a5/79/b7/a579b7c06e691f1ee47db92527eb2d2c.jpg. Pretty gruesome cover, granted, especially for kids to see but that Albaquerque cover was nowhere near as bad as that EC Cover. What about the Mignola cover from DEATH IN THE FAMILY where we see a bloody Robin on the cover indicating his death in that very issue (http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Batman_Vol_1_428). Where was the outrage then (especially when Robin’s crowbarred to a pulp and locked inside a warehouse where he and his mother are killed by a bomb)? It was nowhere to be found because it was non-existent. People called in to request that they kill him! A promotional stunt created by the same comic book company that allowed this cover to be created to begin with.

    Tens and tens of internet trolls helped Albaquerque “decide” to not allow the cover to run — since he obviously runs DC COMICS. He & DC caved in over nothing. It should be the decision of the publisher solely, not internet trolls, who have the right to decide what to print and what to trash.

    We live in a hyper-sensitive PC America were people have to fake apologize to a vast, nameless horde to calm their twits and facebookings down over something the supposed offending party said or wrote. This happens all the time. Not only in comics but in Hollywood and other media. And for what? To not hear them complain? Frankly who give a flying @#%$. If you don’t like something, that’s fine. But I don’t feel you’re entitled to an automatic apology because your feelings got hurt.

    Joan Rivers was a perfect example of someone who did not cave in to the Public’s need for apologies regarding what she said about the three cleveland women who were kept prisoner & sexually assaulted for many years. Regarding her home bedroom, Joan joked on live TV that, “I’m still in the same stupid little room, I mean, those women in the basement in Cleveland had more space. I mean, it is just the worst.”

    Upon online uproar regarding he joke, she said, “I’m a comedienne. I know what those girls went through. It was a little, stupid joke. There is nothing to apologize for. I made a joke. That’s what I do. Calm down. Calm the #$%2 down. I’m a comedienne. They’re free, so let’s move on.’’

    She shortly joked to TMZ, “They got to live rent free for more than a decade” and “I bet you within three years one of them will be on ‘Dancing With the Stars’” and “One of them has a book deal. Neither are in a psych ward. They’re OK.”

    She was just telling a joke. Nothing more. Just like the Variant Cover is just a variant cover, nothing more.

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    • I’ll only correct a factual point: There was TREMENDOUS outrage over Jason’s death. It made national news. Not the cover per se, but the death and call-in stunt brought an avalanche down on DC.

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