DC’s bungling of the Batgirl #41 variant cover proves it once again.
(UPDATED 4/15/16: I follow up the piece below with an explanation of why The Killing Joke animated feature’s “R” rating is nothing to celebrate. Click here.)
(UPDATED 7/24/16: For 13 JOKER STORIES BETTER THAN THE KILLING JOKE, click here.)
You can argue it’s an Alan Moore masterpiece, with gorgeous Brian Bolland artwork, all you like, but the bottom line is that in the cold, harsh light of decades gone by, The Killing Joke remains the ugliest, most sadistic story in the Batman canon.
Emphasis on the word “canon.”
Because DC and writers and artists galore have proved time and again that they are incapable or unwilling to yank Batgirl out from under that story’s dark shadow of sexual exploitation.
The latest example, of course, is the Rafael Albuquerque Joker Month variant cover for Batgirl #41 and its disturbing allusions to the nastiest chapter in the company’s history:
This is repellent. And not in a “that’s so sick, it’s funny” sort of way. I’m a connoisseur of sick humor. This isn’t it.
(And for all those arguing that the death of Jason Todd was worse, you’re flat wrong. Jason got better, as it were, so that neuters the impact of that episode completely. And the Joker didn’t bother to take off his clothes, take pictures and then put them on giant screens to show his father — after having him stripped naked by demented dwarves.)
For me personally, there’s an inherent irony to all the Internet rage that surfaced when DC released the image on Friday: It’s that (spoiler alert), my pick for this week’s Batbook of the Week is Batgirl #40. And it’s not because it’s an excellent book that joyously celebrates the best parts of Barbara Gordon — which it is and does — it’s because of its marvelous Cliff Chiang variant that pays homage to Prince’s Purple Rain (more on that tomorrow).
In putting that piece together, I also asked Cliff, through DC — which I want to point out was very helpful — about his variant cover for Batgirl #39, because in my mind that image triumphantly reclaimed Batgirl’s power over the brutality of The Killing Joke.
Since I asked those questions under a separate context and before I even knew about the Albuquerque variant, however, it’d be unfair to run Chiang’s comments here. So it’ll all be in tomorrow’s column.
Nevertheless, I expected his cover to be the final word on this ugliness.
I was obviously very, very wrong.
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Argue the merits of how the New 52 was handled all you want. There was good and bad.
But once DC decided to take Barbara out of the wheelchair — a very controversial move at the time, grant you — they had a chance to either erase The Killing Joke from canon or they could have at least buried it. I thought with the wildly fun emergence of Batgirl of Burnside, they had done the latter. But then they go and rub our noses in it again.
Retcons are part of the comics-publishing game and I just wish there were an editor out there who had the courage to say, “This happened in a previous reality and it’s no longer valid in this world.”
And for DC to stick with that.
Hell, if they could do that for, oh, Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, or John Byrne’s The Man of Steel, or Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright, or Geoff Johns’ Superman: Secret Origin, or George Perez’s Wonder Woman, or any of a thousand other stories — like Superman’s marriage to Lois Lane — then they could do it here.
But they won’t. Or won’t anytime soon.
And I’m sick of it.