Martha Thomases: Killing The Killing Joke
Another week, another kerfuffle. This one, involving a variant Batgirl cover for the “Joker Month” promotion at DC comics, is actually a little bit more interesting than most.
(Please note: I actually find most of these events interesting, which is why I write about them so frequently.)
In this case, the usual knee-jerk assumptions don’t apply. Artists were assigned to create a cover that featured the title character (in this case, Batgirl) and the Joker. The assignment was made, not by each series’ editor, but the marketing department. Rafael Albuquerque, the artist, decided to create an image that paid homage to one of his favorite Joker stories, The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.
I really like that story. There are people who have issues with it, and I understand their concerns, but, to me, it is a phenomenal meditation on the nature of madness, and those who have to live with it. I wasn’t happy about how the rest of the DC editorial office reacted to the show, deciding that Barbara Gordon was the only superhero ever to suffer an injury (or death) that wasn’t curable.
(Side note: I did like the way Kim Yale and John Ostrander took what I considered to be an unfortunate editorial decision and made Barbara stronger than ever, as Oracle. I still resented that Batman’s back could be fixed, but not Barbara’s.)
Anyway, all this changed with The New 52. Barbara Gordon can walk again. Barbara Gordon can do the kind of amazing acrobatics that require usable spines and lots of training and talent. More recently, the editorial office and creative team decided to recast the character as younger, hipper, and more girl-friendly.
The creative team was not happy with the Joker cover. A lot of fans of the new series, perhaps too young to have read The Killing Joke, were not happy with the Joker cover. Rafael Albuquerque, when made aware of the reasons for the controversy, was not happy with the cover.
Finally, DC withdrew the cover. And that’s where this gets interesting.
There was also a lot of saber-rattling about censorship, which shows how little the public understands the word. The creative intent of the people creating the comic book was not supported by the variant cover, and they didn’t want it used. The only people who thought the cover was a good idea were those in marketing.
I do a lot of marketing work. I’m not opposed to marketing. That said, no one defending free speech has ever asserted that the needs of the marketing people should determine artistic expression. If anything, those of us who appreciate artistic freedom (even of work we don’t like) tend to prefer marketing people to butt out of editorial decision.
During the run-up to withdrawal, there were a lot of tweets and Facebook postings and other internet conversations about the issue. And, as so often happens on the Internet, some people got verbally abusive and threatening and there was name-calling and unpleasantness. DC alluded to this in their press release.
If you read the comments about this on the Comic Book Resources article (and I only read the first page or so, because I have a life, but not so much of one that I could stop thinking about the comments that I read), you’ll notice something unusual. After lots and lots of discussion about censorship and artistic integrity, the commenters are horrified that someone would threaten the artist. How could a difference of opinion about a piece of artwork justify such behavior? Isn’t the terrorism of an Internet threat more violent than the image in question?
Except no one was threatening Rafael Albuquerque. The threats were directed to those people (most often women) who didn’t like the cover. How could a difference of opinion about a piece of artwork justify such behavior?
It would be lovely if those who like the variant cover, who thought that it was horrible of the “social justice warriors” to threaten an artist, would 1) apologize to those they wrongly accused of making threats and 2) perhaps direct their outrage to those who actually do make threats, even if they agree with them otherwise.