Monday, May 11, 2015

A Bad Cover for Batgirl

For those few that keep out of the usual circles, a variant Batgirl cover created a lot of fuss. While the illustrator asked for the cover to be pulled, and that request was approved, the cover made for some interesting debates, first over what kind of images should be allowed on covers and then over censorship. While the censorship argument was pretty weak, it did demonstrate the power of the fandom, and that it could be a force to be reckoned with. What was of interest was the debate over what content should be allowed on comics, and how it should be determined.

DC published a variant that was a homage to "The Killing Joke" where the Joker had a frightened Batgirl and was painting a Joker grin on her. When an image of the cover was posted, fan response was fast and usually brutal; a number of feminists were enraged as they saw a woman being attacked just for the sake of a cheap publicity ploy. The cover was eventually pulled at the request of the illustrator when those protesting the cover were threatened with death and worse.

The issue was that Batgirl was helpless, and was subject to the whims of the Joker, and that this was simply unacceptable, especially as it was her comic where the cover appeared. The catch here is that it was one of the definitive hero moments: As a result of the events of "The Killing Joke", DC gained one of its strongest heroines, and one that was able to speak to its handicapped audience in a way that few heroes or heroines have ever done. Batgirl died as a result of that comic to be replaced by Oracle, information broker to heroes and leader of the Birds of Prey. It can be argued that she became stronger through her metamorphosis, and was finally able to step beyond the shadow of the Batman. That was not a minor feat.

While the cover could be seen as an exultation of the Joker and a tribute to how women are degraded in comics in general, it ignores the heroism of Barbara Gordon herself. She survived a harrowing experience in order to become something bigger and more powerful than she had ever been, to step beyond the shadows in which she began. If every hero requires a single event to temper them, to create a metal far stronger than that from which he was originally forged, the savage attack at the hands of the Joker was Barbara's tempering. Without that event, she no doubt would have stayed safely within the confines of Gotham City, forever under the cape of Batman.

Instead, she was forced to look deep within her own shadows, and discover her own strength. She found reserves of strength that she never suspected existed, talents and abilities that had been allowed to fester under the tutelage of someone who preferred to do things himself and while he fostered those abilities he placed limits on them. While she had become a world-class heroine, she had hit a limit. She would never advance further until Batman was forced to retire. The attack by the Joker forced her to step out on her own, and she took off like a proverbial comet. She became a power unto herself, and one of the scariest forces for good in the DC Universe.

The cover should have been seen as a celebration of that, not of the Joker's savagery. It needed to be seen as a snapshot of the moment in which Barbara Gordon became a force to be reckoned with, and the moment form which Oracle arose. Violence against women should not be condoned, and I'm not saying that the act should be forgiven because of the good that was eventually wrought. I am merely saying that we need to recognize the heroism of the moment, especially given an experience from which most women do not recover. They need to be shown that they can recover, that they can become stronger than they were before, and that it does not mean that their lives are over. Barbara Gordon became a hero that day not for overcoming a mere physical handicap, but by overcoming a blow most women do not recover from.

So while I can understand while I can see it could be seen as a glorification of a particular heinous act, as a survivor of domestic abuse myself I can see the heroism of just surviving and then coming back stronger. I saw the variant not as the Joker winning, as he ultimately won nothing from that situation, but as the beginning of Barbara Gordon truly becoming herself. As such I can see the darkness of the picture, the pain and the despair and the gloating of Evil itself, but I can also see light in that tunnel. And while it may be easier to see the darker, we need to remember to look for the light. We need to not forget nor forgive the act of violence that happened, but to also hope that when it does happen that we can emerge just as victorious from our own tempering. 

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