The story behind the ‘pulled’ Batgirl cover
The new cover of Batgirl #41 has caused a massive stir in the comic book world recently. The cover was to be published alongside 24 other variant covers in June 2015 in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the Joker. The artists rendition, as featured above, has been pulled by DC after the artist himself, Rafael Albuquerque, requested for it not to be used because of the outrage that erupted from fans on Twitter.
There are many theories as to why this variant cover was pulled from being printed, however, I believe the main reason is due to its heavy reference to The Killing Joke, a graphic novel by Alan Moore and, in my opinion as a massive Batman fan and self confessed comic book nerd, one of the best comic books ever created (give it a read if you have a chance, you won’t be disappointed).
The comic features The Joker attempting to prove that all it takes is “one bad day” to break someone’s sanity down into lunacy. The Jokers target for his experiment is our very own Commissioner Gordon, whose daughter, Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) is used as what The Joker believes to be the catalyst to Gordon’s madness. As part of The Joker’s plan, Barbara was shot at point blank range and instantly paralyzed, she was then sexually assaulted and possibly even raped. All of which was filmed and broadcast to Gordon in order to break him.
Apart from the whole situation being disturbing and psychologically scarring for Barbara, Gordon and Batman, the graphic novel also forces Batgirl to hang up her cape almost permanently, and take upon the role of the wheelchair-bound Oracle who aids Batman as his eyes and ears of the city. Batgirl has since been resurrected as a caped crusader in the current ‘New 52’ comic books. Through physical rehabilitation, Batgirl is back in action on Gotham’s streets in her own comic book series.
Why is this variant cover so controversial? Simple. Because it alludes to Barbara’s past, her biggest loss. Having spent the past 3 years settling back into the DC world as Batgirl with writers making a massive effort to move away from the events of The Killing Joke, Batgirl is once again unwillingly plunged back into her past. In portraying the headstrong heroine looking completely broken and vulnerable on the cover of her own self-sustained title, Batgirl’s reputation would be heavily damaged whilst stepping all over her previous achievements.
There are other reasons why this specific cover may have caused a large outrage, which range from the sexual connotations of the image to the display of female disempowerment. This leads to the question of: how this same cover would have been received had Batman been in the same position as Batgirl? Or, alternatively, Superman and Doomsday?
Clearly the heavy connotations of abuse remain, however, due to the history of the characters relationship, the image above isn’t as controversial nor as damaging to Superman’s reputation and respectability as the cover by Albuquerque would have been to Batgirl’s. This is not a case of censorship, as the artist doesn’t want his work displayed: this is simply the right decision for both DC and for Batgirl.