Friday, March 20, 2015

The Menace of the Joker, Part One

If you follow comic-book news, you know this week's hullabaloo has been about the variant cover to Batgirl 41 by Rafael Albuquerque.

The controversy is roughly two-fold, maybe three.  First, the cover is is graphic departure from the general editorial direction the Batgirl comic has been going, which is to say de-aging her several years into more of an older-teenager/young adult (making her more like Marvel's popular Ms. Marvel).
It also is, by the author's own admission, a homage to the graphic novel The Killing Joke, which by pure coincidence I had checked out from the library and had re-read this week.  A lot of people love The Killing Joke and it was one of DC's most successful forays into breaking into mainstream literature with a graphic novel.  A lot of people really dislike The Killing Joke because it represented a "girls in refrigerators" moment before the term had been concocted: Barbara Gordon, a longtime Bat-sidekick, is maimed and sexually assaulted for the sole purpose of creating character development for three male characters.
So when the cover was announced, a lot of people howled for a lot of reasons, and DC announced that the cover was cancelled.  Which caused a lot of other people to howl.

Who's to blame for this?  DC Comics, obviously.  For oh so many reasons.  Their legacy of "girls in refrigerators" storylines at the forefront of this.  They attempted to salvage Barbara Gordon by making her a utility character in "Oracle," who was a voice in the ear of Batman or one of the Birds of Prey or the Justice League.  There was a lot of support for the notion of both a physically-challenged heroine in a world of superhumans and someone who could continue to reflect loss and sacrifice in a genre that tends to have legions of empty graves.

Then in the ham-handed "New 52" ret-con Barbara Gordon's mobility is restored, for no other reason except to sell comic books.  Forget there were other women in the Bat-family with their own books, or other people waiting out in the wings (except when there wasn't.  The continuity hash of the New 52 where Barbara Gordon has her entire backstory intact but the Huntress is from an alternative Earth makes my head hurt.)  But in any case, after a good run where they riff constantly about her history with the Joker, they make a radical course change for the same reason they always do--a desperate attempt to keep up with Marvel Comics.

A DC editor heard somewhere that young people take selfies.  They made the same reference in a Teen Titans cover.
And then some well-intentioned but hapless artist takes the current Batgirl and her problematic literary history and hit "Frappe'."  Chaos ensues.  Reap what you sow, DC Comics.

In what is becoming a long blog rant, I'm going to break this up into two parts: this critical excoriating of a comic book publishing house and my only semi-related RPG thoughts on the Joker.  That's in Part Two.

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