Variant Comic Book Covers
Variant covers have been the norm in the comic book industry since the late 80s. And with today’s collectors turning to their beloved comics for investment, often times these low print variant books are highly sought after with the anticipation that they will fetch a pretty penny one day. When DC Comics announced a pretty dark and graphic variant cover for its “Batgril” series recently, all hell broke loose. Before DC knew it, both social and traditional media was engaged in a fierce debate.
Rafael Albuquerque’s Cover Art
The artwork in question depicts a menacing Joker, smearing his trademark grin—and with gun in hand—across the face of a highly distraught Batgirl. The cover was in line to be one of 25 variants that DC Comics had planned to release this June to commemorate the Joker’s 75th anniversary. The publisher, however, has since announced it was pulling this particular variant of Batgirl no. 41 at the request of Rafael Albuquerque, the artist who created the piece.
The Power of Social Media
A loud and vocal minority of editorialists and fans were highly concerned that a strong female heroine was being depicted as helpless and potentially the victim of sexual assault. A fiery debate about sexism and free speech followed suit.
Using social media, specifically Twitter and Tumblr, to garner as much attention as possible, they insisted publisher DC Comics to “#changethecover.” Mean while, fans and supporters of the cover pushed back, postulating that free speech would be trampled upon should the cover be pulled.
A DC spokesperson explained to CNBC that the creative teams behind their titles are not really involved in developing variant covers. Rather, the editorial group at the company is directly responsible for devising variant cover campaigns.
Those in favour of the “Batgirl” cover maintained that the it is based on one of DC’s most important story lines—which when released three decades earlier, did not stir up much of a fight. The story line in question is Alan Moore’s iconic 1988 Batman tale, “The Killing Joke”, where the Joker shoots and paralyzes Batgirl (a.k.a. Barbara Gordon). Artist Rafael Albuquerque stated that his cover was paying homage to this Batman story.
About the Killing Joke
The Killing Joke won an Eisner Award—the Oscar of comics—for best graphic novel in 1989 and is often regarded as one of the best Batman stories ever told. The story line also redefined Barbara Gordon’s role in the DC universe: After becoming a paraplegic, she reinvents herself and becomes an elite computer hacker called Oracle, who is an indispensable ally to other heroes.
DC did not issue an apology for the “Batgirl” variant cover, but the comics giant did acknowledge the imagery at the heart of the argument.
“Regardless if fans like Rafael Albuquerque‘s homage to Alan Moore’s THE KILLING JOKE graphic novel from 25 years ago, or find it inconsistent with the current tonality of the “Batgirl” books—threats of violence and harassment are wrong and have no place in comics or society,” DC said.