Batgirl, The Killing Joke and Criticism
People much smarter than I have explained again and again why The Killing Joke‘s treatment of Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl is terrible. Sue from DC Women Kicking Ass has written a great piece about it. It’s a story that has nothing to do with her as an active character. She’s used as a tool to hurt the men in her life (her father, James Gordon, and Batman) by getting shot by the Joker which results in her paralysis from the waist down as well as being sexually abused (via sexual torture at best, sexual assualt at worst). This particular scene had been revisited as a flashback again and again and again before Gail Simone turned it into a moment where Barbara was finally in control. In issue #14 of the New 52 Batgirl, Barbara Gordon confronted her trauma and got to reshape it in a way that gave her agency over it.
Barbara is and has always been a survivor. And it was only last year that she finally got an opportunity to tackle her fear head on. So you can understand why this June variant angers a lot of people (myself included):
Yes, we’re back here again. It seems like DC refuses to let her move on from this event and is hellbent on having it define her. The tears in her eyes and sheer terror on her face are paired up with a Joker taken right out of The Killing Joke and it freaks me the fuck out. Not only does it give fresh power to a story that dehumanized Barbara as a tragic prop piece, but it also sends the message that no matter how powerful and kickass a heroine Batgirl is, she’ll always be “crippled” by this.
This is undermining what you’ve been doing with the character since the New 52 started, DC.
It's paved with good intentions, guys. Whether you censor on the far right or the far left, you censor.
You become like Fredric Wertham.
— Patch Zircher (@PatrickZircher) March 13, 2015
Alas, I’m just being a Fredric Wertham according to this tweet by an illustrator under the employ of DC Comics. Dismissal of these critiques as nothing more than censorship is ridiculous and inaccurate! Censorship is examining media with the purpose of supressing it if deemed immoral, political, etc. When people like myself comment on a piece of media, that act is a fundamental part of the engagement that all media is subjected to. That’s how we consume it.
We critics are not supressing the cover. We’re explaining why the cover is harmful in the context of a publisher trying to bring in and retain female readers. We’re explaining why this cover will alienate many readers. We are well within our rights to call for a change, just like DC Comics is well within its rights to ignore us, because that’s how it works.
That’s not censorship. That’s journalism.
In the last few days, criticism has been met with accusations of CENSORSHIP and BULLYING on Twitter lately. It astounds me that the people who take issue with dissenting voices are the same ones who would be taken aback if their opinions and criticisms were thrown into the wind like an old plastic bag down a deserted street. Disregarding issues people have of an image or topic as nothing more than “call out culture,” “bullying,” and “angry internet mobs,” is reductive, condescending, and, quiet frankly, insulting to someone who has to constantly point out racism, islamophobia or sexism in her daily life.
There are vile human beings on the internet, just like in life. How about we parse out legitimate criticism from the vitrol. If you’re too lazy to do that, then that’s probably why you were called out in the first place.