So that Batgirl/Joker variant cover got pulled, and that’s great. But it’s not enough.
That variant cover was bad. Not because of the art; the artist, Rafael Albuquerque, executed it well, but I’m not going to include it in this post it here because of the content. It was the content that caused a stir across the comics community, from fans to professionals. Albuquerque handled the concerns the cover instigated in a very diplomatic fashion; he requested that DC cancel the variant. Much to the pleasure of the Batgirl creative team (and many others), DC acquiesced. Albuquerque stated:
“My intention was never to hurt or upset anyone through my art. For that reason, I have recommended to DC that the variant cover be pulled. I’m incredibly pleased that DC Comics is listening to my concerns and will not be publishing the cover art in June as previously announced.”
It’s good to see that Albuquerque and the rest of the Batgirl creative team are in agreement about what is and is not appropriate for the current run of Batgirl. Unfortunately, it’s clear that the same cannot be said regarding other decisionmakers amongst the DC ranks. The cover was pulled because the artist requested it be pulled, not because DC realized they had made a mistake.
Batgirl victimized, rigid with fear, tears in her eyes, helpless against the Joker–powerless–that’s not the Batgirl I know. This was not the flawed, courageous Batgirl lining the shelves at comic book shops today. I put my trust in that Batgirl, and in her team. As a reader, as a woman, as a fan who continued to place my faith in Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher and Babs Tarr after the transphobic Daggertype story, I felt my trust had been betrayed. Then I learned that the creative team has little to nothing to do with it. But someone at DC approved that cover.
Creative teams on big two comics rarely have anything to do with variant covers at all. Janelle Asselin speaks to the issue like a true pro; the Albuquerque cover was over the creative team’s head. Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr don’t own Batgirl. They do not make the Batgirl merchandising decisions, not even when it comes to their own title. Variant covers are commissioned and approved without a creative team’s input or knowledge.
Without meaning to, the cover said out loud what the Big Two refuse to–that comics are still not a safe space for women. That female characters still only really exist to be debased. To be broken. To be fridged. To be victimized in order to spur the men in their lives forward. I’m calling out the Big Two because this is an industry issue; DC isn’t fucking up in a vacuum. Unfortunately, it is clear that the effort to be more inclusive is still superficial as far as the top level decision makers in comics are concerned. DC and Marvel can roll out as many female led titles as they want to boost their sales, but in the end, if they only use those titles as platforms to peddle tired, sexist visual and narrative tropes that continue to normalize the debasement of women, the market of female readers will not grow. It will wane.
And as it turns out, DC dictated to Albuquerque to make the cover more extreme. Rich Johnston reported the following:
“I understand, from a number of inside contacts, that the Batgirl Joker variant cover by Rafael Albuquerque that caused so much fuss this week was not the first version of that cover.
The first version was a lot less extreme. It still features Batgirl and The Joker. But there was no gun pointing towards the crotch. No finger in the face. No tears, lipstick smear or extreme distress. Not that it wasn’t creepy, it still was.
But apparently not creepy enough.
Albuquerque received notes from DC Comics, redrew the cover, and it was accepted. Again, none of this came from Batman editorial or creatives, it was a promotional/marketing decision and commission. And one that has now had a few safeguards added.”
Comics are predominantly produced by men and consumed by men… and women, and all sorts of folks across the gender spectrum alike.The Big Two know there’s a market for female readers. They do. So why do they continue to produce comics as if comics are still being made by men for men alone?
“While we don’t have any market research, the eyes don’t lie. If you go to conventions and comic book stores, more and more female readers are emerging. They are starved for content and looking for content they can relate to.”
– Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor-in-chief
The numbers are in, and nearly half of the comic book consumer base is female. It’s not something to be hemmed and hawed over; it’s fact. Women buy comics. Women read comics. And women want content they can relate to. They want creators they can relate to. They want to feel like they can trust creative teams, and the corporations that govern them, to make good decisions as they grow their female readership.
What would instill confidence and rebuild trust in DC? A solid run with no egregious slip-ups that alienate the target audience for female led books, perhaps. Or perhaps an entire quarter without a post on Outhousers Has DC Done Something Stupid Today? I feel like I’m setting the bar so low here you could trip over it.
What do the Big Two need to do better for you to feel confident in their commitment to being diverse and woman-friendly?