I really like Rafael Albuquerque’s Joker variant Batgirl art.
Albuquerque expertly manages the shadow play in the piece, the casual aggression of the Joker juxtaposed against Batgirl’s terrified stiff body and her eyes, those evocative eyes, that manage to make the viewer an active participant in the piece, sharing Barbara’s horror. I’m a fan of sociopathic serial killer comic book titles; I survived the opening pages of Bedlam and I read Nailbiter, with a tiny voice in my head screaming go darker, go darker! I’m am also a fan of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, since it’s got my favorite version of the Joker, so twisted and dark.
For me, the real issue about Albuquerque’s potential Batgirl variant cover is that it speaks to a violence that doesn’t fit the current Batgirl run. Even Albuquerque himself acknowledges that “the problem is not the cover itself, but the comic where it would be published. A series aimed at the teenage female audience should not have a cover like this.” And he’s absolutely right. When a dad walks into a comic bookshop with his middle school daughter, when a college age woman wants to check out what’s available or when a long time female reader wants to see what this new Batgirl run is all about, having this art on the cover would not do it justice. The targeted young female audience, interested in the fun, young, single Babs in the trendy city vibe of the new run, don’t need, and more honestly, don’t want a callback to her violent alternate story arc past. Those that want a trip to the darker Babs stories, can seek out the Killing Joke or Birds of Prey, but having such an abrupt bait-and-switch is not warranted. Nor does it fit any of the objectives that the DC or the new creative team having been trying to accomplish with Barbara’s current title.
As a fan of the serial killers, I wouldn’t recommend Bedlam–where the haunting issue covers and flashbacks of the “reformed” sociopathic serial killer Madder Red show no mercy to any age, gender or species–to someone I don’t know, who only reads more light-hearted, feel-good fare like The Wicked and The Divine or Scott Pilgrim, because I don’t think they would enjoy it with the same sick joy that I do. If that someone also read Locke & Key, the horror fantasy and often bloody tale set in a New England mansion, it would be a different matter altogether.
It’s completely ridiculous to me that DC would waste the art on a specialized print run to an audience who wouldn’t appreciate it. I don’t think it’s too much to expect that DC Comics understand the different reader preferences in their audience. It’s Product Management 101: understand your customer and their needs so you can make something they will love and rave about. With the number of popular horror and dark titles available, if it’s a matter of making money, why not expose the art to a larger audience, than a variant cover only a few stores will carry? Not only does it not make sense from a target audience perspective, it doesn’t make any dollars and cents.
I am outraged by the fact that Rafael Albuquerque is getting hit from all sides with criticism, instead of praise for this great piece of work from fans who love it, for a mistake that sits squarely on the shoulders of DC. I want him to keep making great art and I want to him to feel encouraged so that he continues to do so.
Ultimately, I think this piece has done what good art is supposed to do; it’s been controversial, it’s affected us emotionally, reinforced the importance of the ongoing discussion about triggers and trigger warnings, and made us take comic book art seriously. Personally, I’m glad that so many people are passionate enough about Barbara Gordon and comics in general that their opinions are being taken seriously. I sincerely hope we can keep up the conversation and continue to learn from each other.