I Like Rafael Albuquerque’s Joker Variant Batgirl Art

Batgirl promo poster; Artist: Babs Tarr; 2014

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.

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Brenda Noiseux

Brenda Noiseux

Community builder, artist, convention organizer, gamer, geek writer @womenoncomics, @Sidequest_BHP. Owner, Bittenby Studios

17 thoughts on “I Like Rafael Albuquerque’s Joker Variant Batgirl Art

  1. Yes yes yes!
    I’m a fan of Alan Moore and of Killing Joke in particular. Honestly, I think the whole story victimizes Barbara not more than murder of Bruce parents victimizes Bruce. We keep seeing flashback to that opera house backdoors again and again, and that’s okay. Cause it’s just okay for a character to have trauma in the past. So you’re absolutely right: the only problem of the cover is that it’s out of line with current mood of the run.

    1. Hi-five, fellow fan! And yes, I’m ok with trauma if it fits the characters and the story and isn’t some sloppy writing move. I wouldn’t have anything interesting to read otherwise!

  2. One thing that strikes me about that cover is that it shows some interesting thing about the people commenting on it.

    First is that you can tell those unfamiliar with TKJ as they miss a lot of the subtext and implications made by that cover regarding what happened and why it evokes such a strong reaction as a result. Second is the marked lack of empathy I’m seeing regarding people pointing out the deeper meaning behind what the cover represents going back to the first point.

    It is a well done piece of art if totally inappropriate for the current Batgirl run. But the fact DC kept pushing for the cover to be darker, harder, grimmer is kind of troubling to me. It makes me wonder what DC is thinking regarding Batgirl or perhaps women in their comics in general. I keep thinking back to the Alan Moore quote when asked about this in TKJ and how the editor was flippant and harsh in regards to Batgirl.

    1. Nobody is missing the references to The Killing Joke.

      But you’re right about the last part.

      1. I only said that because I’ve run into a few who don’t seem to really get it or don’t want to regarding the events in it. Not sure how else to describe that.

        1. Interesting point, Larry. Do you think the conversation about the cover is deterring new fans who haven’t read TKJ, who think “it’s just another cover of a creepy villain with a scared Super, so what’s the big deal?”

          1. I think it is having that affect too, I have no idea how large but I’ve seen it mentioned to me by a people in two places online as well as a friend who doesn’t know much about batman beyond the movies and a few comics they’ve picked up.

  3. I’m glad that this article exists because almost everyone seems to be coming after this cover waay to hard.

    I do disagree about some things. I think the cover actually works because it depicts the incident that links these two characters. The whole concept is Joker’s 75th anniversary so when it comes to Joker and Barbara Gordon, you can’t get past TKJ. And it’s even more important because even after DC rebooted their world and all their characters, they kept the events of The Killing Joke intact.

    I know this book is geared toward teenagers but I think they can handle The Killing Joke. And if they have become big time Batgirl fans, surely they have already researched her and discovered this old tale.

    I will say a good alternate cover would be the reverse effect where Barbara has the hat and gun (maybe a grapple gun) and has Joker under her control. It doesn’t really put Joker over but at least it gives power to Barbara. Too many people think this cover robbed her of that.

    1. Thanks for reading, Riley! I would like to politely challenge your comment on “when it comes to Joker and Barbara Gordon, you can’t get past TKJ”. Why can’t we? The book is over 25 years old, older than some of the readers of the new Batgirl. It feels a little like gatekeeping to me if we say that new readers can’t have their own version Batgirl without all these strings and history attached.

      1. What I mean by that is that it is a part of her history with the Joker. It is an incident that connects them on a deeper level than other heroes and villains who have had only minor encounters with the Joker.

        We have to look at it as part of her story now. Especially since they chose to keep that part of her history intact after the 2011 reboot.

        We have to look at it like we look at (and I’m gonna go comic book nerd here) Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben dying of Superman’s planet being destroyed or the murder of Batman’s parents, moments in a comic book characters life that have grown to define their character and stand the test of time. Retroactive Continuity be damned.

        Of course it is a controversial incident that leaves a nastier taste in one’s mouth than a planet exploding or a child witnessing his parents get murdered but it has, perhaps unfortunately but I don’t really think so, become a defining beat in the story of Barbara Gordon; again, even after her and everyone else’s history was rebooted 4 years ago.

        Now of course that doesn’t mean it should be mentioned and brought up ad nauseum in her comics and I don’t think it is and she has certainly moved past that one incident after all these years. But it’s only being brought up now because DC was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Joker.
        If you think Joker and Batgirl, there will always be that one story in the 80s that links the two.

        1. Don’t you think the death of Uncle Ben and the explosion of Krypton are… incredibly boring, though, at this point?

          Boring + gendered denigration = can we please just move on

          1. Well… I guess my point is being missed…

            I’ll put it this way: You have ‘moved on’ from… let’s say, 3rd grade, and it may have even been boring. But 3rd grade is still a part of your history am I right? It’s really that simple.

            And I’ll leave the gendered denigration talk for someone else

          2. Am I going back to visit 3rd grade every other year?

            No, because that would be creepy.

        2. I’m curious about your views on “history”. In comics there are so many alternate histories, does it really matter if we as a community choose to not constantly acknowledge all of them? I’m since in my ask b/c I’m concerned that it seems to get harder and harder for new fans to enjoy today’s supers without someone saying “well I’ve been reading for 40 years and you don’t know anything about the character…”

  4. Well said. It is a great cover, artistically, but context and target audience is so important. The onous is squarely on DC for this, especially knowing now that they pushed for it to be even creepier than it originally was.

    1. Exactly. I’m so mad at DC for pushing the creepy but shunning the actual audience who would appreciate it.

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