In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, a controversy has brewed over the past day on whether DC Comics was right in their decision to pull a planned Batgirl variant cover. The cover was going to be offered in small amounts via your typical variant cover artificial scarcity incentives aimed at both retailers and collectors, in celebration of The Joker’s 75th anniversary as a character.
Most of you have heard the story already. I’ll try to keep the setup short.
Contributing artist Rafael Albuquerque recently previewed his proposed variant cover to Batgirl, an homage to Moore’s Killing Joke from ’88, depicting a creepily casual Joker apparently holding the captive Batgirl hostage at gunpoint. The image garnered cheers from some fans as well as some pretty heated backlash from the Twitter-verse under the hash tag #ChangeTheCover. Some apparently thought the cover too demeaning to women. Some may have thought it too contrasting to the lighter-yet-more-empowered, and arguably more socially aware, take on the character from current writer/artist combo Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart(covers, layouts?)/Babs Tarr(interiors). Cameron has been vocal on Twitter about his displeasure with the proposed cover, and has asserted the creators’ right to veto an image they see as at odds with their goals for the character. DC announced a short time after the preview went viral that the variant cover idea had been pulled. Statements of agreement with the move followed, by almost all creators involved.
I’m not one to get that interested in Twitter debates. But this one has actually raised some thought-provoking questions for me. Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way: I am a supporter of the move to aim Batgirl squarely at a new audience by employing a more youthful, vibrant tone. I like that she crusades for social justice. I like that they’ve elevated her from the “just another sad sack sidekick from Gotham” status by means other than making her more…let’s just call it more New52. I like that they at least make an effort at relevance with social media, even if it comes off at times as a sad attempt by 30- and 40-somethings to appeal to a new 14-year-old target demographic. I like that they’re trying. I like that not all comics are written for old dudes like me.
I’d like to think that DC comics is simply parroting the creator’s wishes: That shows at least some interest in their product as art, doesn’t it? Or does it show the opposite? Are they simply pandering to a vocal minority on Twitter to ensure that demographic’s sensibilities aren’t damaged, and, if that is the case, is it a bad thing? Or is it a vocal majority that is in question, and the business of comics is, rightly, to sell comics to the majority? Should the percentages even play into the publisher’s thinking? Pandering to a vocal minority by vetoing one artist’s input in favor of the others is bad, right? We all complain when we see editorial seemingly dragging creators off on some profit-motivated crossover event tangent or status quo mixup…unless the crossover is good. When should editorial play the “guiding hand”?
The most interesting aspect of the debate, to me, is the issue of creator control over the character it raises. What do you say to the writer and artist of the book when they call for support for their “right” to veto the cover in question? Does the Brenden/ Cameron/ Babs combo get a veto on variant covers they don’t like, just by virtue of being the current creative team on the character? What if they disagree? Does the letterer get a vote? How about a half a vote for the colorist, one quarter for the letterer? What if Cameron Stewarts’ feeling on the cover is at odds with, say, Carmine Infantino’s (rest his soul)? Even if the creators all (eventually) agree with the hash tag crusade, does that make it better? And does the new editorial direction for DC, supporting individual tone for individual books and creative teams, mean the Batgirl character isn’t a larger, collaborative effort any more?
You want my opinion, it’s this: I like the variant cover. I think it’s perfect for a variant. I like the idea it depicts the Joker not giving a shit about hash tag campaigns, social awareness, and Batgirl’s newly empowered status on the other side of town. That’s kinda his thing.
Maybe it’s insensitive of me, but I don’t think the content of the image justifies the outcry, either. I can conceive that it may invoke pain, or even terror in some that view it…but get ready to lose if you’re trying to satisfy a “no painful memories” image criteria. I like when artists’ visions are supported, but I don’t like the idea of DC bending over for every hashtag brigade…believe me, we’ll all be sucking saccharine shortly if that’s the case. And I think comics, especially when it comes to limiteds and variant covers, should always leave a little room for subversiveness.
I bet they even have a regular cover that’ll sell, like, 10% more than the variant.
I’d like it if the current creators involved would realize that their time on the throne is (hopefully) temporary, their efforts are collaborative, and their visions for the character are up to subjective interpretations. I feel they owe it to their fellow creators, at times, to allow diverse visions of these characters, even ones directly at odds with their “message”, to peek in on them every once in a while. I’d like these creators to remember the chances the publisher took with their own work. And, especially in the cases of variant covers, one-shots, and guest appearances by other creators involving characters that have been around longer than most of them have been alive, I think creators should not be so territorial…you know, like not shitting all over other creators’ work because of some perceived slight to their own.
I’m not asking creators to dilute their vision by committee at every opportunity, or allow other creators to steal their time or effort. How about they just give that little nod every once in a while, and maybe even be supportive, even if their vision is at odds with it? It makes comics more diverse, open to a larger audience, and just plain better.
“This 1-in-400 variant cover image isn’t Cameron Stewart Batgirl enough for my Cameron Stewart Batgirl comic” is a kinda petty statement, in my opinion.