#SaveTheCover vs #ChangeTheCover; What Is “The Killing Joke” and Why Are We So Upset About It?
This week the Internet is abuzz about DC’s controversial cover featuring The Joker and Barbara Gordon. In the red corner we have #SaveTheCover arguing that pulling this design is unfair censorship. In the blue corner we have #ChangeTheCover taking the stand that this is a disturbing depiction of a female hero of which there are few. Should it have been pulled? Is it torture porn? Is it art?
Before we go any further, lets put this cover into context.
The Killing Joke was originally written 25 years ago by Allan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland. What Rafael Albuquerque is depicting in this variant cover is a central plot point that occurs midway through the storyline. Under the guise of a tourist, a villain arrives on the doorstep of Commissioner Gordon. A camera swinging heavily from his neck, he reaches for the doorbell and presses down.
The call is answered not by Jim Gordon, but by his daughter Barbara, AKA Batgirl. As she opens the door the villain on the step fires at pointblank range. He sends a bullet pulsing through her abdomen and into her spinal chord. Barbara now lies paralyzed looking into the face of The Joker. The Joker slowly opens Barbara’s blouse and lifts the camera to his face. We are left to our own imagination to assume what exactly happens to Barbara. All we know for certain is that the images captured by The Joker's camera drive Commissioner Gordon to insanity.
So the question remains: are we offended because this artist’s depiction lacks context or because it doesn’t? The suggested narrative is that a strong female hero character is not only defeated by The Joker, but is subject to aggressive sexual assault and torture. In all likelihood this is a storyline that would not have been released in the present day. No, we do not see outright rape in the original illustrations, but that is a bit of a cop-out in my mind. You may not have said it directly, but you sure as hell made me think it.
What we should acknowledge is that censorship or the purposeful avoidance of an issue because it is sensitive offers no solution. Instead of burying a cover or possibly even a storyline, why not use it to call attention to a burning issue? What this cover created was a passionate dialogue across social networks that would otherwise have been nonexistent.
Did DC miss the mark? Perhaps. Not because they published the artwork in the first place, but because they failed to encourage the direction of the dialogue to be one that embraces an issue and raises awareness towards it. The point of a hero is to erect change for the betterment of society. Sometimes a hero is not one person, but a network that comes together and throws light onto darkness we would rather ignore. Bottom line? If you made me think it, you sure as hell better make me talk about it.
What do you think about the controversy? If you were DC what would you have done?
- Kristen Johnson