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So DC has been doing this thing lately where they announce variant cover themes for a specific month. June is “Joker” themed, sound cool right? The Joker is such an interesting character and there are all kinds of possibilities an artist can come up with. Some silly, some dark, some even referential.
For those of you not familiar with what a “Variant Cover” is an alternate cover drawn by an artist that does not need to convey the feel of the book, the plot. It is literally a different cover with less copies made for collectors or fans.
So when the June solicits went up we got a chance to look at all the variants. This is the one that stood out.
Deemed offensive by some. Citing “male empowerment” or “Not fitting with the tone of the story” or “Sexual overtones”. Joker is wearing an outfit that is a call back to the famous storyline “The Killing Joke” in which Joker shoots Barbara Gordon in the spine paralyzing her and taking naked photos of her. This moment is in pretty much every “Top 10 Comic Moments” you can find and is seen as a defining moment for Batman, Batgirl, The Joker and comic books in general. As a result a #changethecover started making the rounds putting pressure on DC and its editorial staff to respond.
Cameron Stewart, the writer of Batgirl was also not a fan tweeting out comments citing how this does not fit the tone of Batgirl.
— Cameron Stewart (@cameronMstewart) March 17, 2015
So, we have the creators of the book and the artist himself all agreeing that the cover was inappropriate. There’s no “censorship” here. — Cameron Stewart (@cameronMstewart) March 17, 2015
If you’re concerned about artistic integrity and creative vision – that’s what we’re doing. Keeping the integrity of our book intact. — Cameron Stewart (@cameronMstewart) March 17, 2015
The variant artist Rafael Abuquerque put out a statement:
My Batgirl variant cover artwork was designed to pay homage to a comic that I really admire, and I know is a favorite of many readers. ‘The Killing Joke’ is part of Batgirl’s canon and artistically, I couldn’t avoid portraying the traumatic relationship between Barbara Gordon and the Joker.
For me, it was just a creepy cover that brought up something from the character’s past that I was able to interpret artistically. But it has become clear, that for others, it touched a very important nerve. I respect these opinions and, despite whether the discussion is right or wrong, no opinion should be discredited.
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.
Rafael decided to request that the cover be pulled than have this whole thing dragged through the mud. However there is some controversy about his statement with many believing this being a more political answer than an honest one and that DC was going to pull it regardless. Rich Johnston from Bleeding Cool writes
So the decision here was made far earlier, for different reasons, and had little to do with the social media backlash, and backlash to the backlash that followed. So for people condemning Rafael for “giving in” to social media, that’s not what happened at all.
When Rafael expressed his concerns, the decision had already been made. Internal concern at DC Comics had been expressed, the argument had been made and the change had gone down. But by announcing it to the world in this way, we can encouraged to see DC following the wishes of the artist who drew the piece in question, and not exposing the rift in decision making within DC Comics.
At this point one is asking the question “How would anyone sign off on this in the first place?” Well the variant cover program is commissioned and designed by a department separate to the editorial department. It’s realistic to think that the creative team saw it when we did… on the internet.
My personal issues with this is that it all comes back to the fact that this is a variant cover and that means that the cover is under no obligation to convey a specific “tone” or even the main character of the book. The job was “do a cover with the Joker in it” and in my opinion not only did Rafael nail it, it was the best of the bunch! So just because the variant cover does not fit the tone of the book, well that should be fine. It’s not required to. It’s a cover showing the Joker looking scary, wearing a throwback outfit that is pretty much required if you are referencing Batgirl and if you think this cover is “sexualized” well… I think that says more about you than it does anything else. As long as it’s not overtly offensive and not actually “overly sexualized” like, you know, this. Then a variant artist should pretty much have free reign.
As a result from fan backlash there’s NEW fan backlash over the response to the previous backlash. There is now a “#savethecover floating around and we are getting fun “Fake Variants” like this
— Pac Rat (@Twodeadclerks) March 17, 2015