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Thursday, March 19, 2015

An Open Letter regarding #ChangeTheCover

As of the time this is published, indeed as of the time that I write this, I already know it's too late. The artist of the cover to Batgirl #41, under pressure from a mob of neo-Puritanical zealots, has requested that DC not use his artwork for Batgirl #41. I no longer have a dog in this fight, but I refuse to give up completely.

To Mr. Rafael Albuquerque: your cover was fantastic. It upset some people, and that's okay. It was supposed to. It was art, and art is often upsetting. And pleasing. And evocative, scary, titillating. And inspiring. And when it comes to Batgirl, it was inspiring.

Not because, as some complete numpties have suggested, because I as the reader was supposed to identify with the Joker and feel a sense of power over Batgirl. That's, pardon me, fucking ridiculous. How the hell do you seriously suggest that someone identifies with Joker? There's not just something wrong with Joker, there's very nearly nothing right with Joker. Another few mis-wired neurons, and the man would probably not be able to sit up straight or feed himself. Anyone who thinks that the audience is supposed to identify with Joker has something seriously wrong with themselves. And I welcome any accusations of ableism that statement brings.

No, Mr. Rafael Albuquerque, it inspired me because I knew by the end of the story, Barbara would overcome the fear shown in her eyes, and being the character I identify with in the book (that's right, neo-Puritanical zealots, a cis-het-white-dude can identify with a formerly disabled woman) that inspires me. I've had some really dark, really low points in my life, and it was around then that I picked up Birds of Prey for the first time. I'd had no idea what had happened to Barbara Gordon since the tragic events of The Killing Joke, but what I saw was amazing, and I fell in love with the character ever since. A lesser person would have allowed themselves to be relegated to the background, but not Barbara Gordon. She became even more indispensable to the DCU than ever. Seeing her on that cover, I knew she'd overcome her greatest fear: Joker and a gun. Because that's what Barbara Fucking Gordon does.

It's a human character that has one great, paralyzing fear. No pun intended.

I am shamed that you may have received threats and harassment over your commissioned artwork by the comics fans (the official word is you didn't, but I was watching the hashtag. I know what I saw), but I also feel that you're apologizing to the wrong people. I really don't believe it's the actual fans of Batgirl that are giving you grief over this. You had nothing to apologize for.

To Cameron Stewart: You didn't so much throw Rafael under the bus as you drove said bus yourself. And then backed up over him.And then drove for 17 blocks with him stuck to the undercarriage of the bus. Nice job.

Which leads me to DC: You've capitulated to the formless cacophony of people that not only weren't going to buy your product in the first place, but would likely have found something “problematic” with whatever you put out, even if it were a relaunch of Archie Comics where Betty and Veronica realize they don't need Archie, form a relationship with each other, then set out to smash the Patriarchal culture that Jughead reinforces.

I had empathy for you, though, up until now. It hasn't been easy, I know, watching Marvel drag itself out of the financial collapse, dust itself off, and become an entertainment powerhouse whilst simultaneously playing a long game at easing into diversity in a natural way. And you were catching up. It wasn't as fluid or as smooth as Marvel's changes, but it was there. When they stumbled with Thora (a blatantly unlikeable character that's only been positively received among those whose ideology is being blatantly pandered to). But following up Gail Simone's powerhouse writing with cheap-webcomic art and a writer that openly referred to the title as “sjw”? I'm not sorry anymore that it's resulted in accusations of transphobia and reinforcing rape culture.

By editorial mandate, you have undone years of hard work on a character that is very personal to me, and that's a bed I'm content to let you lie in. I was prepared to sit out Cameron Stewart's run and check back in when a new creative team took the lead, but since buckling to #changethecover, I no longer have faith in the creative direction that could possibly be taken. Any risk in storytelling will, going forward, be measured against the possible social media backlash by people that feel no connection to the character or her stories and wouldn't have purchased the final product anyway.

DC, my trust is broken. I'll go back and read through Birds of Prey again. I'll read Gail Simone's run on Batgirl again. I'll go back and read Batgirl: Year One, and even the Cassie Cain and Stephanie Brown stories where Barbara is mentoring them. I'll even go rewatch that painful Birds of Prey TV series for Dina Meyer's excellent Babs, but I'm scared to come back to you now, as it's clear you're not writing for the fans. I'll leave you to your drunk party girl Batgirl and smiley selfie covers. I hear there's a great writer doing some good stuff over at Dynamite with Red Sonja in the meantime.

As for the rest of you: In response to "just how wrong Barbara's tears are", compare that cover to this video. This is probably the most messed up thing I've seen in Batcanon. (Spoilers for Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker)

In conclusion:  The Joker is a messed-up individual. He does things to hurt people to get at other people. Barbara is not alone in this. Tim Drake and Jason Todd were both victimized to hurt Batman.

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