Tuesday, 31 March 2015

THAT BATGIRL COVER. Not an educated, but considered, opinion:

Not an educated, but considered, opinion:

As the furore over the controversial Batgirl cover finally breathes its last, and its final death throes have more an air of resignation than violence about them, I wish to rather cruelly de-fibrillate this beast and parade its carcass across the pages of the internet to the same weary faces that were glad to see the back of it in the first place.

The subject of this cover, or rather the reference this cover pertains to, is of course fraught with very sensitive and dare I say, difficult matters to address directly, and therefore succinctly, but I'll have a go.

Having been a comic reader for over 35+ years I have experienced them in many different incarnations, styles and representations. When comic shops were dark, dusty, smelly places manned by Ygor like sub-humans is where my tales begins, which is a world away from the shining bastions of geek culture that they represent and embody today. In the days even before Pokeio and YiGiMon, in the days before PS1, let alone PS4, when games were loaded onto your computer with machine code via an audio tape at the success rate of about 1 in 4; THIS was MY universe.

Almost a self-fulfilling prophecy; my favourite character is and always has been the Hulk. Looking back I could not have seen just how much a prophetic choice this was. A thoughtful and intellectual scientist, whose life and relationships are marred by the childlike, misunderstood brute who wanted to be either loved or simply left alone by humanity, and who is the manifestation of his own extreme emotions.

Violence is not a new thing in comics. In fact it was probably what drew me to them with such enthusiasm in the first place. Watching Hulk SMASH the shit out some robot, or slug it out for 10 pages with the Thing simply filled me with joy.

Bob Laytons Iron Man #123-#124 sees Whiplash and Blizzard put through a wall at the end of a billiard table in an epic fight in a casino with the red and gold Avenger…. The panels were visual Prozac to my little neonate mind; which overflowed with whimsy and nonsense alike.

The Heavy Metal Comic/Magazine was lush with sumptuous sci-fi and fantasy art and full of very graphic violence and sexually explicit imagery; my first taste of ‘sex, drugs and rock n roll’ in a comic book format.

Call me old fashioned but I have always seen violence portrayed against women as less acceptable than against men, and not just that biologically innate sense of outrage that violence against women evokes, but even in the simple context of the fictional characters in comics.

Marshal Law was a masterpiece of violence from Pat Mills and Kevin O,Neill which had a Judge Dreddesque protagonist on the trail of a serial killer/rapist. It had a rape scene in one issue that shocked me, and rightfully so. She (the victim) was portrayed in the comic as a real person. One that had been introduced in earlier issues and who the reader had built a relationship with, and one who I dare say I had a thing for. Yes, Yes, David had a crush on comic book and cartoon characters so what? None more so, I might add, than Diana the acrobat from the D&D cartoon series of the 80s, but I digress. To see this rape, this fatal rape no less, portrayed in Marshal Law shocked me and upset me. Did I…? Would I want this comic banned? No. I was reading a story. A fictional story… and my reaction made me feel very vulnerable and very human.

Alan Moore’s masterpiece From Hell, which retells the story of the Whitechapel Murders, follows the machinations of the infamous Jack the Ripper in a work, which I think deserves one day, to be part of the literary curriculum in schools. The violence is gruesome and in context and is perpetrated against women and is truly horrific as anyone who is familiar with the history and the legend that surrounds it, will know.

Even She-Hulk’s brutal beating at the hands of Red Hulk in King-Size Hulk #1 made we wince more than once. After humiliating her, he chokes her into unconsciousness. As she is losing consciousness, he whispers he could kill her at any time… The threat stays with She Hulk and terrifies her even during her civilian moments. Very powerful stuff. But would I want it banned? No. I had read a story. A fictional story. And I felt its repercussions even after I had closed the pages. I hated Red Hulk for what he did. For making one of my favourite Marvel Characters feel that way. And again ‘yes’, I have a thing for She Hulk.

I want to 'feel'... I want evocative fiction and art. I want my emotions to affirm my life experience. The very fact the Batgirl cover was actually pulled from production is truly terrifying in the precedent it sets, as our course is pulled ever closer to the destination of Orwellian distopia. The image on the cover alludes to an event in the DC universe that happened over 25 years ago. I personally did not even make the connection when I first saw the cover. Perhaps because I wasn't looking to be offended?

I've heard some absurd arguments. Let me paraphrase what seems to be the most salient:
'The current Batgirl title is read by teens and because of this it is inappropriate to use this image on its cover.'

Ok. Lets address this complaint. I will be as impartial and honest as I can be. The cover itself is not explicitly violent or sexual, but its theme is dark and menacing. It relates to a fictional event within comics over 25+ years ago in which the Joker sexually assaults Barbara Gordon. Many comic readers are aware of the event but not all have read the actual Killing Joke in which it was published. Many readers and comic collectors will not and did not immediately get the reference to the Killing Joke when they first looked at the cover. Myself included. The current Batgirl comic is rated as a Teen+ comic book which would suggest 16+ year olds read it, or rather should read it, or at least this is the suggested minimum age demographic for this publication.
Are you seriously going to tell me that this cover. This COVER! is unsuitable for a 14+ year old audience who according to their age should not even have read the Killing Joke? Ironically less than two shelves away from this cover, there will probably be reprints of the Killing Joke which is suggested for mature readers, but which is quite obtainable by a  comic book fan of any age entering a comic book boutique. Yes. It happens with DVDs, it happens with computer games, and it happens with comics too. Younger audiences buy material that it considered unsuitable for their age group.
But regardless of this to suggest that this cover is a bad, corrupting, unsuitable image for young adults says more about the people making these accusations than it ever could about the cover image, or its creator, or its publication.

I've even heard apologists argue that: Oh it would have been a more fitting cover for Gail Simone's run on the title, but not for its current run or readership.....
What the fuck has that got to do with anything? It is a Teen+ comic book. Even if nine year olds get there hands on it, then that's not the fault of the publisher. And even if a nine year old did read it, they could in no way make any reference to the cover image and the events in the Killing Joke unless... UNLESS... they had somehow gotten their hands on a copy of the Killing Joke as well, which is way outside the licensed readership. You see how ridiculous this all starts to get? We are ultimately not even talking about the image on the cover being offensive but the reference it makes, to an event in the pages of a stand alone publication called the Killing Joke. The image in itself is no more offensive than any other of  Batgirl's previous issues.
Batgirl taking selfies in a crowded women's toilet? I find it ridiculous... Not really offensive... I might find it fun if I was a 17 year old teenager. Would I ban it? No.
Two armoured chicks on Motorcycles wielding swords as Batgirl Jumps between them. The violence here is much more palpable. The risk of harm much more distinct. But its dynamic. I quite like the cover. Would I ban it? No.
But then why would we want some cretin no more qualified than us to look at every cover of a comic book and sanitise it because they 'dont like it' or 'dont find it suitable'? Remember it was a VARIANT COVER anyway! It references nothing that happens in the actual comic. Variant covers showcase other artists depictions and work, and their portrayals of events or characters within the given Universe that they are set.

Like a blind and enraged Samson these cretins would rather pull the Temple down upon themselves and everyone else... and feel content... and perversely empowered.

It is so much easier to destroy than it is to create. It empowers people thinking they can tear something down, simply because it offends them. The truly horrendous and unforgivable thing is that most of the time it doesnt offend them, but all they see is the opportunity to empower themselves.

Should we ban this:

or this:

These pieces of art make reference to the Rape of the Sabine Women. An episode in the legendary History of Rome. Should we censor? Who should be allowed to look at these?

Or this:

The Rape of Prosepina. A sculpture which references the abduction of Prosepina by Pluto the God of the Underworld.

I have said it above, please read it one more time:

'Like a blind and enraged Samson these cretins would rather pull the Temple down upon themselves and everyone else... and feel content... and perversely empowered.

It is so much easier to destroy than it is to create. It empowers people thinking they can tear something down, simply because it offends them. The truly horrendous and unforgivable thing is that most of the time it doesnt offend them, but all they see is the opportunity to empower themselves.'

I ask you in all earnest, will you not think for yourselves? Do not let an hysterical narrative sway your mind to banning works or expressions of art simply because someone is offended, for here open the gates to Hell...