This past week, a new controversy occupied geek culture and spread out into the mainstream for a few brief opinion pieces. In the coming months, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Batman’s arch-nemesis The Joker, DC Comics intended to publish each of their titles with an overpriced variant cover featuring the Clown Prince of Crime himself. The planned cover for the current Batgirl series would have featured The Joker with his armed draped around Batgirl, holding a pistol and painting a smile on her terrified face… A clear homage by artist Rafael Abuquerque to Alan Moore’s definitive Joker story The Killing Joke, which is widely considered one of the greatest superhero comics ever published and formed the backbone of the film The Dark Knight.
Unfortunately the decision to offer this stunning, grotesque, extremely effective piece was apparently made over the head of Batgirl’s co-writer Cameron Stewart, who took to Twitter to begin an astroturf campaign called #changethecover, trying to publicly shame his employers into pulling the cover. Between the points when the astroturfing was picked up by so-called social progressives and when the hashtag was completely taken over and locked down by GamerGate, Abuquerque himself made the request to withdraw the cover. Of course, that was not before he and DC Comics were accused of the usual battery of charges: misogyny, rape culture, and other assorted thoughtcrimes against women. Though there has been recent speculation that DC actually groomed this controversy to increase Batgirl's profile among the "Social Justice Warrior" market, apparently unaware that SJWs have been losing every controversy they've been insinuating themselves into while foregoing concern for any real world problems.
There is much that is silly, contradictory, and nonsensical about the accusations that it is misogynistic for DC to put a strong female character like Batgirl in such an extremely disempowered position, which they would presumably never do to its male heroes. One is the fact that actually, yes, they do. People pushing back against the #changethecover campaign have been posting scans of other covers with the Joker disempowering heroes (like Joker holding Robin hostage at gunpoint, or putting his own surgically-removed face onto a tied up Batman, or engaged in a non-consensual dance with a drugged-looking Wonder Woman) or male heroes being disempowered (like Batman getting sexually assaulted by Harley Quinn, or Superman being dead) that have gone without any comparable controversy. Some people have chosen to attack The Killing Joke itself, calling it a disgusting example of the "woman in the refrigerator" trope, in which Batgirl is shot in the spine, stripped, and had photos taken of her assault as nothing more than an accessory to the larger plot to drive Commissioner Gordon insane (who was himself stripped naked and tortured by the Joker, physically and psychologically, which usually goes unmentioned). Besides the fact that The Killing Joke actually subverts the "woman in the refrigerator" trope, others have been pointing out the time that Talia al Ghul raped Batman and conceived a child without his consent, or when The Joker outright beat Robin to death with a crowbar. There appears to be a double-standard where physical and sexual violence against male characters is not only acceptable, but normative, while the same against female characters is not.
One could certainly get bogged down in discussions of sexual violence, male disposability, whether violence against men is evidence against patriarchy theory or evidence that the patriarchy is as injurious to men as to women, and so on, but that is all besides the issue I want to discuss here. My topic of this article is the disturbing attack on artistic freedom, and even art itself, by the new moralists of the political Left.