Whatever happened to Freedom of Speech? You know the part of the Bill of Rights we as Americans refer to when we want to win any argument ever, regardless of the fact that it may not even be relevant to our point of view. The issue at hand has affected a form of media I have enjoyed since I was a little kid. Now I understand the way that this article will be perceived is going to be largely based on which side of the fence the reader sits on. That is to say, if you’re an uptight prude you probably won’t like it and they have every right not to do so. My beef isn’t with one’s opinion on anything, be that opinion be good or bad. It’s how they deal with it that is the source of bitching in this article. Now, on to the meat and potatoes.
Most recently, DC comics released their solicitations for upcoming comics along with their monthly variant cover gimmick, which has been gracing/plaguing fans for the last couple of months, and this particular gimmick was the Joker. This means that a good bit, if not all would feature a variant cover, which would be offered in addition to the standard cover, are not required to be purchased, by anyone. No additional story would be provided, no additional supplemental material offered such as sketch concepts or panel breakdowns. In point of fact, the variant covers can sometimes be sold at a higher price as it would be much more rare that the standard cover, and most stores, would only carry a few of if any at all based on customer demand and what kind of discounts the retailers were offered. According to the cool cats at Phoenix Rising Games and Comics, this particular cover, which spawned this whole article, had no restrictions as it was a part of a ‘theme’ variant cover month and stores could have ordered accordingly. I’ll get more into the numbers aspect a little later in the article so be patient statisticians, I’ll be melting your butter momentarily.
The cover in question was solicited for Batgirl #41 and featured an image of the Joker, wearing similar attire to what he wore in the original graphic novel, ‘the Killing Joke’ caressing Barbara Gordon wearing her much ballyhooed current costume. The controversy is mainly concerned with the joker smearing blood on her face, resembling that of his own psychotic smile as well as him holding a gun, which happens to be pointed down. Some people interpreted that as he was aiming the gun specifically at her lady parts. Personally I don’t think that was the case. If I had to make a guess, I would say that if it was intentional, it would be a reference to the aforementioned Killing Joke where, Spoilers, the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon in the gut, severing her spine and permanently (as permanent as comics get anyway) paralyzing her from the waist down. But that’s all in interpretation and that’s not what this article is about.
This article is focusing on the backlash inspired by this cover and how the artist requested it be taken down because of it. Now, up front I will say that I respect the artist, Raphael Albuquerque and his decision in not wanting to fan the flames and escalating things. I understand there was threats of violence, even reported death threats but those were unsubstantiated. I will say that I respect DC Comics for respecting his wishes to pull the cover. I will say just because I respect their decision does not mean that I agree with it. The instant the story broke, I personally would have upped my printing order and distributed it to every news outlet, social media, milk carton I could get it onto. I would make that thing more famous than the Mona Lisa, like my new idol, Frank Cho. However I don’t run DC Comics and for the reasons I just stated, that’s probably a good idea.
A few month’s prior to this whole cover fiasco, there was ANOTHER cover that spawned controversy in the form of the Milo Manara Spider-Woman variant published by Marvel Comics. As soon as the solicits went up, social media went ablaze with the riot act, stating that ‘women don’t actually pose like that’ and ‘This cover sexualizes women’ and my personal favorite, ‘this is straight up pornography’. I can easily battle all of these arguments with two words. No Shit. These are comic books. They are a form of fantasy. An escape from every day lives. Television and movies have relied on the looks of actors and actresses to tell stories for decades. Watch a soap opera. I defy you to find one ugly person on any one of them. Unless the story is that the character has some type of defect, which lets face it, as soon as they give them a makeover consisting of removing their glasses and messing up their hair, they will no longer be ugly. A common response is, ‘Women don’t look like that.” You’re right. Men don’t look like that either. But do you hear us bitching. Another common argument is that when women are portrayed in a sexual manner, it takes away their strength. NO…IT DOESN’T. If anything it enhances their strength. Sex is power. But that is a rant for another time.
Now for the part you statisticians have all been waiting for. The Manara Spider Woman Variant was offered to comic stores as a special incentive cover, meaning that for every so many copies, each store was able to order one of the variant covers. The Manara cover in particular was a 1 in 50, meaning that for every 50 copies, they could order one variant. The point I’m making here is that this particular cover more than likely wouldn’t have seen the store shelf. Depending on the retailer, they would have kept it on display in the back of the counter or possibly even have only offered it to online customer trying to get the most market value as it would be a rare comic and thus worth more than the standard cover. As opposed to the Batgirl cover that most likely would have sat right next to or alternated with the regular cover on it’s usual spot on the new release rack. Sadly, this cover too was pulled before publication because of backlash.
What happened to freedom of speech? Now I already know your argument is going to be something along the lines of, ‘the people have the freedom to voice their opinion about anything they want’. And you would be 100% correct. Hell, I’m voicing my opinion right now on a public forum. However, when the threat of violence comes into play as it did with these covers, that is wrong and to the best of my knowledge illegal. As someone who has expressed his thoughts very freely over his 37 years on this earth, I find it very disheartening when someone wants to stop me from doing that. Even if I were offended by either of the covers, I still would try to impede the publisher’s rights to publish them. It is every American’s right to speak freely. Even if your opinion is to dislike something that’s fine, it’s your right. But be sensible about it.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, sex is power. But real power stems from not doing things as well. Not fighting. Not threatening. Not kicking someone when they’re down. This is the true meaning of power. As Spiderman so famously said, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. I would be remiss if I didn’t send you all to an article about a Facebook post by the classy, Bill Sienkiewicz, who said it ever so more eloquently that I could have. an article about a Facebook post by the classy, Bill Sienkiewicz, who said it ever so more eloquently that I could have.
*Special thanks to Phoenix Rising Games and Comics located in Salisbury, MD for all the info about the covers.
Asselin, Janelle (2015) Outrage and Complacency: Responses to Frank Cho’s Spider-Gwen Cover Comics Alliance Retrieved from: http://comicsalliance.com/responses-to-frank-cho-spider-gwen-cover/
(2015) Bill Sienkiewicz Brings A Level Head To A Comic Book Controversy Monkeys Fighting Robots Retreived from: http://www.monkeysfightingrobots.com/bill-sienkiewicz-brings-a-level-head-to-a-comic-book-controversy/