Robot 6

Original ‘Killing Joke’ art reignites debate about torture scene

killing joke-gordon2As if recent renewed debate about its ending weren’t enough to demonstrate that, after 25 years, Batman: The Killing Joke can still spur discussion, now new original artwork has surfaced indicating the scene depicting the torture of Barbara Gordon was initially far more graphic and sexualized.

A photo of the inked page (below, definitely NSFW) was tweeted Sunday by Bill Hynes, a former employee of Gosh! Comics in London, revealing a naked and bleeding Barbara among the montage of images shown to her father James Gordon. In the published comic, by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, that shot is replaced by a close-up of Barbara’s face.

Bolland confirmed the artwork’s authenticity, writing on his blog, “Here’s a page I drew for Killing Joke. I drew what was in the script. That’s my job. I was asked to tone it down a bit. I don’t know how the person who posted it got this image.”

Sue of DC Women Kicking Ass notes, “This isn’t some thumbnail sketch. This is a final inked page. At least someone at DC had some sense to kill it. Because really, how can you claim a book doesn’t sexualize violence when you have stuff like that in print?”

Indeed, whether the Joker raped Barbara Gordon has been long debated, with some readers insisting the violence was physical and not necessarily sexual. This page now may cast the scene, and the already-controversial comic, in a slightly different light.

killing joke-gordon

(via Bleeding Cool)

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27 Comments

I dunno, her being naked doesn’t necessarily mean she was raped, nudity as a form of shaming/torture has been well documented, and Joker has never really struck me as a guy all that interested in sex.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Alan Moore loves loves LOVES rape scenes. They’re a staple of his work. Neonomicron to LXG to Lost Girls to Watchmen and so on. His work is loaded with it. Are we shocked that it was in Killing Joke before someone intervened? I’m sure not.

That’s a good point. I’d also like to know why some of our prominent female creators/firebrands/feminists haven’t spoken up about this. Is it because Moore is too much of a sacred cow? He introduces the Invisible Man in League by having him rape characters like Pollyana in a girls’ school. And I think he might been trying to be funny with that. Why is THAT never questioned, but a Catwoman cover with her ass in prominence causes a firestorm on line? I really honestly want to know about this.

Joker would have never raped. He’s a completely asexual character. He would have made it look like she was raped just to fuck with Gordon. To him, it would be funnier if he had just faked it as opposed to having done it.

whether her being raped was the original intent of the story or not, as a matter of continuity, there’s simply no way that that happened and has never been mentioned or dealt with in any way since.

It might have been intentional, but referring to someone who raises questions about sexism in comics as a “firebrand” comes off as pejorative. The word is often used to describe people who adopt ultra-militant stances primarily to whip up controversy. I wouldn’t characterize recent online discussions of sexism & comics that way. But again, that might not have been what was intended.

As for Alan Moore — there’s certainly a legitimate discussion to be had about his use of rape in his stories. But come on, there is absolutely no comparison between his portrayal of the Invisible Man in the “League” books (to use the example offered) and the cited Catwoman cover. Whether one agrees with the Invisible Man portrayal or not, it was clearly a narrative choice Moore made within the context of telling an actual story. The Catwoman cover served no other purpose than to titillate.

I’m not sure the original version of this “Killing Joke” page sheds any new light on what happened to Barbara in the story. The same information is in both versions, it’s just more explicit in the original. It’s interesting to wonder, though, how readers would have responded to the book back in the day had the more-explicit version been published. I imagine that for many readers, the nudity would have become the main focus of attention, rather than the pain and humiliation the page is supposed to convey. For this reason, I think the altered, published version actually works better.

The book as published showed Joker unbuttoning her blouse and while we didn’t see her breasts it was clear she was naked from the art in the published version. As such, I don’t see how this changes the meaning much one way or another.

I don’t see the big deal. She is still obviously naked in the released and coloured page. Which implies the Joker undressed her, or at least had his underlings do it. Maybe she was raped, maybe not. The point is, is that Gordon as a father would clearly think she had been if he’s seeing such graphic photos of her. The original page just shows the obvious – that Barbara Gordon has nipples. Whoopee-shit.
What is it with Americans and nipples – it drives you guys insane.
The intent and meaning behind the page is the same. Joker is trying to drive Gordon insane by debasing his daughter. It makes sense in the narrative if that is the Joker’s intent. Just like when he killed his lover in War Games. This is no “girl in the fridge” scenario. If Gordon’s son had been more prominent in Batman mythology back then the story would have served the same with him. But he wasn’t, so he isn’t.
As for the Joker being asexual? I disagree. I think Joker would f@ck anything that took his fancy. I think Joker would f@ck anyone, and anything that took his fancy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been getting Harley Quinn to dress up as Batman as he’s banging her too (which was clearly established that they had a sexual relationship – even in the cartoon.) but I do agree that Joker would likely get most of his kicks by f@cking with people’s heads. But the fact is that sex can be violent, and Joker loves violence and breaking boundaries. But Batman is a PG rated comic.

They didn’t run this version. Given the controversy of the scene we got, just imagine if they ran with this. Remember this was the 80s and people were flipping over “Darling Nicky” Nudity in a Batman comic may have been as devestating to the industry as Wertham. Grisly.

Matthew J – Forget the use of the word firebrand for a moment (which i used in the context of someone that isn’t afraid to take a stand on an issue and run with it). You agree that there needs to be a discussion about Moore’s use of rape, and then spend the next four lines on the Catwoman cover analogy.

Let’s have that conversation about Moore’s use of rape. Use this story. Use LXG Century. Use Lost Girls. Take your pick. Let’s all of us have that discussion.

I really am of two minds concerning “The Killing Joke.” On the one hand, it is probably my favorite Joker story because it was published before the character became so I incredibly overused & tiresome. Much more importantly, it makes the Joker a genuinely frightening, horrific figure by having him put Jim Gordon through hell, rather than by murdering dozens of innocent victims in some ridiculously gruesome manner, which is what so many other writers default to. Does the Joker even actually kill anyone in “The Killing Joke?” Maybe one or two people, but that’s it. And, y’know, despite everything the Joker does in this story, he actually is kind of funny at times, albeit in an incredibly dark, twisted sort of way. Plus the (possible) origin for the character really is wrenching & tragic. And it shows the resiliency & morality of Gordon, that after everything the Joker has done to him, he’s still unbroken, and tells Batman to bring him in “by the book.”

On the other hand, Moore really did a heck of a number on Barbara Gordon / Batgirl. And, as others have observed, it is part of the general trend of villains attacking & harming female characters in order to get to their male enemies. Is “The Killing Joke” misogynistic? I honestly do not know, but I am sure if someone wanted to they could make a very strong argument that it is.

@clive.

Yeah, because DC doesn’t have a history of retconning rape into their superhero line.

… Put your hand down, Sue Dibny. I’m not even sure you exist anymore.

Is The Killing Joke misogynistic? I know that the Joker is misogynistic and he is portrayed as such. Is Alan Moore? He might be, I don’t know, but a lot of his work presents misogynistic scenes.

The one thing that I don’t agree with in the original article is that the inclusion of nudity equals sexualizing violence, it’s long been held that rape, in and of itself, is about using sex to commit violence. Those pictures aren’t supposed to be titilating. Frankly, I would be worried about someone who looked at that page and was sexually aroused. It’s supposed to be disturbing… and it is.

What do you expect to come out in the comics. Ever since this new trend in Zombies has come along! Everyone these days are seeing all out brutallity as in. Just like the violence in video games and movies rises, comics to follow. I hate these stories, it shows me that the writers can’t come up with an interesting story anymore. Throwing gore in your face to get a reaction. Cause there regular writings are boring.

I always thought it was debatable how far the Joker went with Selina as well in Dark Knight Returns, so it’s something Frank Miller considered as well. Although I don’t think he raped either of them, but he does enjoy being in a position of power and control over women. His relationship with Harley is the same way, so that’s really become a consistent character trait.

Is the joker who rapes her, not alan moore. Yes the joker is a pervert bastard, big discovery. People who get offended by this are big fans of joker because he is crazy and is cool to be crazy. But the joker is the mysoginist killer pervert, not alan more. He simply show you what the joker really is. A sad disgusting and pathetic psychopath bastard .

This doesn’t change anything for me in the story. Everyone is going to assign their own assumptions to the story whether the art is “graphic” or not. That’s something about the comic medium I love and this is one story that uses the readers imagination masterfully and it’s made this into one of the greatest Batman stories of all time.

For instance for me the Joker has never had any interest in sex. Whether in his day to day life or in his crime it’s never been a priority or focus for him so I never saw this scene as one where he sexually violated her. This is all about humiliating, torturing, degrading and just plain beating down the Gordon’s in the most sadistic way possible. So, check check and check.

Although I do have to say this is a really cool piece of comic lore and if anyone ever does get their hands on this art they’ll either get a pretty penny for it or hold onto it and be transformed into a Geek God from it’s power. How’s that for an origin story!

~Steve

The Joker is gay. Duh.

what a dumb controversy. anybody aroused by that page was damaged long before reading it. let’s just move on.

Am I missing something? How does one more shot of her lying naked and bleeding imply rape? It’s the same thing going on in the other half-dozen photos. Joker took her clothes off and posed her body in different shots while snapping photos as she cried and bled. How does one more shot of her on her back (of which there are already several) imply rape exactly?

I think it more likely both of those little people the Joker has working for him raped both of the Gordons.

What next? ban smoking in comics? wondered why they finished Hellblazer!!!

And again, everyone runs in terror from the idea that Alan Moore’s repeated use of rape as a plot device should be questioned. Ted’s right.

Look at it this way. Literary critics aren’t afraid to dissect the work of the greatest names in literature. Joyce, Wallace, Fitzgerald. Those guys don’t get a pass. Critics and academics ask hard questions.

Who in comics, fandom or journalism is going to ask? Let’s start with this simple question: when other writers, like Brad Meltzer or Mark Millar, have included rape scenes, there have been, at the very least, questions, and at most outrage. Moore has rape in nearly every story. Why is it “okay” for Moore? If it isn’t, then why don’t our critics and journalists talk about it? It belongs in the discussion. If we’re talking about women in the industry or sexism or sexual harassment, then surely the attitude of one of comics “greatest” writers regarding rape has a place in the discussion.

I actually think that the close-up of her face, the fear and agony in her eyes, is more effective than the objectifying view of her breasts. And I mean “objectifying” literally, not necessarily in a sexual sense. As in, it’s harder to empathize with a body than with a face. The boob shot adds nothing (except maybe titillation, but if a scene like that excites you then you should be ashamed). I mean, we saw him unbuttoning her shirt. We know she’s naked. The point is to drive home what she’s going through, not to find an excuse for a boob shot.

I love how some people can accept that Joker is a mass murderer, psychotic, depraved, a sociopath, has physically mutilated others and himself, beaten a child to death, but is somehow against the idea of raping someone. Truly boggles the mind.

Johnny Sarcastic

December 4, 2013 at 7:03 pm

@Mike (and many others)

Clearly nobody questions Alan Moore because we all consider him a genius, and who are we to question genius? If we question him, we just don’t understand what he’s writing.

I honestly feel like that’s the truth. Alan Moore has lent some of the most powerful “mainstream” legitimacy to the comic world and the works that we love, and if we question someone we venerate as our first concrete bridge to how we know comics can be and the outside world saying, “yeah, that’s great!’ then … well, maybe we’ll lose our credibility? I dunno. It seems ridiculous, but hopefully I’m conveying my point.

As to this book, Moore has repeatedly said he’s not proud of it.

As to this particular sequence – I always thought he stripped her naked in order to accentuate Barbara’s vulnerability, and therefore magnify the impotence that Jim was feeling at his inability to protect her. Remember – Gordon was Joker’s subject in his effort to prove that the only difference between himself and everyone else was “one bad day.”

In Moore’s other work, I always assumed that since rape is one of the most disgusting acts in the world that he was using it to show just how depraved a character was. I did also feel like he used it too often, but that he used it to strange effect – for instance, in the case of the Comedian and the emotional web over the following decades – you almost feel sorry for him at one juncture, and then you realize, “I’m feeling sorry for a rapist.”

It does comics as a medium good when there’s constructive feedback. I really think that the state of comics isn’t at all conducive to encourage female readership and I haven’t the foggiest how to fix it. However, I don’t think that anything should be off-limits to a writer, nor should a writer be guilted for using something like rape or murder in a story, because the second we start doing things like that we stifle a potentially compelling story that has a good reason for having a moment like that… and these won’t be the only moments that people rally around and say are unacceptable.

the way i understood from reading it and from what bullock told batman in barbaras hospital room that its implied not only the joker stripped her to take his pictures to torcher gordon but also implied he did proably rape her too.

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