As 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.
A brief indulgence before we get started: July 14 marked eight years since I started blogging about comics on my own little website, the now-dormant Comics Ate My Brain. Since one of my first posts was called “Robin Problems,” it’s a happy coincidence that this week we return to the original superhero-sidekick identity.
Although I’m not always happy with DC Comics as a company, I have a lot of empathy for the people who work on superhero comics, especially those who populate convention panels. Regardless of how we think they’re doing their jobs, those are still their jobs, and I wouldn’t want to go to work every morning facing a steady torrent of criticism from my customers. (We lawyers get more than enough workplace second-guessing as it is.) It also can’t be easy traveling around having to face one’s critics in person.
That said, if the alternative-fuels industry could harness avoidable fan outrage, DC Comics would be the new OPEC. Once again demonstrating a knack for how not to behave, its panelists practically laughed off legitimate questions about switching out fan-favorite Bat-protege Stephanie Brown for the “more iconic” Barbara Gordon.
After those original accounts appeared online (on Friday the 13th, no less), more details emerged to help explain just who did what. It’s still a situation where DC higher-ups asked to remove Stephanie (which, it can’t be said enough, is really asking for trouble); but apparently the series’ writer got to choose her replacement. Don’t worry, we’ll get into all the nuances.
Following some confusion at Friday’s Superman panel, DC Comics confirmed today at Comic-Con International that Stephanie Brown won’t be appearing as Nightwing in Smallville Season 11. As rumored, she’ll be replaced by Barbara Gordon.
The introduction of the one-time Spoiler turned Robin turned Batgirl alongside Batman in DC’s digital-first series was announced last month, giving some consolation to fans frustrated that the character has yet to be seen in the New 52. But even as Comic-Con began, a rumor emerged that the publisher had changed its mind.
On Friday, the fan who made headlines at last year’s convention as “the Batgirl of San Diego,” attended DC’s Superman panel in hopes of getting answers, but walked away with none. So today she returned for “The New Wave” panel, where Co-Publisher Dan DiDio delivered the official news: Stephanie Brown is out, and Barbara Gordon is in.
On my superhero fashion site Project: Rooftop, I’ve been talking up to the nth degree an amazing set of superhero redesigns by Italian artist Denis Medri. This artist has taken Gotham’s resident bad-boy billionaire and recast him as a 1950s greaser to amazing results. While Medri’s work might not be in line with the New 52, it harkens back to the best of DC Comics’ celebrated Elseworlds line of titles reimagining its heroes in different timelines and settings. Medri’s gone on to reinvent much of Batman’s cast in this model, with everything from a Betty Page-esque Catwoman and a poodle skirt-wearing Harley Quinn to a Rat Fink-worthy hot rod Batmobile.
Although the actual chances that DC would somehow accept this as a back-door pitch are slim to none, it does highlight the intriguing passion artists have for classic characters and just how enamored fans can be when their favorite heroes (and villains) are repositioned to alternative lives. While some might say its insular thinking, I think it broadens the core concepts of these timeless characters and shows just how versatile they can be.
Ahead of the release on Wednesday of Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1, signaling the beginning of its line-wide relaunch, DC Comics has kicked off a promotional assault in the mainstream press to sell “The New 52″ to a broader audience. While USA Today, with a circulation of 1.8 million the second-largest newspaper in the United States, looks to be the hub for coverage, DC has also reached out to publications like the New York Daily News, the New York Post and the Boston Herald. Here are the highlights so far from the 11th-hour push:
• USA Today takes a broad overview of the relaunch, talking with DC Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, and a couple of retailers. “There are plenty of angry customers over this,” says John Robinson, co-owner of Graham Crackers Comics chain in Illinois. “I’ve heard the usual ‘I can’t believe they’re doing this,’ ‘They’ve betrayed us,’ etc. I’d say about 60% to 70% of those protesting the loudest will still end up buying the stuff. There’s just too much hype and interest — even the haters are curious.”
• The newspaper also hones in on the publisher’s new same-day digital strategy, which debuts Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET when Justice League #1 will be available for purchase digitally. Hank Kanalz, senior vice president for digital at DC Entertainment, acknowledges the challenges of getting the initiative off the ground: “Some books are working really far ahead of schedule, some are down to the wire, and it’s just a matter of coordinating and about overcommunicating. We have to make sure it goes off without a hitch, which is why we’re not sleeping right now. We’re going much wider to a mass audience than ever before, so it’s a matter of making sure we have everything ready to go.”
Late last night Adam Hughes unveiled his cover for October’s Batgirl #2, featuring a rather youthful Barbara Gordon, writing on Twitter: “My cover to @GailSimone ‘s BATGIRL#2, coming in October! Read this comic cos Batgirl’s way cuter than Batman!”
But why does Barbara look like she stepped out of the pages of Year One? That’s what Batgirl fans would like to know!
“She looks like she’s MAYBE 15, holy crap,” be-themoon wrote in the comments of DC Women Kicking Ass. “What was that about a more seasoned, nuanced character, DC? Part of me is tired of even bothering to care about what idiocy DC is getting up to next right now.”
Foxforsale offered: “Very young! Maybe its a flashback? They’ll probably be doing lots of those to establish her history with new readers … and to be nostalgic … they fucking love nostalgia.”
“Some yes, some no. But many of the great stories remain. For example — Batgirl. The Killing Joke still happened and she was Oracle. Now she will go through physical rehabilitation and become a more seasoned and nuanced character because she had these incredible and diverse experiences.”
– from DC Comics’ “The New 52 and You” email sent to retailers,
addressing whether the publisher’s September relaunch will “undo events or continuity”