Every Sunday morning we showcase a classic comic cover, complete with compelling pop culture commentary, for your cordial contemplation. It’s the Classic Comic Cover Corner!
Detective Comics #371 – January, 1968
Cover Art by Carmine Infantino (pencils), Murphy Anderson (inks).
March madness is here! But I’m not talking about the NCAA college basketball tournament; I mean the recent politically correct insanity over the (now canceled) Rafael Albuquerque variant cover for Batgirl #41, featuring the distressed heroine held at gunpoint by a mentally deranged Joker.
Because I’m sadly behind the times when it comes to the most recent run of the Batgirl comic series, I can’t talk to the content that the current creative team has produced (although it’s my understanding that it is quite good), but I can speak to the bigger issue here, and it has more to do with the victimization of comic fans than of Batgirl.
If you are unfamiliar with this past week’s Bat-controversy, in a nutshell, artist Rafael Albuquerque was commissioned to create a variant cover for the upcoming June issue of Batgirl. During that month DC will have multiple “Joker” themed variants (across several titles) that help to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the popular demented villain. The controversial cover by Albuquerque is an homage to the infamous Batman graphic novel, The Killing Joke, wherein Batgirl is violently abused.
A group of fans created an uproar over the proposed violent artwork and DC Comics acquiesced by pulling the cover from publication, allegedly at the behest of the artist. (You can read a play-by-play account over at Entertainment Weekly.) It’s enough to make one wonder if the North Koreans are reading our comics.
There are three sides to this comic book kerfuffle (thank you Jimmy McGill and Better Call Saul for my new favorite word): those who hate the cover and want it destroyed for its demeaning portrayal of the heroine; those who like or dislike the cover but defend the rights of the artist to create it, and of the publisher to print it – regardless of who it might offend; and those who see this as a giant (and very successful) marketing ploy. (You can put me in with the latter two groups.)
Mainstream comics, like most all facets of modern pop culture, are big business; and as such, their most important goal is to make money. It’s really all they care about. Creating quality content goes out the window if they think they can somehow make a sale without it. And that, my friends, is what variant covers are all about in the first place.
That’s not to say that the contents of Batgirl #41 won’t be awesome. I hear that the current creators have elevated the character, making her more of a realistic and modern role model that young women can proudly identify with. But that cancelled variant cover, as well as all the others you’ll see that month, are only about padding DC’s pocketbooks.
Ambiguous comic covers (especially the variants) are the bane of the modern comic book and part of the reason I write this weekly op-ed, celebrating the covers of old, where you knew what story you were getting into by the fantastic art on the cover.
These days, covers are illustrated long before the writers have created the content of the book, which is why you basically get a character pin-up, instead of story related art, and have to guess at what might be inside. If I only had my $3.99 back for every time I’ve been burned by this conniving comic ploy.
Why create the covers so far in advance? It’s a streamlining of the creation process and done to save on production costs, with money saved being money earned. It’s the same reason that your friendly neighborhood corporate taco shop has their meat seasoned and cooked in a faraway place, long before it is actually eaten, instead of cooked fresh on-site, the way it was back in the day. Tacos tasted better back then, and comic covers looked better and read better back then too.
This controversy, be it pre-planned or not, is going to equal a huge jump in sales, not only for the Batgirl title (even without the variant cover), but also for The Killing Joke graphic novel. Additionally, look at how the Batgirl debate has brought DC Comics into the limelight – on the same week that Marvel has released another very popular Avengers: Age of Ultron movie trailer. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, but an ingenious marketing move.
So what does any of this have to do with the infamous Detective Comics #371 cover we’re showcasing this week? Not much, really, but it does illustrate the point that women/girls in comics have indeed come a long way in the past fifty years (even though the anti-Batgirl #41 variant cover crowd might argue that idea.) Unfortunately, when it comes to truth in advertising, comic covers have gone in the other direction.
Use our comments to let us know what you think about the Batgirl #41 controversies, or the Detective Comics #371 sixties’ take on Batgirl, or your thoughts on the modern comic cover.
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