In the wake of the controversy of the variant cover of Batgirl #41, I have discovered many articles. One link lead to a headline posited by a (self-identified) feminist Twitter activist who’s name was blocked on the screen-captures. She said, “Show me the cover where Batman is the Victim of the Joker… Show me Batman helpless, stripped of all agency.” This was followed by several followers posting what they thought met that request. The only one that I thought came close to the Batgirl cover was one of Batman #674, showing Batman tied to a chair with a power drill being wielded threateningly by the (off-panel) Joker, in vaguely the direction of Batman’s genitals. This still doesn’t equal the Batgirl cover to me on a few levels: 1) Batman has agency, his facial expression is fierce there, defiant—He is still fighting. 2) The Joker is only implied and not shown, we are actually made to side with the Joker as the angle forces us the viewer to see things from the Joker’s perspective. 3) The Joker has never sexually assaulted the Batman—He has sexually assaulted Batgirl/ Barbara Gordon, in the pages of 1988’s “The Killing Joke”, which the cover in question was referring directly to. (For more Batgirl, Batman and the Joker, please redirect to our Batman Hoodie category.)
So to me, this all begs the question: Does the Joker want to rape Batman? We know next to nothing about the Joker other than that he’s a violent psychopath who is locked in a mutual obsession with the Caped Crusader. Even in the Joker’s own short-run series or when referred to by other villains, most notably his sidekick/ not exactly girlfriend Harley Quinn, he is oddly non-sexual, at least when immediate pain and power are not involved. And in the Killing Joke, he didn’t rape Barbara, and he didn’t know she was Batgirl, he just shot whoever answered the door and got lucky: it was Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, whom he then stripped naked while she bled out and took photographs of her to show to Jim later, in order to torture Jim, not to do anything with Barbara.
The Joker in films is often depicted as sadistic, delusional, deeply narcissistic and more than a little… Effeminate. The idea of the “Gay Serial Killer” is an unfortunate reminder of old prejudices we still see in cinema, most often in Film Nior, which Batman has it’s roots firmly in. In 2008’s “The Dark Knight” Heath Ledger won an Oscar© for playing the most infamous nemesis as a spooky, kooky, sometimes dressed-in-drag anarchist who tells Batman: “You complete me”, arguably the most quotable line from a romantic comedy in the 20th century.
Backing up for a second, the first cover in the thread that I mentioned wasn’t Batman and the Joker, but Batman and Harley—A female Joker who is less threatening than the real thing. She has Batman tied up on the floor, his bat-manhood shoved toward the viewer, and it’s still not about her threatening him, sexually or otherwise. It’s about making Harley Quinn a desirable object in the foreground for the assumed white-hetero-male demographic, and about making Batman a fetishized self-insert wish-fulfillment character. The viewer is supposed to say, “Yeah, I’d let her tie me up anytime. Crazy chicks are great in bed.” It’s not about Batman at all, and it’s not about him being threatened with sexual assault, because the person who commissioned the cover or who drew it decided, consciously or subconsciously that women either don’t or can’t be a sexual threat to men, at least not if the woman is hot enough.
But nobody is saying that Batman wants the Joker to tie him (or anyone else) up. Nobody ever saw Batman stripped naked, without his cowl and cape and armor, bleeding and violated and unconscious at the mercy of someone who was doing it in order to say… Emotionally harm Selina Kyle/ Catwoman. Batman has endured great horrors and losses, he’s that kind of Hero, he’s dark and he’s human and he comes from tragedy, but he’s not a woman. And yes, men can be, and unfortunately are raped and sexually assaulted, by both women (of all levels of attractiveness) and by other men. But women are sexually assaulted a great deal more often, and usually by men who are close to them—not strangers in alleyways with weapons. Women in comic books are harmed so often in order to get an emotional response from the Male hero that writer Gail Simone started a website about the trope: Women in Refrigerators.
Back to the Joker: it has been posited that during the death of Jason Todd, the Joker takes a sexual pleasure either from the brutality of Todd’s murder at his hands itself, or simply in molesting Todd’s unconscious/ dead body (off-panel) after the fact. Does the Joker get off on anyone’s pain, or does he get off because he knows he’s indirectly causing Batman trauma? Or because Todd was a pretty teenage boy in tights? Maybe all three. Also, on Batman: The Animated Series, especially in films such as “Mask of the Phantasm”, the Joker laughs hysterically, even euphorically whenever Batman causes him physical pain, even imminent death. This can be interpreted as more than just common madness—The Joker is aroused by Batman beating him, conquering him, physically overpowering him and having to give in to Batman’s darkest desire: to finally kill the Joker. There is undoubtedly something psycho-sexual there.
How do I answer my own question here? The Joker doesn’t much care for sex, and he gets off on power and abuse, regardless of whether there are sexual overtones or not. He may desire a sexual relationship with Batman, but it doesn’t come off as one where he wants to particularly assert himself. He is playing a game with Batman, and playing chicken with Death, hoping he can get the Dark Knight to go off the rails and break his one rule. There’s the same sexual tension between the Joker and Batman that someone with a car-crash fetish has when they don’t hit the breaks, or a storm-chaser goes through when getting too close to a level 5 twister: the Joker wants to lose himself in Batman, and in so doing, have Batman be lost as well. (Joker Poster – “Bats” can be found with our other Posters.)
In that case: nice try with those covers, but no cigar. Batman doesn’t lose anything from the Joker winning some of the time, because that is not representative of the relationship that they have as characters. Barbara Gordon was dealing with PTSD from her encounter with the Joker when I last read her, and rightfully so. I think that’s what the woman who had her Twitter handle but not her picture erased was trying to say: there is a double-standard in how female super heroes are treated vs. how male super heroes are treated in comics. You can’t show me a cover of Batman being reminded of that time the Joker took his power away—because that never happened to Batman. But it did happen to Batgirl, and in a Batman book.
DC was my first comic book love, starting with Catwoman Year One on a grocery store spinning rack when I was about 9 years old. The women of the “Bat Family” have continued to enthrall me over the years, but around 2012, I stopped and dropped many of my formerly favorite titles due to changes in tone, direction and creative teams. Feminist dynamo was fired, then re-hired, then voluntarily left the Batgirl title, and things haven’t been the same since. I made no secret of the fact that I’m no fan of Dan DiDio’s practices as head of creative at DC or of the New 52.
I wanted to have something nice to say about DC and feminism—I met Babs Tarr, the current artist on Batgirl, and San Francisco resident, and she seemed really cool. But I don’t like the book any more than I did before and I don’t buy it, or any other DC titles anymore. They’re boring retreads of continuity with constant re-branding instead of hiring actually diverse creative teams. And anytime I’ve seen Batgirl in the news, it’s because of some new, unfortunate decision.
I read the Killing Joke a few years ago, and it’s a great book, but 2 things it is not: It was never meant to be in main Batman continuity, and it was never about Barbara Gordon. This is why making it the focus of the “Batgirl #41: Joker Variant Cover” was a bad idea to begin with. The cover showed a terrified Batgirl with blood-like makeup smeared over her face as the Joker threatened her in a sexual manner with phallic handgun. The sexual assault overtones are enough to make this inappropriate for a cover in a Teen or Family aimed female-led comic, but the fact that it isn’t about Barbera or the batsuit at all made it way over the top, making her an object, de-powered. Girls and women are not props to be used to evoke feelings in men, and especially should not be depicted that way in their own books.
Rat Queens Special: Braga #1
Image Comics’ “Rat Queens” has courted controversy and critical praise for its intersectional feminist take on the oft-male-dominated Dungeons & Dragons inspired tales of high-fantasy action. For the uninitiated, the best-selling book was created last year by Writer Curtis J Weibe and Artist Roc Upchurch, who was asked to leave the book about an all-female and racially diverse cast of 4 merry mad mistresses of magic and mayhem, when he was arrested on domestic violence charges against his wife in December. Upchurch was then replaced by artist Stjepan Sejic.
(Targaryen In Red from our Game of Thrones t shirts collection.)
A one-shot side adventure focusing on a background character, the Orc maiden frienemy of the main gals, and leader of another adventuring party, Braga, was published in the interim. Braga just so happens to be a Trans* woman, as the issue reveals, with stunning art by female relative newcomer, Tess Fowler.
The story of Braga herself is fairly straightforward: born the eldest son of an Orc chieftain, “Broog” as he was then known, was always rebellious, favoring peaceful negotiations over his father’s war-mongering ways. Broog’s younger brother challenged him for the throne, gouging Broog’s eye, but losing his good arm in the fight, and Broog left the land in his care. There are hints at a love story, left mercifully ambiguous, and overall, it’s a story of being self-defined in every possible way: it’s like any other Rat Queens tale: diverse, colorful, gory, smart and fiercely contemporary, with just enough sexy and silly to keep it afloat.
Even as Trans* characters seem to be having a “moment” in pop culture, I can not recommend this story enough. Rat Queens #9 is on sale from Image Comics now, as are Braga #1 and the first 6 issue collected graphic novel.
“You know what they say about those ‘Fake Geek Girls’ don’t you?”
“Yeah, that they don’t exist.” –Dialog with a vendor at APE 2014.
I started collecting comics when I was about nine years old. Catwoman (DC) and Sam Keith’s the MAXX (Image) were my first loves, (Catwoman “Kitten With a Whip” from our Batman Hoodie collection) but as I grew up I found many more comics and graphic novels to collect, obsess over and love. The argument could be made that I was a geek because I had an older brother who was also a geek. It would be wrong, but it could be made. I went to Magic the Gathering tournaments, played tabletop RPG’s and knew maps in Zelda because of my brother, but I would have found comics all on my own. My tastes in them never matched at near 100% with my big brother’s anyway. Before long, my friends and family stopped giving me Barbie’s and cosmetics and began giving me art supplies and comics. I wasn’t ever just there as a passive spectator: I wanted to contribute.
In this series, I’m going to discuss the female characters represented on the page (in many forms) and the women who work behind the scenes in the comics industry. Some I admire, some I hold in disdain, mostly I just want to write about what I know: Chicks dig comics and these days, sisters are doing it for themselves (and for male fans).
So the other night I went out with a female human (yes, miracles can still happen) and we fell into a discussion of movies and games. She says she never got bit by the game bug and seemed to not have much for science fiction as well. Since then I have been reflecting on what is it about science fiction I love and realize that it is basically better than pretty much any other forms of story telling available.
This dates back to primitive man. Mythology is nothing more than science fiction from a more primitive point of view; instead of robots and lasers you have the magical powers of the divine but at the end of the tale it is the story of something people really wish existed or are terrified might exist. Science fiction has ramped up as the technology curve has advanced. From gods turning into rain and impregnating umbrella-less women it shifted to ghosts and vampires. In the 19th century Jules Verne created great science fiction using steam punk technology. At the end of that century into the 20th HG Wells crafted great sci fi based on advanced science of aliens and time machines based on the mysterious new power of electricity. Good science fiction is all about taking existing human technology and envisioning what it could be doing in 50 years (by the way, if you ever want to check out some really cool old school sci fi that kind if illustrates this point read War with the Newts by Czeck author Karel Čapek from 1936. It is quite visionary and details a war against an intelligent amphibious race using pretty much current technology).
The point is science fiction has been with us in one form or another since cave man days, and personally I have found non fans of sci fi to be hapless drones with no imagination. The question really isn’t if sci fi is superior but rather why. Here are a few reasons I came up with from the seat of my pants.
10. Only in science fiction can a freak lab accident or natural mutation give you super powers instead of cancer or flipper arms.
9. Cherry 2000 (and all other possible replacements for women that the future holds for me. Sorry ladies but the day they manage to make virtual reality sex as good as the real thing is the last day I speak to any of you. Based on the massive rejection I receive on a regular basis I doubt any of you will shed a tear. There’s only so much ego destruction a man can take in a lifetime before shining the whole process).
8. Only in sci fi do we have transporters and Stargates. Think about this next time you are being groped by TSA only to wait at the terminal for hours for your delayed or oversold flight.
7. In science fiction villains tend to have huge grandiose plans for world conquest motivated by easy to understand childhood trauma. None of the insidious and hard to really identify corporate villainy we deal with now motivated by a desire to get more of daddy’s love. Also people who actively plan to conquer the universe are feared instead of institutionalized.
6. In science fiction religions are often accompanied by some kind of bonus powers (the Force, the Necromongers, etc.)
5. Three breasted prostitutes.
4. Light sabers, and a semi legitimate reason to use swords rather than guns.
3. A giant throbbing cranium is clear indication of superior mental powers and intellect, not elephantiasis of the head (Sinestro image courtesy of the DC Comic T Shirt category).
2. Robots and androids (although elementary chaos theory states that eventually all robots will rise up to destroy their creators).
1. Time travel (although I predict once it is developed it will inevitably be used for only the most petty and selfish reasons, such as betting on past Super Bowls. I for one plan to go back in time and beat seven kinds of hell out of three people from my high school).
If you can come up with more reasons please by all means post them down here. I love this sort of thing. Thanks for reading, and have a great day.
As any nerd can tell you, the great Mark Hamill played Kenneth Dantley Jr. in the epic film Corvette Summer (he also played Luke Skywalker in the original (by that I mean good) Star Wars trilogy but no one bothers to remember that) and as such is an icon of nerd culture. However, what a lot of less well informed people don’t know is since then he has become an amazing voice over guy and did one of the greatest cartoon voices ever, the Joker from the original Batman the Animated Series.
Words cannot accurately describe how awesome this voice was. When I think of Joker I hear Mark Hamill’s insane cackle in the back of my head. He had the perfect combination of humorous clown and psychotic killer all wrapped up in one. Amazing.
Anyway, today is Mark’s birthday and I would like to wish him a happy one. Thank you sir, for being a part of a huge piece of my childhood and then moving on to do even more cool stuff. I salute you.
By the way, if you want to have some fun Google “Star Wars Muppet Show” and enjoy seeing Mark guest star on the Muppets. But don’t do the Holiday Special unless you want all things good in your life to turn to ash forever. I’m not kidding at all on that. If you watch that film you will want to die.
Joker image courtesy of the DC Comic T Shirt category BTW.
I see this as a really positive statement not just in support of gay rights but rather in support of human rights. Humans should have the freedom to have whatever makes them happy in their life, as long as that doesn’t interfere with other people’s happiness. I am also glad we live in a time where we are no long slaves to the negative stereotypes associated with gays and their abilities to be heroes of any stripe. We have gay cops, firefighters, and soldiers and I think they are all heroes. I furthermore applaud DC’s commitment to their support in casting a major character from their pantheon as gay. The easy and cheesy way would have been to either create a new gay superhero or take some minor character from the past and make him or her gay.
The interesting part for me will come in the months ahead as we can see how this revelation is received by the American public. Dave sells a good number of Green Lantern t shirts from his DC Comic t shirt collection and I am very curious to see if he sees either a spike or drop in sales. However, I say to anyone who drops his or her fandom of Green Lantern over this you should consider the fact that you were a fan when you thought he was straight. His orientation did nothing to change his actions. He is still the super hero he always was.
A couple days ago Jason posted something about Scarlett Johansson wanting to do a stand alone Black Widow movie and why that is generally a bad idea. His base statement is more or less correct: there has never been a female super hero movie that has done well, and in most cases they seem to spell career death for the actress involved. Some of the notable failures include Catwoman and Electra, but if you dig deeper you find all kinds of other ones that did nothing but suck and die. Red Sonya, Tank Girl, My Super Ex Girlfriend (actually I kind of like that one, but really it was less about the super hero and more about every ex girlfriend I have ever had), Sheena, and Barb Wire to name a few. Duds all. Some may argue that Hit Girl from Kick Ass was great (she was IMO), but she did not have her own movie. There has yet to be a distaff Spider Man or Iron Man.
What is the problem here? It’s not like we don’t have great female comic book characters to draw from. Every year someone talks about doing a Wonder Woman movie, but honestly I predict even that will fail to meet expectations. Jason’s theory was that most comic book movie fans are male and want to pretend to be the hero. A female hero is just harder to identify with and pretend to be. I think there may be some validity to this theory, but don’t see it as the overriding issue. For the most part fans identify with the super powers, not the super hero. I could easily see someone imagining having the telekinetic powers of Phoenix or the weather control of Storm. Also, I think in this day and age the line of gender identification is a little blurrier that it has ever been in the past. (Wonder Woman image courtesy of the DC Comic T Shirt category).
I think the issue is much more primal. The problem is that in order for a super hero movie to be great, the hero has to get his or her ass handed to him (or her). If you look at the first Spider Man movie, Peter Parker gets completely trounced by the Green Goblin (blown up, really). In the last Superman the managed to find a way to have the normally invulnerable Superman on deaths doorstep. In order for a super hero to be super he or she has to overcome serious mortal danger and pain. We root for the hero who comes to the brink of destruction but still triumphs. Without that it just sucks. The reason this doesn’t work for super heroines is the fact that the vast majority of men are hard wired on a genetic level to not like to see a woman getting beaten.
Seriously, this is an issue. In my movie reviews if I see a woman getting punched in the face it usually earns the movie a black hole. I find it incredibly disturbing. There is nothing more upsetting to a man (a real man) than seeing a woman’s face with a black eye or bruises. I know, I am supposed to be more open minded and equality and all that feminist stuff, but even guys who say that it seeing men beaten bothers them equally with women are lying. There is a genetic imperative in men to protect women from harm (kids too, but you don’t see a lot of that in movies). There is nothing that will get me to intervene in a situation faster than seeing a man hit a woman, yet I would be OK watching two guys beat the hell out of each other.
This, unfortunately, leaves Hollywood with a bad choice to make. Either they go with letting the heroine get her ass kicked, making the movie really disturbing to the bulk of the viewing audience, or they make her invulnerable and impervious to harm, making the movie really boring and unreal. The thing that comic movie fans demand these days is some level of realism (ironic, given that we are talking about people with super powers) and seeing a 105lb girl get punched in the face and kick the crap out of a 200lb thug just isn’t realistic (one of the many reasons Catwoman really sucked).
What is the answer? I don’t know. Maybe more movies of women who don’t necessarily have to duke it out with guys. Angelina Jolie was great in Wanted and for the most part shot people. This might actually make for a decent film for Black Widow, but I predict they will feel the need to get her to go toe to toe with someone, ironically lessening the action.
That’s pretty much it on the matter. I’d like to thank my best friend Dave for first suggesting this theory and helping me flesh out out. If you want to comment or suggest a different theory free to post something here. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have specific questions or suggestions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the way, before I get going I wanted to mention something interesting I found on the Intertube. I was looking for info on the upcoming Men in Black 3 and came across this kid Bugeyes126 doing some kind of investigation video series trying to prove that the Men in Black are real. I can’t tell if this is for real, for fun, or just a really creative marketing campaign. It’s like some kind of reality TV show scavenger hunt. I’ll link Bugeyes126 most recent video as it flashes me back to my childhood days of dumpster diving. However, I can tell him from painful personal experience jumping straight into a dumpster like he does is a good recipe for getting a rusty length of jagged metal jammed six inches into your calf. I’d also like to add that tetanus shots in 1982 were a whole lot less fun than they are now.
No movie tonight as I have to paint new models for the tournament this weekend. However, I have tickets for a midnight screening of the Avengers at the fabulous Kabuki Cinema in San Francisco Thursday so look for that review Friday morning. Thanks as always for reading. Talk to you soon.