Heroes in Crisis is the latest event currently taking place within the pages of DC Comics. The series, written by Tom King with art by Clay Mann, focuses on an in-universe crisis center known as Sanctuary, where heroes can seek help dealing with mental health issues and trauma that arise from a life of constant super heroics. The latest issue in the series, Heroes in Crisis #4, has prompted outrage due to the artistic depiction of Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, within the issue:
In the series, there are multiple instances of heroes seeking treatment entering a ‘confessional booth’ which allows them to record a confession that is, by Batman’s own admission, immediately deleted. In the scene in question, Batgirl lifts her costume while in the confessional to show the aftermath of the bullets shot into her spine by the Joker in the famous Batman: The Killing Joke storyline. Upon reading the issue, some readers took offense to the above page, accusing Mann and his artwork of overtly and inappropriately sexualizing Batgirl:
the blatant sexualization of female characters in heroes in crisis, especially considering the context of the series and these panels, has frankly been so disturbing and disgusting. i’m honestly disappointed by dc and the creative team behind this pic.twitter.com/4iOrh6SHfr
— sherri (@thirdrobins) January 2, 2019
It’s less about skintight costumes and more the lens through which they’re being viewed, or in this case ogled at. Poison Ivy is positioned unrealistically to look the most sexually appealing, despite having been murdered. The framing of Babs body just comes off as exploitative
— pirate 👑 king (@numericalhorror) January 2, 2019
I’m seeing some people complaining about Batgirl’s new costume because of the sexualization in HiC, but I think the problem is actually in the art, not in her clothing. Even her Burnside look, which was made to be practical and comfy, could be sexualized if the artist meant to.
— best of babs (@badpostbabsg) January 3, 2019
I have other questions than [the other reviewer]. The biggest one: why are the women so sexualized in a series about trauma? There’s no question Mann draws a lovely Lois Lane. But why the pinup? Then there’s the crotch shot of Black Canary, and, even worse, there’s the lovely butt shot of Batgirl, so she can show off the bullet wound in her spine, but it simply looks like an excuse for a sexualized butt-shot. (I stopped counting Harley Quinn butt close-ups at three.)
You add that to the proposed cover below with dead Poison Ivy, in which it looks like she’s ready for a porn movie, and I can only conclude that this is a systemic problem of how DC editorial and the creative team view women, even in stories like this, i.e. as little more than sexualized pin-ups. (Only Donna Troy seems to escape this. WW also has a butt shot but it’s not egregious.)
Within the context of the Heroes in Crisis storyline, Batgirl’s actions are depicted as nothing more than a display of the entry and exit wounds incurred after being shot. Likewise, there is no undue attention drawn to Batgirl’s physical appearance by the writing as not only is the scene above only one page long, Batgirl plays a very important role related to her personality and emotions later in the issue (As Heroes in Crisis #4 was released yesterday, this article will refrain from detailing Batgirl’s role, as it is can be considered a spoiler for the issue). To this end, any sexualization of Batgirl in this context is either incidental to the fact that super hero outfits are generally skin tight regardless of gender. No attention is drawn to Batgirl’s figure; it merely exists.
Heroes and Crisis previously came under fire for similar accusations of unwarranted sexualization regarding the characters featured within the book. Fans similarly accused DC of promoting misogyny and violence against women due to a leaked cover for Heroes in Crisis #7. The cover featured Poison Ivy lying injured and defeated on the ground, drawing a Flash-esque lightning bolt in her own blood. Author Tom King eventually stated that the cover had not gone through the standard DC approval process, and that the cover in question would not appear on the comic.
The accusations of sexism and misogyny aimed at King, Mann, and DC Comics are very similar to the controversy that surrounded artist Milo Manara and Marvel Comics in 2014. Manara, a well-known and well-regarded Italian artist drew a now-infamous variant cover for the then-upcoming Spider-Woman series. The cover, which depicted Jessica Drew in an exaggerated pose thematic of Marvel’s Spider- related characters, sparked massive outrage from fans who accused Manara of intentionally sexualizing a ‘strong, female character’. Manara eventually responded, in a statement given to CBR, to the rabid wave of accusations with a statement that echoes the Heroes in Crisis controversy (Manara’s statement was translated by CBR from his original Italian using an online translation service; any grammatical errors or typos were present in CBR’s initial translation):
“Superheroes are like that: they are naked, some sort of painted. Superman is naked painted in blue, Spider-Man is naked in red and blue, and Spider-Woman is painted red. But these are sort of elements part of the ‘trick,’ so to speak, that publishers use to create these nude figures — on which I don’t find anything wrong. But there is no real nudity. If we look at them later in the inside stories, going beyond the cover, these are characters whose bodies are ‘in view.'”
“On the erotic side, on the other hand, I found the thing a little surprising,” he continued. “Apart from the fact that there is a compulsory prerequisite to do: it seems to me that both in the United States and in the rest of the world there are things much more important and serious you have to deal with. The facts of Ferguson, or the drama of Ebola. That there are people that if the take for things like… unless there is, in these times, a hypersensitivity to images more or less erotic, due to this continuous comparison that we are called to do with Islam. We know that the censure of the woman’s body should not be a characteristic our, western. It is also this that I am surprised enough.”
What do you think about Mann’s depiction of Batgirl in Heroes in Crisis #4?