Better Living Through Graphic Storytelling
A Comics Blog About Shit We Like
15 August 2007
Text vs. Meta-Text

Been a while. How have you been?

So... This and this have been making the rounds (please read the original blog entries). Not quite in a this kind of way, but enough to make me go "WTF, man?" this morning. Why did I go "WTF, man?"? Because this argument seems pointless to me. Why is it pointless?

Because both Ms. Superheroine and Ms. Hudson are completely right.

I think the issue that many people have with 'Angry Fangirls' on the blogosphere is that there is confusion as to what makes up the content of a comic book.

There's text...

...and then there's meta-text.

ou’re supposed to be disgusted with what happens to Barbara Gordon—and to Commissioner Gordon—because it’s disgusting. That is, in fact, the entire point. It was brutal and pointless and ugly and terrible, and that's why it hurts so much.

That's the text of Killing Joke.

It doesn't take the perspective of a woman into account. It doesn't take into account that some women might be so very disgusted with the book & what happens to Barbara Gordon in it.

That's the meta-text of Killing Joke.

You can review the text of a work. You can't really do that wholly with the meta-text, however, you can certainlyevaluate a work based on its meta-text.

The Killing Joke has been mentioned by Alan Moore as one of his most disappointing works. He states that it is about "nothing". I may be wrong, but I also believe that he did not intend for that story to be necessarily in continuity, and certainly did not intend for this story to be an impetus for getting "rid of" Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. He just needed something that he, as a fan, felt disgusting and offensive enough to actually have been committed by a character like The Joker.

We can't forget the story. The story is the most important part. But we also can't forget that art is supposed to inspire people. Whether it inspires people to make works of art themselves or inspires them to become life-long fans of the character. Even if all it inspires in people is that they should not shoot women in the spine, a piece of art should inspire on any level. Should we be all-accepting and forgiving of the more annoying tendencies of our fanperson compatriots? Probably not, because then most of us comic book bloggers wouldn't have blogs anymore, but we also can't forget that things like this stem from love and appreciation.

Ms. Superheroine was disgusted by The Killing Joke. Not disgusted but inspired like Ms. Hudson, or myself at age 13. In my opinion, that is reason enough for someone to dislike a particular work of art, regardless of whether I share that reaction or not.

The only thing that I would mention to Ms. Superheroine is that The Killing Joke was published in the late 80s (a very, very culturally dark time), before the pictoral abuse of women in comics was as rampant as it is today. This is before "Women in Refrigerators". This is before Stephanie Brown was senselessly and unfairly killed. This was before Brad Meltzer ran off copies of his first novel at Kinkos.

Given its historical context, I would say that Mr. Moore's decision to depict Barbara Gordon being shot might be inspiring. A lot of terrible abuses were happening to Women all over the world in 1988. This is still fairly fresh off the Women's Liberation movement, when we had thought that if we tried hard enough we could eradicate sexism, only to see it all come crashing down with the rise of Heroine Chic and the Crack Epidemic. However, in comics, no one was talking about these things. When Jim Gordon is forced to watch footage of his daughter being abused by the Joker, we're right there with him, because we love Barbara too.

However, given the present day context of Mike Turner variant covers and the legal name change of Dr. Light to Dr. RapeityRapeRape-Rape, yeah, it's uninspired and irritating.

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Blogger philippos42 said...
You're trying to have it both ways: It's "before Women in Refrigerators," but it was a "very culturally dark time."

So it's OK because it wasn't in a context of constant dismissal of women, but it's OK because it was in context of...something bad? Skinny models? Drug addiction?

Humbug. This is the classic, ur-Woman in the Refrigerator. This story was far more widely read than the GL story that gave WiR its name. This is it, baby, right here. This is the seminal, the primary, the ever-imitated BIG ONE. And what you say about sexism in comics, about violence to female characters, goes through here, as well as through Katma Tui's death in Action Comics, & Gwen Stacy's death in Spider-Man.

Alex getting stuffed in a fridge in Green Lantern wasn't the beginning! It was a vivid case of something that had been going on for a long, long time. And this, this is the king of misogynist moments, where a character who'd made it good, a Congresswoman, was gut-shot & metaphorically raped, left alive in a fit of sudden authorial gallantry, but retconned into merely being the poor police commissioner's daughter without the political pull (implausible for a police commissioner's daughter, let alone a Congresswoman) to make sure her assailant died in prison.

Because, the British creative team thought, "Hey, Americans just shoot each other all the time, like in the Cowboy shows like," & the pigs in editorial, well...

She was just a girl.

Blogger TonPo said...
1. Well, I mean, are we not allowed to address the wretched, horrible offenses that people have to face in the real world in our fiction? This horrible act that occurs in the story is not without its emotional and psychological consequences for the characters involved, nor for the reader. We are shown the immensity of this single act of violence. An act of violence is never isolated, but rather a link in a seemingly never-ending chain. That is what made Moore's depiction of James and Barbara Gordon so brilliant - they are the only people in the entire book who can force themselves to be above reacting to violence with more violence. I'm not saying it's OK. I'm saying it's not meaningless.

2. I'm not trying to excuse what Moore wrote, and what Bolland drew. But as much as I love and trust Alan Moore as a creator and an inspiration, the final work is the final word. The Killing Joke is one of my least favorite of his stories. Frankly, it's simply not that great compared to some of his other stories.

3. Hands down, Barbara Gordon is one of my all-time favorite characters in the DCU. Sure, part of that is because of all those great old Batgirl stories I read reprints of as a kid. But a huge part of that is the fact that she has been confined to a wheelchair since The Killing Joke. It made her a better character in my opinion, because it proved that she had the strength of a true hero without having to go out there, dress in spandex, and beat up some poor people. I never wanted Barbara Gordon to become crippled, but given the chance I wouldn't take it back either. Because she's proven that she's too good a character to get rid of, costume or no costume.

Blogger philippos42 said...
Hmm. You know, it's not that Barbara was crippled. It's that...

A) Even if in the Dennyverse she wasn't a Congresswoman, she was still a police commissioner's daughter. The Joker shouldn't have been able to waltz into her apartment.

B) There were no consequences for her assailant. To paraphrase : Cops don't work that way. The joker should have been dead in a month.

It's ridiculous, but it's very very British. Really, I don't understand how British people think; maybe they just let people walk around killing random pedestrians over there, & assume Americans are the same with guns.

Well, we're not.