DC Comics is in a great place right now. Critically and commercially, you might even say they're better off now than they have been in years. So what better way to celebrate DC's recent successes, than by looking back on some of the company's biggest failures? And what better place to start, than one of the earlier examples of controversy at the company?
Granted, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke hardly sparked ire when the one-shot was released in 1988 -- at least not on a mainstream scale. Instead it was heralded as a seminal piece of Batman fiction, showcasing one supposed origin story for the Joker. It painted him as a (potentially) tragic character, even while it bound Barbara Gordon (a.k.a. the once and future Batgirl) to a wheelchair.
It went much, much further than that, though. Besides being paralyzed, Babs is sexually assaulted by The Joker in an attempt to "break" her father, Commissioner James Gordon, psychologically. Inevitably, this draws out the Batman, and the pair have a fated confrontation at an abandoned amusement park.
With the exception of Bolland's terrific, horrific artwork, it's not pretty. Even Moore himself has called it "too nasty," and asked for his name to be pulled from the product. Besides DC "fridging" another female character (a term which actually originated with one of their own comics) they do so in a most overly explicit, and detailed way with pretty much zero regard for Barbara. This comic is all about Bruce, Jim, and Mr. J -- with the then-former Batgirl as set dressing. It wasn't until years later after the book's release that most DC fans realized what they'd actually read.
They didn't have any shortage of reminders, either. DC summarized what makes the comic hard to swallow in modern days with a Batgirl cover featuring The Joker -- in full The Killing Joke gear -- leering over a terrified Babs in 2015.
Many weren't thrilled to see Barbara as the subject of psychological torture on the front of her own book. Just as many "fans" weren't cool with people not being cool with it, and did what shitty people on the internet do best -- they harassed the people complaining about the cover.
After that particular explosion, you'd think DC would get the picture. Of course they didn't, and a year later The Killing Joke was adapted for animation with new scenes that made Barbara out to be a superhero because she wanted to sex up Batman.
Those who have read The Killing Joke know it's a pretty short book, so DC had a lot to fill out to make it a full-length feature. And so the first half hour of the animated TKJ revolves around Barbara becoming Batgirl not because she wants to fight crime, but because she has a thing for Batman. After the two hook up, Batman gives his apprentice the cold shoulder, and Batgirl literally waits by the phone for him to call.
You'd want to believe DC would try addressing and improving the original comic's treatment of Batgirl, but all they did was relegate her to neglected-girlfriend status. No one comes out looking great in this scenario, especially Batman, who should definitely know better than to sleep with a sidekick half his age.
It's hard to think of ways in which DC could possibly draw new criticism from a 30-year-old book, but hey. They've managed so far.
Whoa nelly. This is a big one -- a very, very big one. If you're not familiar with Eddie Berganza, formerly one of DC Comics' top editors, it might just be because the publisher would prefer if you hadn't.
Honestly, it's hard to know where to start when talking about Berganza, and the nastiness that surrounds him. There's certainly no shortage of material that's already been written on the "serial harrasser," his repeated, unwanted physical advances and contact with female employees, or the fact that his employer went well out of its way to protect him for years.
The most striking anecdote is probably that DC restructured its Superman editorial teams to quarantine Berganza from women. That is to say, after multiple very public, and very quiet allegations of sexual harassment, Berganza was no longer allowed to work alongside women. Ironically, this just wound up punishing more women workers, since none could be hired to help edit Superman books. Just as ironically, this kept women from editing freaking Wonder Woman, which was also handled by the Superman team.
Things got even stranger, and much louder, when DC fired their then executive editor of their Vertigo division, Shelly Bond. Both Bond and the Vertigo line at the time were well-liked and respected, but DC wanted to go another way. Okay. That's fine, until you consider that she was one in a string of high-ranking women fired from DC after Berganza's actions were outed. The message: if you're woman doing a good job, you might lose your job. If you're a man who sexually harasses co-workers, you're A-okay!
For many, Bond's termination was the straw that broke the camel's back. The "open secret" that was Berganza's conduct became a highly publicized outcry. Eventually, after years of silence on the situation, DC finally said something about it... But didn't actually do anything. Adding insult to multiple injuries, Berganza still works for DC today -- where he's a dick to all kinds of people, regardless of gender.