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‘The Killing Joke’ and Killing the Past

One of the bits of news to spill out of Comic Con this weekend was the revelation that DC and Warner Brothers would be putting together an animated version of "The Killing Joke." Needless to say, this is very problematic.

For those of you not in the know, "The Killing Joke" is considered a seminal Batman story from the 1980s; along with Frank Miller's work on "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Batman: Year One," Alan Moore's "The Killing Joke" basically set the tone for the character for the next 30 or so years. "The Killing Joke" would have a profound impact on the DC comic book universe, as Barbara Gordon (a/k/a Batgirl) was shot in the spine by the Joker, crippling her. Gordon would go on to become Oracle, a beloved character who served as a sort of directory assistance for characters in the Batman universe. She starred in a series called Birds of Prey that teamed her up with Black Canary, turning her into something of an icon for both feminist comic book fans and advocates for the disabled.

Despite the fact that "The Killing Joke" directly led to the creation of one of the great feminist characters of all time, feminists hate the book because it involves a female character being shot, stripped, and photographed nude in order to mentally wound a male character. Mention "The Killing Joke" on Tumblr or Twitter and feminist fangirls lose their minds. They start screaming about "fridging"* and dudebros and sexism. They wail about the world of comics not being considered a safe space, that the companies aren't welcoming them with open arms. Complaints like these are typical:

The implicit argument here is that the work of Moore and Miller—again, work that basically serves as the foundation for every modern iteration of the character Batman—should be memory holed in the name of progress. You see something similar at work from "DC Women Kicking Ass" on Tumblr:

I am well aware the book is popular among a certain set of readers. And DC Comics is a commercial company and part of a publicly traded larger company. No doubt this will make them money.

But here’s a fact. You can make all the female friendly comics you want. You can talk about the desire to reach a female audience. You can create versions of your characters to real younger women.

But by constantly milking a comic that is the poster child for "fridging" of women in comics – a comic where a woman is shot, stripped and sexually assaulted to drive the narrative of a male character, it is sending a very clear message about what it values more.

I've written to this sort of sentiment before, but it's worth reiterating in the wake of this "troubling" news: the reason non-PC comic book readers can't stand the feminist set is because they aren't interested in sharing the space—they're interested in dominating it wholly. It's not enough to make Squirrel Girl and Bat Girl and Spider-Gwen. The industry also has to disown its past, to declare it is ashamed of classic stories, to scorn the readers who have kept "The Killing Joke" in print through four separate decades. As Ace of Spades has noted in the context of video games, the social justice set is not really interested in providing alternatives or opening up new markets. Rather, they're interested in changing what people like. As long as people like "The Killing Joke"—and as long as DC refuses to memory hole it, to airbrush it out of existence like a Stalinist recreating history—these warriors will not have won.

*Short explanation: The girlfriend of a Green Lantern was killed and stuffed into a fridge at some point in the 1990s, a symbol of the awful way women are treated in mainstream superhero books.