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Comic book portraying character with Joker makeup and gun to her head has stirred controversy

Critics say it is too violent, creepy and out of step with the tone of the series

DC Comics says the scene recalls a memorable moment in Batgirl's canon

CNN  — 

It recalled one of the most memorable moments in comic book history, but for critics on social media, one comic book cover went too far, and it’s now been pulled.

DC Comics pulled the cover for the upcoming “Batgirl” #41, which portrays the Joker threatening a frightened Batgirl with a gun, with “Joker makeup” on her mouth.

Batgirl is menaced by the Joker in a comic book cover that was pulled after criticism on social media.

The Twitter hashtag #changethecover had been trending since Friday, when the cover was revealed. It’s a variant, aka an optional cover, which tends to grab the attention of collectors but won’t be the main cover seen in most stores.

For the month of June, DC’s variant covers are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the iconic villain.

The cover recalls Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon’s encounter with the Joker in the classic story “The Killing Joke.” In it, he brutally attacked Barbara, kidnapping her, and it was heavily implied that she was sexually assaulted.

After being shot, the character remained in a wheelchair for decades, until DC retconned Barbara’s fate in 2011, allowing her to walk again and be Batgirl.

The criticism of the cover spread over a few days, though others defended it with their own hashtags.

DC Comics (owned by Time Warner, which also owns CNN) said in a statement late Monday that artist Rafael Albuquerque’s cover was going to be pulled.

“Regardless if fans like Rafael Albuquerque’s homage to Alan Moore’s THE KILLING JOKE graphic novel from 25 years ago, or find it inconsistent with the current tonality of the Batgirl books – threats of violence and harassment are wrong and have no place in comics or society,” they said.

“We stand by our creative talent, and per Rafael’s request, DC Comics will not publish the Batgirl variant. “

Albuquerque said in his own statement, “My Batgirl variant cover artwork was designed to pay homage to a comic that I really admire, and I know is a favorite of many readers. ‘The Killing Joke’ is part of Batgirl’s canon and artistically, I couldn’t avoid portraying the traumatic relationship between Barbara Gordon and the Joker.”

He continued, “For me, it was just a creepy cover that brought up something from the character’s past that I was able to interpret artistically. But it has become clear, that for others, it touched a very important nerve. I respect these opinions and, despite whether the discussion is right or wrong, no opinion should be discredited.

He concluded, “My intention was never to hurt or upset anyone through my art. For that reason, I have recommended to DC that the variant cover be pulled. I’m incredibly pleased that DC Comics is listening to my concerns and will not be publishing the cover art in June as previously announced.”

Albuquerque added in a tweet on Monday night that he was never threatened (the “threats” DC referenced were aimed at those objecting to the cover, per “Batgirl” writer Cameron Stewart).

Stewart tweeted more: “I stand behind Rafael as an artist and a friend, and think he made the right decision. The cover was not seen or approved by anyone on Team Batgirl and was completely at odds with what we are doing with the comic. So, we have the creators of the book and the artist himself all agreeing that the cover was inappropriate. There’s no ‘censorship’ here.”

That didn’t stop the controversy on social media.

It was just the latest brouhaha involving portrayals of women in comic books and variant covers in particular. In September, Marvel Comics canceled future variant covers from artist Milo Manara after a “Spider-Woman” No. 1 variant cover caused an uproar for being “over-sexualized.” (The company later said there was no connection between the two events.)