From tackling social issues to the latest fashions, comics have always tried to keep in step with the world around them. Over the past few years I have seen two drastic changes to Barbara Gordon, a woman pick up Thor’s hammer, and a 15 year old woman step up to become the new Iron Man. But sometimes, comics can seem a little out of touch, and this can lead to a recall of certain variant covers.
Riri Williams, the new face behind the iron suit, had a variant cover recently pulled from sale. Many deem that the cover, pictured below, depicts the super genius in a sexualised manner.
At first, I thought “what can you do”, and was about to ignore it. The depiction of women in comics is getting better, but the sexualisation of women in comics is still pretty common. That was until I read that she is a 15 year old.
No doubt, the cover should not have happened. The response at first from the artist, J. Scott Campbell, was slightly dismissive, however since the initial response both he and Marvel have acted positively to change the cover. And the new cover is beautiful.
But Iron Heart isn’t the only heroine to receive a controversial variant cover. Just last year, DC Comics released a variant cover for the revamped Batgirl. Batgirl had an amazing redesign after the New 52 range with Barbara Gordon moving to Burnside. These comics were light hearted with wonderful pops of colour. But the unpublished variant cover of Batgirl #41 didn’t follow suit.
This variant cover sent shivers down my spine, which most likely was the intent of the artist Rafael Albuquerque. It had unusually unnerving connotations while paying homage to Brian Bolland’s 1988 Batman: The Killing Joke. However, after some backlash, it was him that actually asked for the cover to not be published with this statement:
“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.”
In my opinion, although the removal of this cover was necessary, I actually think that it is artistically incredible. The cover was a chilling link to Barbara Gordon’s past and brought to light the difficulty in living passed horrific events. I believe the art transcended the ink on the page and made Barbara Gordon a more three dimensional character. But, I say again, this variant cover was outrageously out of touch for the comic’s content.
Variant covers can, however, be completely incredible and educate us on something great. A different variant cover for Riri Williams shows the 15 year old enjoying a cup of coffee with the real life Areill Johnson.
As a woman passionate for coffee and comics, I nearly immediately put Ariell Johnson on my hero list. She is the first black woman to own a comic shop on America’s East Coast and is now immortalised beside Riri Williams. It’s a dream, really.
And the dream of diversity is slowly coming into reality. Not only to lessen the sexualisation of characters, which does include men, but to also include more representations of race, belief, and sexual orientation.
If you’re looking to pick up the new adventures of Riri Williams, Iron Heart, be sure to check out this short excerpt.