Continuing our theme of publishing the abstracts for our forthcoming conference on 4-5 July, here is a great-looking paper from Lynsey Black (University College Dublin): ‘Women as Victims – Exploring gender violence through the character of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon’.
In the 1988 comic book, Batman: The Killing Joke, the character of Barbara Gordon (alias Batgirl) is attacked by the Joker – shot in the spine and sexually assaulted. The issue became iconic; one of the great Batman/Joker stories. Crucially, it was not created as a classic Batgirl story. Instead, the victimisation of Batgirl saw the character stripped of significance beyond the significance her assault carried for the male characters in the book: Batman, the Joker, and her Police Commissioner father, Jim Gordon. This demonstrates what Gail Simone has called the ‘Women in Refrigerators’ trope within comic books, in which female characters are killed to provide motivation for male characters. Taking a cultural criminological perspective, this paper will examine online reactions to the victimisation of Batgirl, through analysis of responses to a controversial 2015 variant cover of a Batgirl comic which evoked the events of The Killing Joke, as well as the reaction to a new, and also controversial, animated feature film of this comic. The paper explores the characterisation of Batgirl, one of the most recognisable female characters within the superhero genre, with particular reference to her victimisation, and her status as a ‘possession’ belonging to either her father or Batman. Through analysis of online debate, the paper shows the conflict inherent among comics fans on these points and on how the meanings of sexual and gendered victimisation are understood and negotiated within comics fandom.
Lynsey Black is a Postdoctoral Fellow at University College Dublin. Her doctoral research explored women sentenced to death in post-Independence Ireland. Her postdoctoral research is a study of the death penalty in Ireland and Scotland, 1864-1914. Lynsey has previously carried out research on the media use and construction of gender.