Trigger Warning: This article discusses suicide.
DC Comics is hosting a contest called “Break Into Comics,” where people can submit a four panel comic that’s outlined by DC. The panels are to be as follows:
Harley is on top of a building, holding a large DETACHED cellphone tower in her hands as lightning is striking just about everywhere except her tower. She is looking at us like she cannot believe what she is doing. Beside herself. Not happy.
Harley is sitting in an alligator pond, on a little island with a suit of raw chicken on, rolling her eyes like once again, she cannot believe where she has found herself. We see the alligators ignoring her.
Harley is sitting in an open whale mouth, tickling the inside of the whale’s mouth with a feather. She is ecstatic and happy, like this is the most fun ever.
Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.
Now to me, the entire idea of making light of suicide is insensitive and pretty offensive, but the last panel in particular have sent shockwaves through a community as it essentially sexualizes suicide. DC comic book fans are already on edge this week since it was recently announced that the Batwoman comics would conclude after issue 26 is released in December. The head writers of Batwoman, J. H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman, are leaving after DC asked them to abandon several storylines, including her marriage to longtime girlfriend Maggie Sawyer.
“The editorial decisions by DC would have “prohibited [us] from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married,” they said in a (now deleted) blog post. “All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and… after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.” Plans plan on buying the last issue en masse in the hopes of quadrupling its sales and making a point to DC.
So with this news fresh in fans minds, suddenly DC is asking for people to draw fan favorite Harley Quinn attempting suicide while naked and people are, as expected, quite upset. Twice in such a short span of time DC has screwed up with their female fanbase; once by denying then a strongly desired plot and causing the end of one of the few female driven comics and then by making a fan favorite attempt suicide in a sexualized manner.
Of course comics have a long history of sexualizing women and the argument has been made that this type of thing is perfectly in character for Harley or that it’s being taken out of context. Some have also pointed out that this is a comic and that the nudity would have to be implied and that nudity doesn’t have to mean that it’s sexual. Regardless of how “in character” this may or may not be, asking fans to draw four random panels of a character attempting to commit suicide, one of which requests that the character be ‘naked,’ seems like a terribly poor decision.
DC later released the following statement:
“What is happening here is Harley is breaking the 4th wall…and talking to the audience about the writers of the book…and how nutty they are. We used the words “naked” because we did not want the artist to draw harley in her costume and we all know you can’t show nudity in the comic…and we also know you have to cover her “parts” with objects and what not…but the idea was she is taking a bath with all this hardware around not believing how far the writers went. The whole story is one big long imaginary scene done by different artists of extremely absurd over the top circumstances.”
So now we have context, but the whole situation still doesn’t sit right with me. As I stated earlier, suicide isn’t a subject that can really be taken lightly, even in world where violence is a common occurrence. There’s a reason people use trigger warnings for things like suicide. When you add the element of nudity to it, it will become sexualized whether that is your intention or not. While some artists may keep her covered with bubbles or the edge of the tub or whatever, the element of nudity is still heavily implied and thus opens the door to sexual interpretations, especially without any context. Once you open that door, it’s really hard to shut it and that kind of seems to be what’s happening here. Now that they’ve released context, it’s a little too late. People are already outraged and, with this being on the heels of another screw up, fans are not likely to be understanding and forgive them for it.
It’s been a terribly bad week at DC. I wonder what Marvel is up to…
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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