This week, I wrote about Batgirl #37, in which the Dark Knight Damsel battled a drag-queen doppelganger named Dagger Type. I confessed that the issue troubled me: While we love our drag queens at NewNowNext—including villainous ones—Dagger Type trolled in the kind of ugly stereotypes of “killer sissies” we used to see constantly in mainstream pop culture. (Think Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.)
There’s a lot of good representations of LGBT people in mainstream comics, but we’re not so far away from a time when sadistic sissies and insane lesbian types were the norm—in comics, and pop culture in general.
There’s nothing wrong with having an LGBT villain—just like there’s nothing wrong with having a black villain, or a Hispanic villain. But when that villain treads in so many ugly stereotypes, and is being served to a primarily straight audience, it gives you pause.
Reaction to the comic by LGBT readers was split: Some agreed that an insane cross-dressing murderer was an unfortunate choice for Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, who recently took over writing duties on Batgirl from Gail Simone, who had actually introduced a sympathetic trans woman character into the comic not long ago.
Others felt Dagger Type was just another colorful villain in a world of lunatic bad guys. And some actually loved the character, interpreting Dagger as an homage to Divine and old-school queer transgressiveness. I reached out to DC Comics for comment, and this weekend, Stewart, Fletcher and artist Babs Tarr responded to the controversy in a group message on Twitter.
We have heard the complaints about this issue and are listening carefully to the reactions with grave concern.
We could go on all day about our intentions for the issue and the character of Dagger Type, and what our goals were and weren’t. But, our intentions do not invalidate the legitimate reactions that some have had to this story. Those reactions are honest and heartfelt, and exist regardless of our creative intentions, and we don’t wish to dismiss them.
Instead, we want to acknowledge the hurt and offense that we’ve caused, and express our sincerest apologies. We’re all deeply troubled by the reaction to this issue and have made it a point of serious discussion amongst ourselves. While we expected a degree of controversy in regard to the issues of identity and the artistic process that this story was meant to evoke, we do now realize that our presentation of this character was flawed, for any elements whatsoever of the story to have reminded readers of the sordid and misguided tropes that associate both drag and gender expression with duplicity.
We deeply regret upsetting readers who placed their trust in us. But were indebted to those who stand up to speak out about their perspective on stories like this their commentary leads to universally better storytelling, from both ourselves and others, and we hope to live up to that standard in the future.
We never thought Stewart, et al, were intentionally suggesting all gay or trans people were unstable killers, or that comic book creators must always portray LGBT character as noble heroes, but Dagger Type was, as one friend put it, “an unfortunate choice.”
The team’s acknowledgement that the story was not handled as well as it could have been is absolutely the right response.
Thanks for listening, guys.