This’ll be a quick and dirty post.
Everyone knows about the cover. It’s an homage to Killing Joke, with Joker threatening a bound and victimized Batgirl.
If you had asked me just three years ago about the cover, I would’ve said “DC should keep it, it’s just a variant cover.” I’ve grown up, broadened my perspective and learned more since then. Here is why the cover needed to be removed or changed.
This is an official product. It’s not a piece of fan work. Fan work, by the nature of it being fan work, simply asks questions and pushes boundaries. You can do a lot of things with fan work because at the end of the day, it can be ignored.
An official product cannot be ignored. An official product doesn’t just send a message that the company accepts certain content. The real problem is that what a company accepts and publishes can be considered canon.
In this case, DC putting out a cover where Batgirl is bound, weak and crying at Joker’s mercy, is what really defines who Batgirl is as a character. It says this is who Batgirl is, a traumatized victim of a psychopath, the same sort of psychopath she “stupidly” thought she could handle when she put on the cape and cowl.
Some people will cite cases of other characters getting victimized, like Jason Todd. I can’t begin to say how people would feel about a cover where Joker threatens to bash Jason Todd’s face in with a crowbar while he looks on in horror with tears streaming down his face.
What I can say is that it’s nowhere near comparable. Female characters have a history of getting treated like victims and damsels in need of rescue, something to view as dainty and fragile for strong, tough male heroes to save (or fail to save) from vicious, evil male villains.
When you play up Batgirl’s victimhood to promote Joker, you are in effect saying that deep down, any strong, tough female character is just a gooey fragile creature in over her head and waiting to be broken by the first psychopath she’s foolish enough to underestimate. She represents women as a whole, something Jason Todd does not do for men. There isn’t a history of making men into passive victims just to make women look more threatening. The same cannot be said for this cover.
So what’s the answer? Frankly, the cover could have been kept IF it had crucial changes. What the variant cover shows is a passive victim unable to save herself, unable to stand up for herself, her life and emotions held captive in Joker’s hands.
What the cover needed to make this scenario fine was an expression of resistance and a sign of her agency. Give Batgirl an angry glare toward Joker as I have seen in several mock-ups, and give her a tiny cue such as reaching for her belt or cutting away some ropes to show she’s actually doing something to save herself, and you’re fine. You’re golden. Joker can look threatening, Batgirl can look like the tenacious and capable young woman she is, the homage is kept and all’s fine.
If all you’re doing is demanding to have the cover kept intact exactly as is, then you’re not really looking at the cover. You’re only acting out to “stick it” to people that want it changed for reasons you’re too stubborn and egotistical to even take five seconds to try to understand.