Commentary about Batwoman’s prohibited marriage is flying far and fast, and the discussion is an incredibly important one. But it turns out that there’s more in DC’s current litany of bad choices, and the most recent is enough to make the stomach churn: an Open Talent Search to draw the next Harley Quinn comic.
Because, you know, her costume revamp wasn’t already irritating enough.
According to DC Comics, the current writers of the Harley Quinn book are looking for a brand new artist to take on everyone’s favorite Gotham misfit. They directed each artist interested to draw four panels, each of increasingly unlikely ways that Harley might choose to end her life. (Willing lightning to strike her, covering herself with raw chicken and surrounding herself with crocodiles, and so on.) And then they get to Panel 4:
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.
Let’s recap this—in order to get potentially hired by DC Comics as an artist, all you have to do is draw a picture of a female character (who has already recently gone through an unnecessary hyper-sexualized redesign) completely naked and about to commit suicide.
According to the fine print, these panels are referred to as a “script page,” which means these images will appear in some form in Issue #0 of the title. As we don’t know the context of these images in the comic, it’s impossible to comment on them clearly. But encouraging countless artists to draw a woman in sexualized manner while trying to kill herself is well beyond plain poor taste. (And no, she doesn’t have to be sexualized just because she’s naked, but comics at large have a pretty poor track record where that’s concerned, so let’s not hold out hope there.) DC reserves their right to reproduce the art received online, which means that they could potentially ask fans for their opinions on the artwork to help in the process of judging the open call. Just drawing after drawing of Harley Quinn trying to electrocute herself in the bathtub, a never-ending barrage of decidedly unfunny images.
Why that group of images? Were there no other dynamic spreads that they could choose from in the comic script they had on hand? If so, it doesn’t bode well for Harley. Either way, the move is insensitive in the extreme to more than one group of people. When it appears in the actual comic it is likely to spark a dialogue all on its own, but asking artists beforehand to prove their talent by rendering that specific image out of context isn’t just insulting—it’s a terrible business move that no one apparently called into question. In addition, it’s potentially alienating to qualified artists; understanding the panels in context would have at least made some difference in that. All this on the heels of the Batwoman controversy, which already has DC Comics in hot water with many fans.
DC can’t seem to pull it together, can they? It turns out that there’s an entire website devoted to counting the days since they last screwed up. The current count is at one day. No surprises there.
Moves like these executed countless times make it no wonder to anyone that Marvel has currently cornered the superhero market in other media. DC has watched author after author back away from them in frustration, they’ve issued edicts that easily come off prejudiced, they still won’t make a Wonder Woman movie because they insist that “they have to get it right.” She’s their character, yet they seem to know there’s a good chance they could get in wrong. Because some fans think they already have recently. Because plenty of their choices lately have panned out just the same.
At this point, DC seems to need one of those helpful “Are you drunk?” buttons that they have to click through before they’re allowed to make decisions. Harley Quinn’s Panel 4 is only the latest in a long line of major ‘no-no’s.