DC Comics has recently pulled a cover of issue No. 41 of Batgirl. The cover depicts the Joker holding Batgirl at gunpoint, with Batgirl weeping after Joker put a painted smile on her face. Complaints of this cover have brought about complaints that comics use women as objects of brutality in order to have male-centered storylines.
Vox reports that the cover of Batgirl No. 41 has been "ripping DC Comics apart". It certainly has caused a lot of controversy, and the cover itself certainly has a lot of shock value. It is very common for comic books to have "variant covers", different covers by different artists in order to boost sales on one particular issue. It is also common to depict images on the cover that are not in the issue, but this one cover by artist Rafael Albuquerque will not be used for neither one of those reasons.
Albuquerque states that the intention of this cover was a reference to a 1988 comic known as The Killing Joke, which tells the story of how the Joker shot Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) in the spine. The comic, which was given a "Mature Readers" label, was written by famed comic writer Alan Moore, and it also featured a scene where the Joker removes Batgirl's clothes and takes pictures of her wounded and naked body.
The Killing Joke comic had a definite impact on the DC Universe, as Barbara Gordon was bound to a wheelchair. She served as a hacker for Batman with the code name of Oracle, but the rebooted DC Universe has revealed Batgirl as a different type of character. Gail Simone has made the Batgirl character someone who can realistically deal with the PTSD.
DC comics decision to remove the cover is because it doesn't fit the current tone of the Batgirl comic. The variant cover has been cancelled at Albuquerque's request, and complaints about the cover were met with death threats. Many of these death threats come from comment sections, but it certainly shows the extremes of the two opinions.
The cover for Batgirl No 41 has also brought about anger about comics based on a trope known as "women in refrigerators". This is a reference to a storyline where Green Lantern finds his girlfriend chopped up in a refrigerator. Often women are brutalized in order to bring the male hero's character to a new level, and Batgirl could be seen as that in The Killing Joke.
Perhaps what angers so many is that DC was willing to commission Albuquerque's cover in the first place. Marvel comics had a similar controversy with a comic cover last year with a variant cover of a Spider-Woman solo series. Artist Milo Manara stood by his art, though many complained that the character was in a hypersexualized pose. Marvel apologized for the decision of the cover.
It is very clear that covers like these might come up in the future, but I think the outcry might prevent them from being published. The outcry also might prevent future covers of this type, but will it stop the "women in refrigerators" trope?