Thursday, June 09, 2011

One step forward, more steps back

So, as has been recorded in this space, I am not a fan of what we’ve heard about the DC reboot thus far. My concerns largely lie with the creative people involved at both the top level and on the books themselves, which seem to be all the usual suspects and Scott Lobdell (I mean, honestly, 3 *($*ing ongoing titles? Are you kidding me? This guy hasn’t written an ongoing book in 5 *$*%ing years! I can’t wait to hear about Howard Mackie’s overhaul of the Doom Patrol). However, a big part of my problem with it is that it takes the regressive storytelling DC’s been doing over the past few years and cranks it up to eleven.

Now, I’d be lying if this wasn’t partly due to the fact that hey, characters like Kyle Rayner, Connor Hawke, and so on were the versions of the characters that I grew up reading. The same things I’m feeling are what’s driving Didio and company to bring back all their favorite characters and restore their favorite status quos. There’s nothing wrong of that in and of itself. And lord knows, the DC universe could use a massive kick in the ass. The problem occurs when they get rid of the good with the bad. And there’s no better example of that than Batgirl/Oracle.

Now, we don’t know exactly what’s going to be involved in the recently announced Batgirl title, but it looks like Barbara Gordon will be Batgirl again and no longer paralyzed. The book will be written Gail Simone and she has written passionately about the character and her enthusiasm for this book. She is enormously talented writer and has a number of great Barbara Gordon stories under her belt as the Birds of Prey author, so this is one of the new DC books that I am probably least worried about. That said, I think this is a terrible idea.

Batgirl has always been an important heroine in the history of comics and pretty much is the foundation upon which hundreds of other spunky heroines have been based on. She was probably the third most important super heroine after Wonder Woman and Supergirl. However, I would argue she’s been much more important as Oracle.

Since she was shot and paralyzed, she was rewritten as Oracle, the superhero community’s intelligence broker. Even though she was confined to a wheelchair, I would challenge you to name any DC hero who has been portrayed as effective at what they do as Oracle has been over the past 20 odd years. She has probably been Batman’s most important superheroic ally and has even beaten up her fair share of supervillains.

For a whole generation of readers, she has been one of the best superheroines in comics and they’ve never seen a non flashback story of her as Batgirl. Now, DC’s never had another hero take hold of the Batgirl mantle the way she Barbara Gordon did. That’s due in part to the inherent strength of the character and, I would argue, DC’s inability to stand behind her successors (in fact, given the buzz behind the current Batgirl book, I think they’re insane to remove that character), but it’s that appeal of the character that makes Oracle such a success.

I highly doubt any disabled character introduced that way would be as successful as Oracle has been. Because Suicide Squad took what happened in the Killing Joke (Barbara Gordon is paralyzed) and ran with it (so what’s a super hero going to do if they can’t walk?). It felt relatively natural as these things go and never felt like a contrived after school special like it could have. Because she used to be Batgirl, this spunky redhead who swung around Gotham with a devil may care attitude, it felt significant that even with her paralysis that she refused to give up and kept fighting crime.

Now, part of the reason Oracle has been such a successful character are the stories written by Gail Simone. I have every reason to believe she is capable of writing great stories about a fully mobile Barbara Gordon. And despite what some of my comics reading friends believe (HI SHAWN), I would love to read more good DC books, and that’s probably what any Gail Simone book will be.

However, I just can’t shake the notion that DC is overlooking the fact that Barbara Gordon became more popular, more inspiring, and more important as Oracle and I’m worried that they’re changing it simply because that’s how it used to be.

Now who knows, maybe she’ll still be disabled somehow. We know for a fact that Alex Ross, the king of regressive storytelling, had a deparalysing story for Batgirl chucked because DC thought she was too important as a hero with disabilities. I can also remember at least one subplot in Birds of Prey, written by Gail Simone, that seemed to be leading to Oracle regaining use of her legs that quietly disappeared. But it sure doesn’t seem that way this time.

DC’s a mess right now and it took a long time to get there. I just hope the powers that be realize there are certain things the last 20 years that make their comics more interesting, not more complicated.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed. I'm hoping that Gail can make this work in someway.