Why rebooting Batgirl is a terrible idea

The cover of Batgirl #1 (due September 2011); Batgirl is wearing a black outfit with yellow bat symbol/gloves and a purple cape lining. She has red hair and a wild grin and is running/jumping exuberantly towards the viewer.

Batgirl #1 cover, due September 2011. Art by Adam Hughes, image from IGN.com

I wasn’t going to say anything. I wasn’t. I was going to wait and see and hope for the best, and believe that they weren’t going to do anything too ridiculous with the universe-wide “Reboot” that someone in DC Comics decided was a good idea I didn’t want to dwell in negativity before the dragons had hatched. I was so sure they wouldn’t do something this daft.

Then it was comfirmed; Batgirl #1, written by Gail Simone, will star Barbara Gordon in the title role. And everything I was hoping wouldn’t happen turned out to be the case. It ruined my day, let me tell you.

Let me give you a quick run down of why this is a terrible idea:

It diminishes visibility of disabled characters

Many years ago, at an awareness training day, myself and colleagues (including many librarians, and a few disabled people) were asked to list disabled people in fiction; an exercise designed to make us aware of the negative stereotyping, misinformation and indirect abuse disabled people get in the prevailing culture. The obvious examples that came up were Ironside, Quasimodo, Daredevil, Raymond Babbit. Then I mentioned Barbara Gordon and people looked askance – I explained that she was former Batgirl now super librarian, and everyone started talking. It’s what directly led me to write my Beginner’s Guide to Barbara Gordon, because she had sparked so much interest with non-comics readers. The existence of this character transformed the talk; we were talking about how disabled people in the media are always portrayed as pitiful, or repulsive, or ‘special’ in their compensation, and here was this shining example of a brilliant woman changing the world from behind a computer.

But don’t listen to me, listen to someone who actually knows: Jill Pantozzi on Newarama; ORACLE Is Stronger Than BATGIRL Will Ever Be

Oracle is my symbol. Just like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are symbols for many others. Hell, Superman became a symbol for some of the disabled community when actor Christopher Reeve was paralyzed. But Superman isn’t disabled. Superman can fly, run and jump better than any person ever could. And that will always be the case.

Oracle is the only original character archetype to appear in superhero comics in the last 50 years

Wheelchair or no, Oracle is a hero for the information age. She stops crime using computers and archival science and knowledge and sheer bloody mindedness, and she did all this in 1989 – the only contemporary equivalent I can think of is Billy from Press Gang: A British TV show that also aired in 1989, and featured a genius computer hacker in a wheelchair that frequently sved the day and the newsteams’ lives using just his mind and hs modem. Press Gang doesn’t have the impact factor of DC comics. Oracle has appeared in 197 different titles, and even more as throwaway references because we live in an internet age, and a hero on the internet can reach anywhere. She has no equivalent in Marvel, that I’m aware of. She has no equivalent in DC; Bryan Q Miller in Batgirl recently tried to groom Wendy Harris as ‘proxy’, a direct clone of the character, but where there are 101 ‘hits things really hard’ and even more ‘hits things really well‘ characters in the genre, there’s no one else who masterminds everything from a distance and gets into your computers in any where near the same way. She brought down Blockbuster by getting at his bank accounts; saved the world during Final Crisis by (alright, Morrison doesn’t understand the internet) shutting down the internet; reduced Calculator to a paranoid jibbering wreck. None of this could Batgirl do.

We already have a perfectly good Batgirl.

So Stephanie Brown has her detractors. Some of that’s because of the absolutely valid point that she took the role after the second Batgirl – Cassandra Cain had her personality completely rewritten, was turned into a villain, had everything that made her interesting taken away and discarded by editorial – and given that Cass was the only character of colour in the Batfamily, and Steph is yet another blonde blue eyed teenage sidekick, that was a move that stunk to high heaven of racism. This is not resolved by putting a redhead in the costume (especially as Babs has comparable colouring to Kate Kane, Batwoman)

Some of that’s because people don’t like the character personally; I personally love that there’s a heroine who represents struggle against constantly being diminished, against her own self esteem and who really had to strive to eanr her place. I also love that she represents one of only two characters (Jaime Reyes being the other) that a friend and I could name in a recent brainstorming session to identify heroes in the DCU with a working class background – so many heroes are rich  or middle class professionals or have some sort of Cinderella story or otherwise are able to magically fund their heroics.

Whether you like Stephanie or not – Bryan Q Miller’s run on the Batgirl title as been hugely popular – the Flood trade has just made the New York Times bestseller list; I just went through the archive of the past year to see about Batgirl Rising, and this is not a small feat for a DC trade paperback; the list has been dominated by Scott Pilgrim and Walking Dead, books which have media tie ins to boost their publicity. I don’t knot bout inidivdual issue sales, but if you have a trade that’s selling well enough to compare to Final Crisis and RIP collections, I would have thought you’d be better sticking to that formula than starting again for nostalgia’s sake.

Two perfectly good Batgirls.

Cassandra Cain was a fantastic Batgirl, a unique character in terms of abilityand in being a linguistic minority, which if DC really wants to ‘focus on diversity’ (I swear, they have said this in regards to the new reboot) who make her a tokentastic twofer – not that there’s anything tokenistic about Cassandra – her Batgirl title was superlative in terms of storytelling in a way that was perfect for her abilities, disabilities and character. I have no sales figures for those, but she remains a huge fan favourite and a massive rallying cry for people who give a damn about diversity in comics. She should never have been taken out of the cowl, and if you want to retcon something, DC, for crying out loud, retcon that.

Birds of Prey needs Oracle

A panel from a comic book showing the head Barbara Gordon - a redhaired woman wearing glasses, looking down, and frowning, as if she's avoiding eye contact with someone. A word balloon, pointing to someone off panel, read "it's a rehab center for broken superheroines"

Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time, an aquaintance at a roleplaying game brought in a character I recognised as Barbara Gordon, who was Batgirl in the 1960s TV series. “Hey,” said I, “that’s Barbara Gordon who was Batgirl in the 1960s TV series. How come she’s in a wheelchair?”

“Oh ho!” declared that acquaintance. “I see you are unlearned in the art of the Batverse. Here, young one, have the entire run of Birds of Prey to read.”

“Oh my!” I said, after a week of not much productivity, “who is this broken recovering ex-Justice Leaguer who’s rebuilding her life after trauma with the help of her invisible best friend, who used to be Batgirl and by the way I totally ship them only not really because this friendship is the best thing I have ever read?”

And so a love affair was started with DC comics, and I moved in with my aces roommate.

Birds of Prey holds a very special place in my heart, and I know it does for a lot of people. It’s a story of female friendship, of women who have been thrown down and cast out and refrigerated, getting the hell out of that refrigerator, and learning their strength together. It’s unique – not for being a woman dominated team book, but for being a woman dominated team book that focuses on the friendships and the personal journeys of those women. And it’s about Oracle and Black Canary.

Oh, I love Huntress and Zinda and Savant and Creote and Misfit. But the book started with Oracle and Black Canary, it put those two characters on the map, and it’s strongest with Oracle and Black Canary; the first run didn’t seemm to gel when Canary left (not Tony Bedard’s fault; he wrote well), and neither Babs nor Dinah had any luck in their own titles after BoP was cancelled (I’m happy to blame the writers of Green Arrow/Black Canary for that one. Oracle: The Cure: well, it suffered from editorial cancelling the plot at the last minute.) So they were brought back to the relaunched Birds of Prey and you know what? The title and the characters are awesome again (all due to Gail Simone being a fantastic writer), but it’s only just gaining steam and becoming that book we loved, and then it’s been cancelled/relaunched, with neither Babs nor Simone.

Well, I say relaunched:

 

The cover of Birds of Prey #1, due September 2011. Four women are on the cover, arranged in a group on a background of growing wood. Centre back is a woman with red hair and pale skin, wearing a green leafy catsuit, who may be Poison Ivy. In front of her, to the left, is a blonde woman wearing blue and yellow armor with a fishnet detail who may be Black Canary. Front centre sits a woman with pale skin and brown hair and a big tattoo on one arm, wearing a corset and holding a gun. To the right is a woman in armor, holding a sword and a Japanese flag on her face mask. She may be Katana.
I don’t know what the hell this is, but it’s not Birds of Prey

I believe these new “birds” include: my girl Dinah Lance, in apparently no shoes, Poison Ivy (I hoped it would be Rose and Thorn, who at least has some heroic history, but no, those are ivy plants), Katana (I know nothing about this character, willing to learn, and – someone with a gun. Probably not Shado (the arm tattoo made me think). Anyway, it’s an all-woman team up. But unless they’ve done something drastic with Poison Ivy’s character (maybe to make her fuckable) it’s not a rehab group for Broken Superheroines. It’s even less birdlike than when it was Canary, Lady Blackhawk and Huntress (a raptor-y name at least.

 

I have no interest in this book. I just don’t care. It’s not enough to put a bunch of women together on a cover, DC. To make Birds of Prey you need to have the friendship, and the bond.

And I cannot believe you just retconned away the relationship that got me sunk into this universe.

It’s not even necessary

Look, I see what DC/WB is trying to do here. They’ve had a few very successful movies. One look at the New York Times bestseller list for graphic novels (scroll back a few months to see what stays and what goes) shows that movies and tv are a fantastic way of viewers into readers. The DCU looks very complicated from the outside -what long time readers like myself love about legacy and established relationships and complex world building may not be the best way to get new readers. But you don’t have to reboot freakin’ everything! New readers are hihgly unlikely to say “well, I liked The Dark Knight, so I think I’ll spend $156 (52*$3) on comics this September!” Maybe you want to pick one or two titles directly linked to the movies for a relaunch or a dramatic simplification of those stories (Batman, starring Bruce Wayne, Green Lantern starring Hal Jordan) as gateway comics, but bringing in new readers doesn’t mean to have to throw away all your existing fans. Batgirl: The Flood‘s success proves that Batgirl doesn’t need to be the one from the 1960s in order to sell well.

(If Barbara Gordon at least had a speaking role in the Batman movies, I’d understand, but no! James jr is the only one allowed to talk to his daddy!)

That cover art is horrible

I have a poster my Adam Hughes on my living room wall, and I love it. But the majority of what he draws is bland cheesecake porn and I have no idea why he’s so popular. I suppose we should at least be grateful she doesn’t have blow job mouth like some of his recent work on Zatanna.

 

 

The thing is – I trust Gail Simone with the book. I like her writing and she understands the fan importance of Barbara Gordon, and I’ve been right to trust her in the past. I’m willing to see where this goes. but it’s not a good idea, and it looks like it’s destroyed one of my favourite characters and my favourite book in one swipe.

Oh, and Secret Six. That title was the best on the shelves.

I guess I’ll always have the trades

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3 Responses to Why rebooting Batgirl is a terrible idea

  1. Pingback: DC Reboot Link Round-Up « Something More Than Sides

  2. Eyz says:

    Completely right. I’m with you on that. The idea is already bad and the execution worse..
    It seems that even at DC they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.

    Complete reboot? Partial reboot? One Year Later-again? Roy Harper gets his arm back and Oracle back as Batgirl?! Yet Batman Inc will continue, as well as most titles such as Green Lantern…
    They say the characters are younger, like an early days of superheroes yet there’s 4 Robins running around (Dick, Jason, Tim, Damian)..

    And we’re losing Oracle with all that, really? I loved her!

    And if this was a proper restart, why not have the Elongated Man or Ted Kord/Blue Beetle back? Oh, righ…Identity Crisis (Sue Dibny, Dr. Light…’nuff said…) still happened..

  3. Pingback: One to Keep, One to Drop: Batladies « Thagomizer.net Thagomizer.net

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