Sunday, September 11, 2011

Out of the Wheelchair and into the Flames: The Less Than Stellar Reaction to Barbara Gordons Return as Batgirl

You've probably heard of Batgirl before. If you're paying attention at all, you're probably aware that DC is in the midst of a linewide relaunch aimed at solidifying the companies comics into the digital sphere with day and date releases. You probably know Barbara Gordon is back as Batgirl, as well.

If you know all of that, you must know about the less than stellar reaction in some areas of fandom.

There are a lot of reasons why. One being the fact that Oracle's been a positive portrayal of disability in a medium sorely lacking in them for over twenty years now. Stephanie Browns dismissal as Batgirl is another that has some folks annoyed. They're all valid. But how often is a rational argument for the other side really given? So that's what I'm here to give, along with some perspective, if I can.

As you can guess, I'm actually okay with the return of Babs as Batgirl. I have my own reasons and I understand DC's. A fair amount of folks, predictably, are upset at the loss of Stephanie Brown as Batgirl; somewhat hypocritical, I might add, if you're at all aware of the sheer outrage that followed her original announcement as Batgirl. Of course, there's also the reality that the comic sold like shit despite massive amounts of critical acclaim, but that's always glossed over in situations like this. No one really wants to hear the "recognizability" argument, of course, but that's just what the company is going for by returning the "iconic" version. It's a bit different for me.

Am I the only one who was just completely bored with the Oracle identity? It's been around for twenty years and frankly, it got to the point where she was just there. I can't think of a lot of what was done with her outside of Birds of Prey and her being the "handler" for Steph Browns time as Batgirl. She was a strong handicapped character, but after twenty years, I honestly felt like the whole deal was well and truly spent.

Compared to Oracle, how many good, definitive stories do we have of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl? Three, max; and one of them, fun as it was, caused a bit of stir. Most of her time in the cowl is from the Silver Age, which was... well, a different time; and by different I mean she put on makeup in the midst of a fight, which is not exactly the definition of a positive portrayal of a female hero.

For all the talk of how it's "regressing" to have her go back, I never really got to experience Babs as Batgirl much in the comics. You may recall that on the scant occasions I did, I had a blast. I think this was compounded by my boredom with Oracle, which is the main role I've seen her in for as long as I've been reading. Now, part of this is on DC, as they could always put out more stories of Babs as Batgirl in the past. But then, they couldn't really ever show us the ongoing adventures.

Not to mention the stories set in the past always have those little allusions to her legs and future handicap when the writers feel like being cute. I hate that so much I could spew acid; I sit there thinking "ha ha, real funny writer, you're so clever with your allusion to The Killing Joke, I'm in awe". It kind of devalues her time as Batgirl, as it's though the injury is now her entire character and even her damn past now revolves around the fact that it's in her future. It's as though being Batgirl wasn't as important as being Oracle; and while there's definitely a case to be made that she became more important as an positive role model after the injury, it shouldn't necessarily devalue her previous role.

Then comes the reality that Oracle became a tool for storytellers not named Gail Simone and not much else. An easy one to use at that; for several years ninety percent of her appearances outside of Birds of Prey consisted of her being used as an info dump disguised as a character. She was a tool to point the hero in the right direction at a given time or explain a backstory with ease. It's not bad to have an information broker - and it can be made interesting - but she was used as a shortcut.

It kind of needed to stop. Remember how often Batman used her for info or direction on a case? Batman, the Worlds Greatest Detective. Instead of us seeing him do some, you know, detecting, some writers would use the shortcut. Even the Bat offices realized it, since they cut Batman off from her and the line in Under the Hood about how the Bat family had "come to rely on her too much".

Despite that, I feel kind of bad to have this opinion. I feel for the handicapped readers who are rather crushed by the loss of Oracle. The number of characters to take her place is a low one. I've read quite a few blogs or articles on the whole thing and it kind of makes me feel bad for them. At the same time, don't most characters mean something to somebody? Is that a reason to keep them locked in one position? Or is it a bit too much like those readers who want a regression to the Silver Age iterations for their own personal reasons? That's not an easy question to answer.

But what's done is done. There are good arguments to be made on both sides. It's tough to say any stance - such as my own - is better than the others. Ultimately, we'll have to see where it goes; Gail Simone's about as good a choice for this as anyone. How many years has she handled Barbara Gordon?

Hopefully it pans out, because man, how freaking embarrassing would it be for DC to cave and have Babs re-crippled in some contrived way? That's Professor X's gig over at Marvel; and as much as I like that character, that shit was ridiculous. Just stick with one already.

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