Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Batgirl Unbound: To make some happy, one must make others unhappy...

What a shock to learn Barbara Gordon will be dropping her Oracle identity and returning as Batgirl. You'd think she would have outgrown that costumed identity by now, but apparently she hasn't. I don't have to tell you why some comic fans are greeting this news with a somewhat less than positive response. One of my favorite bloggers, Innerbrat, will tell you point-by-smartly reasoned point. This is not a fan I'd care to alienate; too intelligent, too passionate! She's not the only one. Another blogger responds to the news at Lubbock Online. This fan deconstructs an ostensibly happy image produced by another fan of Barbara Gordon strutting away in her old school Batgirl costume, her Oracle wheelchair abandoned behind her. Andy Khouri also explains a lot of these feelings it at Comics Alliance. Other fans are concerned that current Batgirl Stephanie Brown is in big trouble.

My understanding is DC's trying to provide new readers a "jumping on point," and that strategy involves more classic versions of their characters. No more multiple Batmen-- Bruce Wayne will be wearing the pointy eared mask and scalloped cape. The iconic characters, hence the traditional Batgirl. I'm not convinced. It's kind of difficult to discuss these "iconic" characters and put them into perspective because we're comic fans. We know their narratives intimately; it's almost as if they're real to us, friends or even family. Or-- if Google image searches for "Batgirl" are to be believed, even lovers.

Sorry. That made even me shudder. Do NOT do a Google image search for Batgirl. I've written quite a bit about Cassandra Cain and you really do not want to know what Google keywords bring more traffic to those posts than any others.

To the public at large, however, Batgirl is probably less Barbara Gordon than that chick in the rubber costume from the 60s or 70s or whenever or that other chick who was in that one Aerosmith video where she and Liv Tyler got kinda semi-lesbianish and whatever happened to her anyway?

Go to a shopping center and ask a random selection of passersby if they know Batgirl's real name. Before you're arrested, you're bound to get some interesting replies, most of which will include the words "what," "the hell" and "are you talking about?" Commissioner Gordon's daughter? Paralyzed? You lying jerk! Gary Oldman didn't even have a daughter in that movie I saw!

What will those people care? While putting Barbara Gordon back in the Batgirl suit is probably exciting for one segment of already-committed comic fans-- and obviously is for Gail Simone, who will be writing this series-- I'm not convinced any of the new readers DC hopes to appeal to with this reboo-- sorry-- "relaunching" have any particular allegiance to the traditional comic book version: "I would've bought that new Batgirl series thingy, but I didn't recognize her without the mask, so I gave it a miss."

And meanwhile, a lot of loyal readers who have already been reading all about Barbara Gordon and loving her are now royally upset. Plus another character is getting the Heisman treatment. Hey, maybe this time they won't kill her off. You've got that going for you... at least... Pissing off Barbara-as-Oracle fans-- for whom she has an intensely symbolic importance-- and Stephanie-Brown-as-Batgirl crowd-- those who made their outrage known during the Robin Memorial Case Conflict-- doesn't seem like a smart move. Unless, of course, the angry go ahead and buy this book anyway because they're just that hardcore about reading comics. Especially comics written by Gail Simone.

That's this story's ultimate twist. Simone is one of the most popular writers for the fans most disgruntled by this abrupt change, plus she's as solid as they come at DC. I'm not a big fan of hers-- I've read more message board posts by her than comics-- but I did enjoy Simone's version of Gen13. While somewhat rambling, it was still entertaining, witty and full of well-written characterization. I especially appreciated Simone's take on Sarah Rainmaker, the most misused, ill-served character from the original series. Simone dumped some of the more strident elements (products of the MTV's Real World/frat boy aesthetic of the first series) and gave Rainmaker a bruised toughness that was touching and effective. But the character Simone is most associated with is Barbara Gordon, of whom she appears to be an unabashed fan. As a writer she comes across giddy about being on this book.

Wow! Shades of the whole "Cassandra Cain turns evil" controversy all over again, minus the shabby scripting. We all have pleasant memories of those fabled days, similar to the family reunion where that estranged ne'er-do-well cousin Cornelius Vandershot-- he who dropped out of Harvard, Yale and Princeton and ended up attending a state university and eventually living on a collective farm in British Columbia before becoming a lawyer specializing in personal injury suits-- attended with his harlot of a wife-- she of the untamed eyebrows and unshaven pits; she claims to be an author of some repute but I've read the titles of some of her "works," nothing but trash-- a-and so drunk on spirits he collapsed at the dinner table, giving Aunt Lydia such intense vapors she took to her bedchambers and hasn't been seen since, communicating her needs through a perpetually-locked double door by means of a silver bell.

Well, you can't make everyone happy all the time. Good lord, the DC writers, artists and editors have learned that lesson time and time again over the past 10 years or so. As far as I know, we still don't know what's going to happen to Cassandra Cain! It's going to be a long, hot summer!


Nathaniel said...

I think people are a little hard on Gail Simone, but it's hard not to read this as her kind of abandoning her principles, especially when people have drug up old message board posts as recent as a year ago where she states that it would be stupid to put Babs back in the Batgirl costume. But I'm not real concerned about that. Writers have favorite characters too, and it's clear that Barbara as Batgirl is hers.

What I don't like about this is that it seems like a repeat of the last Batgirl relaunch, where the previous person to hold the cowl was utterly abandoned and never mentioned again. Except this time, it's the two previous Batgirls.

That's where I have an issue with Simone, because she makes no indication that she'll actually be using Steph and Cass in her book. I think it's pretty much confirmed that she won't since she doesn't know what's going to happen to them. And this is the same person who is always professing that she LOVES those characters SOOO much, especially Cass.

If you love them so much, why are you tossing them to the side? Why can't they at least be supporting characters in your book?

Maybe her hands are tied by editorial, but it just doesn't sit right with me.

Richard Bensam said...

This is without doubt one of the most imbecilic things DC Comics has done in a long while. And that took some doing to top.

However, it also led to one of the nicest tribute sites you'll ever see.

Joel Bryan said...

Nathaniel-- I absolutely agree. I don't have as much invested emotionally in this as some of the people I linked to, but I definitely feel what they're saying. That Gail Simone herself is going to be writing it is just a "double whammy."

Joel Bryan said...

Richard-- Thanks for that link! That's priceless for the image of Barbara teaching Cass to read alone! Why didn't they have scenes like that in the actual comics? Oh yeah, I think we know why.