Sunday, September 18, 2011

This One Has Legs

I picked up the new version of Batgirl today (good thing I had Mike put it in my pull box, because it vanished off the shelves) and wanted to share some thoughts. There's been some controversy over this book, mainly because as part of the DC reboot, and also because Barbara Gordon is back in the costume after 20 years. And walking. For those of you who may not know, Barbara was shot and paralyzed in The Killing Joke back in 1988. This event, along with the contemporaneous arrival of Watchmen, Swamp Thing and Batman: Year One, ushered comic books into the modern, 'adult' age.

Barbara has spent the last two decades in a wheelchair, as Oracle, a sort of computer hacking expert and intelligence officer for Batman's extended crime-fighting operation. Oracle represented a lot of things; real-life consequence to what had been child's play; it doesn't always work out at the end of the issue; and a hero, a symbol, for people with disabilities in stories dominated by people in underwear. When DC announced Barbara had somehow stood up out of her wheelchair and walked again, the outrage by those people that valued her status as the only hero with disabilities in comics should have come as no surprise. To DC, apparently, it did.

DC has come off as surprisingly tone-deaf when it comes to women lately, and that really came through when this week we found out Barbara is not the only character with a, um, makeover:

Amanda 'The Wall' Waller, a long time DC character with a figure unique in comics, became utterly cookie-cutter with her appearance in Suicide Squad #1 (also showcase for a truly stupid revamp of Harley Quinn, a personal favorite). I loved the reaction to some of this, so I had to share it:

Anyways, it's not easy being a woman in the DC universe. What do I think of Batgirl #1 myself? The art was so-so. Some perspective concerns (is that her leg coming at me?) Overall, it was fine. I actually found myself pretty involved in it, especially at the end, when she faces a moment that's very plausible given her experience. Barbara as always is fun and engaging and it's nice to see her in the costume again. Only problem is, costume comics don't do it for me anymore, and the 'new' DC frankly leaves me confused. I'm all for reboots - our pop culture has reboot on the brain lately - but any revisiting of an existing character has to honor the spirit of that character.

Barbara is here in spirit. Does the fact she's no longer disabled dishonor her? Is she her disability? Is it more important that there be a character that is a symbol for people with disabilities?

What did you think?

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