Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On the revamping of women and girls of the Battish persuasion, and the reappearance of avian predators

For all the questionable and outright poor choices DC (read "Dan Didio" if you like, you know you want to) have made, I am still quite surprised that anyone still considers keeping Babs Gordon as Oracle, and NOT making her Batgirl again, to be a BAD move.

Babs was one of the few examples of a character undergoing a radical and shocking change and actually coming out the other side a newer and better character. Originally paralyzed by the Joker in Alan Moore's Killing Joke, John Ostrander couldn't stand the fact that such a great and classic heroine was taken off the board. So he (and the divine Kim Yale) created Oracle, turning Babs into a viable character again. And since then she's become FAR more important a player in the DCU than batgirl ever could.

The current version of the story goes that when DC Editorial decided to bring back Batgirl again, returning Babs to the role seemed the slam-dunk move. But they got talked out of it, and they went with Spoiler. And for the life of me, I can't get why anyone sees that as anything but a plus. Oracle is jut plain a great character. A rare example of a topical character (the "hacker") having the staying power to rise above the cliches of the trend. There's the argument about her being an inspiration to the handiicapped as well, but I don't neccessarily see her being tied to the wheelchair as intrinsic to the character. Yes, she chose this role because of her inability to help physically, but if she regained mobility, I don't see that making Oracle any less a strong character. In a universe where character lose major portions of their body and become better strong faster thanks to technology, Babs' paralysis has always stuck out like a sore thumb to me. It seemed much more like she needed to stay in the chair for narrative as opposed to "real" reasons. The only other major wheelchair-bound character I can think of in the DCU (and I'm sure y'all will bring others to my memory) is The Chief from Doom Patrol. In a weird way, I can actually see him CHOOSING to stay wheelchair bound, for two reasons. One, making his enemies underestimate him, and two, the Guy Caballero motive of "respect". But Babs, I don't think she'd really turn down a legitimate fix, as opposed to magic or prosthetics or what have you. But I, to borrow a catch-phrase, digress.

Whether or not the new Batgirl should have been Babs, Spoiler, Cassandra Cain, someone else or no one is another issue, and one that'll likely never die. The point was that turning Babs back into Batgirl would have been a step backwards in a lot of people's eyes. It's one of the few times that the chestnut about making the characters (back) into the version that the most people know is not the better move. Like Dick Grayson into Nightwing, trying to turn him BACK into Robin would have been almost laughable, let alone a poor use of the character.

As the tale goes, Dan wanted to kill off Nightwing as well, but was talked out of it by people (spearheaded by Marv Wolfman) who convinced him that there were more and better stories to be told with the character alive than dead. So Dan changed his mind. And if he hadn't, we wouldn't be reading the current Batman stories, which you have to admit have been pretty damn good. If he was as poor as his job as so many say he is, he'd have stuck to his guns, forced through the plot he wanted, and very likely seen it go up in flames faster than Conan at 11:30.

DC, Marvel, all the comics companies have copyrighted and trademarked characters which they need to keep using on a regular basis, or you end up with the scenario where Captain Marvel can't appear in a book with his name on the cover, or toys named after him. So we will ever see hero names re-used. There's no point grousing over it. It's why all the classic Superman characters started to re-appear oin the books after Byrne's famous "get rid of all the silly stuff" revamp. So for Batgirl to reappear is not a shock. Again, want to argue who it should have been; go ahead, and sei gesund.

The same is so of Batwoman. Not nearly as popular or as well known a name, but a name that needs using every so often. They got it into that Batman Beyond movie a while ago, but it needed using again. Greg Rucka created a very good and very intersting character in Kate Kane, one that has far outpaced the initial rowdy-dow about her interpersonal predilictions. That doesn't happen often; usually those re-vamped characters are sad shadows of the original, requiring years to find redemption in the proverbial "right hands". The plethora of Starmen (Starmans?) leap to mind. So to actually get a good, even great character from such pedestrian needs is quite a treat.

One of the single best revamps of a character in recent years (IMHO) was The Calculator. As much as I have to say against Identity Crisis (suffice to say I am a rabid Ralph and Sue fan, and let that be the end of it), taking Calculator from one of those aforementioned "trend-born" characters and revamping him into Oracle's opposite number was nothing short of brilliant. Gail Simone took the ball and ran with him, using him regularly in Birds of Prey, often in virtual battles against Oracle, and at least one face-to-face meeting. Gail eventually left the book in the capable hands of Tony Bedard. Tony's a very good writer, and delivered some solid character issues, but right at the end of the run, the direction they chose to take both the book and The Calculator bordered on embarassing. They chose to have him not only survive an attack by the Kilg%re, but survive with powers similar to the cybernetic beast. Which I found to be utterly pointless. Already a great villain with lots of resources and abilities at his command, giving him powers is like adding a spoiler and neon to a Dusenberg. This, combined with the choice to retroactively make him the father of Wendy and Marvin from Teen Titans was an attempt to make Calculator more than he needed to be.

Birds of Prey ended, immediately followed by the mini-series "Oracle: the Cure". This begged the question "cure for what"? The rumors ran rampant - Babs would walk again, Babs would become Batgirl again, she'd become a cyber-being like that guy from Psyba-Rats, and who knows what else. As I mentioned, I didn't see an issue with Babs being able to walk again and still remaining Oracle. A lot of people were really against that - they maintained that her position as a role-model was too important. I found that almost cruel; would the same people have begrudged Chris Reeve the ability to walk because he was too important as a role model, or Stevie Wonder to "get a peek" as chris Rock described it? Yes, I know, fiction and reality, but I still found/find it an odd position to take.

Ultimately...nothing happened. It was a protracted (and suffuciently entertaining) fight in the virtual and real worlds against the Calculator for possession of a facet of the Anti-Life Formula which ended in a sort of tie, with his daughter Wendy awakened from her coma (apparently the titular "cure") but paralyzed. Basically, nothing happened to Babs. The book ended with an entreat to read the upcoming Batgirl series, a book that now nobody had any idea who it would star. People complained that the book didn't deliver what was promised, never quite realizing that nothing was promised. People assumed it was Babs' "cure" we'd see, so all it could be accused of was that it didn't deliver what they THOUGHT is was supposed to.

The new Batgirl book is quite entertaining. Since I've already said I didn't care for the idea of Babs returning to the purple tights, and never really having to great an attachment to the young Ms. Cain, I am happy with the choice made. I do look forward to seeing Ms. Cain appear (and hopefully the narrative backflips she was put through resolved) and I wish the book a long life. But I dod suspect the most recent announcement might make the book feel redundant in many eyes.

Last week, DC announced that Gail Simone would returning to Birds of Prey. I've yet to hear this news accepted as anything other than a triumph for good comic books everywhere. Gail will be able to write characters like Black Canary and Oracle again; characters that many have said no one has been able to write as well since her departure. But for those who have been buying Batgirl for their monthly required dose of Babs, will the re-appearance of this title see their desire to read Batgirl diminish? Will DC decide that the best place for Ms. Brown to receive further training is among a large number of female heroes? I am curious, but hopeful, about Batgirl's future. The title? We shall see.

1 comment:

  1. My comic shop guy feels that the book that will die if BOP flourishes isn't Batgirl, but Power Girl.