Saturday, June 11, 2011

On Flashpoint salvo two, and a look at more of the DC Refresh, but ultimately about Batgirl

We're a couple weeks into the Flashpoint event now, and one could make one of two arguments - that the announcement of the DC Refresh has either (both?) made the events of Flashpoint even more important, or completely overshadowed them.  Like so many comics-related announcements, news that a big thing is coming several months hence, like a new creative team or a whole new direction, turns the current run of the book into a lame duck sessions; a dead book walking, even more so than it may have been before said announcement.

The Flashpoint books are still coming out, and already people are looking past them.  That's a shame, because while it doesn't look like any of them will remain around after the event's end (OK, one; more on that later), they're good books in their own right, and worth a read.

Emperor Aquaman and his story is key to the altered world of Flashpoint, and it's here we see it in detail.  Interestingly, Prince Brion of Markovia (Geo-Force) plays a major part, both in flashback and in future plans.  Tony Bedard plays the book as a political thriller, rife with intrigue and backroom dealings, one of the things that made his R.E.B.E.L.S. run so interestingly.  Politics is a slippery world and only those with deft feet can avoid slipping.

Citizen Cold is by far the most interesting of this week's books, mainly because it's the one that stays closest to the character's original version.  Captain Cold is the hero of Central City, taking the place of The Flash, who has never existed in this Eobardian timeline.  But it's all a con - Len Snart is still a petty thief, but instead of turning to crime after obtaining his cold gun, came to the realization that you can get a lot more out of people if they like you.  He takes villains out with extreme prejudice (The dream-battle between him and Mister Freeze is hilariously short), blatantly courts TV journalist Iris West and happily takes all that Central City offers him.  When his sister Lisa (AKA The Golden Glider) kills their abusive father, his calm (cool?) demeanor cracks, but just for a moment.

Geoff Johns and his compatriots have done a real job of making the Flash villains more than gimmicks in costume, many with Scott Kolins at his side.  Kolins has done a number of very solid Flash-related tales on his own, many with Cold at their core, and this is no exception. 

Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager is an odd duck in an already very unfamiliar pond.  In this world, Slade Wilson is a pirate, with a crew both human and meta, taking advantage of the chaotic world to fill their pockets, and to search for his daughter Rose, stolen by parties unknown.  We get a good look at what he and his crew were up to before their short appearance (and seeming demise, but I doubt that) in FP#2 Jimmy Palmiotti plays with the idea well, writing the dialogue in just enough of the kind of stilted pomposity you use to hear in old pirate movies to make it interesting.  How important it'll be to the central plot of the event is questionable, but it's fun so far.

Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown is the latest attempt to use the Frankenstein (re)created by Grant Morrison, combined with an alternate-timeline version of the Creature Commandos.  Jeff Lemire does a solid job of providing an origin of the new-world characters, starting in WWII and leading right up to the present.  It appears to tie into the yet-to-come Project Superman, as it appears they are awakened by the chaos after Superman escapes his test lab.  It's a really entertaining book - apparently they sensed it would be, as Frankenstein is finally getting his own book post September.

And speaking of Post-September...

We now know that something at the climax of Flashpoint (details withheld because they want you to BUY the damn books) will result in the DCU returning not its current normal state, but a slightly altered one, where some histories are the same, some are amended.  All 52 of the new books have been revealed, and while the exact details of their histories and respective continuities are not known, a few statements made along the way allow us to make some general assumptions:

They keep using the term "younger".  That, combined with statements that we're looking characters from a few years back in their histories, before they had as much experience, makes it fairly clear that we're looking at at the very least a rollback of the DC continuity, if not an actual reboot.  But there are odd choices being made as to how those rollbacks are happening, and they're most easily seen in the Batman titles. 

Even though we're looking at a "younger" Batman, he's apparently still had time to go through three Robins.  Tim Drake is still Red Robin (appearing in Teen Titans, and BOY will I have more to say about that later), Damian will be appearing with his father, Bruce, for the first time, really.  Grant Morrison's Batman Inc. will be continuing, so clearly those events are still in the canon.

Dick Grayson, however is back as Nightwing, stepping back from the Batman-mantle he took on recently.  Many people are seeing that as a demotion; once he became Batman, they argue, it would be an insult to return to a lesser role.  On this I disagree, as I never saw his move to Batman as permanent.  Especially when Bruce came back, I saw the idea of two people as Batman, trying to give the implication they were the same character, would not last.  If I may draw a comparison to Captain America, very few people thought Steve Rogers wouldn't come back, and that when he did, that he wouldn't return to the role of Cap.  That Bucky did such a good job that people wanted him to remain as Cap (and similarly, how Dick did as Batman) is a testament to the characters, and the way they were written, but ultimately, they were ever supposed to be transitional and temporary roles.  Dick never had time to really become Batman; he's had a very long time to become Nightwing, and that's the character he feels more "right" being.

Now Barbara Gordon going back to being Batgirl, that's another thing entirely. 

The reaction to Babs becoming batgirl again has been met with an astounding amount of emotion on both sides. 

Jill Pantozzi, The Nerdy Bird, has been one of the most vociferous, with both a heartfelt article and an equally emotional interview with the book's writer, the redoubtable Gail Simone. I wrote about my own feelings about such a change some time back, and while my timing was off, the point holds - Oracle is an astounding character, made into spectacular by a series of deft hands at the wheel, not the least of which the aforementioned Ms. Simone.  So indeed, could she "go back" to the old position, after becoming so great a character in her own right?

In short, yes.  In her interview with Jill, Gail made a couple of points that make perfect sense:

The lady in the wheelchair was becoming a crutch - Oracle was supplying data to the Bat-family, the Birds of Prey, and pretty much any hero in the DCU who could get her phone number.  She was a dramatic magic wand as potentially annoying as The Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver, in the wrong hands.  Gail said it herself - She made it so Batman didn't have to do any detective work, he'd just call her. 
In limited amounts, such a source is useful; used constantly it makes fighting crime a bit too easy.  Oracle, as written by Gail in BoP worked perfectly; a small team fighting crime, with the help of a big sister.  But as used in other books, she was Google. 
Part of the reason they have to keep nerfing heroes is, as many have said, they become invulnerable.  It's common belief that Batman, at this point in his career, can beat anyone with sufficient Prep Time.  Superman can punch Saturn out of orbit; makes it hard to believe Live Wire is a threat.  And with one phone call, just about any hero in the DCU could get plans to a villains lair, full specs on the baddie's powers, and instant access to reinforcements.  If the DCU were the DCU video games, Oracle would be the strategy guide that listed all the secrets.

They were gonna do it anyway - The decision was made - Batgirl was going to be Barbara Gordon again.  Gail had a choice of lighting a candle or cursing the darkness. She realized she wanted to write Batgirl - who wouldn't? - but couldn't find a way to do it without effectively un-doing so much character development over several decades.  The Refresh separated the baby from the bathwater. It became possible to eat from the Batgirl-cake while keeping the Oracle cake.  Everybody wins.

To these points, I add two of my own:

Most people "know" Barbara Gordon is Batgirl - Yes, it's the same reason they got rid of the "Matrix" version of Supergirl, including the wonderful work Peter David was doing with her.  It made far more sense to try and attract new readers with the version of the character they "know", even if that version hasn't been around for almost 25 years.  And considering how well the character was received (even if it took several years to get her right, thanks to Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle), it looks like it was the right move.  As many people were enjoying all the other versions, there seems to have been a strong sense of "Oh thank God, the real one is back".

So no matter how good the adventures of Cassandra Cain were, and that Steph Brown's currently are, the general public hears "Batgirl" and thinks Yvonne Craig.  And really, who wouldn't?

IT'S GAIL FUCKING SIMONE - Personally, and I say this to you clearly and distinctly with no hyperbole whatsoever, I cannot think of another writer in comics today who if they were handed this book, I would have any faith in it whatsoever.  Gail has taken Barbara Gordon...not Batgirl, not Oracle, but Babs herself...and turned her into a character so strong and unique that I can't think of another writer's hands I'd trust her in.  When Gail left BoP, my interest in the book ceased - I hung around purely to see how bad it was gonna get.  And as good as the folks on the book were, it was slopping over with WhaTheHell. Oracle: The Cure was Shakespearean, in the sense that is full of sound and fury, and signified nothing.  Gail returning to BoP a year ago was like Hogan returning to the WWE - things were back to As They Should Be.  So knowing that Babs will be in the hands of the one person DC I trust to do it right...well, the books could be called Babs Eats Soup and I'd know it was going to be good.

So all told, they are doing something not everyone agrees with, but they are doing it for fair reasons, and with the best people available.  But the question is...what exactly are the they doing?  The answer to that is, "they're not going to tell us...what are you, stupid?".  They have books to sell, and just telling us what's going to be in them will make more people say "oh, thanks, now I don't have to buy it" than "Wow, I have to read that, as I am sure the detailed narrative in the book will be much better than the two sentence summary you gave me",

But again, based on what we've heard, we can make some deductions.  Let's take Gail's words and use them against her...
We haven't said she was never Oracle. We haven't said there won't be an Oracle. We haven't said what age she'd be. We haven't said if “The Killing Joke” remains canon or not.
Let's look at them out of order.  She (and most of the DC folks) has said we'll bee looking at these heroes from "several" years back, before they got really REALLY good at their jobs. So that certainly implies they'll be younger.  Saying "We haven't said she was never Oracle" is the same as saying "We haven't said she was ever Oracle" so that doesn't help us. 

 I could never really get behind, taking the Babs that's been running the Bat-verse, toppling countries, helping herd the JLA, all those things...I could never see, even with the very heartfelt and passionate words of many people with disabilities who asked for it, putting that Babs back in the cape and cowl. I don't think I could ever have done that.
 Which implies simply that's this is not what she's doing.

Perhaps we're looking at a compression of  time.  Consider the rule of the Sliding (X) Years, the idea that the entirety of the events of the DCU, starting with either the first appearance of Superman or the Flash (debatable) happened X years ago from TODAY, not at a fixed point in the past that gets further and further away.  Right now, Grant Morrison presumes that period to be about 15-20 years.  If you look at the period of time since the actual start of the Silver Age (just about 50 years), Crisis comes right in the middle - it's fair to assume the same is true for that sliding period in the DCU timeline.  So that means Babs has been a wheelchair for about seven to ten years, and has been oracle for a year or so less than that, DCU-time.  That's a LOT of time.  Puts the heroes in their late thirties, maybe even early forties, depending when they started.

The current Best Guess is that with the clock rolling back, there simply won't be enough time for all the stories that we've read over the last decades to "have happened".  So like the junk drawer in the kitchen, stuff will be removed and either tossed, or a place found for them, until the drawer can be closed again, with room to put more stuff in.  Let's say they're planning to made that sliding time period closer to seven to ten years.  With Crisis still n the middle, we're only looking at Babs being Oracle for three to four years; perhaps much less.  That's less time for her to get used to (and really good at) being Oracle, and allows her to have been Batgirl for longer than she was Oracle.  And that's a somewhat reasonable time period for a person to have had massive spinal trauma to recover some sensation and mobility to a degree.  In a super-science world of the DCU, it's more than enough time for them to fully cure her, well BEFORE she becomes an institution.

In that new paradigm, with less adventures on the books, might it be more acceptable for THAT Babs Gordon to return to the tights?  Bearing fully in mind that DC will not be coming to your house and taking back all the comics in the longboxes?  I think at least it might soften the blow.
I know people are worried about Cass and Steph. All I can say is, I cannot imagine that those characters won't have a role in the new DC.
 Again, this implies that the characters will still exist in the DCnU, but does not say they were ever Batgirl.  While it's odd that Batman will still have time to have three Robins, is it more of less unbelievable that there were two other Bats-girl?  So again, there might be a Cassandra Cain and Steph Brown, they may never have been Batgirl; that doesn't mean they can't be great characters, perhaps in some other costume or form.

Here's the deal - we don't have a clue what any of the new books will be.  Some will assume the worst, some will remain cautiously optimistic, and some will make comparisons to sliced bread that will make others want to buy them a thesaurus.  I'll keep going over the rest of the new titles in the coming days, but all told, it looks like I'll be buying some books, and not others. In short, much like today.

The big question, the one upon which all this is hanging, is whether or not more, a LOT more new people will be reading them.  Far FAR more than the ones that will stomp away in a huff at the threat of change, swearing they Quit Comics Forever.  That is a question that not even Oracle can answer.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Vinnie! Just discovered your blog.

    I have mixed thoughts about the relaunch...but my main problem is with Batgirl.

    No...I'm not angry about Babs getting her legs back...I'm angry that DC has straight up abandoned Steph and Cass with no plans for bringing them back. To me...Steph will always be THE Batgirl. It pisses me off that they are just forgetting about them.

    But I have to's ridiculous how much bitching I'm hearing from DC fans.

    The Green Lantern fans alone are generating enough hatred to power a small country. Seriously...the Green Lantern die-hards simply CAN'T be pleased.