Jun 082011
The X-Factor Logo

So it’s still All DC, All The Time on the Comics Internet. Monday, DC blew everyone’s mind when they released this little nugget:

Barbara Gordon is Batgirl in the new series.

Hi, remember me?

The cover for the new Batgirl title featuring the return of Barbara Gordon to the role.

Which presents a bit of a problem as Barbara’s been in a wheelchair since the Joker shot her in 1988’s The Killing Joke.

Since that time she’s become Oracle, the DCU’s master behind-the-scenes hacker and tactician and – being the highest profile differently-abled superhero in comics – an icon.

I won’t go into what losing her in that role means. People far more invested and eloquent than I have already done so. Gail Simone is writing it which for me is a cautious plus, but for many this feels like an even deeper cut that the perceived champion of minorities in comics will helm the removal of a character as unique and important Oracle.

Personally, I feel for Gail. You get the sense that there’s so much she wants to say to try and allay fears, to explain why she’s writing this book, but her hands are tied. I don’t know how this will work out. Is this even what’s really happening? There are theories that this new title will begin with the origin of the Batgirl mantle but won’t actually undo the events of Killing Joke. After all, covers have lied to us before. We don’t know what this means for beloved but neglected characters Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. We don’t really know anything about anything. But if this is Barbara Gordon, and she is “fixed” and jumping around, I can only think this is a colossally bad idea, if for no other reason (and there are in fact lots of other reasons) than this:

It will only be a matter of time before Barbara is once again, painfully, violently, put back in that chair.

Here’s the thing. DC can call this a reboot/revamp/relaunch/rewhatever, but what we’re seeing here is a Universe-wide event fueled by nostalgia. Take that lead image of the JLA, featuring DC’s A-listers. I see Batman, Green Lantern and The Flash, but what I don’t see is Dick Grayson, Kyle Rayner and Wally West. And to be fair, this isn’t just DC’s problem; “One More Day” is arguably nothing but nostalgia at its most primal and destructive. The problem lies with the fan-creators.

In many respects, we humans don’t like new and different. Oh we say we do, but the cyclic nature of our culture says otherwise. Comic book fans are especially guilty of this. For every new iteration of a hero or a team or even a costume, we eventually have a triumphant return to the “classic”. Exhibit A: Ms. Barbara Gordon.

At this point in the character’s lifespan she’s been Oracle at least as long as she was Batgirl, yet here we are, stepping back twenty years. And assuming it is all as it seems, and Babs never had that really bad day? Well then we wait. We wait for every encounter, every confrontation, every battle, to put her right back in that chair. Her every move is going to be shadowed by this grim alternative. The tension will be unavoidable. We’ve looked into Batgirl’s future and every reader will be waiting for it to arrive.

I trust Gail Simone. I don’t think she’d be so cheap (or insensitive) to play with that. But Gail won’t be writing this book forever; given the volatile nature of the DCU I can’t even confidently say she’ll be writing this book in six months. The moment her hands are off, Barbara’s fate becomes all the more certain. It will happen. Remember what I said about cycles? Every single thing around us today is tomorrow’s nostalgia. Eventually the creative reins will pass to someone reading comic books right now, someone who remembers Oracle and wants to “fix” these wrongs. Isn’t that pretty much what this Batgirl situation is all about right now?

I’m not going to come down and say that this is the most horrible thing ever. I love comic books and I love good stories and that’s what I’m here for.

But I also realize that, true as that is, I’m a hypocrite when I say it. Because I haven’t read Spider-Man since “One More Day” because I can’t get over the character assassination that had to happen to make the plot. I won’t watch X-Men First Class despite the positive buzz because I refuse to accept any writer that willingly drew from the fetid well that is that most abominable of storylines, “The Draco”. I can take a wait and see approach to DC because really I don’t care about DC – at least not on anything more than an “I want this industry to be healthy and prosperous” level.

Something had to change. DC needed to do something. Certainly they’re getting incredible levels of publicity and buzz and hype going right now and that’s not just something, that’s a major something. Only time will tell if it sticks and if it was worth it.

But oh, man, nothing anybody did was worth this:

New New New Titans

The New New New Titans

This is the image released today for the next iteration of the Teen Titans. Where to even start. There’s the fail that is Tim and Cassie’s new outfits of course: Tim looks like he’s the bastard child of Batman and The Falcon, and Cassie might have just stepped off the set of that new CW witches show. Also I have no idea why this revamped DCU is so in love with the colour red, but someone needs to take their Photoshop palettes away. But the real draw, the real amazing part of this, is Superboy.

What the hell happened to Superboy? I have no idea how, but they’ve somehow managed to give him a superhero costume even worse than what he had before:

Superboy's costume

Easiest cosplay ever.

Connor looks like he just came to the photoshoot after clubbing all night. He has a Superman logo tattoo, and I don’t even know how that was possible. But the best part, the coup de grâce, is his “cape”.

Oh you've got to be kidding me.

That’s not a cape, that’s a “kick me” sign complete with scotch tape. HOW? WHAT? WHO? Who is responsible for this? Who thought that was a good idea? Who was so proud of that idea that they put Superboy at an angle so we’d all be sure to see it? That was me, I’d be hiding from the world until I got a real damned costume. I mean laugh at Robin and Wonder Girl all you like, at least they have outfits not made out of school supplies.

ETA: It’s looking like this image is in fact not supposed to be a cover, but a promo piece and the kick-me cape not part of the costume but a joke by Kid Flash (who it’s confirmed is Bart, if you were wondering). Which on the one hand – whew. On the other hand, what the hell, DC? If now isn’t the time to handle your reintroduction of these characters with precision care, when is? And the fact that so many people thought this was a legitimate new feature of a new costume? That should be a huge red flag to you guys about some of the confidence levels out there. Trust is a rare and precious commodity in your established readerbase right now. Maybe a few extra seconds to review exactly which images you’re using at this critical time wouldn’t go amiss.

Also coming today was the news of a new Hawk & Dove series, drawn by your friend and mine Rob Liefeld, firmly cementing in my mind that DC is indeed striving to be fresh and new and modern, provided that by “modern” we mean 1992 and by “fresh” we mean this:

Hawk and Dove, Liefeld-style.

I'm comforted to know that twenty years later, he still can't draw feet.

I just don’t even.

Also announced today is a new Static Shock book by John Rozum and Scott McDaniel, and that should actually be pretty amazing.

Most important of all however (at least in my corner of the DCU) is for my beloved and too-oft rebooted Legion of Super-Heroes: Of all the books in DC’s shake-up, for once the Legion will go largely untouched. The current series will continue with Paul Levitz still at the helm. In addition there will be a new series cobbling the name “Legion Lost” from Abnett and Lanning, with 7 Legionnaires (Wildfire, Dawnstar, Tellus, Gates, Invisible Kid, Timber Wolf and Chameleon Girl) stuck in the past with no way home. This series will be written by Fabian Nicieza (who won’t be on Titans as originally rumoured and now frankly I’m glad), and I’m really excited to see FabNic back on a team book.

And we’re still not done. DC’s got another ten or eleven titles to announce, though you can bet that a good half of those are going to go the Superman family.

Good or bad or something else entirely – whatever else all this means, it’s a very interesting time to be a superhero fan right now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tad-Stones/100000068328927 Tad Stones

    Is it nostalgia or marketing?  The idea is to relaunch everything, get huge hype and have it available digitally for people to sample.  People who have no clue where the nearest comic shop is. People who probably don’t know who BatGirl is under the mask, much less that she ended up in a wheel chair.

    That doesn’t mean that your fears aren’t well founded but I think the goal of this project is about casting a much, much wider net than fans who were collecting in the 90s.

    • Jet Wolf

      Oh I agree totally that’s the goal. For the good of the industry, I hope it succeeds. What I’m mostly unsure about is how many longtime fans they’ll sacrifice in their bid for new readers. Obviously the Internet isn’t necessarily the best place to get that sample – people are yelling loudly and directly into the echo chamber. Still, there’s so much about this rewhatever that seems to have been handled so poorly.

      I mean, I’m still not sure how renumbering at #1 is going to help when a year from now we’ll be at #12. If the claim is that big numbers discourage new readers, what’s the plan as we trudge inexorably toward big numbers? Plus, these stories have been going for 70 years now, fueled by something. The 80s showed good sales with great stories that all kept their numbering intact. I’m not sure DC is targeting the actual problems here, and if we don’t figure out what those are and fix them, we’ll inevitably be in the same position.

      But maybe they are. I dunno. I suppose it’ll be an interesting conversation to have in September 2012.

      All told though, I don’t think any of this will mean anything if DC can’t stick to it, and their history tells us that they won’t. That they can’t. DC can never decide if it loves or hates its own legacy, so it’s trapped in an eternal rubber banding situation. Eventually nostalgia is going to doom this reboot, the only question is when.

  • BunnyM

    I’m comforted to know that twenty years later, he still can’t draw feetpeople.

    There, I fixed that for you.

    But the real draw, the real amazing part of this, is Superboy.

    Well, in as much as I can kinda recognise Bart, Tim, Cassie and Connor, but who/what the hell are the other two folks meant to be?

    that matter, take Bart and Connor out of the picture and I’d have no
    idea which company this was from, let alone which team it was meant to
    represent. 0.o

    As for Barbara, I trust Ms Simone enough to wait and see before crying DOOOOM!™.

    And some good (if not great,) news at last for the legion. About bloody time.

    • Jet Wolf

      Yeah the whole look of this relaunch is pretty terrible. I can’t get over how 90s it all feels. I know that Jim Lee bringing in his old Image buddies is a big part of that, but it feels like it’s trying SO HARD to be SO EXTREME and it’s like, is that really where we’re at? I suppose at its heart they’re trying to recapture when comic sales were at their zenith, but that’s the speculator market and it’s exactly what got us into this mess in the first place. That bubble burst for a reason guys. We’re better than that now. At least we should be.

      Like I was saying to Mr. Stones there, I’m not sure that DC has really figured out exactly what’s wrong here. While I agree that numbering could be an intimidation factor, the truth is that comics sold well for decades without worrying about it. Stories were more accessible then, and I think comic books were as well.

      I was talking about this with some friends, about how we found our first comic books, and for most of us it was outside the local comic shop. I remember when you could find racks of comics in bookstores, grocery stores, toy stores and convenience stores. I remember when places like Wal-Mart and Target would have bundles of comics, a grab bag that a kid could just pick up and read. Why did that stop? Why are comics something that kids have to go find now? They should be everywhere kids are already going to be!

      I dunno. I’m not a CEO so I can’t pretend I know how businesses actually work. Still it seems to me that the problem is bigger than a number on a cover.

  • Ross TenEyck

    See, my initial reaction to Barbara Gordon coming back as Batgirl was to be mildly pleased.  “Mildly” because I don’t have a whole lot of investment in the DC universe, but still.

    I remember when “The Killing Joke” came out, and I thought that shooting Barbara and leaving her paralyzed was just cheap girl-in-refrigeratoring.  (Of course I didn’t use that phrase back then, but that was my sentiment.)  It felt like DC going, “Oooh, oooh, look at us!  We’re dark!  We’re edgy!”  And they’d picked — surprise! — a woman to sacrifice on the altar of edgy.

    And it was shortly after that that I stopped reading comics almost entirely, which meant that I saw almost nothing of Oracle.  In fact, I think when the Birds of Prey TV show came out, I had to look up who Oracle was, and I was surprised they hadn’t retconned “The Killing Joke” out of existence ages ago.  So for all that Oracle may be a kick-ass character — and I don’t doubt that she has been — I missed all that and so never had any connection to Barbara Gordon in that role.

    Lacking that connection, I can’t help but react to this as a long-overdue correcting of a bad decision.

    Of course my experience is wildly atypical.  I imagine that most people fall into one of two camps:  read the comics, liked Oracle, was inspired by her, feels this is a step backwards; or, has no idea who Oracle is, vaguely recalls some girl in purple spandex on TV back in the 60s, and really doesn’t care much one way or the other.  So it doesn’t seem like a great move on DC’s part.