Thursday, June 16, 2011

Batgirl Returns

An interesting aspect of this whole DC comics reboot hullabaloo is that Barbara Gordon is apparently returning to the guise of Batgirl.  Normally I wouldn't really comment on a fictional character becoming another fictional character like this, but Barbara Gordon as Batgirl is something of a special case.

For the last 20 years, Barbara Gordon has been a highly visible character in a great many of DC's superhero books.  However, barring the occasional flashback issue, it hasn't been as Batgirl, but as Oracle. As Oracle, Barbara Gordon has led superhero teams, fought all sorts of supervillians, and anchored one of DC's most consistently good books.  Significantly, she did all this after surviving an attack that left her paraplegic.  Thus making her the only visible DC superhero with a physical handicap.

There has been a fair amount of argument recently about how little sense it makes to have a character remain handicapped in a universe with ubiquitous cybernetics, superhero doctors, and magic healing lasers.  I understand where this thinking is coming from to a point, but I don't really think its wise to try to apply realistic thinking to a comic book universe.  As "nonsensical" as it may be, I think its important to have a character around who isn't heroic despite a disability but heroic while also being disabled.  It might be a difficult distinction, but I think its an important one.

An issue that has received less attention, is how strange its going to be to have a character thats been around for 40 years, and is constantly portrayed as being significantly older than DC's teenage superheros, referred to as Batgirl.  The name comes with some rather loaded connotations and there has been a significant trend making the rest of Batman's supporting more like peers than sidekicks.  I don't have a lot of coherent thoughts on this, but it seems like a bit of a step back for both the character and for  gender politics in DC comics.  Then again, I guess there is already a Batwoman, so what do I know.

Ultimately though, I think all this controversy is premature.  The first issue of the new Batgirl series isn't coming out until September and hardly any information has been released about what the series will actually entail.  The writer of the new series has written comics featuring Barbara Gordon for almost a decade now and apparently disagrees with the transition back to Batgirl.  All anyone knows about the new series so far is that it'll star Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and Batgirl will be running around fighting crime.  Given that this is a comic book, there are any number of ways this could all work.  If the story is good and addresses the issues a mature way, I think this is a decent move.  If the story is bad, then the story is bad and will probably be rebooted anyway.

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