Douchebag Decree: the DC Comics "Re-Boot"

Oracle, a busty redhead, sits in her wheelchair at her desk, brandishing some dangerous-looking metal bars with a don't-mess-with-me expression on her faceEarlier this week, DC Comics (who dominates the mainstream comics market along with Marvel) made a real douche move when they announced a "reboot" of their leading characters. This means they'll be ending a large portion of their storylines in August and release 52 first-issues of characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice League. They'll be "publishing innovative storylines featuring our most iconic characters" with the assumption that they'll be not just "compelling for existing readers, it'll give new readers a precise entry point into our titles." This has some pretty radical implications for many superhero narratives, but one of the most significant changes is that of Barbara Gordon--aka Oracle.

For non-comics readers, Barbara Gordon joined the Bat Squad in the 1960s, but was shot in the spine by the Joker in the 1988 comic The Killing Joke by Alan Moore (check out Ashley's From the Library post for more). Many comics readers believe that Gordon's true badassery only began after she became the IT genius and hacker Oracle, who led the DC Superhero team from behind her computer and in her wheelchair, and headed up her own superhero squad in the Birds of Prey series. So when Gail Simone confirmed the news that Oracle (who I guess is not considered as "iconic" to DC as she is to their readers) would be canned for a "leaping, fighting, and swinging" Batgirl, the outcry was huge. "To say I'm disheartened and disappointed by DC Comics' decision would be an understatement and only part of my feelings on the matter. To be honest, I'm furious," wrote Jill Pantozzi in an op-ed. While DC and Simone may believe they're "presenting something thrilling that a generation of comics readers will be experiencing for the first time," Gordon's retro-active transformation is really denying this same generation an incredibly kick-ass, visibly-disabled female superhero. (For more on disability and comics, check out these posts by Ouyang Dan and Anna Palindrome from the Transcontinental Disability Choir series.)

 

A comics illustration of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, zooming up from a green background. Her signature red hair is visible, she has an expression of slyness and excitement. Significantly, she is in a Batgirl costume and NOT in a wheelchair.

Wait...wha? An image of the revamped Barbara Gordon

This whole re-boot thing does another number too. By re-positing characters to their most "iconic" status, you can bet that superheroes of color who have risen to prominence over the years like John Stewart (Green Lantern) and Cassandra Cain (Batgirl) are not going to be returning anytime soon. Others have already pointed out that DC's assumption that "revamping famous characters such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and others from its 76-year history for a more modern and diverse 21st century" is a bit...let's say, head-desky.

Comics readers have been more than vocal in their disappointment. Browsing When Fangirls Attack, fans decry the shrinking representation of characters with disabilities (that is, where disability is not code for EVIL VILLAIN) and express their overall disappointment with the complete destruction of one of DC's strongest characters for more than two decades. This isn't the first time DC has considered canning Oracle, as DC Women Kicking Ass has noted. The fact that Oracle has not regained her ability to walk in a universe where people come back from the dead all the time has only made her symbolism more powerful, and this new decision more cheapening. But already there's been a letter-writing campaign started as well as Oracle-Create-A-Thon, a site devoted to fan art. Even if DC chooses not to honor Oracle's legacy, it's clear her fans certainly will. To close, here's an image one fan posted regarding the matter:

Barbara Gordon as Oracle, from an early Birds of Prey issue.Text:

More reading: When Fangirls Attack DC Reboots Entire Universe in Bid to Win Modern Readers [Supergirl]
OP/ED: ORACLE Is Stronger Than BATGIRL Will Ever Be [Newsarama]
Oracle Create-A-Thon

Thanks to Adam for your help!

Previously: Sarah Palin's Selective History Tour

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Comments

15 comments have been made. Post a comment.

The Debacle that is DC's chauvinistic reboot.

I am proud to say that one of my favorite comic characters is a highly intelligent, disabled, and very much ABLE woman known as Oracle.

I have some serious issues with the "new" Birds of Prey, Barbara Gordon's return as Batgirl after 20 years of being Oracle (and thus no longer running BoP), and new costume designs that assume strong, active women must wear pants of some sort. (Black Canary's new costume is painful, oh but harley quinn, who is normally fully clothed is now wearing a half unlaced corset and tiny hot shorts.) I am worried for Cass and Steph, and where the hell are Huntress and Lady Blackhawk!

It's just sad that DC Comics feels the need to "magically" make one of their only disabled, though very much able characters "better" after 22 years. (Barbara Gordon as Oracle is a huge info-jock and hacker, helping numerous heroes including the Justice League, the Batman family, and runs her own mostly female group, Birds of Prey.) There was a huge amount of sexism involved in her being crippled in the first place. It's one small example of how sexism is still very much present in pop-culture and it demeans what women can and should be. (not to mention disabled persons, people of color and differing nationalities, and lgbt persons.)

DC Comics needs to be hit by massive amounts of male and female feedback on this one (someone mentioned putting the oracle logo on postcards and sending them enmasse). Not to mention, this month's Flashpoint featured two covers of Aquaman's wife Mera decapitated.

If DC wants new readers, and to hold on to old readers they need to start portraying their female characters in a respectful way, and employ female writers and artists.

So get on it, WRITE the Bastards at DC!
DC Comics
1700 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Thanks!

Thanks wunderwmn for your take on the re-boot, and for the encouragement and information to contact DC!

I do want to take this time to mention that people should be aware of the language they use to describe Oracle and people with physical disabilities, namely that "cripple" (and forms of it) are ableist and should not be used. (also, I should note that some people with disabilities choose reclaim the word.)

____________
Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

thank kjersten. i fully

thank kjersten. i fully understand the weight of the word "cripple" and just wanted to mention that my choice to use the word was per the story of how "The Killing Joke" came about, and a certain DC exec at the time said of Barbara, "ok cripple the bitch." which one should be aware of in the history of the character of oracle, and how Barbara Gordon has be able to reclaim herself from past sexism. (with the work of amazing artists and writers)

sorry btw that i apparently

sorry btw that i apparently can not spell your name correctly. *smacks self*

no worries

it happens a lot : )

And readers can learn more about The Killing Joke (and other "women-in-refrigerator" incidents in comics) in the online article "The Cold Shoulder" from a 2007 issue of Bitch.

____________
Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

So frustrating...

What seriously pisses me off is the fact that they HAVE a Batgirl...a few really...who is awesome and a GIRL. Not a woman. Steph and Cass are both worthy of being "iconic" for a new generation of fans. So cranky. Everytime I start thinking "YES. Now we're getting on the right track!", they snap back to mind-chilling stupidity.

Cass has tons of fans begging

Cass has tons of fans begging DC to do SOMETHING good with her. Nobody ever listens. D:

"Cripple the bitch"

Yeah. I hated how they took Batgirl and turned her into superhero support - but she became special because of the fans - in spite of the guys on top trying to get rid of her. I want her front and center - BACK! in superhero style. The big guns always come back - better than ever. Problem is ... DC, Marvel, whatever - suck at strong female characters. Need more women artists and writers. They are always playing to the guys. WHY NOT MAKE BATGIRL COME BACK AS A SUPERHERO WHEN SHE IS BATGIRL AND ALTER EGO IS STILL CRIPPLED. Great superhero identity thing there. And this is a comic book. No reason that wouldn't be possible. If DAREDEVIL - the blind lawyer can be kick ass and an able-disabled person - WHY NOT BARBARA. Oh. Right. Guys aren't interested in alpha Batgirl. Supportive smart backseat Oracle - ok. Not good enough I say. UNFAIR. NO. Keeping her there just makes what happened to her okay. It wasn't. Again turned out well despite DC not because of them.

WRITE DC. Crippled Barbara stays but SHE BECOMES BATGIRL + whatever techno fiction is needed to make it happen. BEST OF BOTH. I've had enough of her strong enduring Oracle-self. Superheroes are soap operas - let the change begin. Tell the story of a daughter of a police captain who was a vigilante crime fighter, crippled, and still came back, better than ever - because of what happened. Show the growth. Disabled normal life and in the suit NOT disabled. Now that's split identity issues and new hassles and .... whatever else. Relationships changing and hurdles without losing who the character has become. How? Gail Simone! Challenge is laid down.

I was furious from the second

I was furious from the second I read that Babs won't be Oracle anymore. She's been Oracle for longer than she was Batgirl, and she's coached two awesome successors to the title in that long period of time. Plus she was the leader of a team as Oracle--not just a follower of the bloody Bat-God. She built a whole new identity, personality, and role from her tragedy and it was a beautiful thing to see in action. This is the worst possible thing they could do with her--magically slapping the reset button after nearly a quarter of a century of solid character development. It's a slap in the face to comics fans, feminists, and disabled people who need a larger presence in media.

Also begs the question: What happens to the Birds of Prey? The book is continuing sans Oracle... the entire reason the Birds teamed up at all!

Work in Progress?

One statement kind of in support of reboots: I think that one reason that manga is much more popular with teens today than American comics is due to the ever-lengthening history and continuity. Half of the DC line is incomprehensible without substantial familiarity with 40 years of backstory. So I can understand wanting some sort of way to get readers in on the ground floor to enjoy the stories and characters that many of us got to love from the beginning.

On this particular reboot, and the reappearance of Batgirl, I am okay with that IF AND ONLY IF they plan on retelling the story of Barbara Gordon's journey from average Jo to acrobatic vigilante to genius planner and operator (and to other roles, if her journey continues along). If we get to see Batgirl and only Batgirl, I will be bored and irritated.

But as much as I love some of the Marvel and DC cannon, they are almost entirely hopeless on all issues of gender and race. Plenty of awesome work being done from other publishers and indie comics, but the big two don't even seem to be aware that they're being sucky.

Considering Gail Simone's

Considering Gail Simone's track record of privilege-denying, racism, and even believing "women deserve refrigerators," I find her name in this article even in a neutral manner to be a slap in the face.

Thanks!

Hey Anon,

I didn't know that part of Simone's background at the time that I wrote the blog post, I appreciate you posting about it. I found (what I think is) a good run-down of one of her privilege-denying back-pedals here:

http://alliterate.tumblr.com/post/4590628735/how-we-got-here-aka-the-mag...

Thanks again!

____________
Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

"Privilege-denying

"Privilege-denying backpedals?" Really?

Here's what happened with that comment I made about the Wasp.

When I was a kid, the early Marvel heroines were such vain, empty-headed creatures, so helpless actively stereotypical in the worst way, that it was actually hurtful. So, as many do, my childhood regret at those portrayals has stuck with me a bit, as do many other blatantly sexist portrayals. To a young girl who loved comics and was hungry for portrayals of positive female heroes, those comics are rough going, believe me.

A good while back, I made a joke to a friend, whom I tease all the time, Brian Bendis, that Wasp "deserved a refrigerator." My twitter feed is mostly jokes, some of which skirt the edges of bad taste.

That one went flying right over the edge into Bad Taste Central. But far from backpedaling, I admitted I had said it, I said multiple times at at length that I said it. I'm not sure how privilege enters into the Wasp conversation. She's a white female character, I'm a white female writer. I apologized multiple times.

Where I refuse to go is into that area some were trying to push the conversation, that a 'death' in comics (where death is a temporary state, believe me, Marvel's not really going to kill the Wasp for good) was the same as violence committed against women in the real world. As a former crisis center worker, I think that does real abuse victims an incredible disservice.

However. It was a bad joke, a thoughtless and tasteless comment, I apologized repeatedly. As small and imperfect as my voice might be, my career has been about trying to bring diversity to comics in the characters, creators, and readership.
I'm not sure what good is done presenting one side of this discussion without even the most cursory of representation of the other.

Best wishes,

Gail Simone

I'll also add that both John

I'll also add that both John Steward and Cassandra Cain are indeed coming back. Not sure what led to the assertion that they weren't.

Best,

Gail

There is an incredibly

There is an incredibly touching OP/ED article at Newsarama on this subject titled "ORACLE is stronger than BATGIRL will ever be". It's lovely and a great read, even for those who aren't comic fans. Just thought I'd share.