Monday, June 6, 2011
The Importance of Being Batgirl
If you've been paying ANY sort of attention lately, you know I've been acting a fool for the past few days ever since learning that Barbara Gordon would be returning to the role she debuted in back in 1966 - Batgirl. For me, this has been the comic book announcement that couldn't be more welcomed as this year marked the turning point where Barbara had been the in the role of the wheelchair bound Oracle longer than she had ever been swinging around Gotham City in tights and a pointy mask. What I guess I wasn't expecting was that there would be an equal number of voices out there who would be vehemently opposed to this reversal.
Case in point, a blogger with a far wider audience than I have, whose thoughts on the subject can be found here: http://www.newsarama.com/comics/oracle-is-stronger-than-batgirl-110606.html.
Now, to be fair, I cannot truly relate to where this author is coming from. I'm blessed and fortunate enough to be as physically healthy as I want to be. But while I'm not disabled in any way, I know plenty of people in my life who are, including my own father. And while that doesn't mean I know what it's like, it does mean that I can at least understand and appreciate the fact that a lot of what I take for granted is something they wish they could simply do on their own. And out of all of the people I know who have a physical disability, not one of them would, if given the opportunity to be restored to full health, choose to remain disabled. Not one of them would pass up the opportunity to regain the full use of their bodies; to run; to jump; to walk...to not have to call 911 if they slipped while trying to move from their wheelchairs to their bed... to be able to bathe themselves...or be able to eat. Unfortunately, we don't live in a world where that's really possible...but Barbara Gordon does.
Barbara (or, Babs) was introduced during a period of lightheartedness in the Batman books that is long since gone. She was a fun character, full of life and youthful energy. She was a nice foil to not only Batman's villains, but also Batman himself. She first appeared in Detective Comics, and then a year later became a main character in the popular (but campy) Adam West Batman television series and then made the move to the comic books soon thereafter. She remained a staple of the Batman mythos for almost 20 years before DC Comics decided it was time to retire the character for whatever reason. Ironically, the comic that saw Babs hang up her tights and utility belt was the first comic book that DC ever produced that was eponymous with the character.
Now, if the story had simply ended there, we wouldn't be where we are today. But it didn't...a year or so later, comic book writer Alan Moore (the same guy responsible for Watchmen) penned what is (In my honest opinion) the single worst comic book ever published, the graphic novel entitled "Batman: The Killing Joke".
Meant to illustrate the similarities of how Batman and his arch nemesis the Joker came to be, the graphic novel is most remembered for how the Joker showed up at the home of Police Commissioner Gordon and rang the doorbell. When Barbara (no longer Batgirl) answers the door, Joker pulls out a gun and shoots her. If this weren't bad enough, while it's never explicitly stated in the comic (or any subsequent issues), it's heavily implied that he shoots her in her vagina. The bullet shatters her spine and paralyzes Barbara Gordon from the waist down.
And if THAT wasn't bad enough...the Joker then strips her naked and takes pictures of her...naked, bleeding out on the carpet, clutching at her wound (which, as I said, is heavily implied to be her vagina).
Joker then kidnaps Commissioner Gordon, leaving Barbara naked and helpless on the floor of her father's home. He takes Gordon to his lair, strips him naked, and then proceeds to psychologically torture him in an attempt to drive him insane. As you can imagine, when Batman finally catches up to the Joker, he beats his oldest nemesis to death, rips his head off his neck and then takes a giant-sized bat-shit down his neck...after all, that is simply the most logical thing to do when an absolutely insane psychopath cripples one of your old partners and demonizes your closest friend...
Of course, if you read the comic, you'd know that wasn't the case at all. The Killing Joke actually ends with Batman capturing the Jokerand handing him over to the Gotham City police to once again be incarcerated until he escapes to terrorize innocent citizens once again. But, because that would be a really shitty ending, before he's led off by the Police, Moore has the Joker tells Batman a joke. The comic actually ends with Batman and the Joker laughing hysterically together at the joke like two old friends.
Now, just to make sure you've been paying attention: Barbara Gordon, who from her first appearance was a hero who was able to hold her own alongside Batman and Robin, was shot...not in the line of duty, but answering the door to her father (the Police Commissioner)'s home. That right there should be Strike One. The disrespect factor is set at 10 right from there. Not only would you NEVER see an established male character being taken down in their civilian identity, you'd never see an established male character being so stupid as to answering their door in the middle of the night without checking to see who it was (as a side note...if the Joker has escaped from his asylum...AGAIN, wouldn't the Police Commissioner probably know that and be extra guarded?).
Not only is she shot, but she's shot in the vagina. Strike Two. Again, you'd never see Superman or Batman getting their balls shot off. It's (once again) disrespectful, and only goes to show the level of misogyny present in this story.
She's stripped naked...and photographed. Only recently, as an afterthought, was a DC comic published that clarified that Joker did NOT rape her as she lay there bleeding, but you'd certainly be forgiven for thinking that if you didn't read the Page 6 retraction 20 years after the fact. Even though her father is later also stripped naked and tortured, Commissioner Gordon is just a supporting character in the comic books. While a police man is a REAL hero in the real world, in the Batman world he's just second fiddle. When Jason Todd (the second Robin) died a few years later after getting beat to death by a crowbar and then blown up in a warehouse, his Robin costume was still in tact. Superman (in the death of Superman story) was beaten by a monster with spikes protruding from his knuckles, yet 80% of his costume remained on him. So Strike Three.
That's an OUT if there ever was one. The Batman laughing the whole thing off with Joker at the end is enough to have the entire team ejected from not only the game, but the entire league (yes, I'm mixing metaphors here horribly)...and if you find yourself wondering how something this horrible and depraved could have actually made it past the Batman editor and actually published, well...the editor was the one who (honestly and literally) exclaimed gleefully at the top of his lungs "Yes! Cripple the Bitch!" after hearing Moore's idea for the story.
Let me repeat that: "Yes!" (with a exclamation mark), "Cripple the Bitch!"
Now, to be fair, another comic book writer; John Ostrander did his best to restore Barbara to a role of prominence within the comics by turning her into the cyber wizard Oracle (think Watchtower from the Smallville TV show, only in a wheelchair), and subsequent authors like Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone made her one of the most important characters in the DC universe. And while a good portion of comic book readers may only know Barbara as Oracle, the fact remains that what was done to her was misogynistic and just plain sick.
Encompassing all of this is the fact that not long after she was crippled, Batman (yes, THE Batman) had his back broken by rookie supervillain Bane. Bruce Wayne, confined to a wheelchair like Barbara Gordon, handed off the role of Batman to another vigilante. Of course, that lasted roughly a year, and while the new comer protected Gotham City, Bruce used the resources that are present in this fictional world to heal himself and not only walk again, but swing from building to building without so much as the need for an occasional Vicodin.
And you know what happened when Bruce healed and became Batman? No one blinked an eye. No one stood in protest and demanded that he remain in a wheelchair to inspire real life people with disabilities. No, fans were excited because THE Batman was back. Of course, if there was an issue where Bruce offered to take Barbara to the same healers he saw, I never read it...but I have read enough issues of Birds of Prey (a series that featured Oracle as one of its main characters) to know that Barbara eschewed several attempts to heal herself. Why? Well...no REALLY good or convincing reason was ever given. She was a normal woman shot by a normal bullet by a normal (insane) man. There's no reason that she would have given to be able to heal herself and be able to live her 'normal' life again. Even if SHE preferred to be Oracle rather than Batgirl, why wouldn't she choose to be able to be Oracle with the ability to walk and go to the bathroom without some sort of assistance?
I, as a minority, understand the need to have heroes who represent us. I would be PISSED if Marvel decided that Northstar or Hulkling we're going to "make the switch" and start chasing women...but they were gay from Day One. They weren't made to be gay because some twister writer came up with the idea and an editor screamed "Yeah, Fuck his Ass!"
Has Oracle been an inspiration to people living with disabilities? Clearly as referenced in the linked to post she has. But that doesn't change that what was done to her was fueled by the callousness of a man in a depraved storyline (Moore, not the Joker). There's no reason that Babs should have been left in a wheelchair while Bruce was able to cast his aside without a second thought. If Superman can come back from the dead, and Bruce Wayne can walk again, then any reason that was given both in story and in real life as to why Barbara Gordon was confined to a wheelchair was bunk and an excuse to perpetuate one of the most sickening and misogynistic storylines in popular culture. Making Barbara Gordon Batgirl again, and doing so in the pages of her own series isn't recanting on the promises of a diverse character...it's justice.