So how will this be handled?

07Jun11

For the most part, I’ve avoided talking about the DC Relaunch. This isn’t out of any squeamishness on my part, but just the simple fact that until the books actually come out, they’re a huge fog of question marks, mostly good for fans to project their concerns and interests on. We’re starting to see actual information come out, such as which titles will be significantly changed versus just getting a new number, and who will be writing what. And so far, the biggest controversy has settled on the fact that there will be a new Batgirl series, starring Barbara Gordon. Who has been confined to a wheelchair for decades now, and forged a new identity as Oracle.

Now, I’ve read some heartfelt and convincing arguments for both sides of this. Some say Barbara should remain in the wheelchair because she’s the only disabled person in comics that’s a vital protagonist, instead of a passive observer or victim. And that’s a good point, a number of writers have made sure she’s not just rolled out as “the helpless victim” for Batman or Batman-adjacent heroes to save. But others have pointed out that not only are there things in the DC Universe that could healed Barbara, both at the time of injury and right now, but that Batman had his back broken after her, and yet he’s back in the suit a year later, without any lingering problems from this. And regardless of Batman’s greater importance as a character, that is a big double standard. What I’m most interested in, though, is how this will play out in the comic itself.

After all, we’ve only been told Barbara Gordon will be Batgirl again. Does this mean that the Joker’s shooting of her will be completely removed? Modified to be a “temporary” spinal injury, instead of a permanent one? Or will she somehow be healed by one of the methods available, such as magic or future technology? And if she is healed, how often will it come up? Will we have Barbara needing to explain that she’s been healed to her father, Batman, and others? Will she have to pretend she’s still wheelchair bound in her secret identity, so no one will suspect her of being Batgirl? That opens up another can of worms on the debate. The same people who think she should remain as an icon of what a disabled person can do probably wouldn’t appreciate it if she was pretending to be disabled, when she could walk, run and jump again.

There’s also the question of what happens to the Batgirls who took the job after Barbara Gordon became Oracle. Cassandra Cain has been somewhat neglected for the last few years, but Stephanie Brown had just gotten her own series. Will either of them be involved in this? Will we see Batgirl as a subsidiary of Batman, Inc, or at least have them rotating in and out? I’m not going to claim they’ve taken over as the “real” Batgirl, but I hope they’re not left out in the cold after Barbara comes back to the role. Changed a little would be fine, but it’d be terrible if it went “Welp, now that we have the original back, you two go down the Memory Hole! See you in 20 years when Nostalgia kicks in!”

Besides the mechanics of the actual story, the actual reasoning is also interesting to me. The DC editors have set a very high bar for Gail Simone on this. Of all the DC writers, she’s probably the best one to give this task, but it’s a huge one to handle. I want to see what approach she takes, how much control she has over the ways she can do it…and if she can stick the landing.

I’m not saying the debate about whether this is a good thing at all is unimportant. For comics fans, it’s actually a very important debate, since it goes well beyond continuity concerns. But at the same time, if we get a fantastic Batgirl run, I think a lot of people will stop talking about if it was a good idea to take Barbara Gordon out of the wheelchair.

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