Let’s make something as succinct as humanly possible, shall we?
Dan DiDio and Jim Lee had an interview where they discussed why they were doing so many changes. There’s a lot of reasons why they’re doing it, and a lot of reasons why they’re keeping other things the same, and there’s a lot to be debated in it. But most people are focusing on the section dealing with Batgirl vs. Oracle.
Here’s something DiDio said:
I think we have a really strong line that features a wider range of diversity throughout it. And in this particular case, we were looking specifically back at the Barbara Gordon character. And when you talk about Batgirl, whether it’s with a casual fan or even to somebody who just knew the Batman character, Barbara Gordon is always the one people default to as “who Batgirl is.”
Perhaps, and perhaps not. Certainly, Stephanie Brown — who was Batgirl for the shortest amount of time — was building very quickly into ‘Batgirl.’ But I think this reasoning — brand identification, mostly — isn’t good enough. After all, when they returned Barry Allen to the DC Universe and made him ‘the’ Flash again, DiDio said something very similar — only more personal. He said that Barry Allen was always the Flash to him.
That’s an important distinction — because for the vast majority of the potential comics market (including the entire 18-35 market they say they’re trying to attract), Wally West was the one people defaulted to as the Flash. Wally West was the Flash in Justice League, which lots more people saw, especially in those current key demos. Wally West had been the Flash for twenty-three years. Twenty-three years. Barry Allen had been the Flash for twenty-nine years when he was killed in Crisis on Infinite Earths — just six years longer — and for the vast, vast majority of current comics readers in 2008, existed as a character who was interesting because of how he died, and his ability to not have been tarnished by the newer directions of comics as a result.
By the same token, Barbara Gordon was put in that wheelchair in 1988. She had debuted in comic books in 1967, so she had a twenty one year run as Batgirl. She debuted as Oracle in 1989, so at this point she’s had a twenty-two year run as Oracle. That’s an important point — she’s been Oracle (and disabled) longer than she was Batgirl.
So the brand argument, to me, is somewhat specious. That brings us to their earlier statement — the one on diversity and how they’re chock full of it.
Well, they’re not. They’re just not. The ‘new’ DC Universe has put more white men in the forefront, not less.
And Barbara Gordon has gone from an extremely powerful role — and role model — to a weak one.
Oh, I have confidence in Gail Simone to write a strong Batgirl. I really do. But Barbara Gordon is Batgirl again. Some other character is Batwoman, defined as being entirely independent from Batman. Barbara Gordon is back to the role of being passive and scared (look at that cover I’ve reprinted above) as Batgirl, where she was strong, confident, independent and distinctive as Oracle.
And the message all this sends is terrible. It takes a powerful disabled character and makes her a less powerful fully abled character.
The message of Oracle was simple. A wheelchair doesn’t make you passive or weak. A wheelchair doesn’t keep you from being a hero.
The message of Barbara returning to Batgirl? Is that being in a wheelchair is a problem that should be fixed, and isn’t it lucky that Barbara Gordon lives in a magical universe where these things can happen? Yay! Now she’s not broken any more! She can get on with her real super hero career.
Yeah, screw that. Barbara Gordon was powerful and dangerous, able to fight physically and completely dominate mentally. She was the lynchpin of the DC Universe, master of information, and arguably the strongest pure leader in the DC Universe.
Now she’s Batgirl. You know. On a level with Robin the Boy Wonder.
Of course, Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake all got to ‘graduate’ from being Robin, and become confident, adult heroes. Barbara Gordon just got to revert to Batgirl, costing her status as an icon and a role model in the process.
That’s why people are angry, Charlie Brown.