Preamble

I wanted to like Barbara Gordon. I tried to like Barbara Gordon. I’d grown up with her, with the 1970s comics and the re-runs of Yvonne Craig’s 1960s TV performances. I just never had a convincing sense of who she was, or why she really did it.

Batman, obviously, was driven by his parents’ death, and his need to replay personal revenge night after night in the guise of a ‘war on crime’. Dick Grayson had seen his parents murdered, too, and been raised by Bruce Wayne; enough there to explain why a boy would dress up in costume and risk his life every evening. But Barbara? A cop’s daughter, who thought it’d be fun to join in?

Batman, we know, is in the top ten percent across several international categories: greatest martial artists, greatest investigative minds. Robin was privately tutored by the most obsessive teacher in the business. But Barbara? Quite good at judo, relatively athletic, pretty smart?

Batman, we accept, has wealth as his primary superpower. He’s a billionaire with multiple businesses. He can order state-of-the-art-plus hardware from military wish-lists. Robin is the favoured son, with all the high-tech toys he wants. But Barbara? A fancy dress costume, and some home-made gadgets, on a student budget?

I wanted to like Barbara. I just wasn’t getting much to work with.

Around the mid-1990s, I started immersing myself in the Batman mythos like nobody has before. Again, I tried with Barbara. If there was ever a time I should have connected with the character, this was it. I spent a summer in New York, living in Columbia University student residences with a girlfriend, up on 116th Street. I rode the subway to work at DC Comics on Broadway every day. I was living the daily routines Barbara might: bagel from the Greek place on the corner, pizza and a beer at a diner in the evening. I came back to the UK, where I shared a house with three other girls. I was a PhD student, like Barbara. I even had long red hair for a while, like Barbara. I was running a fanzine – a printed one, in those early days of the internet – called Deviant Glam: ‘comics, cosmetics and cross-dressing’. If there was ever a time for me and Barbara, this was it.

But here’s what DC was giving me, at the time.

Girlfrenzy! Girlfrenzy? Yeah, ‘where the girls are’, according to the back cover. In a bold attempt to capture the female market, DC had decided to run six one-off titles with some of their best-loved superheroines, and give them lurid day-glo covers in canary yellow, neon green and turquoise.

Barbara was joined in this prestigious run by familiar cultural icons like ‘The Mist’, ‘The Ravens’, ‘Tomorrow Woman’ and ‘The Secret’. Oh, come on, you remember ‘The Mist’. She plagued Jack Knight in the pages of Starman, according to this. Tomorrow Woman appeared in at least one issue of JLA, and The Secret starred in JLA: World Without Grown-Ups.

‘Take Your Relationship with Batgirl to the Next Level!’ says the slogan, reaching out to girls and women who might not have picked up a comic before, and convincing them once and for all that superhero stories aren’t just for teenage boys.

Inside, Barbara jumps around in yellow heeled boots, and defeats Zsasz by flicking open a convenient salt cellar and throwing it into his open cut. Comics aren’t for kids anymore, so she calls him a ‘sick bastard’. Batman turns up and asks her if she wants to go to Nepal. She says no: ‘I think I need… some time off.’ This single case has traumatised her so much, she has to retreat to her bedroom and stare at her dressing table toiletries for a while.

I don’t know if the girls and women who’d never picked up a comic before enjoyed this issue and wanted to take their relationship with Batgirl to the next level, but I put ‘Girlfrenzy!’ straight back in its bag.

Meanwhile at the movies, Alicia Silverstone was playing ‘Barbara Wilson’, Alfred Pennyworth’s niece, as a Batgirl without a cowl in Joel Schumacher’s second attempt at the franchise.

I like Alicia Silverstone. She’s a survivor, a fighter; it seems fitting here that she looks so much like Britney Spears, who’s also struggled through ups and downs but keeps coming back, squeezed into circus costumes and putting on her best show. But she’s fighting a losing battle with this movie: even the publicity shots look cheap (look at the dirty floor).

To cash in on the critical success of Schumacher’s blockbuster, DC released another one-shot special, titled simply Batgirl.

It’s nice to see that she keeps her costume shiny as her bike, but are you really going to run in those heels, let alone swing around the rooftops? The interior artwork is less glossy, and again there’s a sense of resignation in the final pages, after Barbara’s fumbled her way through another case. Her dad comes to see her in the middle of the night – she’s still living at home – and she asks him if he thinks crimefighting is fun. No, he says, ‘it’s just people getting hurt. Or not. Get some sleep now’. Barbara stares at herself in the window, and reflects: ‘But I’m not that young anymore, either’.

Both stories end on a downbeat, melancholy note, with Barbara out of costume, in her bedroom, wondering if she can carry on, and if so, when, and why she does all this after all.

Of course, there’s another reason for the half-hearted, dejected tone of Batgirl’s late-90s adventures. They’re overshadowed by the fact that Batgirl, as such, doesn’t even exist anymore. She was put out of action, out of continuity, in The Killing Joke, ten years earlier: these stories don’t really count. They’re just additions to a possible past, rather than genuine contributions to an ongoing story. Barbara’s story as Batgirl is always already over.

So I’ve always felt frustrated by Barbara as Batgirl. It’s not her fault, any more than it’s Alicia Silverstone’s fault she was cast in a crummy movie with a rubber suit. She’s simply always seemed a wasted character; never fully-realised, never fully distinctive. Nobody seemed to have ever made the effort with her, and I wished they had. As a lifelong Batman fan, it annoyed me that the longest-running female character in Bruce Wayne’s extended family – the only woman to wear the costume and the brand, from 1967-1999 – had been around for decades, but never seemed to have a decent story to her name.

When I heard she was coming back in costume, as Batgirl, as part of the New 52, it rang alarm bells. I couldn’t see the rationale for undoing twenty-five years of history and miracle-curing an established character with a disability, just for the sake of getting Barbara back in the suit. I wrote a couple of articles that voiced my misgivings and then expressed my doubts about the Gail Simone reboot. I still don’t see the wisdom in bringing her back. But I decided to do something about that; rather than complain about other people’s work, I thought I’d see if I could do anything better. I decided to pitch a new version of Batgirl, as an experiment: a non-commercial project to prompt discussion and maybe suggest a different way of doing things, in terms of approach, aesthetic and practice.

In practical terms, I felt it would be an interesting idea to reverse the usual industry ratios and have a predominantly-female creative team involved. Most of the artists contributing to this project are women. I’ve also asked some feminist comic book critics and commentators I admire to give their feedback and help shape the script. The approach is collaborative, based on discussion and consultation. The aesthetic is different from most mainstream superhero comics, based around a scrapbook variety of styles, and informed by an attempt to represent women in a more interesting and nuanced way.

And the approach is, I hope, different from the usual, because of my background. I’m a researcher. Before I write, I read. I try to put in the work. So, over the last month, I’ve been collecting Batgirl stories, and trying to get a sense of the raw material; building up a story of her life so far.

And just look at all those logos.

Barbara Gordon: A Life in Pictures

I need time
I need love
I need… me.
(Action!) Say hello, to the girl, that I am
Britney Spears, Overprotected

What do we know about Barbara Gordon? To assemble a coherent picture of her character, we have to pick and choose from the mosaic of her life, and put those pieces together in a linear order.

‘You might be grown now,’ says Jim in Batgirl Rising (2009) ‘but don’t forget – most of us old-timers remember when you were our little red-headed mascot.’

‘Well, that was a long time ago,’ says Babs.

That was a long time ago.

(Legends of the DC Universe: Folie a Deux, 1998)

It was a long time ago, but we still have a record of it. Or rather, because this is superhero history, with all its contradictions, corrections, second-thoughts and redrafts, we have several different records. According to the Secret Origins of 1987, Barbara’s mother died in a car accident, while her father drank himself to death on the operating table.

(Secret Origins: Batgirl, 1987)

In the 1998 retelling of her origin, Thelma and Roger Gordon died together, in a car crash.

Either way, Jim Gordon became the guardian.

In the nostalgic past of the 1980s – which always seems to look and and feel a little like Miller and Mazzucchelli’s Year One – young Barbara’s journal, all round script and hearts dotting the ‘I’s, adds a further layer to the more familiar narratives of Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon.

Back in the day when Jim still had reddish brown hair, rather than white, Babs was kidnapped by the Mad Hatter. She met Batman.

(Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special: Madness, 1994)

And then? Well, Babs got a training montage, like the ones Bruce went through in post-Crisis stories like The Man Who Falls. She read books, she found a sensei. Like Bruce, she pretended to be bored and arrogant as she sped through school and college, always moving on, never settling.

Soon afterward, Batgirl made her ‘Million Dollar Debut’. And it all went down any number of different ways, depending who you ask. According to the Secret Origin of 87, she was invited to the GCPD masquerade ball, and decided to dress up her role model. As a kid, she’d been into Supergirl – but now she’d grown up, and had a new idol. On the way to the party, she ran into one of the DCU’s lowest-rent villains, Killer Moth.

It’s a hokey story, but it’s reproduced almost directly from the 1967 original.

(The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl, 1967)

During her first appearance in the animated universe, with its ambiguous relationship to mainstream continuity, Babs also makes her debut at a costume party, but runs into Harley and Ivy, instead of Killer Moth.


(Batman Adventures, 1993)

In the 2003 retelling, Batgirl Year One, Killer Moth is back, but – unlike the 1967 original – Babs makes it to the ball, rather than meeting him on a suburban highway. Beatty, Dixon, Lopez and Martin’s rendition is easily the most likeable version of Barbara/Batgirl in the last forty-five years, with its fluid, witty art and its depiction of Barbara as a spirited rebel, rather than a sidekick or hanger-on. Rather than idolising Batman, she has a girl-crush on Black Canary. And she realises in the first fight-scene that heels aren’t going to work.

Anyway, it happens, somehow or other. Barbara makes her debut at a costume party, and crime-fighting chooses her, rather than vice versa. There’s no solemn vow at a graveside, or oath with upturned palm in a cave. It just happens, overnight.

And from that point, she’s Batgirl. There’s no decade of training. According to one story, there are barely two days of training.


(Batman Chronicles #9: Photo Finish, 1997)

There’s no dramatic origin story. Her parents are dead, but that all seems resolved long ago. There are no traumatic flashbacks, no recurring images of an orphan crying in the alley or in the sawdust of the Big Top. The comics don’t even agree how it happened; it doesn’t even seem to matter if Roger and Thelma Gordon died together, or apart. Instead of an iconic primal scene, we get the repeated and mundane: a lot of evenings where Babs and her dad eat dinner together, the conversation always a little strained.

There are a lot of scenes of Babs in a pink dressing gown, with a towel around her head, and sitting in her bedroom, staring dreamily at the mirror, at the window, at the ceiling. Sometimes she’s even clutching a pink, heart-shaped pillow to her stomach. If Batman’s life is film noir, Barbara’s is an advert for face masks and feminine hygiene.

There’s a lot of first-person narration. The 1987 origin confessed ‘I used to pretend I had a friend, but it hurt much more when I realised I was talking to myself.’ Babs still talks to herself a lot. We learn a couple of times that she keeps a scrapbook – ‘you know – little mementos of special days and pictures of your family and stuff’ – and it seems she still keeps a regular diary, though her handwriting is a little more grown up these days. Funny how her clothes keep falling off; that doesn’t happen so much to Dick and Bruce.

We get into her head a lot, and it’s a lot less gritty and hard-boiled than Bruce’s head. It’s chatty, insecure, vulnerable. She’s young, and she doesn’t take everything seriously. She’s constantly doubting herself. The tone is apologetic, self-consciously klutzy. There’s the constant reminder, from her own narration, that maybe Barbara simply isn’t good enough even to tackle low-level thugs. She makes mistakes, gets knocked out, slips up, fakes confidence. She tries to balance work, home, family and study with crime-fighting, but never seems absolutely committed to a career in costume: to Bruce, the war on crime isn’t something you juggle with ‘life’. It is life.

She has adventures, naturally. But are they memorable adventures? ‘I was mindwiped, impersonated, turned into a snake,’ she reports; but The Greatest Batgirl Stories Ever Told only features ten chapters, with no introduction, and nothing from the 1980s. Nobody ever seems to know quite what to do with Barbara-Batgirl. She jumps around a lot, and wisecracks a little, and flirts uncomfortably with Robin, and has regular dinners with her dad, but at the end of every story, she seems almost ready to give it up.

Her 1987 Secret Origin talks about the past, but has to apologise for the present day, and promises more for the future. ‘Batgirl has not appeared much recently, but readers interested in seeing what next awaits Barbara Gordon should watch for the forthcoming JOKER Graphic Novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.’

What a promise that turned out to be.

And then, in a Batgirl Special from 1988, without any particular cause or explanation, and after a career that’s never really made its mark, she finally does it. She retires.

What’s striking is how easily she takes to this new life. There are no regrets, no nightmares (yet), no dark, elemental voice inside her calling her back to the street. She spends cosy evenings with her dad, working on scrapbooks and making cocoa. She seems to have suddenly turned aged a decade or more: she could be Jim’s wife, rather than his twenty-something daughter.

But later that year, something finally happened. Batgirl had her biggest storyline yet, and typically for her – this girl who never really had much luck or limelight – it was her last story, and she wasn’t even in costume at the time. She was just a civilian, a secondary character, a pawn in a larger game. And it happened to her, rather than vice versa; she didn’t do anything herself, except open the door.

(In 1988, you will remember, there was a controversial phone vote to kill off Jason Todd, the current Robin.

Earlier that year, someone else had made a phone call that changed someone’s life.

Alan Moore had called his editor, Len Wein, and asked if it was OK if Barbara was shot in the spine. Len Wein spoke to Dick Giordano, and got back on the horn to Alan. Len said, ‘Yeah, OK. Cripple the bitch.’)

Barbara made cocoa. She was expecting Colleen Reece from across the street, for yoga. She opened the door.


(The Brave and the Bold, 2010)


(The Killing Joke, 1988)


(Oracle: The Cure, 2010)


(Batgirl #1, 2011)


(Batman Chronicles, 1996)

He took pictures. We’ve all seen the pictures. He shot this girl in the spine, and while she was clutching her stomach on the floor, he stripped her naked, and took pictures, and showed them to her dad.

When you remember that, the coyly titillating semi-nude scenes in 2009’s The Cat and The Bat, with Babs stripping to pursue Selina through a ‘hedonist society’, cross the line from cheesy into uneasy.

And when you reconsider the pacing of Moore and Bolland’s original story, with two whole frames – two moments, two heartbeats – between Babs opening the door, and Joker shooting, you realise this should have been the scene where Batgirl took Joker down once and for all, not the other way around. She’s Batgirl. She had a door between her and the perp, and a cup of hot cocoa in her hand.

But it’s done now. Finally, Barbara had her own scene of trauma and tragedy. Finally she had an iconic, horrific moment to haunt her and drive her forward; a reason to hate, a reason to live, a reason to fight.

Now instead of the light and girly scenes in dressing gown and towels, we saw her in a hospital bed, her red hair pulled back under a green medical cap, a changed woman.

Finally, like Bruce, she could have nightmares, and a tormented inner voice instead of a chatty journal.


(Birds of Prey #1, 1996)

Finally, she had flashbacks. Batman had flashbacks about it, and he wasn’t even there at the time.


(52, 2006)

It is perhaps the ultimate irony – perhaps the ultimate insult – that Batgirl’s personal trauma was poached from her and added to Batman’s memory-bank of bad experiences. Barbara Gordon’s shooting and sexual assault – an event that Bruce Wayne never even witnessed – became just another reason for Batman to feel sorry for himself, to channel the guilt and sorrow into anger and use it to fuel his never-ending ‘war’ on ‘crime’; his nightly patrols and the endless beatings dealt out to petty thugs and costumed clowns.


(Batman RIP, 2008)

So finally, Babs could have become a dark knight, a haunted knight herself, rather than a fun-loving thrill-seeker. Finally, Batman was taking her seriously; finally, she could be truly accepted as one of the family, though it came at a cost. In a 1996 version of the Oracle origin, she confronts Batman, accusing him of laughing with his arch-enemy over some private, killing joke: ‘Tell me… was it me?’


(Batman Chronicles, 1996)

In a 2010 retelling, that specific accusation – and the bleaker, broader one that she was never anything except his second-rate sidekick – is written out of history, and she builds herself up after the shooting to win Bruce’s approval.


(Oracle: The Road Home, 2010)

So, finally she earned Batman’s respect, by transforming after a tragedy. And in the 2010 telling, it all works out better than expected for Batman: Babs goes through an appropriate period of grief – in his cold and stilted world-view, maybe she didn’t feel her parents’ death deeply enough, and needed another trial – and comes out harder, stronger, angrier on the other side, but still looking to him as a mentor and master.

Now, perhaps, she was ready to be a Batgirl that the Dark Age Batman would accept. Except that the timing was all wrong. Barbara’s equivalent of Bruce and Dick’s origin sequences – the tears, the helplessness, the resolve to keep going and make herself into something new – came at the end of her costumed career, rather than the beginning.

Barbara finally ran into the dominant mood of grim and gritty in the 1980s, but it hit back hard, and it signalled the end of Batgirl.


(Superman-Batman #75, 2010)

But life goes on. Of course, it wasn’t the end of Batgirl, or the end of Barbara. It wasn’t even the end of Barbara as Batgirl, if we include the time-shifting comeback in Zero Hour, the alternate Elseworlds of stories like Thrillkiller, or the auteurist experiment of All-Star Batman and Robin.

Batgirl’s mantle was, as we know, taken up by Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, and Barbara resurfaced as Oracle. I missed Cassandra and Stephanie’s careers first time round; catching up now, I’m surprised how strong and interesting their characters and stories are, but those are different Batgirls, and deserve their own separate discussions, as do Bette and Kathy Kane.

As for Oracle, whether she’s been treated well is also an argument for another time. The shot to the spine is part of Barbara’s story, and her new life as Oracle is important; but I think it could be handled differently, and possibly better. Which brings us back to where we began.

Postscript

In September 2011, I led an induction session for the Fall intake of PhD students at my institution. I’d been thinking about Batgirl, and Barbara, and why she’d never really clicked or connected with me. I looked across the seminar room at the doctoral candidates; at women in their early to mid-twenties. They were tall, beautiful, stylish, whip-smart, witty, and, above all, they were keen as hell. They had an intelligent energy that made the air spark. They were absolutely motivated.

Barbara Gordon, on her first appearance, has a PhD from Gotham State University. Take her back a couple of years – but not too far – and she’s a student. Not a naïve, thrill-seeking, fun-loving teenager, but a doctoral student with something to prove. There’s no reason why she can’t still be physically fit, though anything like Olympic standard is implausible; there’s no reason why she can’t be attractive, though that doesn’t mean she has to wear shiny spandex and heels. There’s no reason why she can’t have fun. But more than anything, her defining characteristic is intelligence and drive.

Gail Simone announced at a recent panel that Barbara was the smartest in the Batman family. Of course, intelligence comes in different forms, and expresses itself in different ways. Smarter than Batman doesn’t mean more hard-boiled and grittier than Batman. But Simone’s Batgirl sounds a little like Lady Gaga in Arkham Asylum; the narration doesn’t sell itself immediately as a form of super-smarts.


There you are, you rotten monsters. Found you, didn’t I? Oh, yes, I did, babies. How sad for you….

Batgirl can be smarter than Batman. But you can’t just claim it; you have to make the reader believe it; and to do that, you have to get Barbara to believe it. That means doing without some of the girly, cutesy narration, toning down the endless self-doubt, and actually writing her, for once, as an incredibly intelligent woman. Rather than the good-girl equivalent of Harley, Ivy and Selina, she could be more like a fiercely sane version of the Riddler. She can make connections. She can interpret clues. She can solve puzzles; and the whole of Gotham City is one big puzzle, one big performance, a secret sentence written in the architecture and the criss-crossing paths of the costumed cast, if you can only find the right angle to read it from.

I was a PhD student in the 1990s. In that decade I didn’t read so many mainstream superhero titles for pleasure; I read them for work. My favourite comics were from Vertigo: Sandman, Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, Kid Eternity, Black Orchid, but most of all, Doom Patrol and Shade. These were comics that women and girls who weren’t into comics genuinely picked up, and sometimes didn’t put straight back down again. They may look dated now, with their collaged covers and pre-digital colouring, but they attempted something different. They weren’t so much about action and spectacle as dialogue, character, relationships and identity. They weren’t always about ‘boys all biceps and the girls all chest,’ in Philip Larkin’s phrase; they were about girls who were born boys, and boys who became girls, and girls who liked girls, and boys who liked boys. They weren’t just about spandex suits, heels and shiny costumes. They were about Goths, grunge, New Romance, catwalk outfits, incredible long coats and amazing chunky boots. They were about, and shaped by, alternative fashion and music styles. They were comics that made you want to go clothes shopping.

I decided to place Barbara Gordon in that milieu. In this could-have-been alternate world, Batgirl was a Vertigo character; but the look and feel of her stories would also be reminiscent of the other stories I loved from that period, the Animated Series Batman and its spin-off comics. The style would embrace various styles, in the spirit of the late 80s/early 1990s bricolage aesthetic – epitomised by McKean and Sienkiewicz – that stuck lace and feathers on the page and switched from photorealistic painting to scribbled cartoon.

It would be a scrapbook, like the ones Barbara herself kept all her life. It would include photos, text, watercolour, photomontage and digital art to tell the story of a time in this woman’s life. It wouldn’t look like a conventional comic: it would be a compendium of photos, interviews, texts, sketches and drawn pages, more like a magazine or a portfolio. As such, it would foreground the collaborative nature of comics, and push that aspect to the front: it would be a group project, with different artists contributing their own individual take, and with different critics, consultants and commentators shaping the characters – all of them credited. Rather than a sole-authored vehicle, it would be a partnership. And unlike the mainstream comics industry, most of the team would be female.

We are building a better Batgirl. Look out for her.

60 Responses to “From Killer Moth to Killing Joke: Batgirl, a life in pictures”

  1. The Batman Says:

    You’re not the worlds foremost authority on Batman – I am!

  2. Will Says:

    I don’t think I said I was the world’s foremost authority, but thanks!

  3. RetroWarbird Says:

    Enjoyed immensely.

    Of course here and there we had that “smarter than Batman” bit proven to us. Morrison seemed to make her sound smart, in retrospect, although I’ll have to delve back into “Oracle appearances”. In JLA and even in the kind of hammy digital issue of Batman, Inc., where Bruce was so out of his element he barely helped as Babs cleaned up the villain by herself.

    Then again, Oracle’s confidence could be misconstrued as “Keyboard Confidence”.

  4. Terry Gilliam Says:

    Fucking hell, it’s Batman!

  5. erikbear Says:

    Sounds like an neat-ass project, does this mean that Barbara’s going to go all goth now though?

    Of course, going Batman is already going pretty goth.

  6. Harrison Says:

    I really enjoyed this tour through Batgirl’s past. My first contact with Batgirl actually came from Len Wein’s ‘Untold Legend of the Batman’, the 1980 retelling of the Bat-verse (I probably saw her on the 60s show before that but she clearly didn’t make enough impact to stick like Catwoman did). Her origin in those pages is reminiscent of the panels above, with one key difference: “and help him she did — with a skill and confidence that made it seem as if she was born to be a crimefighter!–” “–and come to think of it, perhaps she was!” This is narration from a pre-crisis white-haired Jim Gordon, speaking aloud in his office (with enough disregard that Robin seemingly overhears the entire story whilst perched on the open window’s ledge). I actually liked the character at her inception. She didn’t have Bruce’s millions, and I lived in a tenement. She wasn’t (in this particular iteration anyway) an orphan (referred to simply as Gordon’s ‘daughter’). She didn’t have the years of dedicated martial training or forensic investigation that Batman possessed, ‘merely’ a PhD and a brown belt in ‘the martial arts’! These things seemed remarkably achievable to my 10(?) year old mind, and were inspiring to me as an aspirant Bat-boy. So, for me, Batgirl represented the achievable vigilante superhero. I didn’t view her in terms of gender so much as attainability, and I was pretty gutted when Moore allowed Joker to (seemingly irreversibly — Ha!) shoot her through the spine and cripple her. I was also quite disturbed (at age 11) at what he did following this, and disappointed in my hero for sharing a laugh with Joker afterwards. My friend said it best when he noted that that’s one of the only stories (to that date) where Joker truly ‘wins’. I again quote Wein’s Jim Gordon, “in fact, the only thing I’ve never seen him do is… laugh!” I’m guessing he was pretty flicking disappointed, too.

  7. Will Brooker Says:

    Very good points above. Glad you enjoyed this so far.

    RetroWarbird, I realised discussing Oracle would make this article too long and unwieldy, but nothing really stood out for me from Morrison’s JLA run. There’s an interesting scene where J’Onn declares (from memory) ‘My disappointment in you is LIMITLESS’ (or something similar) when Babs seems to be thinking of time-reversing the Killing Joke shooting, but actually she’s considering the undoing of the Wayne parents’ murder.

    Erikbear, no… she is more Claire Danes in My So-Called Life, alternative-student, but able to shift in and out of different communities and company depending on situation (as indeed most of us can) so doesn’t have a single fashion style.

    Harrison, very interesting thought that Batgirl was the attainable one — true, a brown belt and PhD are more achievable than Batman-level impossible standards. Of course, it was Robin who was meant to be the entry point for young male readers, but you’re right, his lifestyle is equally fantastical, whereas Babs is reassuringly ‘normal’. I still feel nobody has really known what to do with her, or has done anything very interesting with her, though Batgirl Year One is in a different league as far as I’m concerned.

  8. Joe Kerr Says:

    I’m glad I shot her.

  9. The Commish Says:

    You scum! Leave my daughter alone!

  10. Zom Says:

    while I think I see what you’re trying to do, I’m far from convinced that a McKean-esque scrapbook approach is a good idea.

    I should probably declare that, on the whole, I’m not a fan of that sort of thing, but my real concern is that it’s more in tune with what I suspect are your own enthusiasms (post-structuralist thought, the comics of the late eighties/early nineties) than it is with a more female friendly visual mode, and/or the needs of a female character trying to find a clear voice.

    I applaud you for trying, but I think you need to sell that part of your pitch much harder for it to stand a chance of convincing me.

  11. Alan Moore Says:

    Dear Everyone,

    Hi, it’s me, Alan Moore, using the internet for the first time! It’s so great, isn’t it? Why did it take me so long??

    I’m enjoying the discussion here, and I just wanted to chip in with my penn’orth (an old English abbreviation of the term ‘a penny’s worth’), which is:

    I’m glad I shot her too Joe! lol

    Thanks.

    Render Unto Glycon,
    Alan

  12. Terry Gilliam Says:

    Hucking jell, it’s Alan Moore!

    Are you finally ready to take Batman back with me baby? We could air out all these little bloggers, Killing Joke style! Put some fire in their bellies! One bullet at a time! No collage necessary!

    How about it Al? I’m ready if you are!

  13. Will Says:

    I am not sure what a ‘female-friendly visual mode’ would be, Zom, but I think moving away from something like Red Hood and the Outlaws isn’t a bad start. The format is very much open to change. I think the idea of encouraging different visual interpretations and foregrounding collaboration and consultation is an interesting and distinctive approach. Again, what type of visuals women want to see, and what kind of format is most suitable for a strong female character, is open to discussion, and I am happy to have that discussion.

  14. Zom Says:

    I am not sure what a ‘female-friendly visual mode’ would be, Zom,

    Yes, quite… Exactly what I was thinking, which I suppose points towards the difficulties you face. I mean, you yourself go on to say “the type of visuals women want to see” which kind of begs a whole set of questions.

    I was very careful to include that “more” as qualifier precisely because it’s not clear to me how far you can run with that kind of concern, beyond sensible rules of thumb like let’s avoid Outlaws, let’s strip out the T&A, etc…

    I do get that you’re not wedded to the scrapbook idea, by the way. I certainly think a collaborative approach is a very good way to go with this.

  15. Will Says:

    Well, yes, I said ‘“the type of visuals women want to see”’, but that was a question about what you meant by ‘female-friendly visuals’ rather than a claim that I was aiming to find a style or format that particularly appeals to women or is particularly suited to strong demale characters. I genuinely don’t know if such a thing exists, and if it does, I don’t know what it is.

    I would be very reluctant to suggest that any particular form of visual storytelling was particularly ‘female’ or ‘feminine’.

    I think you could, absolutely, use the standard comic book visual grammar (of, for instance, Red Hood and the Outlaws) for a story that was, if you wanted to do such a thing, informed by feminist ideas in its depiction of Starfire in character, narrative and visual representation. So no, the format (frames, layout etc) and the dominant ideology (generally sexist in my opinion) of mainstream superhero comics are not necessarily linked. They have tended to be, conventionally and historically, but the form and content aren’t, obviously, bound together.

    So I am not proposing a new method of storytelling in the belief that it’s necessary to the approach or character, or even because I think it’s appropriate to the approach or character.

    You ask a valid question, and in a friendly critical spirit, which I appreciate. Why do I feel that this ‘scrapbook’ approach would suit this project?

    1. you’re right, I am not wedded to it, and the fact that this project aims to be flexible and to respond to comments is part of what I want for it

    2. On a (small-scale) industry/production level, because I think it suits the nature of collaboration and consultation, which in turn helps to avoid and undermine a sense of author-led hierarchy, which in this case would basically be, or seem like, me (male) managing female ‘team’, and which I think would run counter to my intentions.

    3. On the level of representation, I think it’s distinctive and different, and has positive potential, if the project embraces and invites a number of different creative interpretations of what Babs in particular looks like — I think this works to problematise the usual kind of female ideal we see in most superhero comics. The art I have so far ranges from manga-fashion to digital watercolour portraits to indie cartoonish, and I think the idea that Babs doesn’t fit any one single template is fitting to the project. Yes, it does fit with my views on superhero characters as mosaics who are a composite of all their different types, but I think it has a less theoretical, more everyday implication about the way we are all different selves and different personae in different situations.

    4. An entirely pragmatic reason: I wasn’t sure, and I’m still not sure, if I can get an artist to draw a whole story from a script, or if you or any other site would publish a 24-page comic book story. So my initial idea was to present a pitch, a portfolio, as if it was a proposal for a comic (which could potentially become one in future). As it might not be practical to actually produce an entire comic, my next option was a ‘package’.

    5. Character: the concept really firmed up to me when I read Batgirl in ‘Photo Finish’ talking about how she’d always kept a scrapbook, and I realised that’s what she was doing (or actually what Jim was doing) in Killing Joke. So, a scrapbook does absolutely suit what we know of Babs.

    6. Subverting dominant convention: I noted above that you could absolutely use the same form of Red Hood and the Outlaws for a totally different type of superhero comic, but I still think that type of format has inevitably become associated with that type of comic. A format that immediately looks different distances itself from that type of comic, and proposes instantly that this might not be the same type of thing. ‘This is not your teenage brother’s Batgirl’ — to put it in a crass shorthand.

    7. Comic book history and style: it fits the early 90s setting. Yes, I liked those comics, but I like a lot of other comics too, so it isn’t just driven by personal taste or the period I associate with PhDs – it allows me to locate Babs in an entirely different milieu, of My So-Called Life, Shade, The Breeders, Black Orchid etc. The collage aesthetic recalls that period of Vertigo comics, which as I noted, I liked because of their (in general terms) ‘queerness’.

    8. Finally, yes, a level of gendered association. I said above that I didn’t know what ‘female-friendly’ comics should look like, or if there is or should be such a thing. But once the scrapbook idea came to mind, and was confirmed through the references to scrapbooking in Babs’ stories, I was reminded of the story in Alias where Jessica Jones investigates a female teenage runaway, and we get pages of the girl’s private diary/scrapbook. I’m not suggesting that the scrapbook is an archetypally young female form. But it is perhaps *more* associated with young women, whereas the conventional comic book superhero format is *more* associated with stories for young men. So it has that association of being something distinct, different and with a cultural link to a form of teenage female expression — not an essential link at all, but an echo.

  16. Zom Says:

    Hah, you’ve responded to my original post, which I subsequently edited.

    While I don’t – a few rare instances aside – enjoy the kind of aesthetic you’re aiming for, and while I strongly suspect that many people who are interested in reading more gender inclusive comic books don’t enjoy it either, your reasoning makes a lot of sense.

    Good job answering my needling so thoroughly, and for being so honest. It’s not often that I’m happy to just shut up, but in this instance I most cheerfully am.

  17. Zom Says:

    Will, what you’ve written up there is a great addendum to the post, actually.

  18. Will Says:

    Thanks, and thanks for asking the question (yeah, you edited while I was replying!)

    I think your question has enabled me to clarify what I want for this project – to myself, as much as to others.

    This might also be a time to mention that I am actively looking for artists – particularly female, but anyway artists who are interested in depicting women in comics differently – and consultants/critics who share an interest in trying to challenge or question the way women like Barbara tend to be represented.

    Twitter is @willbrooker, email drwillbrooker at gmail com.

    By the way, Gail Simone was nice enough to clarify to me personally today that the new Barbara’s career as Batgirl is from age 17-18. Killing Joke happened when she was 18, and she’s now 21.

    I think that’s a pretty accelerated career that raises a few problems, but I suspect this is far more an editorial decision than an individual creative one, and that Simone has very good intentions within a restricted framework.

    Needless to say, a gracious response from a busy DC professional does a lot to win me over to the new Batgirl, and I will be giving it a fair shot.

  19. Zom Says:

    So no, the format (frames, layout etc) and the dominant ideology (generally sexist in my opinion) of mainstream superhero comics are not necessarily linked.

    Which is why I said that you’d want to steer clear of T&A, etc… as a rule of thumb, rather than in every instance.

    Out of interest, have you read Laura Hudson’s comment piece on DC’s new direction?

  20. Will Says:

    Yes, it was one of the pieces that made me want to write the above article and attempt something different – like a lot of feminist comment I found it both inspiring for its own stance and depressing in the situation it describes, and I’d be very glad if Laura Hudson read my Batgirl piece.

  21. Zom Says:

    Yeah, it was strong stuff.

  22. RetroWarbird Says:

    In defiance of certain archetypes, I’d like to freely admit that I know a few women. Women who read comic books. And who while entirely feminine and ladylike, somewhat make me fear for my life.

    Perhaps it’s life in the “boys world” of comics and various other niche genres (they do tend to be a tattooed, show-going, hard-drinking lot) and perhaps symptomatic of being “one of the guys” but they actually quite love all the T&A and ultra-violence.

    My sister is a former librarian, with a master’s degree and a lot of traits I’ve seen in Barbara Gordon over the years. We come from humble means, Welsh-American, farming-turned-cops/firefighters/mechanics, including the drive to succeed and natural knack for being smarter and more talented than her so-called peers. How many 24 year old college professors are out there, after all?

    And Batgirl is as far from what she would consider relatable as anything, I’d think. (I won’t speak for her, though, I relate IMMENSELY to Richard Grayson and I’m not even athletic). And I have a hard enough time getting her to read spandex comics. She wouldn’t even trust me about The Invisibles or Morrison in general. She is an avid Gaimanite, though (and a thorough Whovian), so I can’t fault her tastes.

    I feel I should ask her to read this article and see what she thinks.

    She doesn’t scrapbook. And I believe she stopped writing in a diary in high school.

  23. Will Says:

    Sure, I would very much welcome her opinion. I fully appreciate that some women like traditional superhero comics, though I think liking ultraviolence doesn’t necessarily mean you like T&A — you can have and enjoy the first, without the other.

    I should point out that I am not under the illusion that all women sit around pasting photographs and feathers into scrapbooks all day rather than reading comics or doing other things. I’m suggesting that Barbara Gordon has done something similar at some point in her life.

    Also, this isn’t a project to give women something to read or get them reading comics (I know you weren’t suggesting that exactly). Some women no doubt do like, or don’t mind, the Starfire-in-Red-Hood kind of depiction. I’m criticising that kind of representation and suggesting other modes of representation because I don’t like it myself, rather than because I have an idea that women don’t like it and need something different to look at.

  24. Zom Says:

    Well, I think you can criticise the way mainstream comics represent women for being, you know, actually bad for the world most of the time. I think that’s okay.

  25. Will Says:

    Yeah, I am wary of generalising, but that is how I tend to feel. I know other people, male and female, may well disagree, but I think the depiction of men and women in superhero comics tends to be quite limiting and stereotypical, and that overall this is not a Good Thing for either men or women.

    I just wanted to clarify that I don’t have some notion of doing this ‘for the girls’ as a white-knighting charity project. I do see the article above as generally informed by feminism, but some women aren’t feminists, and some men are, so it’s not simply about gender divisions.

  26. Johnny Bacardi Says:

    You sure waded through a bunch of terrible comics.

    Go read Batgirl: Year One. It’s collected. It might, just might, alter your opinion somewhat.

  27. Zom Says:

    It’s the funny thing, the whole “I want to like this a heck of a lot but I can’t because it’s not as good as it should be/at all but I do so want to”. It lurks behind a lot of the rogue’s reviews on this site, and pretty much describes my attitude to Dr Who

  28. Will Says:

    Johnny, I do like Year One (though I’ve been buying it issue by issue on ebay and I’m still missing the last couple of episodes) – I gave it an honorable mention!

    ‘In the 2003 retelling, Batgirl Year One, Killer Moth is back, but – unlike the 1967 original – Babs makes it to the ball, rather than meeting him on a suburban highway. Beatty, Dixon, Lopez and Martin’s rendition is easily the most likeable version of Barbara/Batgirl in the last forty-five years, with its fluid, witty art and its depiction of Barbara as a spirited rebel, rather than a sidekick or hanger-on. Rather than idolising Batman, she has a girl-crush on Black Canary. And she realises in the first fight-scene that heels aren’t going to work.’

    I think Rogue’s Reviews was another big influence on me thinking about Batgirl this way,too.

    Come to think of it, I think most fandom (media, music, probably sport) is about frustration and disappointment as much as love and loyalty — the idea ‘if I was boss, I would have done it differently… it could be so much better’.

  29. erikbear Says:

    Totally agree about fandom. If you spend enough time thinking about them, you tend to create your own version of the characters in your head.

  30. Will Says:

    The grief I save myself by not following any sport, I make up for by reading comics.

  31. (The Sibling RetroWarbird Mentioned) Says:

    RetroWarbird thinks I share personality traits with Barbara Gordon, so I will do my best to explain why I find her character too boring to read. I understand that I lack education with regard to the BG canon, so I’d simply like to remind readers that I strive in drafting this response not to explain everything (because I do not know everything; in fact, I do not know much at all), but to submit the rationale why I personally don’t feel like reading Batgirl stories, and why I contentedly remain thusly unenlightened.

    According to my limited experience, Barbara Gordon serves as a plot device and little more. In the only Barbara Gordon story I’ve ever read, The Killing Joke, the Joker had her dad hostage and showed him pictures of her shot and being stripped. So my experience of this character has always shown her as passive, and has included – to a shocking extent – torture, sexual abuse, etc. I’ve only ever seen this character used by men to hurt other men. Barbara Gordon is objectified in every sense.

    Imagine my shock when I read Will Brooker’s words, “Batgirl can be smarter than Batman” (“From Killer Moth to Killing Joke: Batgirl, a life in pictures”). Dear god[s], Batgirl is supposed to be smart? Independent? As my undergrad roommate would have said, Barbara Gordon is an empowered woman? Brooker continues on to say, “But you can’t just claim it; you have to make the reader believe it; and to do that, you have to get Barbara to believe it. That means doing without some of the girly, cutesy narration, toning down the endless self-doubt, and actually writing her, for once, as an incredibly intelligent woman. Rather than the good-girl equivalent of Harley, Ivy and Selina, she could be more like a fiercely sane version of the Riddler. She can make connections. She can interpret clues. She can solve puzzles; and the whole of Gotham City is one big puzzle, one big performance, a secret sentence written in the architecture and the criss-crossing paths of the costumed cast, if you can only find the right angle to read it from.” This makes a bit more sense: clearly others also feel they have no reason to believe BG shows intelligence, sass, physical capability, precociousness, and drive. If, as Brooker points out, writers most commonly portray Gordon as an infantilized vapid twit who occasionally partakes in crime-fighting because she found time for it between diary entries, then yeah… the reader (male or female) will not see her as a particularly interesting heroine. She simply exists, fumbling along and conveniently not dying even though her every action fetters itself with self-doubt and insensible footwear.

    My thought: maybe the reason we portray Babs as average (or as one might suggest, below average) even though the objective description of her is so far above average… is that a woman who actually has incredible intelligence has never written her. Written by intelligent men? Yes. But that results in her story being co-opted by male characters. From the examples provided in Brooker’s article, Gordon’s experiences become more interesting, more devastating, when they happen as part of the plotlines of Batman; when on her own, she does what, exactly?

    Within the framework of stories-about-Batman, with BG as a side character, her reactions to her own experiences are moot, because the natural progression of what happens to her impacts only the main characters to a certain extent. It doesn’t matter how BG feels, because this story belongs to somebody else. To the male characters, she helps, or maybe hinders, and to the writers, she is a secondary character, an irritating addition to the canon, and somehow they need to shoehorn her into the plot. So they’ll write events for her character, but any importance of the event is ascribed to the boys because it makes no sense to focus on the feelings of a minor character. It makes sense within the context: these stories are not her stories.

    On the other hand, when the story actively discusses Batgirl (ie: she engages, not just ‘is’), we still lack a believable insight into her character, her thoughts, her motives. She has a Ph.D. but she also has little girl handwriting? Devastatingly talented, she pouts into her heart shaped pillow? While I adore round characters with contradictory traits, these personality points seem less like character attributes and more like ways for the writers to communicate Very Important Things to the audience. They feel like gimmicky methods for the writers to convey that all important piece of information: Barbara Gordon, unlike the real heroes of this universe, has a hoo-ha. Everybody panic, the audience might not know our character is female. Quick, give her massive bangers, mousse for her long, luxurious hair, and infantilized behavior like doodling, pouting, or daydreaming about boys! If we don’t stereotype her immediately, the readers might not understand that she doesn’t have a penis.

    Perhaps only the lack of deeper characterization makes her superficial attributes feel so trite. If we saw a reasonably self-actualized character, we would have the insight into a deeply intelligent brain which finds fascination both with beating up the baddies and with recording her experiences via untraditional narrative. Gordon clearly relies on the epistolary form to identify and synthesize her own experience. She also clearly relies on a form of visual art to express her feelings regarding that experience. Diaries and scrapbooks fascinate artists as forms of communication. But they are undercooked regarding BG’s character. They feel insincere, because we do not see Barbara’s thoughts. In fact, it seems as though she barely has any, besides hollow one-liners.

    My weakly substantiated thought suggests that writers portray BG as incomplete, as passive, or as vapid, not because the writers hate her, but because dudes typically write stories focusing on the behavior and emotions of men and boys. We can rationalize BG’s existence as a plot device when she is a side character in Batman’s story. Only when she receives her own story do we face the actual problem: even when the writers focus on HER and HER experiences, they don’t appear to actually have an incredibly intelligent woman writing her. More specifically, they don’t have an intelligent woman who has also experienced trauma. The BG storylines come off as half-baked and unbelievable because the writers don’t have the necessary experience or imagination to properly convey the nuance and gravitas of the thoughts and experience of a woman significantly more intelligent and athletic than anyone of her peer group. If Batman’s identity crisis relates to identifying with people who have not experienced trauma or who lack his wealth or who have never experienced crippling internal darkness and/or shame, then BG’s pestering thoughts on relating to the masses should focus on not fitting in because the masses are, comparatively, kind of dumb, ugly, and slow. She is not rich, she is not superhumanly strong, but she is incredibly fit, quite attractive, and brilliant. So why don’t her stories reflect her independent experience within the context of a bad world? The writers, instead of posing intellectual superiority as an internal conflict, portray the character as a dumbed down version of herself, giggling about that supply closet she turned into a boudoir.

    Brooker writes in the comments after his article, “I still feel nobody has really known what to do with her.” It seems like this summarizes the crux of it all. It’s not that the writers and artists don’t know what to do. It’s that they don’t know what to do with a smart woman, or, rather, what to have her doing. So they dumb it down, either intentionally or unintentionally. Maybe it’s a slight to women: “They’ll love the bright colors and the pretty clothes! If we make her too clever, they won’t buy it!” But I think it’s more that the writers just don’t know what to do with Gordon, so they carry her along. They find situations in which to drop Batgirl, and knowing that she must somehow internally react to the experience, they settle on the deep philosophical thought of whether or not humans can justify the pain of other humans. Should she fight crime with more violence? A tough question, but it appears to be Batgirl’s only question. And it seems to go without saying that if she dons the cowl and kicks villains in the teeth with her fancy shoes, then she has already made that decision: yes, yes she should. So Batgirl’s internal conflict that should drive the text is actual an internal conflict that should have been dealt with before the action of each new text occurs. Or, if it is important enough to recur, it should drive every nuance of the story. Therein lies much of the weakness: when the writers take the time to explore Barbara’s drive, they do it only after an action sequence. Her behaviors are dealt with – if at all – in retrospect. We do not see her making choices in real time. We do not feel the weight of consequence.

    Barbara puts on a costume, ends up in a fight, and then sits around wondering if she will end up in some sort of existential trouble because of it. If she doesn’t care enough about that question for it to impact her decisions as she makes them, then the question comes down to this: why should I care about any of it?

    Though in comics, written narrative inextricably connects to visual narrative, I find it imperative to discuss them separately. Though one cannot holistically exist without the other, in traditional comic books, the story comes before the art, so the art must connect to the story. Obviously sometimes the style is much more significant than at other times. This discussion seems to elevate the role of art in comics regarding Batgirl. The art must not just show what happens, it must make us feel a certain way about it. Like Will Eisner wrote, “the reality is that art style tells the story.” On the other hand, Scott McCloud says that, “no matter what style or image you choose, your pictures’ first and most important job is to communicate quickly, clearly, and compellingly to the reader.” So I’d like to shift my discussion to the use of collage format as a visual narrative technique, and the broader implications of ‘female friendly’ comic book style.

    Brooker writes that a certain type of comic from the 90’s “weren’t so much about action and spectacle as dialogue, character, relationships and identity,” suggesting that these comics appeal remarkably more to women than your average BAM! and POW! comics. I find it interesting that this argument appears to set up a false dichotomy: women are supposedly not interested in action and spectacle, or, by extension, female characters are out of place in stories which deal almost exclusively with those things. If these female-friendly comic styles are “comics that made you want to go clothes shopping” (Brooker), does it follow that female-friendly literature requires high percentile sartorial encouragement? It ain’t female if it ain’t got shoes?

    It seems at this point to be common knowledge that books containing “dialogue, character, relationships, and identity” are more likely to sell to a female reader (Jane Austin, Nicholas Sparks, oh god, the chick lit…). However does that account for the high percentage of women reading Dean Koontz, Stephen King? While it may ring true that men are less interested in “dialogue, character, relationships, and identity” than women, it does not mean that women are completely disengaged with action and spectacle. Why else would action movies be such box office hits? They’re fun. I think it is an unfair determination that just because women like character development means they hate shoot-em-up gun-slinging face-punching blood-spattered violence. So perhaps all this is to say that the reason these books of which Brooker speaks are female-friendly is not for the visual aesthetic but for the combination of punch and ponder. There are clear motives within character actions. The strength of the character rarely comes from the strength of the visuals. The strength of the character comes from the actions and thoughts of the character. The visuals derive from the verisimilitude of the characterization, and whatever seems most true to the nature of the story.

    On this note, it seems disingenuous to choose an art style based on the weak correlation that “women like these comics, and these comics have this style, so women will love this style.” Perhaps female readers will pick up these comics based on the art, but that doesn’t mean the art alone will sway them if the characters and stories are still superficial and dull. Zom writes in the article comments: “I should probably declare that, on the whole, I’m not a fan of that sort of thing, but my real concern is that it’s more in tune with what I suspect are [Brooker’s] own enthusiasms (post-structuralist thought, the comics of the late eighties/early nineties) than it is with a more female friendly visual mode, and/or the needs of a female character trying to find a clear voice.” Gimmick. I believe the word Zom is going for is ‘gimmick.’ Brooker clarifies his goals and intentions behind the concept of collage/scrapbook visual styling thusly: “I read Batgirl in ‘Photo Finish’ talking about how she’d always kept a scrapbook, and I realised that’s what she was doing (or actually what Jim was doing) in Killing Joke. So, a scrapbook does absolutely suit what we know of Babs.” I agree entirely. A scrapbook based visual motif suits the character with whom we are familiar in a beautiful and clever way. But it does not address the key problem, which is that the character is still weak, and switching up the visuals will not single-handedly change that.

    Brooker continues to discuss the rationale behind his proposed visual scheme via discussion of “[a] format that immediately looks different [and therefore] distances itself from [the dominant conventions of] that type of comic, and proposes instantly that this might not be the same type of thing. ‘This is not your teenage brother’s Batgirl’ — to put it in a crass shorthand.” I am torn. Firstly, the scrapbook idea for the sake of the character makes sense visually, to a certain point. But the second is the more important idea: that to properly convey a female experience, we must subvert dominant convention, which begs the question, do strong females have a place within conventional comics, or do we need a ‘separate but equal’ venue for them? I am uncomfortable with the idea that to explain women, we need to get rid of all things ‘male’, up to and including traditional sequential visual narrative. It subjugates women, again, to the ‘other,’ which I think goes against the purpose of Brooker’s intent in the first place.

    If the problem is that nobody gives a damn about Barbara Gordon, the solution is not simply to ratchet up her presentation. It is to provide genuine depth of character through rational exploration of the experience of one hell of a talented woman. Everything else will follow.

  32. RetroWarbird Says:

    Batgirl also has the dilemma of having been outclassed, somewhat easily, by Batwoman, who enjoys the perks of being a talented woman, with an interesting traumatic history, with red hair, daughter of an authority figure, never devolving into a girl caricature, with J.H. Williams (who is the first person I thought of when the whole scrapbook mise-en-scene was mentioned as being capable of doing it justice) designing. Comparisons are hard now, for Batgirl.

    While we’re talking about exemplifying Barbara Gordon AS Batgirl, it’s hard not to make the comparisons, especially as her own existence as Oracle broke her free of the boys club mentality of the Bat-Family that her depictions seem tailor made to keep her awkwardly adjunct to the “true Bats”. This isn’t to say she can’t continue that success as Batgirl … but getting her legs back and spending her first three issues questioning herself and then playing games with Dick Grayson aren’t going to propel her forward. Batgirl should simply now be “Oracle with bat-ears”, serving the same damn function and doing intelligent detective work on a computer … she should be constantly utilizing some kind of Bat-Smart-Phone. She’ll NEVER keep up with Dick Grayson’s athleticism, no matter how “naturally gifted” we’re told she is. But there’s a built in credo that she’s more tech-savvy than any of them, and so she should be like the BBC Sherlock Holmes … nonstop texting and Googling and, projecting where the villain is heading then using her newly refound rooftop jumping skills to cut him off.

    Again, not to attempt to drag Stephanie Brown into this either, as she’s worthy of her own discussion, but it’s hard not to make the comparison with her either, a far more successful bat-female recently, in that Brown is allowed to revel in the … well, girly behavior. She’s not a PhD high-IQ savant, she IS the girl who can write with curly-cues and hearts in a journal. She did originate as a foil for a male character, entered crime-fighting because of a crush on Robin. But her sort of shallow surface belies some real, good reasons for wanting to crime-fight in that her father is a Pop-Criminal. But as Batgirl? She’s bright, cheerful and independent but that relates highly to coming up in a household with a strong single mom and a dad she hates.

    Another element of Babs’ struggle, say if you want to use her as a sort of opposite number for Riddler, is the fact that nobody can write a good Riddler story either, for the very same reason that writers are mostly incapable of writing characters that much smarter than themselves, so they settle for gimmicks or cliches, or using derivative plot scenarios.

    In a great example of “show, don’t tell”, Grant’s use of Oracle allowed her to both be Batgirl virtually, but for us to have to remember that somewhere out there she was sitting at a computer keyboarding furiously, doing things we don’t know how to do, and making Batman look like he was completely out of his element. Training with Tibetan monks and desert nomads is fine for learning how to trounce thirty men in the dark, but I don’t imagine they get internet service out there.

    Where’s the story about how Gordon, on his poor cop salary, managed to snag an old outdated IBM heap that the office was throwing out and gave it to his ten-year-old daughter?

  33. RetroWarbird Says:

    I’ve gotta just add, now I notice, that I do think there’s more than enough room for two Batwomen with totally different styles and trains of thought. It’s acceptable for Barbara to be highly fashionable (there’s no debate about the greatness of the original 60′s Batgirl costume) and even makes sense as a girl growing up in a middle class environment might dream of the kind of glitz and glamour that actually repels the rich like Bruce (who just has Alfred pick everything out and uses it as a veneer) or Kate Kane (who wasn’t always rich, and is a decidedly “Army Brat” person through-and-through, with socially underground tendencies).

    I’m saying she doesn’t have to be a bad-ass. She can’t out-bad-ass the boys, she can’t out-bad-ass Kate Kane, she can’t even out-bad-ass her own disciples like Cassandra Cain or Huntress. But Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a bad-ass either, he was overdressed, probably vain and a supreme example of brain vs. brawn. Even from the standpoint of filling a niche, Babs is never going to win the “Who’s the martial arts elite” of the Bat-women/family and there’s zero shame in presenting her instead as maximum brains, minimum brawn. Some fight skills, sure … but let’s say should Batgirl vs. Scorpiana ever happen, results will be very unlike Batwoman vs. Scorpiana.

  34. Will Brooker Says:

    Great points — sorry I don’t know your name, RetroWarbird ‘s sibling, but thanks very much for such a long and considered post.

    I’m just going to respond to some of the later points now; mostly because I think I agree with everything you say above them, whereas I want to answer or clarify some things relating to these paragraphs.

    ‘Brooker writes that a certain type of comic from the 90’s “weren’t so much about action and spectacle as dialogue, character, relationships and identity,” suggesting that these comics appeal remarkably more to women than your average BAM! and POW! comics.’

    I wasn’t trying to suggest quite such a simple correlation. I did note that women tended to read Vertigo comics more than they did mainstream DC comics — Sandman, at least, gained a significant female following among people who wouldn’t normally have read superhero titles.

    But I also said these were ‘my favourite comics’. I wasn’t trying to say these were comics for girls. It’s true, I think, that they did reach a readership outside the normal teen-boy market, but I was primarily saying that these were comics I enjoyed myself.

    ‘I find it interesting that this argument appears to set up a false dichotomy: women are supposedly not interested in action and spectacle, or, by extension, female characters are out of place in stories which deal almost exclusively with those things.’

    Again, I wasn’t intending to set up any such dichotomy, and I’ve said below:

    ‘I fully appreciate that some women like traditional superhero comics, though I think liking ultraviolence doesn’t necessarily mean you like T&A — you can have and enjoy the first, without the other.’

    I’m not saying women don’t and can’t enjoy traditional superhero comics, and I’m not making the extended point you suggest either, that there is no place for female characters in traditional superhero comics. I think that to get that from what I wrote, you have to make a leap — not a huge leap, and entirely understandable that you could assume that’s what I was implying, but still it’s a step away from what I actually said, and certainly from what I intended.

    ‘If these female-friendly comic styles are “comics that made you want to go clothes shopping” (Brooker), does it follow that female-friendly literature requires high percentile sartorial encouragement? It ain’t female if it ain’t got shoes?’

    Again, this is you extrapolating from my words, and in a direction I didn’t intend.

    I was celebrating those Vertigo titles (again) as ‘my favourite comics’ of the time, not as ‘female-friendly literature’. I don’t think I once used the term ‘female-friendly’ — I think that term was introduced by Zom in the comments.

    So, I’m not saying I know what ‘female-friendly’ comics are, or what such a thing would look like, or that we should aim for such a thing, or that I am intending to collaboratively produce such a thing. I haven’t used the term except when quoting from other people. I just want to restate that, as I think the notion has been brought up from other people’s comments on my article, rather than from the article.

    I think the nearest I’ve got to that is saying that

    1. I don’t know if girls and women enjoyed Girlfrenzy! but I didn’t
    2. I do think that some girls and women picked up Vertigo titles and stuck with them.
    3. [in the comments] Scrapbooking is, perhaps, more associated with teenage girls than with teenage boys.

    Sorry to be pedantic, but the advantage to me being here to respond to comments is that I can clarify what I actually said, and what I actually meant if what I said was ambiguous.

    You are making the assumption that I conflate ‘comics that made you want to go clothes shopping’ with ‘female-friendly’.

    To be accurate, perhaps I should have phrased it ‘comics that made one want to go clothes shopping.’ Because I wasn’t trying to imagine that they made women want to buy shoes. I was saying they made me want to buy clothes.

    I think that’s fairly obvious from the fact that I refer in that paragraph to ‘incredible long coats and amazing chunky boots’ — not female-specific items at all, and I was thinking of Shade The Changing Man’s outfits — and that I distinguish the Vertigo fashions from ‘spandex suits, heels and shiny costumes’, ie. traditionally and stereotypically ‘feminine’ superheroine outfits.

    So, again just to clarify, I am not and was not saying Vertigo comics are for girls or that they are for girls because they have clothes in. I am saying I liked them because they had (interesting and exciting) clothes in.

    ‘It seems at this point to be common knowledge that books containing “dialogue, character, relationships, and identity” are more likely to sell to a female reader (Jane Austin, Nicholas Sparks, oh god, the chick lit…). However does that account for the high percentage of women reading Dean Koontz, Stephen King? While it may ring true that men are less interested in “dialogue, character, relationships, and identity” than women, it does not mean that women are completely disengaged with action and spectacle. Why else would action movies be such box office hits? They’re fun. I think it is an unfair determination that just because women like character development means they hate shoot-em-up gun-slinging face-punching blood-spattered violence.’

    I didn’t say either of these things. When I said that Vertigo comics were about ‘dialogue, character, relationships and identity’ (again) this was part of the explanation as to why they were also ‘my favourite comics’.

    Again, I think you’re making an assumption that I’m praising these titles for being ‘female-friendly’ (relationships, clothes, collage) when what I’m saying is, far more simply and honestly, I LIKED THOSE COMICS AND I STILL DO.

    (And that, by the by, they seemed to appeal more to women than mainstream comics did at the time. I may be wrong about this, but I think I’m right that Sandman did).

    I fully agreed, above in the comments, that women can and do like traditional-format comics with ultra-violence. I’m sure some women like traditional-format comics with T&A. I like violence in comics myself; I also like good characterisation.

    The clearest and most definite point I’m making is that I’m bored of T&A and weak female characters, but again, I’m saying that for myself primarily — not out of some patronising idea that I know what girls and women want.

    ‘On this note, it seems disingenuous to choose an art style based on the weak correlation that “women like these comics, and these comics have this style, so women will love this style.”’

    I don’t mean to labour the point, but I don’t think there is any passage above where I say that. I think you are imagining that I’m saying this. I may be wrong, or I may simply not have expressed myself clearly.

    ‘Gimmick. I believe the word Zom is going for is ‘gimmick.’’

    I believe your imaginings of what I am saying have led you to a point quite a way from my actual meaning.

    I genuinely don’t believe there is anywhere in the article where I propose I think a superficial ‘scrapbook’ style will attract and appeal to female readers.

    Sorry if I seem defensive and/or repetitive here, but I wouldn’t want you or anyone else to get the idea I’m saying something that I really am not — and I think the idea has built from the comments other people have written, or from your assumption of what I must be saying and trying to do, rather than from anything in my article or responses.

    ‘But it does not address the key problem, which is that the character is still weak, and switching up the visuals will not single-handedly change that.’

    I absolutely agree, but then you also recognise that I proposed Batgirl should be portrayed as smarter than Batman, so you have acknowledged that I’m not simply suggesting the visuals should be switched-up to improve the concept of Batgirl.

    ‘ I am torn. ‘

    Not being funny but this is another great justification for a scrapbook aesthetic: it conveys tensions, dialogues and dynamics, rather than any kind of unified, coherent sense of self and purpose. I am also undecided about a lot of things. I don’t want to decide everything in this project myself. That’s why I am trying to include different styles and multiple creative collaborators, and I think a sense of being ‘torn’ is absolutely fitting.

    ‘Firstly, the scrapbook idea for the sake of the character makes sense visually, to a certain point. But the second is the more important idea: that to properly convey a female experience, we must subvert dominant convention, which begs the question, do strong females have a place within conventional comics, or do we need a ‘separate but equal’ venue for them? I am uncomfortable with the idea that to explain women, we need to get rid of all things ‘male’, up to and including traditional sequential visual narrative.’

    Seriously, not only did I not say this, but I explicitly said the opposite.

    ‘I would be very reluctant to suggest that any particular form of visual storytelling was particularly ‘female’ or ‘feminine’.

    I think you could, absolutely, use the standard comic book visual grammar (of, for instance, Red Hood and the Outlaws) for a story that was, if you wanted to do such a thing, informed by feminist ideas in its depiction of Starfire in character, narrative and visual representation. So no, the format (frames, layout etc) and the dominant ideology (generally sexist in my opinion) of mainstream superhero comics are not necessarily linked. They have tended to be, conventionally and historically, but the form and content aren’t, obviously, bound together.

    So I am not proposing a new method of storytelling in the belief that it’s necessary to the approach or character, or even because I think it’s appropriate to the approach or character.’

    So, I have said that the traditional, dominant comic book format could absolutely be used for a more ‘positive’, interesting, nuanced and stronger representation of female characters.

    I’m also entirely sure that girls and women can and do enjoy mainstream comics in the traditional, dominant, comic book format.

    I am not saying anything so simplistic and silly as ‘women need a different type of visual storytelling because comics aren’t for them’, or that ‘strong female characters need a different type of visual storytelling.’

    I gave my reasons for the ‘scrapbook’ approach above. I started thinking it as ‘scrapbook’ only after I read about Babs Gordon’s scrapbooks. Before that, I was thinking of it as ‘pitch’, ‘proposal’, ‘portfolio’ — not terms associated with femininity.

    If scrapbook has the wrong implications, I’d be perfectly happy to go back to ‘portfolio’.

    As I said, one of the key reasons for this approach was very simply that
    1. I didn’t know if I would get someone to draw a whole comic
    2. I didn’t know if anyone online would publish it.

    Other reasons which had nothing to do with gendered visuals are

    1. I like Vertigo comics
    2. A scrapbook aesthetic captures a collaborative spirit and the idea of character as mosaic rather than as unified whole

    The facts that
    1. Babs used to scrapbook
    2. Some teenage girls and young women write diaries and create scrapbooks, and they are visually distinct from the T&A comics that teenage boys might more conventionally read

    was more a happy coincidence, which is probably why I listed those two factors at the end.

    ‘If the problem is that nobody gives a damn about Barbara Gordon, the solution is not simply to ratchet up her presentation. It is to provide genuine depth of character through rational exploration of the experience of one hell of a talented woman. Everything else will follow.’

    I agree, but if you think I was proposing anything different, then I’m sorry that what I meant didn’t come across clearly.

    I do appreciate the lengthy engagement with what I wrote, and I hope I haven’t come across as too frustrated or picky in my reply.

  35. Will Brooker Says:

    ‘the very same reason that writers are mostly incapable of writing characters that much smarter than themselves’

    Someone I was discussing the Batgirl project made exactly this point to me this week, about Oracle, and it’s a good one.

    Barbara Gordon is more intelligent than me. Obviously, that does pose creative difficulties. But it has to be tackled.

    ‘I’m saying she doesn’t have to be a bad-ass. She can’t out-bad-ass the boys, she can’t out-bad-ass Kate Kane, she can’t even out-bad-ass her own disciples like Cassandra Cain or Huntress. But Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a bad-ass either, he was overdressed, probably vain and a supreme example of brain vs. brawn. Even from the standpoint of filling a niche, Babs is never going to win the “Who’s the martial arts elite” of the Bat-women/family and there’s zero shame in presenting her instead as maximum brains, minimum brawn. Some fight skills, sure … but let’s say should Batgirl vs. Scorpiana ever happen, results will be very unlike Batwoman vs. Scorpiana.’

    Again, this is my feeling. The Batgirl I am conceiving is not a great fighter at all. She’s just very intelligent — and yes, much like Sherlock Holmes, and the idea I have for conveying her intelligence on the comic book page is actually, now I think about it, reminiscent of what they did with the 2010 TV Sherlock Holmes.

  36. RetroWarbird Says:

    If your intent is, and I’m not using scrapbooking negatively, I see you’ve simply pointed out where interests might overlap for female readers, not necessarily argued that they most certainly do (and granted, I believe my sisters extrapolations of “why need it be female friendly” and “gimmick” are the same point reiterated, that dressing it up as something that, even just overlaps with a “girls’ hobby”, shouldn’t be necessary at all if the story is told right, and I agree that for its own sake that would be true – Batgirl with a pink border and the initials BG + RG carved on a tree, you know … for the female audience.) But in the way that, and I’ll continue the example of the BBC’s Sherlock, a film editor cuts together a montage of Holmes, a London road map, a website, a google query, a few texted lines, stop lights, some jaunty music and a briskly paced jog down a sidewalk … the scrapbook idea , taken as a holistic nod to the fact that previously in Barbara Gordon history, scrapbooking has been seen … could work.

    But I’ll certainly argue as a visual artist that while that might work for a few pages, or a one-shot issue, it wouldn’t hold up for long without falling into that worrisome gimmick category.

    A better visual representation of those montages from Sherlock would be, I think, not strictly a pilfering of those montage style elements, but a pretty large borrowing of them, to illustrate the maximum efficacy with which Barbara Gordon multitasks.

    At the end of the day, I think that’s her own personal Utility Belt – the ability to multitask, on the go.

    Now, thinking along those lines you’d want to mimic, rather than the scrapbook theme which I instantly had J.H. Williams pop into my head … perhaps a Darwyn Cooke. The kinds of flow-charts, informational ads and creative formats he’s been using in his Parker adaptations would be dynamite Batgirl “smarter-than-Batman” showcases. And Cooke’s style is less testosterone-driven-steroidal than the usual superhero draftsman – it’s art that isn’t too hyper-masculine and offensive to the eyes of a female viewer, the minimalism lends a bit of cartooning skill that appeals to that sensibility as well, as well as a Vertigo sensibility … AND his pedigree in the Batman books and with Catwoman is so good that no male fan is going to turn up their nose at a “girl’s book”.

    It’s not dissimilar to a Cliff Chiang drawing Wonder Woman, in principle.

    Long response. Hope the sibling returns some day, as I imagine her issues with Barbara Gordon-as-Batgirl stem more from the common stereotypes in comics that female writer/artists would be stuck noticing daily and that’s why it seemed the logical place for her to go. And our comments, too, I think, probably do lead in that direction. Of course any character wearing a Bat is already doomed to be stuck in the shadow of a male-dominant storyline where they might be made a part of that male’s struggle more than their own … the progenitor and his original sidekick are both male.

    You’ve got to wonder if it’s this tough for a male character to survive over the years in Wonder Woman’s shadow.

  37. Will Says:

    I realised this morning that there is something else I haven’t clarified. I worked out how to do bold last night, so I will stick a bit of that in!


    If this was a regular and ‘real’ published comic, it would not be a ‘scrapbook’, but a conventionally-told comic.

    The scrapbook/portfolio concept is proposed for the ‘pitch’ aspect itself — not as the format of this hypothetical comic.

    If this was, or if it becomes, a comic, whether digital or paper, I am thinking of it as follows:

    1. mostly Animated-Series clean art and traditional comic book format

    2. double-spreads (one or two per issue) which convey the inside of Babs’ head — through that scrapbook/connections/Sherlock visual, whatever you want to call it

    3. a few other art styles (eg. more alternative Scott Pilgrim cartooning) for certain scenes — to convey the fact that Babs, and other characters in the supporting cast, slip between different communities and have different social personae to suit different social situations — also
    3.a to involve multiple (female) artists
    3.b to make the point that Babs is not a single coherent physical ideal, but looks different ways at different times, like most of us do.

    4. sketches, interviews etc at the back of the book, foreword/intros at the front, like most traditional comics and tpbs have.

  38. Zom Says:

    (Post trolling, I really like this thread)

  39. Will Says:

    It’s a bit like Barbelith!

  40. Zom Says:

    Trolling plus the need to endless clarify!

    (But no Haus)

  41. Will Says:

    Some readers might enjoy my article on the Alternative Miss World pageant, which compares it all extensively to US/UK superhero mythology
    http://bit.ly/sA1ov8

  42. Nick Whitman Says:

    This thread is tremendous and, indeed, extremely Barbelith-ey. It’s great fun to read through such involved and well thought-out posts and counter-posts.

    I’ve got little to add except that I’ve always found Barbara Gordon to be a much more compelling character as Oracle than as Batgirl. It’s like Will says a couple posts up; Barbara’s “superpower” is her intelligence. She isn’t ever going to be a top-tier, badass brawler like Batman, Nightwing or Cass Cain. It just doesn’t fit her characterization, and the Bat-World as whole has a glut of characters who are challenging for the title of “most ridiculous martial artist.” To me, it seems like a complete waste of time to even position Barbara in that ladder of martial arts competency. As Oracle, she bypasses the whole “who can beat up who” kerfuffle and stands on her main strength: someone who is so incredibly smart and tech-savvy that even the A-list superheroes like Superman and Batman count on her to give them crucial info they can’t dig up themselves. That’s a singular role that no one else in DC’s cast of characters provides. As Batgirl, on the other hand, she’s just one in a laughably huge pile of characters who are watered-down derivatives of the big dog, Bruce Wayne. I mean, why is she even BATgirl? She has no tangible connections to Batman. Why isn’t she Catgirl, or Mothgirl, or Rabbitgirl, or whatever the fuck? Oh, sure, she’s “inspired” by Batman, but why does that mean she has to define herself by him? It’s… troubling.

    I dunno. I just feel like “Batgirl” is one of a gazillion Batman knock-offs without any real intrinsic value, while “Oracle” is fucking awesome and singular and has her own niche that isn’t dependent on a Bat-Daddy for legitimacy. Barbara, as Oracle, gets to use her smarts (her defining characteristic) to be generally rad and indispensable. And that’s not even getting into how cool it is to have a disabled superhero with such a high profile (yes, how she was disabled in the Killing Joke was wack as fuck, but that’s not the point).

    Anyway, all’s I’m trying to say is that Oracle is awesome and fun and lovely and all types of other superlatives, and Batgirl is boring as hell.

  43. plok Says:

    Oooooh, I came to this late!

    But I have thoughts about Batgirl. And about Oracle, for that matter…Oracle always seeming to me like a bit of a cheat? I mean, I hear all the stuff about the disabled representation, and I’m certainly not suggesting Oracle was a bad character, but Barbara Gordon as computer genius, smarter than Batman, none of that was in the original character, it’s a bit of a rogue’s review in itself. What do you do with this character once she can’t do the simple thing she was made to do? Okay, so she was a librarian, an archivist: in the Nineties that can be a superpower too.

    But what I find interesting about all of that is that Batgirl was designed to do one simple thing, and sort of brilliantly. She was always paper-thin, as Warbird’s Sister suggests. But she was not particularly boring, she just didn’t happen to come with a lot of explanation for what she was. When she was created, that stuff wasn’t as necessary as it is today. You could literally get away with just the name, “Batgirl”.

    But today I think you do need more. Even Batgirl: Year One doesn’t really go far enough to make this Batgirl interesting — the Batgirl in the cartoons is a spunky meddler, in B: YO she’s a girl who can’t get what she wants and therefore has to find another way. But the current Batgirl has history, and that’s a problem: because if she’s smarter than Batman now, that means she was always smarter than Batman, if she’s a computer whiz now then she always was one, and so it’s great if her origin is recontextualized as a search to get what she really wanted, but to my mind the question of why she wanted it is left too open. Why did she choose physicality in the first place? What was the attraction? Why be a meddler? That Batwoman currently has a lot of answers to these questions built into her doesn’t really bother me, there’s always room for different answers, a kind of speciation in Bat-origins, and besides there’s one thing Barbara Gordon did that Batwoman never did, that maybe only Tim Drake did (?), and that’s not just decide to meddle but to meddle with Batman.

    Tim’s story kind of sucks that away from her, as Cassandra Cain makes a much better super-fighter than Barbara Gordon. I guess that’s okay too, though, I mean every member of the Bat-family’s better than Batman at something…Dick’s more acrobatic, Tim’s better at…well, fuck, computers…Cass Cain could beat Bruce up

    So what’s Babs better at? She’s smart, okay, but it isn’t enough just to say it…and anyway what kind of smart is it, in the post-Morrison Bat-age there just isn’t any room to be be tactically- or strategically-smarter than Batman. Understanding people better seems to be a Robin thing. Knowing about computers isn’t really as special now as it was in the Nineties, no one is making Hacker Movies anymore…

    Sorry, I’m real low on sleep, so this is sounding all jagged no doubt. Hmm, I don’t think you can make Babs a better detective than Bruce (I was kind of hoping the third Nolan film would be a Riddler story, just because it’d be an insanely steep learning curve for the Bale Batman…the Riddler would beat him and beat him, at first), so what’s left? Well, I guess she’s more self-made than he is anyway. She’s really chosen everything, has no back alley gunman, no big top trapeze disaster…oh, damnit, Tim Drake again! What’s with that kid…?

    She could be better-educated than Batman. Warbird’s suggested Batgirl as Holmes, but maybe Bruce Wayne’s better at that: Holmes knows about curare, but not who’s Prime Minister. Similarly, Bruce Wayne knows a lot, but he has to go looking for the knowledge he gets. Barbara Gordon, on the other hand, is a Ph.D…knowledge came at her. Now, that almost sounds like Cass Cain with her physical skills, doesn’t it? Maybe Barbara doesn’t have to find things out, because she already knows most of them. Who gives Bruce his briefings? How much time does he really have to read? A Ph.D. at twenty-one is insane for a costumed crimefighter, if you’re that much of a prodigy then when you leave school you get a job right away. Unless you drag your feet and stay in school for as long as you can…

    Sorry: jagged!

  44. Shade1983 Says:

    “You’ve got to wonder if it’s this tough for a male character to survive over the years in Wonder Woman’s shadow.”

    We could ask Steve Trevor, if anyone’s seen him around lately.

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  46. Nick Whitman Says:

    I’ve gotta say Plok, despite you saying Oracle is a “cheat,” you just made a hell of a case for Oracle. Barbara Gordon’s academic brilliance IS the point of her. Her role as Oracle just boils that shit down to its purest form.

  47. Phil Bevin Says:

    I’m not sure if Oracle is a “cheat”. I think superheroes often undergo changes that are inexplicable from a continuity point of view in order to make them more interesting or copelling to changing audiences. Maybe because she was always paper-thin DC felt like they needed to flesh her out a bit in the 90s and created Oracle. I really liked Oracle as a character but I think that, because these characters are in continuous publication, they need to be constantly changed to prevent the writers from constantly digging over old ground. I’m not sure that DC’s current approach of making her Batgirl again whilst giving her the super-intelligence of Oracle is the answer, though. It feels as if they are just combining two old ideas.

    I like the idea of a scrapbook because it could potentially make one of the things that makes reading superhero comics inconsistent, the fact that they are often portrayed from issue to issue by different writers and artists, into an asset. I would like to see how the contrasting feel of several artists and writers could be intentionally used to show different sides to a single character in different situations and perhaps even draw upon some of the diverse portrayals of Batgirl from previous continuity. I think that this is a mostly unexplored aspect of the secret identity that superhero comics have overlooked. Williams tries something similar in Batwomen but I think it is used for a different purpose as Kathy Kane’s character seems consistent throughout.

  48. Kit Says:

    “RetroWarbird, I realised discussing Oracle would make this article too long and unwieldy, but nothing really stood out for me from Morrison’s JLA run.”

    Oracle was “created” by John Ostrander and Kim Yale in Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run, and developed over several years there (and in other series the couple wrote together, I think) – it was well over a year before even the reader learnt she was Barbara Gordon, and much longer before any other characters did. That’s a much better source for study than Morrison, if you’re looking.

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