Monday, June 6, 2011
DC and Batgirl Walk To The Bank?
As part of DC's latest attempt to solve their continuity problems via increasingly convoluted reboots, Batgirl returns in a new series written by Gail Simone (who handled the character for years in her excellent Birds of Prey run). It's been confirmed that the new Batgirl is Barbara Gordon, who originally had the role but gave it up after being shot by the Joker, which left her in a wheelchair (and prompted her to become Oracle, Batman's tech-guru, founding member of the Birds of Prey, and a much more interesting character).
I don't want to jump to conclusions, so I'm hoping the speculation that this is Barbara Gordon in a high-tech Batgirl armor that gives her prosthetic locomotion is correct. In that case, it's a progression of the character, putting her back on the frontlines but still making it clear that she's disabled, and still has to cope with the physical and psychological challenges posed by her handicap (especially since she'd still have the memories and associated PTSD of being gruesomely shot by the Joker, one of the most horrifyingly sadistic villains in fiction). Walking via robot suit isn't a substitute for having working legs, especially since Barbara wouldn't be in the costume 24/7. She'd lose the symbolism of being DC's full-time wheelchair character, but if there was a compelling reason for her to take up crimefighting, it could work.
However, if this is just rebooting Barbara back to being an able-bodied superheroine (albeit an inferior distaff counterpart to Batman, with the patronizing codename "BatGIRL" despite being over 18 years old), then it's incredibly insulting. It's insulting to readers with physical and/or mental handicaps who can't retcon away their challenges. It's insulting to readers who enjoyed seeing the character progress into not only a prominent disabled character, but a genuinely interesting character thanks to the way the experience shaped her (as while Barbara was a super-genius, she was also capable of manipulating her friends for the greater good, a character trait that doesn't have anything to do with her handicap). And it's insulting to fans of Gail Simone to see that she doesn't respect the meaning fans drew from her work with Barbara, such as having the character appear to be magically cured only to have it be little more than the return of feeling to her toes (which Barbara coped with marvelously, choosing to be grateful for the little message that her limbs were still there).
Please let it be the former.