Wednesday, September 7, 2011
New 52 Batgirl #1 Review: Wasn't That Paralysis Just A Hassle?
The new Batgirl comic is finally out, and it's simultaneously not as repellent as I expected, yet still inherently repellent.
In all fairness, the story is still unfolding, and it's well-told. I'm not objecting to the abilities of Gail Simone as a writer or Adrian Syaf as an artist. It's the fact that the team involved is so talented that makes this book so galling. They should be able to do something better, and avoid the pitfalls.
Because at this point, it looks like the new Barbara Gordon was still shot in the spine, but got better. She says that she was in a wheelchair for three years after the Joker attacked her, but then " a miracle" happened. We don't hear what that miracle is, and I imagine we'll find out. But I don't see how it could be anything more than a quick Phlebotnium fix. The way Barbara's narration frames the miracle, it sounds like she spent the three years without her mobility just sitting on her ass moping in a dark room, but then she found this cure and she's back in the game.
Credit should be given to Simone for at least making Barbara's "recovery" believable, in that she's not recovered from the psychological aspect. She still knows what it's like to have been in a wheelchair, and finds herself bothered by ablist remarks people make without thinking ( such as the whole "being in a chair is worse than death" bullshit). She still has nightmares about the shooting, and she's very nervous on the battlefield after the incident. The cliffhanger even has Barbara freeze up and fail to save someone thanks to a PTSD flashback from a criminal pointing a gun at her just the way the Joker did.
However, the fact remains that Barbara can walk now, and she's used that opportunity to go back to being a more famous character's distaff counterpart. The theory that she wouldn't be able to walk without her new armored costume is debunked by the images of Barbara walking around in her civvies. Perhaps the costume helps her with mobility, since her legs would've atrophied in the three years of paralysis. It could be similar to Old Snake's Octocamo suit in Metal Gear Solid 4, adding a slight boost in strength to help with her impairments but not actually making her superhuman. Of course, wacky textures on costumes are everywhere in the rebooted DCU, so it might just be Barbara jumping on this "HR Giger meets Victoria's Secret"* bandwagon.
The disability aspect is present, but it's a past-tense motivator, a handicap used to make her able-bodied self look stronger. But the things Barbara accomplished as Oracle, without leaving her chair, were much more impressive and meaningful. The comic is interesting enough and well-written enough that I'm going to keep reading it for the time being, but I sincerely hope the representation of disability goes beyond "Origin Story Tragedy". It's a deeper handling than most writers would attempt, but it's not enough to compensate for the semiotic ableism inherent in "fixing" Barbara Gordon.
* A description I saw in a ComicsAlliance comments thread, which seems especially apt when looking at the new Batgirl.