Monday, February 27, 2012
Batgirl 5-6 Thoughts: Ableist Garbage Day!
(Now just imagine if the Joker said that when he opened the door and capped Barbara in the spine.)
Joking and memetic-mutating aside, Batgirl has gone from being a technically competent comic with a disgusting ableist message, to an amateurishly written and sappy mess (albeit with good art by Adrian Syaf) with a disgusting ableist message. Issues 5 and 6 involve Barbara teaming up with Batman to fight a new villainess, Gretel, who gained mind control powers after a traumatic brain injury by a mobster she was investigating. It also has a script that bends over backwards trying to convince the audience that Batgirl is great and we should all love her as much as Gail Simone does. To wit;
1.) Bruce Wayne spends the first half of this arc hypnotized, and bumbles around like a puppet until Barbara breaks the spell by bringing up how his parents are dead. Batman, the most insanely prepared man in the DC Universe or any other (right down to literally creating his own backup personality in case of mind control of mental breakdown), is overridden like an amateur. I could accept this were it not so obvious that it was done to make Barbara look better by comparison, as the one who keeps her wits and saves Bruce's ass.
2.) Bruce Wayne hugs her afterwards, and whispers, " You were always meant to be Batgirl". This is an endorsement on par with the line in The Rise of Arsenal and its tie-ins, "was he not up for the task of being Red Arrow"? A sidekick's name, a weaker spin-off of an established hero, means nothing. Furthermore, it shows that Bruce, a man who's extremely guarded about his personal life and who he lets into his crime fighting circle, is perfectly fine with Barbara going into the battlefield physically and mentally unprepared after her apparent recovery. And that he doesn't particularly mind if Barbara's spinal chip gives out in the middle of a fight. Because she's more useful to him as Batgirl than Oracle, for reasons that don't exist!
3.) Barbara's narrative captions blanket the pages, with her beating us over the head with how great it is that she be Batgirl and help people. This is standard for modern superhero comics, the kind of "emo noir" that conceals perfectly good artwork behind boxes full of navel-gazing. But it's especially galling when Barbara talks about how she was never a partner to Batman, and was her own crime fighter. Who apparently took all of Batman's moves and gadgets for her great individual identity, but that doesn't really matter.
4.) Gretel is the second case in a row where the main villain of a new Batgirl story is a heavy-handed parallel to Barbara's own trauma. In the previous case, it was Mirror, who survived an accident that killed his family, and became devoted to killing everyone else who'd experienced miracles. In this case, it's a woman who was nearly killed by criminals, and is now a lethal vigilante. Batgirl makes sure we don't miss the parallels for a second, making this analogy about as subtle as a House episode where the patient's problem somehow connects to House's leg/addiction/misanthropy (re: EVERY FUCKING EPISODE). And, of course, Barbara has to be all weepy about it, telling the cops to treat Gretel well when they ship her off to Arkham.
It's also worth noting that Gretel still has clear evidence of her trauma-- her multicolored wigs disguise her bald head, which has a bullet scar where hair would've been. Further confirming that heroic characters don't have deformities, only bad guys! I can't wait to see Barbara fight a villain who's in a wheelchair, then give a speech about how she feels their pain!
In the end, what bothers me most about Batgirl is that it represents the character as "the good cripple". She was physically and mentally scarred, but she put the former behind her with a magic cure, and she's working on 'overcoming' the latter. Disability, to Barbara, was just a transitory state so she could look stronger once she emerged from it. And when she emerges, she emerges as a character who doesn't rock the boat or say anything controversial. She's just become another face in the Bat-crowd, only distinguishable by the Pollyanna-type bullshit about second chances and miracles that flows from her mouth.