One of the more talked about titles regarding the relaunch specifically to the Bat-books is Batgirl and Barbara Gordon's return to the character. There has been mixed feelings about the idea of the paralyzed character being able to swing around Gotham as nothing ever happened. A prominent Babs fan, Jill Pantozzi, who writes columns for Newsarama, has been at the heart of the discussion. When the announcement of Barbara returning to her original role on Monday was released, Jill posted an editorial about the news. Gail Simone, who will be writing the new Batgirl series had a discussion with Jill about the reasoning behind the character shift.
Due to the interview being very lengthy, we have summarized certain questions to achieve the point being more clear.
Jill Pantozzi: The comic reading community has been visibly upset by the major news at DC the last two weeks but the news of Barbara Gordon becoming Batgirl again seems to have caused the biggest uprising so far.
Gail Simone: Right, I think that's probably correct about Batgirl. The first part of your question is possibly the only thing I take any issue with, though. It's an odd thing, we've all experienced this, but while yes, we are getting a lot of comments, some very heartfelt and some very angry, I feel odd that all the positive feedback seems to be ignored, as if it didn't count, as if that didn't matter. I have no idea what the percentages are, but I know almost every creator I've talked to has said the same thing, that the response has been overwhelming. Any realistic picture of what's happening, it should include the entire response, if that makes sense…?
Jill Pantozzi: What can you tell us about the background behind DC's decision?
Gail Simone: I believe there are several reasons, but I think most of them pale in comparison to what I think are the three biggest reasons, which I believe are creative potential, newsworthiness, and sheer commercial reality.
One thing I saw over and over, not just on Batgirl but from many, many people, is the idea that their personal favorite books or characters are somehow being targeted. It's understandable, it really can feel that way. But the relaunch is massive, it's enormous. It's not going to leave any books completely unaffected. Which is both the scary and exciting thing about it.
Taking my points backwards, and I'm not speaking anything but my opinion here, someone above my pay grade may have a completely different answer, and the decision was final long before anyone approached me. I've seen a lot of armchair analysis about the numbers involved on Batgirl and some other beloved titles, like (if I may), Secret Six, but the whole plan hasn't been revealed yet, and frankly, the name Batgirl absolutely should be an iconic title.
For newsworthiness, well, I just took a look the top sales charts for Marvel and DC, and it's unavoidable…the stories that the readers support in large numbers are nearly all in the middle of storylines that were considered completely unthinkable at one point; Hal Jordan replacing Kyle Rayner, Bucky returning from the dead, Jason Todd returning from the dead, Johnny Storm dying, Dick Grayson as Batman, Bruce Wayne dying, Barry Allen returning as the Flash, on and on and on. To some, these are all stunts, but they have been executed brilliantly and I strongly suspect many will be among the best-remembered stories of their respective runs.
Finally, creative potential. Again, if you think of this as a Batgirl reboot, it's a pretty narrow focus. This is a huge wave going through the DCU, and part of that wave is that most of the Bat-verse, and the DCU at large, are going to be shown a bit earlier in their careers, a bit less experienced. We don't want the characters to already know everything. As time goes on, at both DC and Marvel, characters notch up so many victories that we often start to think of them as infallible, which is kind of death for adventure fiction.
A lot of readers and a lot of editors had a story problem with Oracle, in that she made for such an easy, convenient story accelerator, that we missed the sense of having characters have to struggle to discover, to solve mysteries. Famously, it helped make Batman less of a detective and more of a monster hunter.
But beyond that, there are so many stories that can be told with Barbara that are hard to tell with other characters, even great other characters. He connection to the Bat-family is immediate and direct. Her skills, which have been used in a lofty tower for a quarter of a century, once again will be used in the field, right where the action is. She's going to be using that eidetic memory while dodging bullets and acid-squirting flowers.
She's been removed from the action and danger for a long time. With this relaunch, she is still very much Barbara, but she can reclaim a part of her history and legacy with modern stories, in her own book and elsewhere, drawn by some wonderful artists. The DCU in September is going to be about exploration for a while, and it seems remarkable, but this is the first time in DC history that Barbara Gordon has had an ongoing solo book.
Jill Pantozzi: Well let's get to the meat of it then. Because personally, the pass/fail aspect of Babs relaunch in my eyes is whether or not she is actually being cured. All we have right now is a cover to Batgirl #1 and that Barbara is the woman on the cover. Is she being cured of her paralysis, or is it simply as you said, that she is being shown at an earlier time in her career, pre-“Killing Joke?”
Gail Simone: Jill, that's a fair question, and one I have some difficulty answering, to be honest, because as a reader, I think everything is in the execution. I'm also not allowed to spoil things at this stage. I will say I've always resisted the idea of something like Zatanna or a Green Lantern suddenly snapping their fingers and poof, she's suddenly breakdancing.
We dealt with this a little bit a while ago in Birds of Prey, after the death of Christopher Reeve. As you know, I'm sure, he went from a total lack of movement and feeling below his neck, to being able to move one wrist, and regained some feeling in his legs, through hard work, therapy, and medical assistance. The whole story is so inspiring and heroic that I talked with some people at his foundation, and we did the story where Babs regained some feeling in her toes. That story meant a tremendous amount to a lot of people with disabilities, I still hear about it all the time. Not everyone will ever be able to do that, we know that. But between surgery and therapy, some people's conditions can be improved.
I hope I'm answering this correctly, is the question that any cure at all would be a problem for you?
Jill Pantozzi: Well, I think that’s the more controversial change. In the Batman: The Return one-shot, we saw a blueprint of sorts for a very fancy Batgirl suit and cycle. Will that play a part in your Batgirl story, perhaps assisting Babs to do things she couldn't do previously?
Gail Simone: I really can't say one way or the other right now. I'm sorry.
Jill Pantozzi: Okay, besides her being in a wheelchair, a lot of people say that Barbara is better as Oracle simply because she's not just another "Bat-child," with Oracle she has her own identity. We've seen that Dick Grayson is going back to being Nightwing but not back to his youthful, Batman attached, persona as Robin. Would you say it's a step backwards for the character to go back to "Bat-girl?"
Gail Simone: I have heard people say that first thing, it's true, it struck me very oddly the first time, and I realized it's because I never thought of Babs that way. I don't think she was ever presented, or consistently presented, as a female Robin, for instance. I got a few tweets from people saying, "Oh, man, she's going back to being a sidekick!"
And my honest, gut reaction was, "What are you even saying?" I just don't think she was ever presented as a sidekick. She was always smart and usually independent. To me, it was more like she was more like a non-Hal Green Lantern. She shared a name and a motif, but was nothing like a sidekick. She can have an identity and still be Batgirl. She's Barbara Gordon. People adore her. I don't think that changes when she puts on a cowl.
About the girl thing, if she's thirty-plus years old and been in the JLA and run the Birds of Prey and been in a tower for a couple decades, yeah, it's a little weird and wrong. But I keep seeing comments as if the word, "Girl" is in itself toxic, or insulting. And that is a weird piece of business in itself, far bigger than this comic book. All I can really say here is that the name makes sense to Babs in the story, for reasons we can't say yet. But I think it will make sense to readers, too, in context.
I also think that, to girls of a certain age, the idea of a Batgirl is very welcoming, very comforting and inspiring. That's a big plus for me.
So the takeaway from the interview is that even though you as a reader may be apprehensive to the change, DC does have a plan. Simone did end the interview with the following statement, and it should be something that everyone considers before placing judgement on this series before it is released.
It's Barbara as Batgirl. We have big shoes to fill for a lot of different reasons. I can promise you, we are doing our very best to make it a story to be proud of.
Posted by Dustin Fritschel