Superheroes are an iconic bunch. Most of them are older than the majority of their readers, and all of them have experienced numerous deaths, rebirths and reboots within their lifetime. As our pop culture immortals, it matters little what happens to each character within a span of a decade: to the greater public, Bruce Wayne will always be Batman, Peter Parker will always be Spider-Man, and Barbara Gordon will always be Batgirl.
To the fans, it's a different story entirely. These are characters that we follow, that we love, and they have a continuity that is as real as the story of any other hero. We often equally love their replacements: the newer generations of heroes. The difficulty in reconciling the story of the superhero who grows and matures, and the fact that a superhero is immortal and can never die, has led to rejuvenation and regression, disappointment and outrage.
With DC storming the headlines with the announcement of their planned relaunch across the board this autumn, and the subsequent reinstatement of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl – as well as the apparent cull in female creators – I have been asked my opinion on the matter with increasing frequency. Rebooting is often an enemy of the women in comics, but it doesn't have to be that way, and rebooting in itself need not be a terrible thing; in fact it may be just what comics need right now.
Regressive storytelling, as defined by Chris Sims at Comics Alliance, is the recycling of old plots and characters from the “good old days” at the expense of the marginally more progressive contemporary days. Superman is rejuvenated, Wonder Woman becomes a girl, and the supergroups are made to be once again mostly white, mostly straight, and mostly male.
“These are stories that look to the past instead of the future, setting things back to the way they were rather than progressing them to what they should be next, rendering huge swaths of their fictional universe irrelevant because they didn't star the One True Version of a character.” 
This nostalgic love of a childhood past regresses storylines to a time when society was even more male dominated, when non-white people were rarely seen in comics, and when newer and equally loved characters simply didn't exist. Newer and more progressive characters often haven't had the same time in which to build up a core following, and so their attempts are cut. In this sense, DC's upcoming continuity reboot is just one more turn of the never-ending cycle of retromania.
But who's childhood love is the driving force here, that of the writer or that of the fan? The allegations usually fall at the feet of the writer, which is perfectly unfair. Charges could be levelled at the publisher, but demand always drives production, and anticipating demand in a declining industry is a tricky business. Perhaps the general public is to blame, never reading comics but insisting that characters remain unchanged in their mass-market appeal. Or perhaps there is no blame at all, only a failure to adequately balance a natural phenomenon.
The problem lies with having characters that are truly iconic in our pop culture, who can never absolutely die. The fictional universe they reside in has rules that can be bent, broken or completely rewritten at any time; things don't have to make sense, but fans demand that they do. They demand to know why Superman can fly, how Batman could fall through time, whether Thor is an alien rather than a God, and how Spider-Man can shoot sticky fluid over his enemies. Fans have a love affair with continuity, in a universe where nothing is continuous and everything is temporary. The continuity of comics is simply that “nothing stays the same and everything stays the same” .
A relaunch of 52 titles at DC and a rejuvenation of key heroes has not only got the internet talking, it's got the mainstream press interested as well. Historically snooty about comic books, literary newspapers have been giving headline space to Barbara Gordon and Clark Kent for the first time in years. A bold digital plan could hook DC many more readers, and some clues suggest that trade collections will finally be coming out faster than ever before – at a time when in the UK at least, graphic novel sales are showing growth. It's a publicity coup in a year where the superhero is already dominating the cinema, and when fantasy is continuing its colonization of the mainstream.
Rebooting back to an earlier time, to ensure the immortality of our icons, is nothing new. It has been done before, repeatedly, across our fictional universes. It is as cyclical as the seasons, and an inherent part of how these realities work. The heroes will never be allowed to age or die, always made young and beautiful and resurrected once more.
However, compensation must be paid. The rejuvenation of these universes to a time before societal advances must be done carefully. Regenerating a line up from the Silver Age leaves us with very few female characters, very few non-White characters, very few gay characters, and zero disabled characters. None of these are out of place in the fictional universes, and all must continue to thrive to better reflect our own reality.
The problem then isn't that the same characters keep getting re-set, but that the newer characters are lost. The characters who aren't white, male, straight, or abled, are in short supply as it is, and stripping them out of the cast is dangerous indeed. When a genre becomes known for replacing new non-white characters with the original white counterparts for example, many fans will walk away. When our female characters disappear or are turned back into girls, women will give up on comics. Rebooting to a time when women were more subservient, less well populated, and more in the shadows than ever, does not endear comics well to the modern comic book grrrl.
Barbara Gordon turns up in her Batgirl role in just about every TV series and animated Batman show that has ever existed. If you buy a Batgirl toy, or a shirt with Batgirl on it, chances are the red hair gives her away as being Babs. She even inspired a different, blonde, Barbara in the disastrous Batman & Robin movie of 1997. It's understandable that this is the case: the original Batgirl was a real triumph for women in comics back in '66 when she first appeared. Only 10 years before, the downtrodden and bullied Batwoman had pursued Batman relentlessly in order to prove to comic book readers that Bruce was most definitely not gay: an allegation pinned on him by Fredric Wertham's infamous Seduction of the Innocent in '54 that damned comic books as immoral claptrap.
Barbara was feisty, incredibly intelligent, independent, and importantly chose to fight crime simply because she could and it would be a good thing to do. There was no traumatic past to spur her on, no tortured soul to wrestle with. Barbara was a normal woman, in her own job, with her own story to tell. It was inspirational stuff.
So when DC announced that Barbara Gordon would be returning as Batgirl, surely fans would be pleased? Well, no. Not at all. Babs hasn't been Batgirl for a long time, and in the meantime her character has moved in a whole new direction, a direction that a lot of fans hold dear. In fact, Barbara's last run as Batgirl was in 1988, over 20 years ago, before she was cruelly and famously shot by the Joker in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. Since then two other women have held the role full time, and Huntress had a stint in the costume too. Stephanie Brown, the newest Batgirl, has held the role for 2 years only to have her title cancelled in preparation for the upcoming reboot.
Barbara became Oracle, one of the very few characters in a wheelchair, and integral to the collection of heroes operating in Gotham City; super-intelligent and as independent as ever. Whether to take her out of the wheelchair as other heroes had always managed, or to leave her in to be more realistic was always going to be a contentious issue with no seemingly correct answer. To disabled fans she is an icon, to others a sad reminder that women heroes are always more punished than the men. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Many fans are understandably distraught that Barbara is to be taken out of her wheelchair and reinstated as Batgirl. Would this be nearly so problematic if she wasn't the only disabled character? If she wasn't one of the minority of strong women characters? If she wasn't one of the only nearly non-sexualised women in comics? I doubt it.
A reboot, relaunch, whatever you like to call it, hits the minorities hardest because they are already so under-represented. Fix the representation issues, on whichever continuity you like, and the immortal youth of the main superheroes becomes much less contentious.
In my view, the issue is not the reboot itself: the DC Universe has always existed in a perpetual state of flux, ready to be re-set and rejuvenated at any time. Cyclical in nature, we go through dark cynical ages followed by fresh optimistic ages, in keeping with the culture around us and the mood of the day. Fresh readers should be encouraged at all costs: an audience left behind by the move to the direct market is waiting to be reclaimed.
But diversity is important: real diversity. More female characters that aren't just there to serve as plot points. More women behind the pen and new blood welcomed at the big publishers. A greater number of real female characters will encourage female writers: few women creators can be tempted to write in a genre dominated by the threat of the refrigerator and a demand for heaving bosoms at the expense of character development.
The gender breakdown of credits on DC titles in May showed female creators having a 12.5% stake, while Marvel in the same month had 8.4%. In contrast, the new DC reboot line-up only has 1.9% given to female creators . This is immensely disappointing. Female creators do not guarantee good female characters – that is entirely down to the quality of writing, not the gender of the writer – but diversity does breed diversity, and this is a huge step backwards.
I'm excited for the DC reboot and what the writers can bring to this newest turn of the superhero wheel, but I am more excited about what the future could hold if change is really in the air and DC takes the opportunity to really revitalise comics for all fans.