It's fair to say that DC have dominated the comic headlines in recent months, with their much hyped reboot/relaunch stirring up a great deal of controversy and interest for those with an existing interest in comics. A relaunch of any kind is guaranteed attention, but in assuring fans that this move was about attracting new readers and increasing diversity, DC found themselves firmly in the spotlight.
All the first issues are now out, and you've no doubt seen some of the more vitriolic criticism already. I've been waiting for the last week of #1's to arrive so that I could sit back and look at the comics as a whole as well as individually. Now my mega-review of women in the New 52 is ready... and it may not be what you are expecting.
Firstly, a huge thank you to Red Hot Comics for selling me all the comics I needed and going to great lengths to procure them! Despite being a huge fan of comics, I've previously only bought trade collections and graphic novels due to not living particularly near a comic shop. So I guess in some ways, I'm both an existing fan and a potential newcomer.
DC's New 52 has landed after months of speculation, controversy, and non-stop publicity. Most controversial of all was Batgirl #1, the title restoring Barbara Gordon to her original role, and turfing Stephanie Brown out in the cold. There's no doubt that Babs was the most iconic Batgirl, with her flowing red hair and feisty personality, but she was also equally iconic in her later role as Oracle.
It's this clash of the icons that has proved the true division amongst Barbara Gordon and Batgirl fans, not least because Oracle was born from Bab's disability at the hands of the Joker: a disability that "confined" her to a wheelchair. While some protest the loss or change of a beloved character, a fairly common event in the world of superhero comics, others are more shaken by the loss of a character they had come to see as a role model for people with disabilities. At times, it can be hard to tell where the lines between these complaints blur.
All the commotion served to push Batgirl #1 pre-orders through the roof, and went to second printing before release. Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf have produced a wonderful and critically acclaimed comic, leaving DC looking very much like the cat that got the (black) canary. But the Barbara's Not Broken campaign is still in full swing, and its important lessons should not be overlooked as "old news".
San Diego Comic Con was always going to be all about the DC reboot: Superman's new outfits; Barbara Gordon leaving her wheelchair; Wonder Woman's disappearing and reappearing legwear; that Harley Quinn outfit; the new 52. This was the time for DC to win over the fans, attract new readers, and leave us enthused and eager for what September will bring.
Instead, women who have attended the panels or listened to the podcasts have described the experience as uncomfortable at best, offensive at worst. When women pushed their questions about women in comics to the panel, the audience turned against them and the panel responses were flippant or off the mark. Two women have told me they feel like DC sees them as second class readers, and why would an unwanted reader possibly want to spend her money on those comics?
Some of the reporting has been sensationalist, and there were a lot of positive announcements from DC at SDCC too, but the overwhelming feeling for female fans is that this was a missed opportunity and a bit of a PR disaster. The most persistent woman, the Batgirl of San Diego, is meeting with Gail Simone later today.
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.
Elasti-Girl had kicked the door open for women heroes to be treated as equals at DC, and with second wave feminism well under way, and a decade of sexual revolution behind them, it's no surprise that the 1970s saw more female characters than ever appearing in mainstream comics. However, Woman's Lib still wasn't taken very seriously by many writers, and several feminist characters failed to find an audience amongst the established comics audience.
Those women characters that were successful had two things in common: a passionate desire to be treated as equals, and either a care-not attitude about skimpy clothing, or downright pleasure in flashing their tits and asses. At a time when feminists were seen as "bitches", and feminism itself treated as a passing fad, a good cleavage has been described as the sugar that helped the medicine of progression go down.
"Why you little chauvinistic piglet! I thought you understood... I'm my own woman!"