It has been several days since DC announced that Barbara Gordon was going back to her iconic role of Batgirl. Ever since, there has been plenty of fan response, both in favor and against it. I, as many other people, don’t agree with this change. Now, I don’t have any disability of any kind, so I don’t feel like talking about the value she has as a symbol for the disabled. What I think is that this decision was made for the sake of nostalgia, without considering the best possible development for the character and the storylines that surround her. And here are the reasons why I think that:
- She should have never been stuck in a wheelchair in the first place: Now, I don’t mean to offend any disable person out there, so, if it sounds somewhat disrespectful, I apologize. I don’t think that her disability makes her less of a character. But for me, the problem is suspension of disbelief. You see, there’s just no way I can conceive that, living in the DC Universe, Barbara has remained on that wheelchair for so long. Leaving aside the fact that Batman himself could potentially devise some kind of experimental surgical procedure and have both Dr. Mid-Nite and Mr. Terrific perform it, a hero as well connected as him could have had multiple other options to get her to walk again: rannian technology, kryptonian medicine, machines developed by either Steel or Cyborg, some alien procedure obtained by the Green Lantern Corps, the magic of Zatanna, miracles by Zauriel, matter manipulation by Firestorm or Captain Atom, Lazarus Pits… there were many ways to restore Barbara’s ability to walk. Even in the Marvel Universe, where the links between superheroes are far more limited and contact with alien cultures more scarce, Charles Xavier has had his spine healed several times by different methods. So, if DC was going to go with Barbara being limited to a wheelchair, they would have to find a competent way to explain it and stick to it forever. Having her suddenly healed now feels cheap.
- She is more useful as Oracle: This one will be heavily debated. I know that there are plenty people out there that think that Barbara is far more useful on the streets, kicking muggers and rapists on the face while patrolling the roofs of Gotham as opposed to sitting in front of a computer screen all day and not punching anyone (other than occasionally slapping her CPU if it crashes). If you are one of those who think like that, well, I know you are entitled to your opinion, but it doesn’t make it any less moronic. From her computer, Oracle coordinates the efforts of several heroes, unmasks dummy corporations, empties illegal accounts belonging to criminal empires and uses her agents to either spy or intercept criminal operations before they are deployed. Her efforts and activities as Oracle have a higher impact on a global level than anything she has ever done or could ever do as Batgirl, even if they were far more passive. Punching a criminal on a dark ally in one city isn’t going to help stop a terrorist group or strike a lethal blow on west coast mafia operations. Sitting in front of a computer and being proactive (a rare quality on superheroes) might.
- If anything, she should be Batwoman, not Batgirl: Barbara Gordon will always be Batgirl, the same way Dick Grayson will always be Robin, Spiderman will always be a teenager and Green Arrow will always be a douche. These are the defining roles of certain characters and one way or another those characteristics will always be encrypted on the collective consciousness of the popular culture. But that doesn’t mean that it can be that way inside the comics. According to the current continuity and history of the DCU, Barbara Gordon is, at very least, in her mid-twenties right now. She hasn’t been a “girl” for quite a while. So reclaiming the moniker she used when she was a teenager seems both sad and desperate. If Dick has moved to the identity of Nightwing, a man on his own right, why should Barbara go back to being Batgirl?
- Her presence in the role is completely unnecessary: Back when Barbara decided to don her cowl, there were only Batman and Robin alone against all the criminals of Gotham. Right now there are two Batmen (one which is going back to being Nightwing), Red Hood, Red Robin, Robin, Huntress, Batwoman, The Question and another Batgirl, all operating in the same town, and that not counting others such as Cassie Cain, who acts as Batman’s agent wherever she is needed or Catwoman, who is usually more a hero than anything else. Also, did I mention that there’s already a Batgirl? One that was actually being tutored by Barbara herself? Why is Stephanie suddenly not good enough for the role?
- She actually creates a hole in DC’s heroic community: For those who have followed Barbara’s career as Oracle, you know how important she has become. During World War III (on Grant Morrison’s JLA run), she coordinated the efforts of all superheroes around the world against Mageddon. During Infinite Crisis she called every single available hero and combining efforts with Martian Manhunter she rallied them into a single army against the forces of the Secret Society. During Final Crisis, she and Mister Terrific were able to stop the spreading of the Anti-Life Equation by shutting down the internet and also were the linchpins of the hero resistance. And now, since she has killed Oracle and turned her back on the heroes that relied on her, who is going to take over that role? Some people might suggest Mr. Terrific, but his duties as strategist with the JSA and leader of Checkmate make him not so ideal. The Web is a similarly themed hero, but his modus operandi and lack of connections take him out of the equation. And having Wendy Kuttler (Calculator’s daughter) graduate into the role just because she is supposed to be a genius and is paraplegic would be extremely inadequate: she lacks Oracle’s connections, strategic skills and rooting Oracle’s identity on paraplegia would be both cheap and insulting.
So, in the end, with this reboot, Barbara is giving her back to a role her colleagues had come to rely on just to have a chance to revive her youth, all while taking away Stephanie Brown’s motivation to live. One of the main female characters of the DCU and one of the most modern heroes of our time reduce to yet another generic street level fighter. Is it me, or it’s just an incredibly brilliant plan?