Didio and the Batgirls

I didn’t wind up going to any panels at Heroes Con last weekend. I did try to attend the Saturday 52 panel, but halfway through, I left. I was cold and bored, and while Dan Didio was trying to interact with the audience, I couldn’t hear their responses and no one on the panel was repeating the questions or comments.

While I was there, though, I took notes on a couple of things I found particularly interesting. During the question period, a fan said something along the line of “I find the new Batwoman an interesting character and I’d like to read more about her. However, I also found the new Batgirl an interesting character and I liked reading about her. But you’ve turned her into a one-note villain and killed her.”

Didio started in on his standup act at that point, saying “oh, you think she’s dead?” and talking to the other panelists about how there’s still lots of story to be told. That wasn’t the interesting part (at least, to me).

The interesting part was when he launched into a lecture on how if you don’t know the character’s past, you can’t write stories that make sense in their future. He thought the company went the wrong way making her “softer and smoother”, and they needed to bring her back to her past as the daughter of Cain and Shiva. (Which mention sent Greg Rucka off about how much he hated what’s been done with Shiva, presumably in Birds of Prey.)

Why is it, I wonder, that only female DC characters are defined in terms of their parentage? (Male characters are more often defined in terms of their dead parents: Superman, Batman, Martian Manhunter.) Is it a way of keeping them in a child-like state longer? I can’t even think of any currently active male characters who have superhero or well-known parents.

That emphasis on the past, by the way, explains a lot about DC’s current retro fetish and why so many of their books are currently so unsatisfying.

The second thing I found interesting was Didio’s defensive statement, in response to a question I didn’t catch, that he didn’t have anything against female characters, that he was “an equal opportunity offender” ha ha ha.

Last, there was Didio’s discussion about Batman, in which he talked about how much he despised the relationship with Oracle. According to him, “once he had her talking in his ear, he quit being Batman.” Because apparently, getting help or knowledge from a girl just can’t be done by a hero. Batman, per Didio, works best with Robin, Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon, and he’s got to be scary.

To be fair, it didn’t seem to be so much Oracle’s sex as her omniscience that bothered Didio, but getting rid of her because your guy’s got to be tougher and more alone ignores one of the most unique character concepts in superhero comics today. Oracle was a huge redemption story after Alan Moore used her as nothing more than a plot point in his “all boys together” Killing Joke, and I doubt anyone currently at DC realizes what a terrible signal tossing her aside AGAIN will send.


27 Responses to “Didio and the Batgirls”

  1. Dan Coyle Says:

    Rucka “hates what’s been done to Shiva?” You mean, making her a three dimensional character instead of the weird evil dragon ladies that only exist in your fevered brain, Mr. Rucka?

    And Gail Simone has said you’re very feminist, or at least you care about the treatment of women in comics. (Shakes head)

  2. Marcus Says:

    Consequently, “evil dragon lady” is pretty much what the retcon-powered Batgirl amounts to. She’s been reduced to a Shiva clone, and no, that’s NOT returning her to her “roots”.

    …Except in that to my best knowledge, Shiva was never humiliated by Robin.

  3. Dan Coyle Says:

    Yeah, I have no idea what DiDio’s getting at, but it feels like a classic O’Neil era tactic- build the boy heroes up by tearing the girl heroes down.

  4. kalinara Says:

    To be fair, regarding Oracle, someone did follow up on that, asking how he felt about her as a character. He said that he loves her, just not as a voice in Batman’s ear.

    So it’s not so much that he’s ignoring her, just that he wants to keep them separate for the sake of the detective stories.

  5. Gail Says:

    It’s okay, I’m bored with Greg’s female character, as well.

    ;)

    Gail

  6. Gail Says:

    That WAS a joke, by the way.

    Gail

  7. Ragnell Says:

    I have to agree with him that Batman didn’t work with her always whispering in his ear. With no detective work on his part, his storyline descended into angst and violence. That would have happened if it was Dick in the clocktower with the net hookups.

    She wasn’t a team leader when they were in the batbooks, she was a sentient Bat-Computer beholden to his every whim. Moving to Metropolis was the best thing they ever did to Birds of Prey, because now its Barbara in the spotlight with no Bat-shaped shadow falling over them.

    I can’t tell you how glad I was to see Birds of Prey taken out of the Gotham Books and put on its own. I’d rather see Barbara leading a team than subordinate to Batman, Black Canary does not belong in Gotham and neither does Zinda Blake. Better to have their only all-female team book not be attached to a male centerpiece than lumped into the Bat-books category.

    This wasn’t throwing Barbara away, this was promoting Barbara to the international divison and giving her her own office.

  8. Gail Says:

    It was lousy writing that made Oracle a story-destroyer. Some of those guys ought to be ashamed, as they used her as a big cheat. But to be fair, it had been a long time since Batman was really about detecting, in any case.

    I had no problem with taking her out of Gotham (although destroying the tower was just a dumb, dumb idea), and sending her on her way has made for some fun stories.

    I think we kicked the Batman-leech element out in the last pre-OYL story.

    Gail

  9. Ragnell Says:

    Gail — Promise? When they’d have a huge crossover or a scene in the JLA tower, and Oracle turned out to be coordinatign things, I’d always get so excited — just to be disappointed when everything she did got attached to Batman’s mental prowess.

  10. Gail Says:

    Yeah. I actually like the Oracle/Batman relationship, but it definitely had become a crutch (not that different from the way Alfred and Robin have been betrayed in the past, but a bit more of an obvious writer’s cheat), so I think it was an okay idea to send her mobile.

    Gail

  11. Sarah Says:

    …what, so making Cass into an *incompetent* dragon lady is taking her back to her past?

    Technically, she was brought up by Cain to be an assassin; that’s her past. But unless I’m mistaken, her actual “comics past”–how readers saw her, how the character concept was *actually developed*–began in the No Man’s Land run, when we first met her as someone running *away* from Cain. So it’s not as if some nifty initial character concept was frittered away by incompetent writing and now it’s being “restored.”

  12. Dan Coyle Says:

    Gail: When I read the Between Dark and Dawn trade, and Oracle’s reasons for destroying the tower… um, how did you react when editorial told you that’s why she did it? Because that was an… interesting reason.

    And if Oracle hadn’t left Gotham, I wouldn’t have discovered how cool Lady Blackhawk is.

  13. Gail Says:

    I’m just kidding around, Dan. In a shared universe, stuff happens that you disagree with all the time, and you have the choice of either letting it really bother you, or trying to make an opportunity out of it. And it’s true, if the tower hadn’t gone, we’d never have gotten the Aerie One, or Lady Blackhawk!

    Gail

  14. James Schee Says:

    (respond to Johanna’s, post not the interesting commentary afterwards)

    What part of Barbara helping Batman out took away his detective work? The good uses of her, where she’d hunt up where someone lived for Batman or the like seemed logical. Batman still had to do the grunt work of questioning people, and doing lab work and such. Yet Batman not having someone there to do a google search for him seems kind of a waste of his time.

  15. Marcus Says:

    “What part of Barbara helping Batman out took away his detective work?”

    The part where Barbara knew everything about everything. Seriously, she’s a bit too good at what she does for a team-up with a character who fancies himself a “detective” (even if Batman’s brand of detective work seems to consist mostly out of menacing informants). With her around, Bats was at worst reduced to a walking, brooding punchmachine who would call every few minutes to Babs and ask who’s the next person he needs to pummel and that sort of thing just isn’t okay.

    Separating Batgirl and Oracle on the other hand, that was a bad move.

  16. Johanna Says:

    I’d find the idea that Batman needs to do his own detective work more compelling if he ever did detective work. But that would require writing mysteries instead of dark punch-em-ups.

    I’m too jaded to participate in this conversation, when everyone else is getting along so well. Thanks, y’all.

  17. Dan Coyle Says:

    Speaking of Lady Blackhawk, Gail, are you going to be working with Eduardo Barreto again anytime soon?

  18. Andrew Burton Says:

    The things I could say about Oracle, omniscience, and DC could fill volumes. The short version, from my perspective, is that part of their “retro fetish” is complete and utter denial of the information age. Being a “h4x0r” is kewl and all, but the subtleties and brain work behind what Oracle does will never appeal to them as much as her for being ability to hit people with a stick.

  19. Johanna Says:

    I should clarify: I’m jaded about DC superheroes and their universe overall, although Birds of Prey is often a welcome high point. And yes, more Lady Blackhawk would be kewl!

    Andrew, interesting connection you make there. I tend to agree that hacking is both overvalued (treated like magic) and undervalued in fiction.

  20. Dan Coyle Says:

    I always thought it was funny when, on the commentary for Swordfish, director Dominic Sena admitted that Hugh Jackman’s character, who is supposedly one of the most skilled hackers in the country, didn’t have many scenes in the script of him actually, you know, doing any hacking. So they shot a montage of him playing around with the computer.

  21. Lyle Says:

    …while Dan Didio was trying to interact with the audience, I couldn’t hear their responses and no one on the panel was repeating the questions or comments.

    I remember the first time I went to San Diego and attended a Vertigo panel run by Stuart Moore. Moore did a great job of running the panel, making sure to repeat every audience question into the microphone. It seemed like such an obvious thing and, yet, the San Diego after Moore left Vertigo I found myself trying to figure out the questions based on the responses.

  22. Rob Staeger Says:

    The Oracle/Batman relationship reminds me a lot of the Lincoln Rhyme/Amelia Donaghy dynamic in Jeffrey Deaver’s The Bone Collector (or, if you’re looking for a better movie, the relationship between Darryl Zero and Steve Arlo in Zero Effect). In all three cases, there’s a extremely smart and clever but shut-in (for one reason or another) detective on the end of the line, with a physical operative doing the work and finding the clues. (Heck, it’s the Jack Bauer/Chloe dynamic, too.) Problem is, Batman is capable of all the analysis on his own, and I think it’s a rare writer who’d be able to make them both appear as competent as they are while working on the same mystery. Oracle can more richly fulfill that role with Black Canary in BOP, and Batman should be the syntheses of the analyst and the feet-on-the-ground guy.

    Which isn’t anything anyone else hasn’t said, but I like to plug Zero Effect anytime I can.

  23. Marcus Says:

    The gist I get from Didio’s comments is that Cassandra’s sin was that she actually achieved what she sought, more or less. Batgirl’s first maxi-arc (or whatever they’re called) ended with her basically forgiving herself, which while natural and well told, is kind of the same thing as if Punisher or Bruce Wayne actually grew up and got over the deaths in their origin stories. Apparently we can’t have any of actual character growth in comicland.

    What this hideous travesty in Robin 148-151 has got to do with any of this, I have no idea. The “Batgirl” there was laden with every negative attribute imaginable and was played as a wholly unlikable lunatic with petty and childish motives. Also the fact that she, her father, AND her entire group of ninjas with white contact lenses managed to lose to Robin makes her look like a pathetic wannabe more than anything else.

    It appears to me that the express purpose of this Robin storyline is simply to make people forget that they ever liked Batgirl.

  24. Johanna Says:

    Was that first done with Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, or were there examples before that?

    I don’t see it as a very accurate comparison to Batman/Oracle, though, because it would put Oracle in the primary position, and that’s what DC hates the idea of.

    I’ve never heard of Zero Effect before.

  25. Rob Staeger Says:

    I’m not sure if there are any earlier examples before Goodwin/Wolfe.

    Johanna, my comparison to Batman/Oracle was meant to say exactly what you put so much more succinctly than I could. In that relationship, she was the primary, and he was the legman, and DC didn’t want that.

    And rightly so, I think — although there’s no reason to dissolve the partnership completely other than fans asking “why doesn’t he just call Oracle?” whenever he needs info. Without trying to account for that possibility, she could just be quietly ignored unless the story genuinely called for her participation and expertise.

    As for Zero Effect, it’s a mystery with Bill Pullman as the quirky and reclusive Darryl Zero — sort of a proto-Monk who never leaves the house — and Ben Stiller as his increasing frustrated legman Steve Arlo. It gets by on charm and character more than plot, but it has charm and character to spare, IMO.

  26. Johanna Says:

    Oh, forgive me for missing that – I’m glad we agree.

    For some reason, superhero writers have a hard time quietly ignoring anything. They instead have to write “picking the scab” stories that only wind up raising more questions than answers. (I’m thinking of things like trying to justify or secret identities or when Gotham was sealed off… I’ve forgotten the name for that big event now!)

    Hmmm, good cast on that.

  27. Laura Says:

    Hey, I remember in the collection War Drums, how there were two different stories both dealing with how Steph Brown was fired as Robin, giving different senarios. If a retcon was apparent just a week or so between them, why not just retcon this fiasco?




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