Reviews of Books You’ve Never Heard of: Cerebus the Aardvark

What’s this then?:
Cerebus the Aardvark is a very long-running comic series by artist and noted crazy person Dave Sim.  It ran for 300 issues from 1977 to 2004.  As you could imagine various phases of the comic differ greatly as the title character becomes Prime Minister, then Pope, then loses it all.  Then there’s a story about Oscar Wilde, and then it gets really crazy.  Here, I’ll discuss only the first volume (which is titled simply Cerebus).  I might return to future volumes in later reviews.  The first volume is more or less a take off on Robert E Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories with the main character being not a mighty thewed barbarian, but an anthropomorphic Aardvark.  Cerebus acts as a mercenary and adventurer, meets a sect that seems to worship Aardvarks, meets a wizard who commands a swamp monster and has a weird head trip.

Well, is it any good?:
Yes.  This hits the mark that any good parody should hit — it is a good example of what it is parodying.  These are good Sword and Sorcery stories.  The sense of a realized world is there as Cerebus shifts his geographical place and alliances among different tribes and factions, and that sense of mystery is there when Cerebus meets the aardvark-worshipping Pigts or the constantly chanting and ever violent Conniptins.  The plots themselves are fairly standard sword and sorcery fair: Cerebus leads an army against a walled city which turns out to be ruled by a cult leader.  There’s nothing really to dig into here, just a good fun romp, which is really quite enough.

The humor ranges from clever to groan-worthy (although I must admit I have a soft spot for groan-worthy humor).  There are some good jabs at Sword and Sorcery tropes, like Red Sophia, a Red Sonja take-off who emphasizes the S&M fantasy elements of the woman who will only give herself to the man who can defeat her in combat (which happens to be Cerebus, who unlike Conan has no interest in sex.  and also is an aardvark).  Most of the humor is very broad consisting of jabs at comics contemporary to the series (Cerebus as a series actually constitutes an interesting historical document in terms of what the popular trends in comics were).  A short plot arc at the end of this volume spoofs DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Man Thing with Sim’s delightfully cheesy Sump Thing and Woman Thing.  This free wheeling, highly referential, and ultimately silly humor actually makes me think of Tiny Toon Adventures more than anything else.  Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

I think most Cerebus fans are in it for the art.  Sim’s drawing is extremely polished.  Human characters are drawn in a detailed realistic style, which marks a broad contrast with Cerebus who is drawn fairly cartoonishly.  Interestingly, for the first couple of issues, Cerebus looks pretty wonky, for lack of a better word even though Sim is already solid at drawing human characters.  As Sim begins drawing Cerebus more confidently and with just slightly higher detail he becomes a strangely charismatic character.  The amount and variety of emotion carried by changes of his eyebrows snout and left and right mouths (its a long story best left to another time), compells one to empathize with Cerbus even though he’s a right bastard.  The panel layout is where Sim really gets to show off.  Throughout the series, Sim pushes the comics medium as far as it will go, with odd-shaped panels, big blocks of text, splash pages, sections that force the reader to physically turn the book around and so on.

What’s the best bit?:
I was just getting to that.  I’m going to take the obvious answer and say “Mind Games.”  In this issue, Cerebus has a weird head trip where he floats through a black and grey panel-less space.  One page is puts the view nearly up Cerebus’ snout, while another sees him sinking into blackness of the page.  Decades later this remains one of the strangest pieces of comic art produced (although that list could be rather long, as comics artists love to play with stuff like that).  This is the harbringer of all the weirdness to come.  This is where, to borrow a term from LSD users (which Sim briefly was), Cerebus starts to come up.

Any closing thoughts?:
Well. You’re not really allowed to talk about Dave Sim without addressing the little matter of a screed he wrote in issue 186 (sometime in the nineties, I believe) where he claimed that men are creative lights whose energy is sapped by female voids (Sim has, by his own admission, been diagnosed as schizophrenic, if that softens the blow any).  In the seventies and eighties, though, Cerebus was one of very few comics whose female readership was equal to or greater than its male readership.  Knowing what we know now, Sim’s treatment of female characters can seem suspect in light of his professed views, but then again, there is no character I can think of in Cerebus (or what I’ve read of it anyway) who is not completely stupid, totally amoral, or actually evil.  If you are uncomfortable in giving money to Sim, then don’t buy the book.  On the other hand if you’re willing to seperate the author and the work and are interested in the visual possibilities of comics as an art form, then I highly recommend checking out Cerebus.

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Published in: on June 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm  Comments (2)  

Fear, Loathing and Inherent Vice or: Doc Sportello’s Holistic Detective Agency

Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice in addition to being a damn fine detective novel is also a snap shot of Los Angeles in the late 1960’s.  The portrait is as raucous and day-glo as we expect any picture of the sixties to be (literally, Pynchon spends a lot of words on letting us know what psychedelic color schemes rooms and outfits are in), but through detective Doc Sportello’s marijuana haze we sense the paranoia that we expect from Pynchon.

This calls to mind that other great sixties hangover, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  Hunter S. Thompson, being Hunter S. Thompson, can’t help but rip the whole summer of love mythos a new asshole.  For Thompson, the sixties ended up being just like Vegas, a veneer of flourescent colors and family-friendly fun painted over a selfish, drug-fueled, sex-crazed mess.   Of course, Thompson exaggerates.  Everything about the book is over the top.  The drug collection is impossibly large, the trips impossibly vivid, the various criminal activities of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo probably just impossible.  Everything is out of proportion — this is the grotesque (or to those who love the book, the sublime).  Ralph Steadman (or whoever chose Steadman to illustrate the book) clearly understood that.  And the end of the day, this is a horror story .  We can’t stand the thought of Dr. Gonzo electrocuted in the tub to the goofy-triumphant (grotesque/sublime) strains of “White Rabbit,” we tolerate even less the idea of looking away.  J.J. Cohen wrote in Monster Theory “fear of the monster is a kind of desire,” which is probably why Thompson quotes adorn so many posters and t-shirts.  Thompson forces us (although we only pretend its against our will) to see how fucked up we are even under some kind of hippie horseshit (as Thompson may have put it were he less eloquent).  This is what is entailed by “a Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.”  Consider this a strung-out, bad crazy Heart of Darkness.

Thompson uses his famed lack of subtelty to get across his (perhaps equally unsubtle) point, but this is far from Pynchon’s style.  Pynchon is far more ambivalent, leaving the reader some room to breathe.  If Thompson’s novel is a horror story, then Pynchon’s is a detective story, which should surprise no one.  But in particular, it is a holistic detective story.  Alan Moore, upon seeing the title of Douglas Adam’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Angency thought that to solve a crime holistically, one would have to solve the society in which that crime took place.  This was the operating principle behind Moore’s Jack the Ripper comic From HellFrom Hell proposes that London society at roughly the time of the Whitechapel murders is the starting point of Anglophone society as it stands today.  That time period saw among other things:the beginnings of Zionism, woman’s suffrage, new developments in medicine and physics, and of course, the first modern serial killer.

We might similarly see the late sixties as the birth of the twenty-first century.  ARPAnet, a precursor to the internet is mentioned frequently throughout the novel.  Use of soft drugs is becoming prominent among otherwise law-abiding citizens (Doc’s parents even smoke a joint).  New organized crime syndicates, and street gangs rise to power even as the mafia loses its hold over Las Vegas.  The most significant element of Doc’s world, though is popular culture.  It is simultaneously monolithic and infinitely fragmentary.  Doc watches The Love Boat in full knowledge that his parents are watching it at that same moment, and watches Adam-12 even though he hates cops.  But his musical obsessions are local bands and obscure acts that today are record store curiosities (where Thompson’s soundtrack is so mainstream that I have to imagine its supposed to make us a little uneasy about the crazy man grooving in the tub to Jefferson Airplane).  In the 21st century, billions of people watch American Idol, but anyone can be a minor celebrity on youtube.  For us and Doc, pop culture is the language we speak.  The narration (which is close third person, giving us Doc’s thoughts) mostly frequently crafts simile and metaphor by registering comparison to tv shows.  If nothing else, we seem to share with the sixties an all pervasive sense of pop-culture.  At the time of the novel, the Manson killings have just occured, wherein a cult leader killed a minor celebrity over what he thought some major celebrities were communicating to him.  Unlike Thompson, (or Moore for that matter), Pynchon doesn’t tell us what these sixties resonances tell us about our own society.  I suppose, then, that Doc doesn’t holistically solve the crime he’s investigating.   That is left as an exercise for the readers, the holistic detectives of the present.

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 11:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Quick Hit: Lacan

For Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the structure of desire is such that the subject wishes to be the object of desire of the Other.  This is best expressed in Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.”

Published in: on June 25, 2011 at 4:00 pm  Comments (3)  

Malcom McDowell was in Tank Girl: or the British Attitude Toward Acting

Malcom McDowell is probably best known for playing Alex in A Clockwork Orange, where he improvised the use of “Singin’ in the Rain” during a rape scene.  This became a significant musical motif in the movie which I think tends to prove that McDowell is a rather smart actor.  He also starred in a couple of apparently popular British Comedies called If… and O Lucky Man!  He starred alongside Laurence Olivier in an adaptation of a Harold Pinter play.  So far so good, no?

Well, lately, McDowell has been a villain on Heroes, a scientist in Halloween, and done a ton of voice acting for Metalocalypse, Fallout 3, Justice League Unlimited and so on.  And yes, he was in Tank Girl.  All things considered, he doesn’t seem unhappy.  He keeps taking the roles, anyway.

I think the fact of the matter is that the British don’t tend to put acting on as much of a pedestal as some bizarre, mystical talent as we do in the U.S.  They tend to consider it — fancy this — a job.  Michael Caine, on his role in Jaws: The Revenge said “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific!”  I think this attitude of 9-5 acting might actually be best summed up in Ian McKellan’s explanation of acting on Extras.

Or perhaps I’m just looking to this with a grass is greener mentality.  To be perfectly honest, I’m just glad that we trash culture aficionados get to have McDowell all to ourselves.  Thank you Tinto Brass.

Published in: on June 23, 2011 at 3:36 pm  Comments (1)  

Reviews of Books You’ve Never Heard of: Moonchild

What’s this, then?:
Moonchild is a novel by famed British occultist Aleister Crowley in 1917.  I suppose the question that leaves is “what kind of a novel does an occultist write?”  The answer is a strange little novel.  If I had to call it one thing or another, I’d say it’s a novel of ideas, the kind of book where the characters sit around and debate philosophy with each other.  Except the philosophy here all has to do with Crowley’s views of magic (and a very Flatland-ish examination of the concept of a fourth spatial dimension — which then gets pointed towards spiritual-magical ends).  Sound kind of boring?  Well it is for the first 5 or 6 chapters.  Then shit starts to go down, when amidst a discussion (about The Way of the Tao, if I recall correctly), a monster appears in the garden and is soundly defeated by Simon Iff, an idealized Crowley stand-in.  Iff and his magical retinue are performing the Great Work to try to bring a child into the world with the spirit of the moon so that –well so good stuff happens, I suppose, I was never quite clear on that.  There is a rival group of magicians, the Black Lodge, who want to control the moonchild for their own ends (again unclear).  The book reads something like a spy novel with glimpses being shown of both camps machinating against one another.

Well, is it any good?:
I’ll say that I enjoyed reading it.  There was a point, after the first few very talky chapters when I was ready to put the book down and not pick it back up.  But once the two camps begin manuevering, there’s more sense of a directed plot.  The actions of the Black Lodge are drastic enough to inject enough action to make the book worth continuing (for example they cause an engine driver to go mad and derail a train).  The talky bits have two saving graces.  First, if you have any interest in occultism, then you get some of Crowley’s ideas laid out in plain English in the mouths of his characters.  Interestingly, for a figure who spent so long railing against Christianity, Crowley espouses the sublimation of the ego to a higher spiritual power (three dimensional persons are the surfaces of a four dimensional group-soul).  The mistake of black magicians is to try to sublimate higher power to the ego.  Even if you’re not interested in Crowley’s philosophy or already know all about it for some reason, then the book is at least funny.  The white magicians make constant defenses of the spiritualism and seances prevalent in the era, while acknowledging the tricks that allowed spiritualists to dupe the public.  I can’t help but imagine that they are “taking the piss.”  The humor is so deadpan that I was never thoroughly convinced it was there, but I think it seems like Crowley to want to snark at the foppish psuedo-magic (as he likely saw it) of his Victorian and Edwardian contemporaries.  The novel has certain Roman a Clef elements, with characters representing other notable occultists.  A magician of the Black Lodge, Arthwaite, is a thinly veiled stand in for Arthur Edward Waite.  Waite, as creator of the most famous Tarot deck in the English-speaking world, might have been something of a rival for Crowley.  Which makes it somewhat amusing (though darkly) when Arthwaite is accused of robbing graves in order to practice divination by conjuring demons into the bodies of the dead.  This is the most broad humor in the book, though, and is admittedly only funny if you know a little occult history.  I wouldn’t go out of the way to read this book if you don’t have at least a passing interest in the occult, but if you do, this is a fine way to get to know Crowley a little better through an entertaining-enough adventure story.

What’s the best bit?:
Roughly two thirds of the way through the novel Lisa la Giuffria has a dream vision where a number of huge deific figures are paraded before her.  These included a figure protected by an angel with a flaming book, a figure birthing a vast number of humans out of his head, and one leading a parade of ever-changing skeletal animals, among about 10 others.  Although I tried to connect them to mythological deities or zodiacal signs or something appropriately mystical, a series of footnotes informed me that they were Joseph Smith, Leo Tolstoy, and Thomas Huxley, respectively.  The other “gods” included Blake, Swinburne, Chopin, Byron, Keats — something of a Romantic canon.  This section was easily the most vivid in a book so preoccupied with monologue, was trippy as hell, and was an interesting although oblique look into Crowley’s view of creativity as a magical act.  In fact, I think its obliqueness was a large part of its charm, with its contrast to the rest of the book.

Any closing remarks?:
I’ve yet to mention the strangest part of the book [Spoilers ahead].  By the end of the novel, the white magicians have failed and World War I has begun.  There is a suggestion that these two items are related.  One of the white magicians and the other, younger Crowley stand-in, Cyrill Grey is reenlisted in the British Intelligence service.  As mentioned before the book has some Roman a Clef elements, and it has been suggested that Crowley might have been an Intelligence officer.  I don’t mean to suggest that a magical conflict started World War I, but I am curious how much Crowley expects us to believe that and what secrets, historical or metaphysical, he’s trying to communicate.  As I said, this is a strange little novel.

Published in: on June 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm  Comments (1)  

When a Fantasy should be a Mystery: or The American Gods TV Show and Tolkein

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is by far one of my favorite books.  And HBO has just contracted to turn it into a six season tv series.  This worries me.  The plot of the original novel could probably fill a six episode miniseries, but certainly not six full seasons of tv.  But worry not, says Neil himself: “No, 6 years of AMERICAN GODS on TV doesn’t mean just the 1st book. It means I need to write the 2nd now, for a start.”  This too worries me.

Of course Gaiman has written other stories in the world of American Gods, and they were good.  And that’s because that world is so intriguing.  Which, ironically, means I don’t want to know too much about it.

Orson Scott Card in his How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, organizes speculative fiction into stories about a milieu, an idea, a character, or an event.  Gaiman’s novels are mostly — maybe even all — milieu stories.  They are stories where a protagonist explores a world which is equally alien to the protagonist and the reader.  The world is the point of interest as much as or maybe even more than the character.  This is the operating principle of American Gods and Anansi Boys, and also of The Hobbit and the tv show Lost.

I much prefer The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings, which I think is some sort of geek blasphemy.  I find the world of The Hobbit far more interesting — even though it is the same world as in The Lord of the Rings.  It’s seen through different eyes though.  The Hobbit is more or less a book for children (or adolescents maybe) and Bilbo, is in a certain way, a child himself.  He really knows nothing of the world outside his home.  Since Bilbo is so mystified by so much of Middle Earth, then why shouldn’t the reader be?  Since the Fellowship of the Ring is so much more wordly, Middle Earth becomes a much less mundane place.  There are no longer giants in the mountains, and we begin to ask questions like “Does the Balrog have real wings?”  “Does the Balrog have wings?” is a boring question.  If Tolkein had answered that, wouldn’t you be dissapointed either way?  The fact that that detail escaped Tolkein should tell you how unimportant it is.  The man wrote reams of material cataloging the entire history of the world created to the point where he left us only one good question (and left it on purpose) — “Who or what is Tom Bombadil?”

Gaiman was once asked to reveal the identity of the forgettable god in American Gods and said he was prepared to until someone else begged him not too.  He understood the importance of the unsolvable mystery — the mystery in the sense of “These things are mysteries.”  Tolkein clearly understood this, but I think the scope of his world-building work was just too vast to not share.

Perhaps, there is a difference of personality, too.  Is it any surprise that the Oxford Don teaches his readers to be good scholars of history?  And there are many people who are quite well versed in the history of Middle Earth.  Of course, unlike in real history, in Tolkein’s, all the answers are literally in the back of the book.  In Gaiman, the answers never were in the back of the book.  Gaiman teaches us to be something like philosophers or writers.  Sandman is not entirely a milieu piece but it certainly has a strong sense of milieu.  And the reader is left with a number of questions of “Who is Tom Bombadil?” scope.  Why is Delirium no longer Delight?  What happened to the first Despair?  and more broadly What are the Endless and what does it mean when they die or are imprisoned or abandon their post?  Gaiman is asking us to play philosophy with a toy world.

And maybe this is practice for philosophizing about our own world, which is indeed very mysterious and strange.  But playing philosopher with a toy world is just what writers — especially scpeculative fiction writers do.  Gaiman, unsurprisingly for the man who made his name telling stories about storytelling is teaching us to do his job.  Lost had much the same effect.  Most Lost  viewers started to develop theories of how the world of that show worked.  They believed they were uncovering secrets that were hidden from view, solving mysteries, doing play philosophy.  But they were also making up their own Losts and some of those were far better than the real thing (especially those which included space aliens).  When they explained everything in the end (as much as they did explain), they took the toy away and the fun stopped. I hope that the Neil, and the tv writers don’t take our toys away.

I think the longest lasting effect that American Gods  had on me was a desire to visit The House on the Rock.  Mostly, though, the book reminds us that the United States in mysterious and strange and that we can be strangers in our own world as much as Bilbo.  If we can get six seasons of reminders that we live somewhere weird and wonderful, then I’ll put my worries aside.

Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thor Vs. Two Cunts in a Kitchen

Let’s continue on a theme from the last post.  Thor might be the most progressive Marvel movie yet in terms of gender politics.  Yes, I think a movie about a viking warrior god who smashes things with a hammer might be more feminist than the rest of the Marvel lot.

Let’s start with a fairly well established litmus test, the Bechdel Test.  Alison Bechdel, writer and artists of a comic called Dykes to Watch Out For, wrote a comic strip in which an unnamed character states she won’t see a movie unless 1) It has two female characters 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a man.  In Thor, Jane Foster and Darcy talk about Jane’s research on wormholes (and a missing ipod).  Now, it may be debatable how well this actually passes the rule — does it count, for example, if their discussion is largely technobabble and therefore meaningless in a literal sense?

I think the rule is not to be interpreted as a strict algorithm for choosing movies (even though it is stated as one).  Consider the tv commercial type known as “Two Cunts in a Kitchen.”    An ad of this sort will, by definition, contain two women, who talk to each other, about a product (which is not a man).  Of course the characters are, in the eyes of the ad execs, literally consumer whores.  One can of course also imagine a film about one woman, say, which managed to be a fine feminist film.

So what’s the point of a rule that doesn’t work?  Well, it gives us something to think about, and I think its point number three which is important.  Female characters should have their own driving wants and desires.  Even though the whole wormhole discussion in Thor might be nonsense from a literal perspective it has character meaning.  Jane’s driving want is to complete her research and this is abundantly clear.  Through the middle section of the movie Jane tries to retrieve her research while Thor tries to retrieve his hammer.  When it comes right down to it, they’re essentially the same.  Now, think of Lois Lane in Superman: the Movie, she may be a hard-nosed tough as nails reporter but everything she does has to do with Superman, she doesn’t really have any driving force of her own.

There is one unfortunate matter about Thor, in that by  the end of the movie Jane is explicitly searching for a way to get back in contact with Thor.  He’s more or less hijacked her through-action.  This happens because every Hollywood movie must have a romance subplot.  Now, even though the romance subplot ruins Jane’s character and is one of the cheesiest ever on film, it has its charms.  It’s main charm being, actually, its cheesiness.  Thor and Jane more or less fall in love at first sight and from then on its all rainbow( bridge)s and unicorns.  They spend all night just talking under the stars.  There’s something very adolescent about it.  But, somehow, it’s a lot more mature than the program of stalking and psychological reconditioning that most romantic comedies seem to advocate.  The grand romantic gesture of Thor  is that Thor steals back Jane’s notebook.  If you look to movies for romantic advice (and please don’t), you could do worse than “if you like someone (like, like them like them), you should do something that you know is important to them.”

The final thing which must be adressed is Chris Hemsworth’s hawt bod.  There is only one character in Thor that the camera points a voyeuristic eye toward and that’s Thor himself.  Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings are only eye candy to the extent that you were attracted to them coming in to the film (which admittedly for a large segment of the audience was very, very much).

There’s no doubt in my mind that all the people involved in making the film considered it a “boys’ night” kind of a movie.  Again, the main character’s schtick is to smash things with a hammer.  And the overarching plot is about two brothers’ rivalry for a father’s attention.  So its a credit to Kenneth Brannagh that it didn’t come out totally meatheaded, but if this is the most feminist superhero movie we can get, then there’s a lot of work to do.

Next time: The American Gods tv show and why The Hobbit is a better book than The Lord of the Rings.

Published in: on June 16, 2011 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Six Ways of Looking at a Batgirl

DC has recently announced that it is relaunching its major superhero titles under new creative teams.  This kind of thing is always a cause for mass griping among comics fans.  The gripe which seems most expressed — and perhaps most well founded — is the complaint that Barbara Gordon will no longer be Oracle, but Batgirl.

For non-comics nerds: From 1967 until 1988, Barbara Gordon, daughter of Police Commisioner James Gordon, was Batgirl.  In Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, the Joker shoots Barbara, piercing her spine and leaving her paralyzed in one of the most definitive moments of the Batman mythos.  Since that time, Gordon has acted as Oracle, the supreme hacker and information master of the DC Universe.

Reversing such a major moment of character history is certainly grounds for debate amongst comics fans.  Rather than opine in any one direction, I’d like to provide Six Ways of Looking at a Batgirl. In no particular order:

1. This is a Slap in the Face to People with Disabilities

Name three superheroes with physical disabilities.   If you’ve been reading the article this far, you got one.  If you thought a while, you probably got two (Daredevil is blind).  I, for one, can not think of a third.  The DC (and Marvel) superhero universes are ones in which, essentially, (physical) might makes right.  This rather uncomfortable state of affairs is, however, undermined if someone in that universe can be just as powerful as someone who can lift a tank, even if she requires the use of a wheelchair.  This is more like our own world where many sorts of abilities are necessary.

2.  Alan Moore is a Bad Feminist (and should feel bad)

The Joker’s shooting Barbara Gordon is an iconic moment in comics, but it’s also a clear Women in Refrigerators moment.   The Women in Refrigerators website collects a number of examples of female comics characters being “depowered, raped, or cut up and put in the refrigerator.”  Fridging has since become a verb for the process of imperiling a female secondary character to drive forward the plot of the typically male hero.  Barabara’s paralysis is the emotional fuel that stokes the fires of The Killing Joke and most readers, I think, will agree that the story is quite good, in part due to this emotional drive.  This does not change the fact that Moore fell back on the old cliche of the Damsel in Distress to craft this story.  Undoing this event undoes the damage done by Moore.

3.  Gail Simone is a Bad Feminist

Are you even allowed to say that?  Regardless, changing Oracle back to Batgirl changes her from an interesting character in her own right to a girl version of Batman.  Oracle was a character with her own personality and M.O., but now she’ll just be a second rate, female version of Batman.  This only reinforces the notion of maleness as primary and femaleness as “other.”  Not to mention it’s fucking boring to have a character who’s schtick is being exactly like another character.  Not to mention that having Batman, but Batgirl is pretty sexist, too.  Gail Simone should know better.

4.  Simone Just Wants to See Barbara Succeed

In an interview with Newsrama, Simone said :

“The most persuasive argument to put Babs back in the boots has always been one that I would argue against vehemently for story reasons, but that was impossible to argue with ethically. And I have heard this question a million times…why is it that virtually every single hero with a grievous injury, or even a death, gets to come back whole, except Barbara Gordon? Why? Why was Batman’s back broken, and he was barely in the chair long enough to keep the seat warm, and now it’s never even mentioned?”

This, first of all, relates back to Barbara’s getting fridged.  Is it sexist to cure Batman and not Batgirl?  Also, if the purpose of superheroes is to do the impossible, then why should one not defeat paralysis, is this, in the end, not a hopeful message?  Simone points out “There has always been a vocal minority of PWD [people with disabilities] who wanted to see Babs healed and out of the chair, always.”  Finally, if we feel connected to Oracle as though she is a person, then don’t we want to see her “get better”?

5.  Oracle is More Timely Now than Ever

I think Wikileaks (among other things) has demonstrated that information is both a very potent and an increasingly proliferated weapon.  A character whose purpose is to be the ultimate information broker is a character concept which is pregnant for stories right now.  Or there could be more stories where superheroes punch each other.   DC appears to have made their choice.

6.  This is a Battle of Some Fans’ Status Quo versus Gail’s

For Gail Simone, Barbara was primarily Batgirl.  Again from the Newsrama interview:

“we all have our spirit guide characters into comics, and Barbara Gordon was mine. When I was bullied at school for being the only redhead in my class, Barbara Gordon on the syndicated reruns of the Batman show was like pure crack.”

For a comics fan my age, Barbara has been Oracle for literally all of our lives.  For Simone, the change from Batgirl to Oracle was a major deviation from the norm.  For us, the change from Oracle to Batgirl will be a major deviation.  Of course, this sort of change is inevitable in an episodic narrative lasting for several decades, but every so often it might be useful to stop and examine exactly what such change signifies.

Published in: on June 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment