Monday, 29 August 2011

Perhaps DC's Greatest Crime

While I haven't really discussed it here, I have never made it a secret that I dislike DC's reboot/relaunch/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.  I feel they are going to make things very confusing with keeping certain character's histories intact while starting other characters out almost from scratch.  I also think that most of the costume redesigns look like they belong in the 90's.  However, neither of those is the change that bothers me the most.

Barbara Gordon is back as Batgirl.

The key points of Barbara's past are that she is the daughter of Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (though I don't think he is the Commissioner anymore, at least before the reboot).  She was one of Batman's sidekicks, along with Robin, before the Joker shot her (as Barbara Gordon, unaware of her identity as Batgirl) and caused severe spinal cord damage.  With her ability to walk taken away from her, Barbara reinvented herself as Oracle, an amazing computer hacker and information hub for not only Batman, but to a large number of heroes including the Justice League.

As Batgirl, Barbara belonged to a fairly large club at DC, that of the sidekicks.  Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Wonder Girl, Speedy...DC is big on sidekicks and legacy characters.  She also belonged to the female off-shoot of a male character club; Aquagirl, Supergirl, Jesse Quick, Jade, and so forth. 

As Oracle, she belonged to a far more exclusive club; that of disabled or disadvantaged superheroes.  Right off the top of my head I think of Daredevil (blind), Jericho (mute), Niles Caulder and Charles Xavier (parapalegic)...and then it gets a lot harder.  If I really stretch myself I am reminded of Silhouette of the New Warriors (parapalegic, able to get around with arm braces).  And yes, there are more heroes I can add to the list if I thought about it really hard or whipped out Google, but I think I will come to the same conclusion. 

What sets Barbara apart from these characters is she got her start as an able-bodied superhero before becoming paralyzed.  With the possible exception of Charles Xavier, I would argue that no disabled character has had such a large impact on their universe as Barbara.

From her wheelchair Barbara made a difference. A huge one.  She was no longer the one out there preventing muggings and saving the world, but she held a pivotal role supporting those who did.  She saved a lot more lives from her chair than wearing her cape.

And now DC is undoing her disability and putting her back in tights.  Barbara, as Oracle, was an inspiration, and not just to those with a simlar affliction.  She showed that having a handicap does not need to hold someone back from achieving great things in their life.  Barbara's way of contributing to society, as a superhero, was taken away, but she found a way to continue to help people even more effectively than before!

As I write this post I am reminded of Rick Hansen, the Man in Motion.  In support of spinal cord research, Rick did a lap around the entire world in a wheelchair.  He visited 34 countries and traveled, via wheelchair, over 40, 000 kilometers (or 25, 000 miles for you Americans out there).  Would Rick have had the same impact upon the world if he was still able-bodied?  Maybe, but I tend to doubt it.

Now I am certainly not equating the fictional exploits of Barbara Gordon with the real-world accomplishments of Rick Hansen, but my point is that a disabled character is not only inspirational to those similarly afflicted, but to those who are able-bodied as well.  A character like Barbara also teaches acceptance and inclusion of those who are different.

Barbara's past as Batgirl is important because it adds a layer to the character that would not exist if she had always been in a wheelchair.  But to take that away to make her another generic Batman off-shoot is simply criminal.  Oracle is a special, unique, and wonderful character; Batgirl is just another face in the sidekick crowd.
Here are a few more great articles and interviews on the subject.

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