“Why Cant You People Take A Joke?!”
(A Reflective Essay By Tomato Surprise)
The page above was the apex of an atom bomb. After a violent confrontation, Batman’s nemesis The Joker kidnapped Barbara Gordon, daughter of Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon, crippled her with a bullet through the spine, undressed her, and took pictures, all in attempt to drive the good commissioner insane. This story, The Killing Joke, along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, catapulted the Batman universe into a dark, gritty, and sometimes horrifying era. This was no Adam West fairy-tale. This was “real”. This was “mature”. However, twenty-two years after the infamous story was told, some people are clamoring for the catapult to be thrown into reverse, yearning for an able-bodied Barbara Gordon. Equal in size and perhaps even more vocal are a group wanting Barbara to stay as she is, fearing the possibility of yet another notch on the ever-growing totem pole of DC’s yearning for a DC Universe of the 1960s, rather than 2010. I tend to agree with the latter group. But, at the same time, I don’t think either side fully understands the issue. That’s where I come in. After all, who doesn’t love explaining a good joke?
II. DC Needs To, For Lack Of A Better Term, Bite The Bullet
I’m of the opinion that DC Comics, with a handful of notable exceptions, hasn’t been in the story-telling business for at least five to seven years now. They’ve been in the story-retelling business. As good as Batman RIP was, it borrowed heavily from previous Bat-verse stories in order to tell its own, even being released in collected format alongside of an entire collection of reprinted companion stories referenced in RIP. Even DC’s critically-acclaimed Green Lantern mythos borrows heavily from a nigh-forgotten story published in the 80’s by Alan Moore. (Who, coincidentally, also wrote The Killing Joke.) Storytelling in comics today is, in large part, inherently cyclical, constantly bringing back obscure elements from classic comics of old, refurbished with a shiny new coat of editorial paint. Characters introduced in the last five to ten years of the DC Universe are more likely, in this age, to end up in a body-bag than to hold down their own series, and this goes double if you’re unfortunate enough to don the mantle of an already-established hero.
Sure enough, certain comic fans have picked up on this pattern. And, to say the least, they’re kind of angry. Throwing Barbara into a Lazarus Pit would prove one thing, and one thing only: DC can’t bite the bullet of their own established continuity.
III. A BIRD IN THE HAND IS WORTH TWO IN THE BUSH
Despite little to no help given by The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon has recently flourished more than ever as a character, and to an even greater degree as an individual character in the DC Universe. A common fallacy in the pro-Lazarus Pit argument’s understanding of the opposing side is that this character growth is attributed to Barbara’s disability. At least for me, this is far from the case. A principle that few comic professionals seem to be aware of, and even fewer seem to master, is how to build a compelling and vast supporting cast. Here’s something to ponder: think of the most financially successful comic book character you can. Who’d you choose? Barman? Superman? Spider-Man? All of these heroes, and many more of the more notable ones, have large, sweeping, and memorable supporting casts. Now, compare that to the Blood Pack, Loose Cannon or Metamorpho. The reason why you may not have even heard of these heroes, let alone the general populace, is because of their forgettable, annoying, or worse, non-existent supporting cast.
A fan’s opinion about Barbara’s character as Oracle and as Batgirl should not be proportionate, in any way, to the number of damaged vertebrae she has. The primary reason Barbara is better as Oracle is because she’s been whisked away from the wretches of the Batman B-List and put into the center of her own cast. Instead of playing a bit-part in Gotham’s story, she was given the tools as Oracle to forge her own. Now, she’s surrounded by the Birds of Prey, with her own tales to tell, no longer a mark in the proverbial margins.
IV. ORACLE’S SPARE CHANGE
It would be ignorant and false, however, to say that Barbara’s disability is not a piece of this debate. The problem lies in the fact that pro-Lazarus Pit fans put the piece in the wrong place, causing their argument to be flimsy at best and borderline demolished at worst. Oracle’s disability is not a pivotal part of her character. Oracle’s disability is a pivotal part of the comics medium at large. This is, perhaps, the point in my argument where bias starts to show. I do, in fact, have cerebral palsy. (No idea what that is? Click here!)
As a person with CP, When I was a kid, I struggled with the fact that there was nobody notable in the media who was disabled. No one like me, if you will. The few disabled people in media were either incredibly emotional, depressed, and abrasive or God-like, untouchable beings of utter perfection. The portrayal of disabled people in the media was so completely warped, so extreme, that it led to a sociological time-bomb of political correctness that’s still ticking today.
Oracle was designed to defy all of that. She wasn’t perfect, and, in most cases, not a pathos-driven plot mine. She was normal. People in general, able-bodied or not, could relate to this character. Her disability wasn’t swept under the rug, nor was it put on an almighty and untouchable pedestal. She was who she was, and people far beyond the printed panels of Gotham City could rest easy knowing it. Out of something wretched came something very good, but let’s not call it something it wasn’t. This was not “The Million Dollar Debut Of Batgirl!”, it was the debut of something greater: Oracle’s Spare Change.
I’ll see you next week!
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