Sunday, September 18, 2011

In Which The Warlock Comments on Continuity...

I'm going to start this little discussion off by making a disclaimer:  while I'm obviously a comics fan, I'm really more of a Marvel than a DC.  My favorite characters--Iron Man, Ghost Rider, and Doctor Strange--are all Marvel mainstays, and the books that I collect are typically the Marvel 'teams':  Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and the like.  The PlatinumChick is the resident DC fangirl in the house, cosplaying as her favorite characters:  Huntress and Black Canary.

That said, DC's been making all sorts of headlines with their "New 52"--a complete overhaul and refinement of the core DC books.  Note that I didn't say "reboot", even though that term is probably the most applicable here--major changes are being made, major characters are being altered, and major plotlines are being dropped in favor of entirely new plotlines.

There are a lot of things that upset me about how DC's dealt with this reboot.  I could talk about the utter dishonesty and duplicitousness that DC's has treated some some of the newest, most original blood in the comics industry.  I could talk about DC's hypocritical policy regarding depictions of women in comics, in that "all women must have pants", but characters are continually being shown as nothing more than cheesecake.  I could talk about how the editorial staff at DC has treated their fans, when said fans have questioned DC on their continual gender issues

But none of those are my biggest issue.  Rather, my biggest issue comes from two relatively minor characters in the DC universe:  Batgirl and Amanda Waller. 

Character depth!  Novel concept, that!
One of the seminal arcs of the Iron Age of Comics was Alan Moore's limited Batman series, The Killing Joke.  (Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert!)  In it, the Joker attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon mad by shooting and kidnapping his daughter, Barbara, then forcing him to view the images of his bleeding daughter as he travels through a Joker-fied funhouse.  Moore's run from this comic was timeless, as it showed not only the strength of Jim Gordon in resisting the Joker's efforts to drive him mad, but also in the fact that Barbara Gordon's injury became canon.  In later arcs, Barbara reinvented herself, becoming the "mission broker" and information expert for the Justice League, known as Oracle. 

Here, we have a character who refused to give up.  She experienced powerful internal conflict in coming to terms with her injury, and managed to find a new (and unique!) way to contribute to the continual war on crime, despite a "career-ending" injury.  But, instead of allowing that character to thrive in her chosen role, the editorial staff at DC have all but removed any reference to Moore's seminal arc, to say nothing of the internal conflict that drove Barbara Gordon for so long!  While author Gail Simone (already a legend amongst comics writers, male or female), does her best with Batgirl #1, the fact remains that twenty plus years of character development have been tossed out the window, simply to make Batgirl more "accessible".

This is Amanda Waller...
A similar thing has happened to DC supporting character Amanda Waller.  Nicknamed "The Wall", Waller's attitude, stubbornness, and ingenuity have allowed her to stand up to even the most powerful members of the Justice League, particularly in the Timm/Dini animated universe, where Waller literally stepped out of her shower and stared down Batman.  A tough, no-nonsense woman, Waller ran both Checkmate--a government intelligence organization dealing with vigilantes and metahumans, as well as the Suicide Squad--a metahuman 'recovery program' meant for supervillains to work off their jail sentences.

...not this!
Waller was unique in that she wasn't a stereotypically 'beautiful' woman, in the typical sense.  She didn't carry an hourglass figure or a bountiful chest; rather, she was broad-shouldered and squat, and carried quite a few additional pounds.  And now....she looks like everyone else.  To this, I ask..."Why?  To what end is this a good idea?"  What benefit could such a change possibly have, aside from matching the depiction of Waller from the Green Lantern movie which was a travesty in its own right?  It's an unnecessary change, meant to make Waller more "accessible" by taking away something that made her unique in the comics world.

While I don't know much about making comics, I do know a lot about running campaigns.  And I know that if, at my table, I started changing the names of characters, changing what they looked like, or changing minor details about established facts, I would very quickly have an empty table.  And, for that matter, if I started totally disregarding entire character arcs or the character development that my players have put into the table would be in open revolt, and that's not worth the 'potential' new player that might like what I'm doing.


  1. Anonymous7:58 PM

    It is a bit of a pity that characters that don't fit the typical superhero mold by being handicapped or overweight are being replaced. After all, both characters serve as positive role models for many readers who are like them.

    That said, I do understand the need to simplify the continuity for newer fans. For people who are just starting to get into comics, it can be confusing to have series that are relying on events that were published decades ago. Heck, Batman: The Killing Joke is older than I am!

    Finally, I don't think that it's fair to compare a comic series with a role-playing game. Imagine that you had a campaign that ran for ten years. You might be lucky enough to have the same group you started with, but more likely you'll have players dropping out and new players coming to replace them.

    Now imagine that it gets to a point where 3 out of 6 of your players weren't around for the first half of your campaign, and 1 of them is just joining now after ten years. It seems pointless to refer to events that only 2 players care about. And so it seems to be a natural point to essentially reboot the continuity to a point where everyone is on the same page.

  2. It may not be fair, but it's a similar conundrum. I can see your point, though.

    But, the fundamental question remains: how do either of these two changes make things "accessible" to a modern audience? How does taking away Babs' disability make her more interesting than when she actually had to overcome something massively difficult? How does making Amanda Waller have a model's physique make her more engaging?

    They don't, and that's a problem.

  3. Chaosmancer12:20 AM

    I agree with you on the "Waller point", though I'm not a comic fan so it doesn't actually change much from my perspective. However on Barbara I think there is a key point you're missing, or maybe I'm just misinformed.

    The way I understand DC's reboot is that they reversed time and changed the future or moved to a different dimension. If this is true then it would actually make no sense from a writers stand point for to keep Barbara's injury. In this new world she was never shot. I agree with you it is a travesty that all the years of character development are flying out the window, but they couldn't keep things like that depending on how far back they planned to go. Now if they kept character development things like this for some characters and not others I'd see a major issue, but if you are saying everything is reversed, everything is reversed. Otherwise you break the most essential rule of creative writing "Don't break your universe's laws (without good reason and believable logic)"

  4. Chaosmancer, I think you've been misinformed on the Batgirl/Barbara Gordon issue.

    In the new "Batgirl #1", Gail Simone makes a point of mentioning that Barbara was shot, and even includes a single panel from "The Killing Joke" in reference to it. However, rather than include Barbara's recovery and her time as Oracle, Barbara made a "complete recovery" in 3 years, becoming Batgirl once more.

    Go check out "Batgirl #1" and see for yourself...

    Strangely enough, I don't blame Simone for this mess. Rather, I put the onus on Geoff Johns and Dan Didio, as they're the geniuses who want everything to go back to the Silver Age...grrr.