The Why of Batgirl and Gail Simone

If you read comics from the Big Two, and are on Twitter and Facebook, then there’s little chance that you will have missed the latest disaster tale coming from DC Comics: Gail Simone, who has been working on Batgirl for DC’s New 52 line-wide relaunch since the first issue, has been let go from the series, apparently without any explanation, and that too, over email, by the new editor to come on board. Several places have already covered the news: DC Women Kicking Ass, Bleeding Cool, Comic Book Resources, Gail Simone’s Tumblr, and others. Various forums around the web have gone into depth about them as well. I am not going to delve into any of that at all. Because I don’t want to go into all that negativity. Instead, I want to talk about something else: why I started reading Batgirl.

batgirl01For those who have been following my blog, you know that I got back into reading comics this april after a long hiatus. Since then, I’ve read comics that have primarily been penned by male writers, and have predominantly featured male characters. Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Nightwing, Aquaman, Justice League, Red Lanterns, Marvel Civil War, Hawkeye, The Darkness, He-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Kill Shakespeare, and so on. There’ve been a few female-centric comics though: Angel & Faith, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Silk Spectre, Sword of Sorcery, Team 7, Witchblade, Red Sonja and Birds of Prey. But if you really take a look at that entire line-up, or just my “Reading List” page in general, you’ll see that the female-centric comics are nowhere near as high-profile as the ones with male heroes. Additionally, I’ve not read a single comic written by a female writer other than Silk Spectre (Amanda Conner, but co-written by Darwyn Cooke)!

That’s a horrible statistic. It’s not one that happened by any conscious decision on my part. I gravitated batgirl02towards the male-centric comics by default, having had an interest in many of these characters since I was a kid. I didn’t even really know that Wonder Woman existed until a few years ago. The same for Red Sonja, Witchblade, Birds of Prey, and Sword of Sorcery!

A friend of mine mentioned to me in passing in the summer that my book reviews were skewed towards male authors and that I didn’t really read anything by the opposite sex. I was, literally, struck dumb by that. Again, not a conscious decision, just something that happened. I set out to change that, and I’ve had decent success in that regard now. Since then, I’ve racked up quite a lot of reviews where the works have been written by female authors, and many of them are among my top favourites: Sarah Cawkwell, Rachel Aaron, Aliette de Bodard, Amanda Carlson, Erin M. Evans, Anne Lyle, Elspeth Cooper, Teresa Frohock and many others. These are all writers that I would read without reservations and without bias since I enjoy their work.

Recently, I started to feel that I was doing myself a great disservice by (subconsciously) ignoring comics written by female writers. It was like an epiphany of sorts, although that’s too grand a word for my thought-process at that time. Additionally, as someone who has been following DC Women Kicking Ass for a few batgirl03months, and seen quite a bit of the gender bias that is directed at female comics characters and female writers, I wanted to do my own part in contributing positively to the industry.

And so I picked up Batgirl, written by comics veteran Gail Simone, who I’d been following on Twitter for a while. I want to reiterate that I didn’t pick up the title because it was a female superhero, I picked it up because it was written by a woman. For me, it’s also significant that Batgirl is the first title in the Bat-family titles that I branched out with after already having caught up to the latest issues of Batman, Nightwing, and Birds of Prey. At least, I think it is significant.

Realistically speaking, I can’t tell the difference between which gender has written a specific comic. I don’t have that kind of sensitivity. I just want to read a good comic. That’s all. And Gail Simone’s first volume of Batgirl did that for me. I’ve really enjoyed her take on Batgirl so far.

A lot of people are pissed that the decision was made to go with a Batgirl who is no longer wheelchair bound, and was thus one of the very, very few disabled comics superstars. I didn’t come with that kind of baggage to batgirl04the title since I’ve never read a Batgirl issue before. I knew of what Joker did to her through the live-action Birds of Prey TV series, and that’s about it. I was… a fresh reader.

And Gail hooked me to the character. Batgirl is definitely one of the most nuanced comics currently in production with DC, and most definitely in the entire industry as well. It easily beats out the highly disappointing stuff like Savage Hawkman, Superman, Supergirl, The Flash, just as how Darwyn and Amanda’s Silk Spectre beats out every other Before Watchmen comic other than Darwyn’s Minutemen, and is on par with J. Michael Straczynski’s Dr. Manhattan.

I went into Batgirl with little expectations beyond having a good time. That’s what I got, and more. Gail didn’t deal with the character in heavy brush strokes, she handled her with care. Yes, this Barbara Gordon is no longer disabled, and no longer Oracle. Yes, she can walk just fine, and even goes out on patrol and takes a hell batgirl05of a lot of beating from the bad guys. But she’s also a character who is actively dealing with her disability. Those moments are really well interspersed within the six issues I’ve read. Her past hasn’t been ignored, and when I get to the Death of the Family crossover arc, where she gets to deal with Joker all over again, I’m sure then too Gail will deliver on what I’m expecting.

And I’m really sad to see that Batgirl #16 will be Gail’s last issue for the series, and for a character that she has been associated with for almost a decade, from what I’ve learned today. I probably won’t go to the lengths that some people have already proclaimed: that Batgirl #16 will be the last issue of the new series that they will buy, because, honestly, I’m not THAT invested in either Gail or her Batgirl, that I’d drop a series because the creative team underwent a reshuffle. I will give the series a couple issues to convince me that the new writer, whoever he happens to be, is following into Gail’s footsteps rather than buying new shoes. That’s no doubt a very naive thing to believe in, considering that Gail has already written Barbara’s recovery arc, which apparently will either get rewritten massively or just be junked out all together, but I’m keeping some optimism. Only because the series has just started for me, and I’m a self-masochistic optimist.batgirl06

Whatever Gail does next, I’ll definitely follow her along to see what she’s doing. She has a creator-owned series coming up through Image Comics, so that should be a fun thing. The guys at Image have a really good eye for publishing all the good stuff!

I hope I’ve been coherent here, about why I started reading Batgirl. If not, feel free to say so.

Posted on December 10, 2012, in Comics News, Comics Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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