Batgirl and the Legacy of The Killing Joke

Batgirl of Burnside Sketch

Welcome friends, I know it’s been a while, but I’m back to discuss Batman: The Killing Joke. You know, the “seminal” Batman story in which

SPOILERS

The Joker paralyzes Barbara Gordon by shooting her, and then takes pictures of her naked, brutalized body to taunt her dad, Commissioner James Gordon, whom The Joker was also torturing. The Joker did this to prove that all it takes is “One Bad Day” to drive an average citizen insane. Yep, that’s right, the Batgirl character was fridged just to further her father’s storyline and make a villain “more complex.”

To give things their proper context, you should understand the environment in which the initial book came to be. We’re talking post-Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Post-Alan Moore’s Watchmen. This is the start of the “comics have to be grim, gritty, and violent as hell” era, in which seemingly every character had some time as an angry, be-pouched anti-hero. It was a dark time (pun fully intended). Seeing The Joker commit graphic and gratuitous acts of violence gave fans a nerd boner like you wouldn’t believe.

To hear Alan Moore tell it, the story was never intended to be in continuity, but when DC execs and creators saw how popular it was becoming, the decision was made to bring it into the main continuity, thereby leaving Barbara without functional legs. Barbara was initially kinda left in limbo, but that didn’t last long, because, lets be real, what’s not to like about Barbara Gordon?! She’s got an amazing intellect, an eidetic memory, leadership skills, and stealth…so much more than just functioning legs. About a year later, writer John Ostrander and DC editor Kim Yale took some of the already existing characteristics of Batgirl and emphasized them to reintroduce her as Oracle, tech goddess of the DCU, for whom there were no computers she couldn’t crack, no information out of her reach.

badass oracle

Now let me be clear, the character of Oracle lead to some amazing stories. Her skills and talents earned her a place alongside the rest of the Justice League. Her role as the brains and driving force behind Birds of Prey was perfect. She defended herself on the regular, physically or otherwise, and became an empowering character for both women and/or fans with their own physical impairments.

That being said, her character was still grounded in trauma. Brutal trauma at that. While the original graphic novel was focused on the shooting and torture (horrific enough already), retellings and adaptations into other media pushed the story further and further, the most egregious example being the latest Batman video game, Arkham Knight. A very similar shooting occurs, after which you’re subjected to 30 seconds of Barbara crying and suffering, before seemingly committing suicide and being once again fridged for most of the game.

This whole concept of assaulting, maiming, or killing female characters as a device to move a male character’s story along, or to show just how brutal a villain can be, is such a tired trope and cliche. Portraying women as props is harmful to women; really to society as a whole, and we should expect better from the media we consume. There are myriad ways to show how evil The Joker is without resorting to (implied) sexual assault. His brain and charm are what make The Joker The Joker. (Well, that, and being certifiably insane.)He charmed a psychiatrist into giving up her job and life to become his sidekick/love interest. He’s conned countless people into being his underlings. He’s pushed Batman to the edge just because he could. He’s good at getting inside people’s heads.

Anyway, back to my main point here, Babs was able to overcome her injury and find her place in the DCU pantheon. Life was good. Jump ahead to 2011 and New 52, DC’s line wide reboot of continuity. It was decided that, rather than being permanently paralyzed, she’d now have recovered/rebuilt herself after 3 years, and would be able to walk.

When I first heard that Oracle would essentially be retconned away, I had some definite mixed feelings. Here DC was getting rid of a paraplegic character, one of very few to begin with, and as I said above, some stunning Oracle stories, but I still gave it a chance. I mean, they brought back Gail Simone to write it, and she wrote the literal BOOK(s) on Barbara Gordon. I’ll admit to being excited about seeing her back as Batgirl. While there have been others take up that Mantle, I will always have a soft spot for Babs in the role (due in no small part to my absolute love of the 1966 live action show).

Sadly, Barbara continued to be haunted by the events of The Killing Joke. She would flashback to different parts of the attack, and given the seeming push in other media to imply that sexual assault was part of the Joker’s misdeeds, the flashbacks took on a skeevieness that lingered, as well as stirring up some anger at seeing such a multidimensional character being solely defined by abuse and assault. As the issues of the comic went on, it became less of a factor, but with DC adapting/releasing the story in every medium possible, The Killing Joke was never far from fans’ minds.

New Batgirl

Courtesy of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr, Barbara received another slight reboot/reset in October 2014, to much critical success. Babs was back in college, and a bit more on her own than in the past. She had roommates, and was dependent on thrift stores for her various costume pieces. The costume in particular has resonated with artists, fans, and cosplayers, even causing Dr. Marten boots to completely sell out of Batgirl’s now signature bright yellow boots. The book just felt more “fun” than before, and did its best to connect with fans in the same way Marvel’s Squirrel Girl, Captain Marvel, and Ms. Marvel titles had.

All of that brings us to now and Batgirl #49. It’s revealed in this issue that antagonist The Fugue implanted memories in Barbara’s mind. We’re also shown a panel clearly showing the events of The Killing Joke as part of these fake memories. Considering the stance DC has taken about TKJ in the past this was both huge and unexpected. I know the creative team really pushed for this retcon, and I for one am ECSTATIC that it was allowed. Doing this means Batgirl isn’t solely defined by thinly veiled sexual assault now, which is a hell of a thing. We can only hope this remains the case post DC’s recently announced Rebirth event, which appears to be yet another reboot.

And look, I’m the first to admit an outright hatred of TKJ. Legit. HATRED. If not for the story itself, which even Moore himself has admitted is weak, than for the diehard comics readers who hold it up as a shining example of what comics can and should be. This is the story that lead to my hatred of The Joker as a character, because SO. MANY. WRITERS. just riff on this version of him, or at least use it as the starting point for their “edgy” version of the Joker. It’s why we ended up with the New 52 Joker cutting off, then later stapling back on, his FACE. Shock value is used to cover a lack of imagination or originality.

Add to that fanbros who try and emulate The Joker. You need look no further than the not insignificant number of people who cosplay as The Joker and then use that as an excuse to be horrible human beings, in the name of nihilism, or whatever the latest excuse is that makes them feel cool and edgy. Maybe, you can understand my exasperation with the character a bit more. Comics are so much more than EVIL BAD GUY commits DESPICABLE ACT against HERO and or HERO’S LOVED ONES. There are so many more interesting ways to show how evil a character is without resorting to fridging or sexual assault just for the sake of moving the plot along. It’s lazy writing, and we shouldn’t be rewarding that.

Now that I’ve rambled a bit, I’ll leave you with this: I may have problems with DC and how certain characters are treated, coughManofSteelcoughBatmanvSupermancough but they occasionally get things right. The Killing Joke was never intended to be canon, and they’ve finally taken a step toward fixing their previous mistake. 

Depression is a Motherfucker

As many of you know (since I’ve chosen to share about this in the past), I deal with some moderate to severe depression, to the point of being on meds and seeing a therapist weekly. I’d like to say I’m only suicidal at the worst of times, but unfortunately it’s not singular thoughts or moments, so much as it feels like I have a chatty passenger on a road trip; only instead of normal conversation, it’s a voice telling me to end myself in whatever way seems most convenient at the time. Kinda constantly. 

Thanks to drugs and therapy, I’m able to ignore or at least tune out that voice most of the time, but sometimes a perfect storm type of situation happens and the voice goes from a dull whisper to an overwhelming roar that I can’t. shut. off. This past weekend was one of those times. 

Saturday and Sunday were tough, but manageable. I chalked it up to just being extra tired from getting back to a day job schedule; and tried to distract myself as best as I could. Monday, though, I started to realize I couldn’t handle this occurrence in my own. The whole day at work was me trying to get things done and failing miserably, all the while that fucking passenger telling me to just shut my computer and take a dive out the window I sit near at work. For better or worse, the only thing stopping me was the thought that, “Hey, I’m only 4 stories up, which isn’t high enough to really finish the job.” Morbid I know, but at least it stopped me from giving in. 

When I finally gave up on the day and headed out for the day, the voice decided to switch things up and taunt me to steer the car into oncoming traffic. Again, the only thought I could counter with was, “It’s rush hour, so I’m not really going fast enough to do more than hurt myself.” By the time I got to my therapist, I was a blubbering mess, and she listened wide-eyed and concerned as I relayed the events of the last few days. 

Thankfully, she didn’t immediately send me to inpatient (which stresses me out even more, seeing that I’m a Type I Diabetic, and most nurses work off an antiquated idea of diabetes management ,not knowing what to do with an insulin pump) and instead put me on a few days of my wife keeping a close eye on me at home instead. 

I’m through the worst of it now, and starting to feel like I can handle the outside world without just shutting down. I wish I could say the chatty passenger was gone, but really it’s just back to a whisper in the back of my head, rather than an overwhelming force. We’re gonna tweak some meds, keep a closer eye on things for the next few weeks, and hope that I stay on the upswing. 

I don’t really have a happy ending for you; I’m mostly writing about this publicly because it’s something that’s not discussed enough in general. Everyone knows someone who deals with a form of mental illness, but there’s such a social stigma associated with it that people keep their struggles in the dark. In the spirit of “we’re all in this together”, I choose to be open about my struggles with mental illness to combat those negative associations in some small way.

If you’re feeling suicidal, or dealing with mental illness at all, get help. Talk to a friend or family member about what’s going on. If you’re not comfortable with that, call any one of the numbers listed here. However you do it, whatever way you’re most comfortable, get help. Things may seem hopeless now, but they won’t be that way at forever.

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Civil War Coverage To Bring You…LEGO BATMAN ’66!

LEGO Batman 66 box

Sooooooooooo, I need to take a quick moment away from Civil War coverage, to tell you all about this announcement from LEGO yesterday. Three words: LEGO. BATMAN. ’66! After teasing us with a few levels in Lego Batman 3, LEGO and DC have figured out the requisite contracts and have set a release date sometime March 2016.

LEGO Batman 66 - errything

At first I thought this would be a few different sets, but as you can see in the images above, it’s going to be one absolutely MASSIVE set, letting you build Wayne Manor, including the red Batphone and Shakespeare bust, the Batpoles, key parts of the Batcave like the nuclear pile and various and sundry computers, the Batmobile, the Batcopter, even the Batcycle! And if that’s not enough for you, it will come with minifigures of Bruce and Dick (both in and out of costume), Alfred (yep, the butler gets his own figure!), the Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler, and, of course, Cesar Romero mustache-accurate Joker. Phew. that’s a lot of things to list.

Batman and Robin

The only thing that they’ve missed including for the dedicated Batfan is an Aunt Harriet minifig. I don’t know if there was a likeness rights issue, or maybe they didn’t think anyone would care. Regardless, it by no means invalidates the awesomeness of this set. Now, given everything included in this set, I’m sure you’re dreading the price question as much as I was, so, brace yourself….Ok. You ready? Are you sure? Alright then, here goes; this is going to set you back $269. You read that right, 2 6 9. No decimal points.

Start saving now, March’ll be here before you know it.

Some additional pictures for ya

LEGO Batman 66 - cave closeup LEGO Batman 66 - Batpoles LEGO Batman 66 - alfred

The Road to Civil War 02 – The Amazing Spider-Man 530

Yet another Illuminatti push

Important Note #1: Before I do anything else, I want to point out a slight change to the reading order for this project. When I started this project, I was using the “date released” order that’s in the Marvel Unlimited iPad app. Recently, however, I discovered that Marvel.com has a suggested read order that flows a bit better. I’ll be using that from here on out. To make things easier, I’m going to go back and and number the posts to reflect this. That’ll leave us a small gap temporarily, but it’ll make sense soon.

Important Note #2: (In case you missed it elsewhere, I’m running a GoFundMe campaign to read and review every issue of Marvel Comic’s Civil War crossover event prior to Captain America 3: Civil War hitting theaters the beginning of May. If you like what you read here and want more, or just feel bad I have to read this much JMS and/or Mark Millar, throw me a few bucks, will ya?)

Cover to The Amazing Spider-Man 530Alright, now that the housekeeping is out of the way, on to The Amazing Spider-Man 530, picking up the morning after the end of 529. Peter and Tony are hopping onto Tony’s private jet (naturally) to attend the first, closed hearing about the Superhuman Registration Act (SRA). We also get yet another promo for Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers: Illuminati special, which I’ll be getting to in a few posts. I can’t really fault Marvel for throwing in references to it, as they position the Illuminati as this heretofore unknown cabal of geniuses that will have a lasting effect on the Marvel universe (616, of course, but *spoilers* most of the multiverse as well).

Tony lets Peter know he’s just completed a new version of the Iron Spider costume (you know, the one created less than 24 hours comics time ago). Once the duo is aboard the plane, we learn more about the SRA, including that numerous lawmakers are tacking unrelated items onto the bill (Democracy, everyone!). The most heinous idea here is that the US government promises it can keep the proposed database safe from hackers/supervillains, cause, you know, there’s never been a leak of confidential information before or anything…

It's totally, TOTALLY safe
It’s totally, TOTALLY safe

As Tony and Peter get to their hotel, we discover that even Marvel’s editors can’t agree on the correct course of action. From there, we get our introduction to Iron-Spider 2.0, including now being made of, and i quote, “…Liquid metal nano-fiber that can more or less disappear when not needed” (SCIENCE!). It also has camouflage capabilities now, including stealing Nightcrawler’s ability to blend in with shadows, and the most obvious new addition, 3 “waldoes”; basically, smaller Doc Ock arms.

Only Wolverine gets the "T"
Only Wolverine gets the “T”

Now that the setup is out of the way, we get to the meat of this issue. Tony Stark appears before a rather contentious and combative closed Senate hearing to give his opinion on the SRA. The most interesting thing to note in this issue (and using Marvel’s suggested reading order) is that right now, Tony seems on the fence about the SRA, going so far as to argue against it in Senate chambers. He expresses the opinion that, regardless of the damage caused by costumed heroes in the course of doing their job, they’ve also saved the US at least 47 times, which is worth far more than any damage done in the pursuit of justice.

Peter tries to help Tony out, but due to inexperience in this type of situation, just puts his foot in his mouth and actually makes the Senate’s case stronger. At the end of the day, no matter how much Tony seems to disagree with the Senate’s position, he makes it clear he ultimately serves the US and it’s leadership, and nothing will change that; thus begins his descent into the super-patriot that triggers a Civil War.

FIRE

We end this issue with another display or the Iron-Spider suit’s capabilities, instigated this time by The Titanium Man’s assassination attempt on Tony Stark. Matters are complicated when the Army shows up and opens fire on both villain AND hero. It seems the Senate’s hatred of superhumans has spread quickly.

I gotta hand it to JMS; this issue, I was engaged the whole time. It filled in some bits I had either forgotten or never read before, and painted Tony in a more sympathetic (for now) role than I remembered previously. Some of that can be chalked up to the new and improved reading order I discovered, but not all of it. Tony genuinely seems conflicted after these 2 issues of TASM. Well, at least more conflicted than I remember, and more privately conflicted than we’ll ever see once the full event starts. We also get some more solid Peter Parker action, trying his best but still putting his foot in his mouth.

And that’s another review on the books (Though, by the refactored numbering, this is only the second, so that’ll seem weird later). I’m hoping now that i’m over the latest betrayal of my fleshy meatsack (or as you regular hoo-mans might refer to it, being sick), I can get back to daily posting, and get caught up as well. Thanks for sticking around!

The Road to Civil War 04: Fantastic Four 536

Sue Is Not Playin' Around, Reed

(In case you missed it elsewhere, I’m running a GoFundMe campaign to read and review ever issue of Marvel Comic’s Civil War crossover event prior to Captain America 3: Civil War hitting theaters the beginning of May. If you like what you read here and want more, or just feel bad I have to read this much JMS and/or Mark Millar, throw me a few bucks, will ya?)

Cover of Fantastic Four 536
Cover of Fantastic Four 536

Ahhhh J. Michael Straczynski, my old nemesis, we meet again. There was a time in Marvel Comics’ history that involved him writing everything Mark Millar wasn’t, apparently. Both of these guys will feature heavily in the coming months. Anyway, welcome back to day 2 on The Road to Civil War. Our next stop on the The Road to Civil War is Fantastic Four 536. This cover does it’s job, because I was sucked in as soon as I saw a certain someone’s Doomy metal hand gripping Thor’s hammer. (Remember, this is long before **spoilers** Thor’s arm got torn off and he started rockin’ a metal appendage of his own.)

We start out following what could only be Thor’s aforementioned hammer, flying through space and setting off radar alarms across the country. After blowing off a plane the hammer cuts through, we see it’s explosive landing, and then, **Timey Wimey**, we’re six months in the future (present?) at the Baxter Building. In case you don’t remember, that’s home base for the first family of Marvel Comics, the Fantastic Four.

Reed, obviously just getting back from some clandestine mission, tries to ignore Sue’s inquiries about what happened, but, as you can see in the featured image for this post, Sue is having none of that. Resigned to being sandwichless (for now), Reed spills the details of the meeting he just had with the rest of The Illuminati. There’s a whole issue devoted to them coming up soon, so I won’t go into detail, so for now, I’ll just say the membership comprises Namor, Tony Stark, Black Bolt, The Black Panther, Stephen Strange, and the curiously absent Charles Xavier. Basically, representatives of the major forces and/or players in the Marvel universe.

Illuminati Roll Call

Tying in directly with the final panel from The Amazing Spider-Man 529, Tony Stark/Iron Man presents his comrades with advance notice of The Superhuman Registration act(s), which is what this whole event is about. The Marvel Universe is chock full of costumed peeps running around, answerable to no one, and the American government has decided they’re not gonna have that any more. They demand all superheroes register with the government, using their real, unmasked identities, and become officially sanctioned agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Tony, thinking he has this on lock, declares The Illuminati should come out in favor of this bill, going so far as asking all of them to voluntarily unmask now, ahead of the bill. This further confirms the weird turn Tony takes throughout Civil War, wherein he becomes a pawn of the government to the detriment of basically everyone and everything around him. We don’t really see the full response to Tony’s play, because cross-promotion is magic, but Reed does let slip that, “…There was some disagreement.” (bolding not mine, but in the comic. for once.)

Now, onto the meat of this issue, the FF coming to the rescue of a military base out in Oklahoma somewhere that’s being overrun by Doombots. Pretty quickly though, we discover the onrush of Doombots were a feint to take attention away from Doctor Doom’s real target, and just then a missile comes screaming into frame and destroys every bit of the base, except the central sphere of invisble-ness that Sue was able to throw up quickly.

Reed laments that nothing is salvageable, but the real Doctor Doom comes confidently striding in shedding some new light on the situation for Reed. Doom is always extra smug and egotastical around Reed, and today is no exception. He is convinced that whatever the base was protecting is all he needs to rule the world.

Doom's Ego

It’s here we discover Doom’s true target, Thor’s hammer, which is still in one piece without a single scratch after the missile’s explosion. (C’mon, Marvel, you can’t tease Doom grabbing the hammer on the cover and then not deliver in the issue; that’s just false advertising) 

I hate to kinda repeat myself this early in the game, but much like yesterday, I enjoyed the non-Civil War parts of this book. Sure, the dialogue between The Thing and The Human Torch seems a little off and forced, but I’ve sat through far worse in service of sticking with some characters I truly love.

While I joke above about cross promotion , I can’t really fault Marvel for giving us a taste of The Illuminati here before asking us to pay for the full experience. This is right around the decision to retcon some key moments of Marvel history stretching back to the 70’s as being caused, or sometimes fixed, by this secret cabal of Marvel’s movers and shakers. Including them in an event of this magnitude makes perfect sense as a move to strengthen their reputation.

Coming up tomorrow? More JMS on The Road to Civil War, heading back to Amazing Spider-Man. Thankfully by Friday, we’ll get to the New Avengers: Illuminati special that released around this time, before starting in on Civil War proper on Saturday.