DC Rebirth: A Superfan’s Reactions

10409702_10204602647689225_9151817959937890043_nWe talked to Mike awhile back, and asked him for his take on DC Rebirth, DC’s proclaimed non-reboot, and with almost a year of publishing, and not having announced another reboot, we thought we would catch up with him, and see what the status is of the DCU.

How are you enjoying Rebirth? I’m loving it! The return to pre-Flashpoint DC has been a breath of fresh air.

Has it reinvigorated your interest in DC? It has. I was reading 3 books towards the end of New 52; now I’m up to a dozen.
Does it feel like a reboot? It’s weird, some of the books do feel that way, but some books (like the Superman titles) have embraced the craziness of the New 52, taken what worked and folded it into the pre-Flashpoint continuity.
Screen-Shot-2017-01-23-at-5.24.36-PMHow much of the pre-Reboot continuity is still around? Is it New 52? Post-Convergence? Post-Flashpoint? Combination of all the above? It’s a combination. Like I mentioned with Superman, they folded it in. I think the upcoming Button crossover in Flash and Batman will uncover more of this.
Is it less or more confusing? Less. They’ve done a very good job of informing readers of what’s going on.
Favorite books? I love Detective Comics; it’s my must read. Action, Superman, Batman, Green Lanterns, JLA, Teen Titans, Titans.
Most disappointing books? Justice League has been disappointing; but oddly my favorite moment thus far was the JL/Suicide Squad crossover. Bryan Hitch has been wildly inconsistent. First three arcs: Bad story, great story, mediocre story. 
Why are there so many super-people? Super-Man, Superwoman, Luthor, etc…? Luthor as Superman is gone already and I think it all tied into the importance of Superman in the DCU. They’ve made him relevant again.
(Ed. Note: #somanykryptonians)
Blue-Beetle-Vol-6-Ted-Kord-1Have there been any “wow” moments? The JL/SS crossover was epic; so many good moments there. The recent Superman Reborn crossover was great. But still the best moment for me is still that moment Barry remembers Wally in the Rebirth special.
Where is Blue Beetle? He’s got his own book. But yeah, I want Ted Kord to suit up! 

 

Is Batman still the best? Always! He’s the central character in this summer’s big event Dark Days. (Ed. Note: sigh. Mike missed my snark. Batman is always more interesting when he is flawed, not just a vessel for writers to channel their wet-dreams of Batman being the best onto paper.)

What characters/ ideas are still missing? The JSA, Legion of Super-Heroes. Booster Gold is still MIA, and I expect he’ll be turning up soon. DC has done a much better job of weaving their books together since Rebirth. New 52 felt like it was a line of independent books that rarely crossed over. Rebirth is much more cohesive, but there’s still room to grow. I just recently reread the first 30 or so issues of the 1980’s Suicide Squad run and I’d forgotten how integral the late 80’s run of Suicide Squad was to the DCU. Spinning out of Legends, tied into Millennium and Invasion, it crossed over with JLI, Doom Patrol, Checkmate, Manhunter, Captain Atom, and Firestorm (those last four in the epic, but often under appreciated Janus Directive). Not to mention the revolving door of villains recently apprehended in books like Flash and Batman. Rebirth has brought some of that back, but it hopefully will add more.

What are you looking forward to? The next big event is the Button crossover which will have Batman and Flash uncovering some of the secrets of Rebirth and hopefully discovering the Watchmens’ role in the Rebirth. I’m also psyched we may be seeing the return of the JSA in an upcoming issue of JLA as teased in the JLA Rebirth issue.

In closing: I appreciate Mike’s renewed love of the comics and characters that had been missing from publishing and thus his life for so long. As a Marvel fan, I wish I could say that post-Secret Wars has done the same for me, but thus far, it has not. I think Secret Wars was a better event compared to Convergence, but post event, post-not-reboot, DC is doing a better job and their sales back this up.

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She Can Fly: This Joke isn’t Funny

The Killing Joke has never not been surrounded by controversy. The almost 30 year old graphic novel by infamous author Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland attempted to portray the Joker as a sympathetic character, a man who had one bad day, but, in foil to Batman, it took him over the edge to insanity. Of course, the Joker’s backstory isn’t what made The Killing Joke the buzzword that it has been since its publication in 1988; the crippling, sexualization, and (possibly) implied rape of Batgirl.

But, in the nature of the comics industry, the stand-alone comic was considered a huge success, winning an Eisner, often being referred to as “the greatest Batman story ever told,” and being one of the few comics (of a certain age) that has never gone out of print.

In the original, the physical and sexual violence towards Babs was meant as a motivation for her father, James Gordon; it was the Joker’s tool to break him as a man, and the supposed illustration of Gordon’s moral superiority over both Batman and the Joker. However, in retrospect, Moore denounced the story as “[not] very interesting,” and later directly blamed DC editorial for poor decisions, including what happened to Batgirl, in a 2006 interview with Wizard magazine:

I asked DC if they had any problem with me crippling Barbara Gordon – who was Batgirl at the time – and if I remember, I spoke to Len Wein, who was our editor on the project … [He] said, ‘Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch.’ It was probably one of the areas where they should’ve reined me in, but they didn’t.

So when DC announced in 2015 that they would be producing (what ultimately turned out to be an R-rated) animated feature of The Killing Joke, reaction was mixed. Fans of the original, and of Bruce Timm-produced DC features, were ecstatic, while others were skeptical, considering the subject matter.

Immediately prior to the release of the film, right around the time of San Diego Comic-Con 2016, leaks began to slip out.

First there was a bordering on explicit sex scene between Batgirl and Batman.

This decision was apparently made because the filmmakers felt they needed to have the audience become move invested and Batgirl, and create a “deeper emotional tie” between her and Batman. Instead of a mentoring or student-teacher relationship, instead of a coworker relationship, or a friendship, or even a familial relationship, Batgirl becomes, at best, a sexual object to ultimately motivate the male characters. “It’s her decision to engage in this relationship,” the creators state. However, Batgirl was canonically, and is likely, between 16 and 19 in The Killing Joke, so the sexual nature of her relationship with Batman becomes one of Batman abusing his age, status, and power over her, even unintentionally (also, Batgirl is a fictional character with no actual agency beyond what the writers write her doing). Brian Azzarello even later stated, “The thing about this is that it’s controversial, so we added more controversy.”

At Comic-Con, it was revealed that, after the sex scene, Batman spurns Batgirl, and the film leaves her to pine alone before being shot, kidnapped, and…well, you probably know the story.

Fans at Comic-Con reacted negatively in The Killing Joke film panel, including Bleeding Cool’s Jeremy Konrad shouting his response to the panel saying that Babs was written as a strong female character in the movie (“Yeah, by using sex and then pining for Bruce.”). Brian Azzarello responded in a way that really emphasizes his feelings on the presentation of female characters and fan reaction: “Wanna say that again? Pussy?”

Finally, it was recently revealed that the implicit nature of the Joker’s possible rape of Barbara Gordon is made much less implied, with a scene where a prostitute says the Joker has sex with prostitutes every time he breaks out of Arkham Asylum, but that he did not come visit her after his most recent breakout, saying “maybe he found himself another girl.”

Bruce Timm attempted to refute the assertion that Batgirl is raped by the Joker in an interview with Vulture, saying:

I don’t think that [he raped her], actually. I did not think of it as supporting that. If I had, I probably would have changed the line. I never, ever thought that he actually raped her. Even in my first read of the comic, I never thought that. It just seemed like he shot her and then took her clothes off and took pictures of her to freak out her dad. I never thought that it was anything more than that.

Here’s the thing: Whether he [raped her] or not, it’s still sexual violence. It’s still a horrible thing. So in my own head, I was already self-censoring the moment. Maybe just to make it a little more easier to get through. But it’s still a very horrible, horrible thing.

Honestly, all these snippets of information about The Killing Joke, which was just released digitally, makes me feel like we’re just living through this scene from BoJack Horseman:

Screenwriter Brian Azzarello and co-producers Alan Burnett and Bruce Timm are, at their core, three white guys writing a story about the destruction of a woman; a.k.a. something they have no singular, personal experience with.

That’s what The Killing Joke is at its core: the destruction of a young woman, barely in her prime, and the defacing of her body, her spirit, and her self-identity. It also uses this destruction purely to motivate male characters. Barbara is given no happy ending, no moral resolution.

The Killing Joke did not create Oracle, Oracle came over a year later, and only at the hands of editor and writer Kim Yale and her husband, fellow writer, John Ostrander. Kim Yale was notably disgusted by the treatment of the character Barbara Gordon, and ultimately made it her mission to prevent the character from listing in obscurity by turning her into an even more powerful hero, despite, and also because of, her disability.

I don’t own The Killing Joke–book, film, or memorabilia–and I never will. I won’t see The Killing Joke, and I never was going to, but with the treatment of Batgirl as a secondary character, taking the backseat to the men, in what could have been the story of her power, personal strength, and moral superiority over the Joker, I am verbally denouncing the film. And I’m not alone.

Don’t give The Killing Joke your time. It’s not worth it.

She Can Fly: Don’t Need a Cape to be a Hero

Lois Lane is a hero.

Lois Lane is a hero, all on her own, without the strength of Superman, or the speed of Flash.

Lois Lane is one of the strongest female characters in the DC Universe.

Lois Lane is one of the strongest characters in the DC Universe.

Being a hero isn’t about wearing capes or having super powers. Being a hero is about making hard decisions. Being a hero is about doing the right thing.

Lois Lane, the most enduring female character of superhero comics, should be a character that doesn’t need powers to be powerful. However, editorially speaking, Lois is usually relegated to the sidelines, depending on Superman either as his girlfriend, his wife, or that annoying girl he sometimes pines for. And when she’s not jettisoned to a supporting role, she is often forced into dream and fantasy scenarios where she imagines she will only ever be worthy of Superman’s love if she, too, has super powers and becomes some subsidiary of the Super-brand (“Supergirl,” “Superwoman,” and once, even, “Power Girl”).

But that perspective, that many writers rely on when they have no better ideas for Lois, is wrong. Ultimately, Lois is a character that should be written as smart, aggressive, and tenacious.

Even when the character arcs of Lois make missteps–relegating her to a “dumb broad” trope, focusing her entire character around wanting to marry Superman, trying to pit her against other Superman love interests–the essence of the character (from the beginning) remains the same: a woman who pursued an “atypical” and uncommon career for females in the 1930s (crime reporting); a woman who sought to beat her bumbling coworker to the punch; a woman who put herself in danger to get the story; a woman who wanted to do the right thing.

So, the DC Rebirth pitch of having the dying (New52) Superman give his powers to Lois Lane (so that she may become Superwoman), falls flat. While the creative team on board is a fantastic one, Phil Jimenez and Emanuela Lupacchino, the solicitation for the Superwoman series already seems to boast a plot-line akin to the current Mighty Thor, while pushing Lois to fight female villains (instead of Superman’s classic rogues gallery):

Imbued with the powers of Superman, Lois Lane pledges to use her powers to protect Metropolis as the new Superwoman. The only problem is, Lois’ new powers are killing her, and neither she nor her friend and confidant Lana Lang know what to do about it. Will Lois even survive long enough to find out the deadly secret of ULTRA-WOMAN?

Yes, there are all sorts of Elseworlds and imagined stories where Lois has powers, but DC always seems to revert her to human in the end. Why?

Lois classically represents humanity in Superman stories. The relationship between Clark and Lois is designed to have her as the rock that stabilizes Superman, the thing that epitomizes to him everything that makes humans wonderful. She is a grounding device for an alien that can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes. But Lois Lane is so much more than that. Ultimately, Lois doesn’t need an emblem to show her power.

DC’s Superman: Lois Lane one shot from 2014 (by Marguerite Bennett and artist Emanuela Lupacchino) not only justifies the character staying unpowered, but also exemplified how she can be a hero without putting on spandex. More recently, the young adult Lois Lane novels (Fallout and Double Down) continue the trend of giving Lois the agency to save the day, simply by being curious, intelligent, and pursuing the truth.

Lois Lane fights for the common man, whether by exposing stories, reporting truths, or by simply being a human with her feet on the ground.

Lois Lane doesn’t need a cape to be super.

She already is.

In memoriam Noel Neill.

 

DC Rebirth: A Superfan’s Hopes and Dreams

10409702_10204602647689225_9151817959937890043_nFriend of Zeist, Mike is barely able to sleep, with DC’s non-reboot event Rebirth coming out next week. To refresh everyone’s memory banks, DC has been in a constant state of reboot for most of the 2000s:

  • 2005- Infinite Crisis
  • 2008- Final Crisis
  • 2011- Flashpoint
  • 2015- Convergence

I won’t get into too much analysis and nitpicking and deconstruction of the DC hype, instead, I’d like to hear Mike’s take on things, because he is pretty much the demographic DC is looking to recapture.

  1. Do you think it will be a reboot? I think certain elements will be rebooted, much like New 52 tried to keep elements from the pre-Flashpoint DCU.
  2. Do you care about anything post Flashpoint? I’ve enjoyed a lot of the Batman stuff.  Specifically Batman Eternal and Batman & Robin Eternal.  Justice League hasn’t been bad, but its reliance on the Big 7 has not thrilled me.
  3. Did DC drop the ball post-Covergence, which hinted at the returns for many characters that have been missing in the post-Flashpoint universe? Yes!  If it had carried through some of the pre-Flashpoint elements.
  4. Guesses on who will die? My gut says a Flash.  A Flash has been killed in Crisis and Zero Hour. In addition Flash vanished after Infinite Crisis, and Flashpoint was all the fault of a Flash.
  5. Which characters will return? Again, my gut says a Flash.  A new Flash appeared as a result of Crisis and Barry Allen returned in Final Crisis. Booster Gold and/or Rip Hunter-you can’t have a multiverse threatening Crisis without Booster.  Also Ted Kord Blue Beetle obviously returns as he stars in the new BB book.
  6. Do you think it will last two years? It depends.  If Rebirth turns out to be another DCYou in New52 clothing, no.  DC will implode in less than two years. If Rebirth is indeed a Rebirth along the lines of Green Lantern: Rebirth and Flash: Rebirth, then yes.
  7. Is the commitment to legacy contradictory to the commitment to the “freshness and newness of the New 52.“? Yes.  I think DC has learned its lesson that legacy is the backbone of their comics line.
  8. Any clues on what the Big Secret will be that tackles the very nature of the DC Universe? Someone has been manipulating time since the original Crisis.  
  9. Batman’s mystery? If they’re smart, they tie it back to the letter from Flashpoint Thomas Wayne that Barry Allen delivers to Bruce at the end of Flashpoint.
  10. The new evil? Some new multiverse level threat on the lines of the Time Trapper, Anti-Monitor, Brainiac, etc.

 

Whatever Happened 2: Electric Breakdancing Superheroics

This will likely be the last in our short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

Why is this the last? After this column, it won’t matter anymore. We will have broken the code. AoG Editor Mike and I have been donning the tinfoil caps researching this one. We broke the 52 Issue code of New 52, and we predicted some sort of Convergence type event.

Of course, like any Uri Geller wannabes, we are right sometimes and wrong other times. Battleworld did not end up being Nu-Earth for example. But, you gotta at least try: a defeated Clock King is still right at least twice a day.

Rebirth news has been trickling out, and Mike has every available resource dedicated to compiling this information. #wheresbluebeetle

pantyfiend_logoNot every product launch can be Qwikster or Pantyfiend.com.

Confused? These two products never got off the ground, or were kiboshed pre-launch, or immediately post-launch.

The year is 1986, what the DC Universe needs is a Hispanic, breakdancing superhero.

#relevant

Many look back fondly on the Justice League Detroit era. It sure wasn’t West Coast Avengers. (I don’t recall Del dropping any JL: Detroit lyrics).

dazzlerBut sometimes, ideas need to evolve and change.

Because, the roller-skating superhero isn’t always going to remain relevant.

Tangent: When was Guy Gardner’s haircut ever relevant?


 

Justice_League_of_America's_Vibe_Vol_1_1(Be sure to follow the links for full details!)

Vibe is DC Comics Newest Keystone Series, 2013

So, that didn’t necessarily work out too well.

Going back further, 2009.

Geoff Johns: (…)we want to turn Vibe into a pillar of the DC Universe, just like Green Lantern has become a pillar. Our goal is to elevate the Vibe Universe.

(UPDATE: see comments below, apparently the above was an April Fool’s joke: “VIBE REBIRTH article was a April Fool’s Day gag coordinated across several sites years before Vibe actually came back. The crazy thing is we were right about Geoff Johns involvement! Ha!”)

But, look at the name of that series: Vibe: Rebirth. What event slash non-event is coming up soon? Rebirth.

I figured it out.

The case for:

The power players at DC want to make Vibe relevant.

Rebirth!

Given the speculation that part of the post-Rebirth publishing will be tie-ins to the TV and Cinematic DCUniverses, well, FlashU has Vibe already. OK, it’s not Vibe, but unless they are going the Hank Henshaw as Martian Manhunter route, it has to be Vibe, right?

And of course, Vibe was featured in a Convergence series.

Acotilletta2--Luke_CageThe case against:

Vibe was approaching offensive stereotype upon his launch. He has not necessarily been written well enough to move past this, ala Luke Cage.

George Pérez: Oh, I sincerely say he’s the one character who turned me off the JLA. If nothing else, every character that was introduced was an ethnic stereotype. I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Come on now!” These characters required no thinking at all to write. And being Puerto Rican myself, I found the fact that they could use a Puerto Rican character quite obviously favorable since the one Puerto Rican characters in comic that existed, the White Tiger, is no longer a viable character. But having him be a break dancer! I mean, come on now. It’s like if there were only one black character in all of comics, are you going to make him…

The facts:

Sometimes hype is just that, hype. Sometimes the ending of a TV show can suck, because the buildup is too much, or just out-and-out falsehoods. (Lost? Mad Men?) Sometimes cheese is just cheese.

I know Mike will be thanking me if Vibe is part of Rebirth and Mike’s DC is brought back. And although I have a pretty decent track record of predicting some of this stuff, as of right now, there is no indication Vibe will be featured.

Whatever Happened To… The Rabbit Of Tomorrow

The next in a short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

This week we take look at the lovable lapin, and Earth-C’s writer and artist for the JLA (Just’a Lotta Animals) comic, Rodney Rabbit, a.k.a. CAPTAIN CARROT!

Created by Roy Thomas, Scott Shaw! , and Gerry Conway, Captain Carrot made his first appearance as a preview in the top selling comic at the time, the New Teen Titans, and had a well-loved 20 issue series in the mid 80’s. But are funny animal comics even relevant anymore?

The case for:

–       Captain Carrot (and his Zoo Crew) parodied the DC Comic character roster at the time, telling fun, lighthearted stories that are much in the vein of current DC You titles like Starfire, Gotham Academy, Bizarro, and Bat-Mite.

–      Captain Carrot represented DC’s awareness to the relevancy of funny animal comics being produced for more mature readers, a big comicbook trend in the 80’s.

–       Rodney was a writer and artist at the DC Comics of Earth-C (think of the parody possibilities: Dan Dog-dio, the hounding co-publisher!).

–       He was a star in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, and a clear favorite to draw for many DC artists.

–       Zatanna’s pet rabbit Lucky is actually Rodney’s son.

–       Captain Carrot was a big part of DC’s Final Crisis, even having his own miniseries during the event.

–       He’s a founding member of “Operation Justice Incarnate,” and helps keep the DC Multiverse safe.

–       Is basically Superman, but with the cutest buck-tooth grin. (And his greatest weakness is that his powers run out 24 hours after he chews on a Cosmic Carrot.)

–       Marvel has had recent success with two anthropomorphic animal characters headlining their own series: Howard the Duck and Rocket Raccoon.

–       Wizard Magazine #151 already imagined what a modern retelling of the Zoo Crew might look like:

The case against:

–       His original name (Roger Rabbit) was changed to Rodney partway through his first series in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit from Gary Wolf (and later, Disney), which led to a fair amount of reader confusion.

–       Though he’s sprung up here and there in the DC Universe prior to Convergence and Multiversity, references to Captain Carrot were made mainly as an in-universe joke…

–      Except for that whole Threshold comic, starring Captain K’Rot. Yuck!

 

The fact remains that Captain Carrot starred in both a Convergence series and in the Multiversity miniseries…

And, despite the number of times he popped up in the backgrounds of almost every issue of Convergence, he’s not in the new DC Universe.

It seems unlikely that Captain Carrot or the Zoo Crew would show up in an ongoing series, even with the new, more humorous tone that many DC comics are taking on. Captain Carrot was never a one-off joke like other funny animal superheroes of the 80’s, and he’s had about as many series as Power Girl, Stargirl, or other B-list heroes. The most frustrating thing about DC’s apparent lack of Rodney is the fact that he seemed to be played up as an important character in Convergence, yet his crossover title with Harley Quinn ended up with the clown blatantly killing our hoppy hero. That’s not such a dignified way to go for a rabbit who represented truth, justice, and the Animerican way.

 

She Can Fly: They’re Here, Queer, and Kid Friendly

Media informs, and is informed by, life; but if media presents itself as afraid of something, often, so too will society.

This is why the presentation of LGBTQ+ characters in pop culture is so important. The world perspective is shifting, with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same sex marriage and the increase of queer (and to a lesser extent, trans) characters in prime time television, yet there’s one facet of pop media that seems hesitant to present gay characters at all, let alone in a positive view: kid’s content.

Personal opinions aside, it is so important for kid’s shows and books to include “non-normative” characters, because the landscape of the world is changing. From race to gender to sexuality, presenting diverse characters in all-ages, kid-friendly, and young adult content offers new perspectives and world views to children who may be cloistered in an area that is overwhelmingly homogeneous.

Some argue that gay characters in kid’s media will brainwash children into “becoming gay;” others insist that animation and comics have had a “gay agenda” since the introduction of Spongebob and the Teletubbies in the 90s and early 00s. One pastor even created a “study” in which he insisted that Pokemon cartoons and video games cause a number of individuals born between 1985 and 1999 to become gay (due to the phallic and yonic shapes of the pocket monsters, among other reasons).

In this atmosphere of hysteria and misinformed fear, some comics and cartoons intended for children continue to test the boundaries of what is “acceptable” for children to consume, and do so with grace and aplomb.

Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless introduced one of the first gay characters the really caught my attention. Raven, the eponymous Pirate Princess, likes girls. Raven’s moments in Princeless with Adrien, the main protagonist, are quiet, but significant. Raven dances around the subject, and there’s never a moment where it is stated that she’s a lesbian, but a clear attraction is shown between her and Adrien, with it potentially being mutual. These moments, however quiet, represented a huge shift to me, not only for the comics industry, but for all-ages content in general.

UntitledAnd with Raven now starring in her own comic, the presentation of gay characters is advancing. The Pirate Princess builds on this core of Raven’s character; not just that she’s gay, but also that she’s strong, smart, caring, brash, and obstinate. Raven is a fully realized character, not just some caricature. Young gay women can relate to her both as an adventurous pirate and as a romantic character, who, though confident, is ultimately unable to say the things she wants to to the people she loves. Each issues, Raven grows and matures a little more, and I suspect there will be a time where Raven openly comes out, whether it be to her all-female pirate crew or her pirate king father.

Around the same time Raven was introduced, it was revealed on the fifteen minute Cartoon Network show, Steven Universe, that fan favorite Crystal Gem Garnet was actually a fusion of two Gems who were deeply in love. Much like Marvel’s mutants in the 90’s could be read as an interpretation of the plight of gay individuals (with the Legacy virus seen as analogous to AIDS), Steven Universe uses fusion, the combination of two or more Gems, as a way to comment on the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in today’s society. Fusion represents a deep physical and emotional relationship, and the show handles the gay interpretation of this very literally: “Can you please unfuse?” One character, a reformed villain, asks of Garnet, “you’re making me incredibly uncomfortable.”

(An interesting aside: Gems are also non-binary, meaning they are neither female, nor males, although female pronouns are used almost exclusively to refer to them, something which is essentially addressed within the show itself.)

In the Jem comic, Jerrica’s younger sister, Kimber, is now gay. Everything that was established about her character in the original show, her fun loving attitude, her annoying, little sister personality, and her boy craziness, are there, the only thing that’s changed is that Kimber likes girls, not guys. Kimber’s relationship with Stormer, of the Misfits, is one of the biggest aspects of the comic’s first arc, and promise to continue to be a large part of the story.

Other kid’s content are pushing to be more inclusive: the Shezow cartoon revolves around a boy who becomes a superhero by turning into a girl; Adventure Time has a (not-established-in-the-show) prior romantic relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, the Vampire Queen, which is being toed at in the popular tie-in comics, as well as confirmed in an interview with actor Olivia Olson (and purportedly the show’s creator, Pendleton Ward); but some shows struggle, like Gravity Falls and Clarence, both of which fought to feature romantic, same-sex background characters (and sometime lose that fight).

bunnyinthehallway_by_sadwonderland_by_sadwonderland-d98xu2eWhen I spoke with M. Alice LeGrow, author and artist for a number of all-ages titles released through Action Lab, at New York Comic Con this year, she mentioned that while working on her upcoming series, Toyetica, she had an initial struggle with two male characters who ultimately presented themselves to her as gay. When she brought this up to her editor, looking for advice or guidelines on using gay characters in the comic (which, not even released yet, has already been optioned for dolls, cartoons, and a possible film), their response was “Steven Universe is a thing now. Make them gay. No one cares.”

This sort of positive support, the idea that gay characters are no longer a taboo, is huge.

Comics historically have been afraid of labeling characters, often opting to leave it up to the readers’ discretion to see between the lines (see trans character Sera and her “paramour” relationship with Angela over at Marvel Comics; neither of them has been directly labeled as gay–or, in Sera’s case, trans even–and in interviews, editorial staff remains cagey, at best, when asked up front about the sexuality of characters). Even in the modern landscape, where presenting non-cis, non-hereronormative characters is becoming more and more accepted, only a few characters are actually labeled (Batgirl’s former roommate openly stated she was trans; Iceman is one of the few characters officially labeled as “gay” in the pages of the current Marvel Universe).

When you speak to many members of the queer community, they often emphasize the importance of labels, especially the importance of labels in canon text. It’s wonderful that Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner acknowledge in an interview that Harley Quinn is bisexual (or, at least with Poison Ivy), but the weight of that information is lost on people who don’t read comics interviews. However, if Harley’s sexuality were openly stated within the pages of the comics, that would be entirely different. It effects a much larger (though still small) audience, and opens up the possibility of coverage from bigger news outlets.

The increase of queer characters, especially in kid-friendly media, is amazing, but the next step is to no longer mince words about the sexuality of these characters. One day soon, they’ll be here, queer, kid-friendly, and open about it.

She Can Fly: Forever the First

Captain Marvel, 2018. Wonder Woman, 2017. Elektra, 2005. Catwoman, 2004. Tank Girl, 1995. Supergirl, 1984. Secrets of Isis, 1975-1976. Wonder Woman, 1975-1979. But before all of those women (and many others), there was Batgirl, played by the marvelous Yvonne Craig, who died this week at the age of 78.

Yvonne Craig is a pioneer. One of the first women to play a superheroine on screen, Craig’s Batgirl, who appeared in the last season of the cult classic 1960’s Batman television series, was a far cry from the damsels in distress of superhero-media-past. Instead of helplessly hoping for heroes to save her, Craig’s Barbara Gordon took matters into her own hands; donning cape and cowl to defeat villains just as handily on her own as with Batman and Robin.

Though some posited that the introduction of Batgirl was a desperate attempt by ABC to increase the show’s poor ratings, the character also subverted a number of traditional expectations, as Craig did herself. A trained dancer, the youngest member of her ballet company before she went into film; she did all her own stunts, and played a number of smart, strong, and unusual female characters, including assassins, femme fatals, and a very memorable Orion slave girl, Marta, in classic episode of Star Trek, whose aim was to kill Captain Kirk. She inspired young women and empowered them, being one of the first to prove that women could kick just as much butt as men.

Tripping (or, perhaps, dancing) into acting by accident, she started out as a romantic lead in a variety of films, costarring with a number of popular actors, from Patrick Wayne to Elvis Presley. Then, the opportunity to play Batgirl in a Batman short appeared, and Yvonne Craig was eager to seize the opportunity. In the short, smart librarian Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner Gordon, reveals she has a secret of her own: she has created a Batcave of her very own, and uses it to become her secret, heroic identity Batgirl. In the short, she ultimately defeats the Killer Moth and his henchmen alongside Batman and Robin before leaving them to ponder the mystery of their new cape cohort.

This short, which is sometimes erroneously considered a pilot for a Batgirl tv series, is actually what helped Batman get the funding for its third, and final, season with ABC–although the show is now a cult classic, it was in constant danger of cancellation from the first season. Craig’s Batgirl appeared in all 26 episode of the season and remained enigmatic to the dynamic duo, with only the stalwart butler Alfred aware of her true identity as sweet, strong-minded Babs.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Craig said in an interview with CNN earlier in 2015. “The crew liked one another, the cast liked one another. It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it’s a joy to go to work every day. I got to work with people that I would never have the chance to work with. We had Ethel Merman, I would never have met Milton Berle, I got to work with him, and he was a delight.”

Craig had also stated multiple times that she felt a close kinship with the character of Barbara Gordon, and even expressed displeasure in interviews about DC’s 1988 graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, which included the abuse and paralyzation of Babara at the hands of the Joker.

Creators and fans alike cite seeing Yvonne Craig as Batgirl as an inspiration; “my first real life hero,” Batgirl and Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone said of Craig.

Yvonne Craig wasn’t just an on-screen hero. Off-screen she supported women’s rights, wage equality, and healthcare such as mammograms for women who couldn’t afford them. She even wore the Batgirl costume one last time for a 1972 PSA about equal rights for women:

Craig passed away after a two year long battle with breast cancer, and is survived by her husband, her two sisters, and two nephews. Her family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the cancer research and treatment center, the Angeles Clinic Foundation.
Although Yvonne Craig has passed on, her legacy will forever be remember by budding superheroines everywhere. She is an icon, and her voice, her strength, and her energy will be sorely missed.

 

She Can Fly: Is DC You for You?

DC You. Love it or hate it, it’s DC’s next move in a hit or miss scheme that both of the big two have been following (Marvel Now, All-New Marvel Now, All-New All-Different Marvel Now).

Part of DC You has been a continued, and strengthened, effort in advertising that started with the New 52 and has ranged from merchandising and advertising deals with Target to TV spots and full-page magazine ads. While Marvel has stuck to an overall limited advertising scheme, only really advertising their comics subtly through their parent company Disney, and its ABC subsidiaries, and instead really relying on the sales from their major money-earner: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With the official June release of DC You, DC Comics also released a new ad, primarily marketed through Youtube, trumpeting the virtues of the newest DC Universe:

When I first saw the Youtube cut of this ad, something about it rubbed me the wrong way.

Wonder Woman: “the God of War never looked this fierce.”

Harley Quinn is “cheery,” “deranged,” and her gang of women are all “insane!” (Those darn crazy women.)

Starfire is merely a list of physical descriptions for the “alien Princess,” while Prez has nothing more to offer up than “hashtag this,” which some might interpret as the trivialization of a young woman’s use of social media. Honestly, it seems like Batgirl and Black Canary are the only female characters who aren’t addressed by their gender or appearance in the ad.

References to 2008’s Project Runway winner aside, the ad, as a whole, seems to fall short in trumpeting its female-led books; this is unfortunate, considering DC has maintained a fairly large roster of female-led titles since the New 52 inception. The titles haven’t all been good, but almost any female-led title could be considered positive progress.

Furthermore, if the best DC’s advertising team can offer about Starfire is hot body, green fire, and Key West, Florida, it seems like their missing some buzzwords that are big in describing female leads in pop culture today (think Mad Max: Fury Road or Pitch Perfect).

The ad pretty clearly relies on some outdated concepts of how to “sell” female characters. It’s a positive thing that the female-led titles DC is advertising don’t all fall into one category–DC is offering up female-starring comedy, drama, and action titles–but the way the female characters are being sold seems to be markedly different from the presentation of the male characters.

I’m glad to see that female characters other than Wonder Woman are being more prominently focused in this bout of advertisement, but it’s always a little disheartening when the tactics used to sell their stories are focused more on their looks or their inherent “female-ness” than their character.

She Can Fly: Best Foot Forward

It’s no secret that superhero products are marketed towards women. From “Training to be Batman’s Wife” shirts to the lack of Black Widow action figures in the wave of Age of Ultron merchandise, it often feels like comic companies are specifically marketing against women.

But they aren’t. Or, at least, some of them aren’t.

I ended up buying socks recently at Macy’s. There were two packs of women’s socks being offered; one from Marvel and one from DC. The Marvel pack had socks for Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Captain America. The socks from DC only had logos from the Trinity–Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman–but each sock offered a particular feminizing element: hearts, statements like “Girls Rule” and “Fearless,” and other things that indicated the socks featured the logos not of the male heroes, but their female counterparts (Batgirl and Supergirl).

The same day, I also stopped in at the local Target. I began to notice a pattern: every superhero item Target had for men (shirts, underwear, pajamas) featured only male characters. Everything that Target had from DC Comics for women featured Supergirl, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman or their logos; meanwhile, every item of Marvel merchandise for women featured Cap, Thor, Iron Man, or Spider-Man. No Black Widow. No Scarlet Witch. Not even female counterparts to male heroes. No female characters at all.

And this really bothered me.

Marvel’s roster of female characters feature some of my favorite fictional ladies of all time, and yet they are nowhere to be found on any shirts or socks or underwear. Not even the women who have been on Marvel Cinematic television or movies. Yet, while my favorite DC heroines would be hard to market on clothing, socks, or undergarments (although a Misfit t-shirt would be awesome!–and yet still totally irrelevant what with the new, new DC), DC is still offering female characters on female-geared merchandise. And the female trinity still has yet to be featured in a modern tv show or movie beyond, tenuously, Smallville.

Aside from online specialty shops like Mighty Fine and Her Universe, Marvel merchandise seems to be sending the message “women can’t be heroes, they can just get saved.” Conversely, DC doesn’t offer up much beyond Supergirl, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, picture091 (2)and the occasional Catwoman or Harley Quinn, and much of what is available and marketed for women falls into the same dull, sexist “I only date superheroes” diatribe, but at least they are offering up anything at all.

Being able to access the plethora of heroine and villainess merch online and at cons is great, but not everyone can do that. Stores like Target, Macy’s, and Hot Topic are all over the States, easily accessible, and offer up apparel that the masses know about, can access, and can afford.

The best I can say of DC is, “at least their trying.” But that’s the truth, and it really seems like Marvel isn’t.