You sit down, you write and let the other pieces of this fine tuned machine work their individual magic and then you have a team effort produced comic book. It comes out, and suddenly, it starts with one tweet. "That was offensive" says the condemning tweet, and it's followed by an avalanche of criticism and articles not just condemning the product, but condemning you as a creator and a person.
Suddenly you are caught between this small, yet incredibly vocal, community that is asking either for an apology, resignation, or in some cases both. So you go fine, I'll compromise and apologize, and be careful about what I do next time. So you apologize, and get somewhat forgiven by these people, but now you have a bulls eye on your back. You walk on eggshells and without warning, eight months later, again you managed to somehow offend these same people with something different. You throw your arms up and yet again apologize but now they are not as forgiving. Then you and your team, as well as editors, decide to make the comic completely safe, without any kind of story that may be triggering in any fashion.
So, now your dream project which you had a vision of not only has to be in tune with the vision the company has, but also be in tune with the vision a particular group has for the title, until it no longer is your vision anymore, it's everybody's vision except your own. The title struggles. Readership starts plummeting and yet, somehow it's your fault for "dropping the ball", then the eventual team overhaul comes, or in a worse case scenario, cancellation.
Times are changing, there's no denying that. Comics have gone from a hobby that not many people did or were ashamed to admit that they did, to now being the new mainstream in pop culture. With that comes a whole new focus and set of responsibilities. But, how far should those responsibilities go, especially when the internet provides unprecedented access to publishers and creators like never before?
It's been pretty established that with a bigger spotlight, the more scrutinized something will become, just ask the video game industry, which has gone from kid/family entertainment to a multi-million dollar industry. Video games traditionally have been both a compliment and a competitor for the comic book industry, and they actually share many similarities. But that's a topic for another day. What I want to discuss here is whether or not some comics are becoming a little too safe and overexposed to an extent, and if that is actually doing more harm than good.
Starting with issue number 35, it was an exciting, fresh, hipper new take on Batgirl. She was basically deaged to being a college student and a complete overhaul of her costume and general character traits. This was received with much excitement from mainstream outlets and newer fans as well, while in a way, isolating the older fans and readers that were behind this title up to Simone's run.
"Why not just bring back Stephanie Brown?" many of these fans asked in reference to the Batgirl of the pre-New 52 era of DC Comics (for those who do not know what New 52 and pre-New 52 DC Comics is, basically in 2012 DC Comics decided to wipe out the continuity of all it's titles and started everything from scratch again, resulting in a new continuity in an effort to bring in new readers), and that became what was the first in a series of polarizing debates over the comic.
Some fans claimed that this new Barbara Gordon was too "hipster", and that it was dumbed down from the Barbara they knew, while the new readers praised it for it's new outlook and growing out of the tragic past the character had. Both sides had valid points, but like always in a business, the final word is always dictated by sales. Batgirl was starting to climb up the charts and even before the official release of issue 35, the new design already had spawned various fanarts from the online community. DC Comics had a good hit on their hands, and with the more appealing look started branching out to other places such as library posters done specifically for the purpose of getting teenagers and kids to read. There were even talks about "Batgirling" characters, in other words giving the same aesthetics of the current Batgirl to other characters in the DCU. So despite of the small division in the fandom, Batgirl was on the up and up. Until issue 37 came out.
"How can she be surprised, it's so transgenderphobic!" "Comics was my safe-zone until this issue." "She should know better, her roommate in the Simone run was a transgender!" "I had hopes for this title and it's been dashed." And so went on the comments and articles over one panel.
But what amused me personally, was the comments by people who didn't even read the comic, but strangely enough, were the most vocal in their opinions than the average fan.
"I haven't read comics in years, but I knew this would happen!" "I haven't read Batgirl since the seventies, but I feel disappointed in this run." "I don't read comics but I just knew this was going to happen because it's comics." And what's interests me the most, it was mostly straight women and straight males that were so vocal about this. It makes me wonder if this was in a way the same as with Speedy Gonzalez and WB. For a while WB actually banned Speedy Gonzalez because people found him an offensive stereotype of Mexicans. Until that ban was revoked by, well, Mexicans that weren't offended at all by the character and wanted him back. It was a large group of people speaking FOR a minority without really even considering what they themselves thought.
In any event, twitter went into a frenzy yet again, this time making the hashtag #changethecover and even insulting and threatening artist Albuquerque. In this instance, Albuquerque himself addressed the issue by publicly apologizing and asking DC to pull the cover, which they did. And on top of that, writer Cameron Stewart, like Pontius Pilate, washed his hands of this controversy and pinned everything on Albuquerque, stating that he did not know of this cover, and that he does not want to have this cover printed because it did not represent his run on Batgirl despite this just being a variant cover.
The comments and articles echoed those of the transgenderphobia , except there were some startling misinformation. The best way to make an overview of the misinformation done either out of ignorance or just to downright lie to prove their point, I'm going to paraphrase what a prominent twitter/youtube personality said in a debate about this cover and whether or not it was offensive:
"This cover is based on the story Death of the Family where Batgirl was raped, beaten up, and shot by the Joker." When the moderator asks "wait, Death of the Family...?", she apologizes and says "oh, I'm sorry, I meant A Death in the Family, they just sound so familiar!"
The story was Killing Joke. Barbara Gordon was not raped. Joker didn't even know that Barbara was Batgirl, he did it to get at Commissioner Gordon as a way to get at Batman. Death of the Family was the story by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo which dealt the Joker trying to kill the extended family of Batman because he loves him and wanted him to become the Batman that did not depend on the other characters. A Death in the Family is a story by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo where the Joker beats up the Jason Todd version of Robin and then blows him and his mother to pieces after a telephone poll decided that Jason Todd should die in this story.
There was a debate about whether this cover was appropriate for the series which had a lighter tone, and a case can somewhat be made here about that point. But on the other hand, this was a variant cover, simply meaning that people that didn't like this cover could simply by the standard cover and not even bat an eyelash to this collector's specific special cover.
After the cover controversy, the image went more viral than if it had been left alone, and as I mentioned, Batgirl stories became increasingly safer. But after all that and after the Convergence event by DC, DC released the first title that got the "Batgirl" overhaul.
Written by Batgirl co-writer Brendan Fletcher and artist Annie Wu, Black Canary #1 debuted with a younger Black Canary who is also the lead singer of a rock band. And so far, sales have been less than stellar.
As a matter of fact, the Batgirl title itself has been going down the charts rapidly. Controversies have certainly taken it's toll, but one of the main reasons people that stood behind Batgirl have started a backlash on the title because they find this safer Batgirl bland and boring now.
And as a result, the new readers that had tuned in are now abandoning the book. To the extent that there are rumors that DC editors now put a full halt on the "Batgirling" of other properties after the misfire Black Canary has been and with Batgirl now struggling to find an audience. Why did this happen? Was it the controversy? Was it the evolution of the character becoming more and more safe? Maybe it was both.
In my opinion, this is why when a comic, or any property really, starts turning TOO safe, the property just becomes uninteresting. An all ages property does not have to be safe all the time, because then you don't care the same way for the characters, because you don't feel any sense of danger happening to them, you know for a fact that everything will turn out all right.
Look at all the Disney movies for example, all ages, but sometimes it has some REAL dark elements in them and a sense of danger for the characters. As a result the character arcs are more interesting and it makes you root for them and celebrate when a character finally overcomes an obstacle that seemed insurmountable. It becomes memorable. It becomes profitable. My problem with how Batgirl eventually turned out is that it played to a certain group of an audience that didn't even read the book to begin with and turned into something that is caught in the middle: it wants to be all-ages but appeal to the older readers and somehow please everybody at the same time, that it stopped taking chances.
How will this affect the title going forward? Only time will tell. In the second part of this short series of blogs, I'll write about overexposure and finally go into detail on why I personally do not like Spider-Gwen as an ongoing character. Until next time, thank you for reading and see you next time!