Val and I were waiting for the release of Batwoman #1, a book that fans had been expecting for years. Batwoman, aka Kate Kane, is a crimefighter in Gotham City. She is strong-willed and stubborn, great eclectic fashion sense, Jewish, formerly a cadet at the United States Military Academy who was forced to withdraw as a result of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Unable to serve her country because she is openly gay, she instead looked to the Bat symbol as a new banner under which to serve.
She's a great character. She has depth.
She's the reason Val and I really started following comics together, and the root of our shared fandom. Our interest cemented when she had a very good run in Detective Comics, DC's flagship title, which had a co-feature for another favorite of ours, the current Question, Renee Montoya, a former Gotham detective and also Kate's ex. Both features were written by Greg Rucka, a talented writer who deserves a lot of the credit for the development of both these characters. Kate's storyline featured Captain Maggie Sawyer, formerly of Superman comics and the cop drama Gotham Central, a stage which she shared with Renee. Maggie played a critical role in Renee's coming out storyline as she, too, is an openly gay character.
So, the news came that Kate was getting her own ongoing series. It was due for February of this year. Then it was delayed because of artistic reasons. If you know the art I'm talking about, you know it's well worth the wait. So it was pushed back to April.
Meanwhile, my interest was gaining traction in other titles, most notably written by Gail Simone, a creator with a reputation for good storytelling and diverse representation. I started reading Secret Six, which featured two lesbian villains in a well-written, honest relationship. And truly, the entire cast was amazing. And the plots. And the interaction--villains as friends is such a fun trope. I swear, I have yet to find a storyline where they don't all somehow end up in their underwear or pajamas, stabbing each other.
I also fell in love with Birds of Prey, a team of female superheroes, and started devouring back-issues. Also written by Simone, Chuck Dixon, and others, this long-running title received, at times, some flak for its artwork, but the stories? The stories of friendship between these women are unparalleled, and the individual character development is amazing. Renee Montoya was also recently in this book.
So in a medium known for straight white male characters, as far as representation (characters like us, and those we related to) went, we had it pretty good.
This is where I was reconnected with a character I knew only in childhood from cartoons. She is my favorite, the one: Barbara Gordon, aka Oracle. Babs uses a wheelchair as a result of being shot in the spine by the Joker, and through decades of stories she has emerged as one of the best heroines of any medium, ever. She is super-intelligent, ambitious, driven. She quietly, secretly, built an extended information network and an empire that spanned the techno-globe. She is one of the matriarchs of the DC universe, and by popular vote the most kick-ass woman in DC comics.
She also was best friends with Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary. They were partners, they were friends. They loved each other. It was a deep and heartfelt and meaningful relationship, as right and true as anything Sam and Frodo ever had.
So I was content to wait for Batwoman while I immersed myself in these other collections.
Then April hit, and once again, all of us fans were looking forward to Batwoman #1. Only, it was delayed again. But this time they didn't say why.
And then it became clear. DC had delayed the book because it was rebooting its entire line-up. Using the crossover event "Flashpoint" as an excuse to warp their space-time continuum, they were revamping some elements, continuing others, and trying to chase some elusive element to make them fresh and new, to appeal to new readers and broaden their demographic, and to cement their commitment to diversity.
Commitment to diversity. Remember that phrase. We'll get back around to it.
They made this announcement but we had to wait to understand what it meant. Over the course of weeks, we would hear news as it was released and while I'm sure many people at DC smiled and patted themselves on the back, many fans felt their hearts sink.
Some of the major changes:
1. The Wildstorm imprint is done, and characters from titles such as The Authority were being incorporated into the DCU.
2. Superman gets an overhaul. They're taking him back to his beginning, where he's an outsider, where he isn't married to Lois Lane. Superman is a bachelor now. The Flash is also a bachelor, his marriage dissolved. Apparently a committed relationship isn't exciting enough for some editors.
3. Barbara Gordon is losing twenty years of life, will walk again, and will be once again Batgirl. The shooting that paralyzed her will remain in continuity, but she spent three years "recovering" until a "miracle" allowed her to walk again. Her history with Birds of Prey never happened.
3a. This also means that the Birds of Prey, the preeminent female team, will fundamentally change, and the relationship of Barbara and Dinah is erased.
3b. This also means that the careers of Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, the second and third Batgirls, are erased.
3c. Which means that the Batgirl book featuring Steph, written by Bryan Q. Miller, arguably one of the best books around, is done. This title, incidentally, featured Oracle helping guide the path of Wendy Harris, aka Proxy, another paraplegic hero.
3d. With Barbara walking again and Proxy gone, DC's disabled superhero community has fallen away. This matters.
If you read no other link, read this article by Jill Pantozzi on why it matters.
4. Secret Six is cancelled.
5. Renee Montoya is no longer the Question. She has been regressed to a police detective, though her role is unclear. Maggie Sawyer has also been demoted to detective.
6. Wonder Woman is, once again, hitting the reset button. Fans hold their breath, hoping that this time, it will stick, and that this time, they'll get the character right.
7. But don't worry, they didn't touch Batman. He's fine.
I suppose the inherent problem of these immense, interwoven, shared-universe story worlds is that they're not infinitely sustainable. It needs to be shaken up from time to time, because some marketing executives think sensationalism is a good sell, and because it provides a clear starting point for new fans and new potential customers.
And yet I'm left wondering: what about my heroes?
Because for me , it feels as though DC's executives spot-targeted everything I loved, the characters that resonated with me, the passion I had as a fan. It was a blow. It was such a blow that I delayed writing this all summer, trying to figure out how to articulate just exactly how much this hurt:
Batwoman, at least, is still in the line-up.
This past Wednesday was the final of four new release dates. Now that all of the New 52's titles are out in the world, I'll take a look at some of them in Part 2.