Monday 4 September 2017

Joss Whedon, Barbara Gordon and DC's trauma fetish

So apparently Joss Whedon wants to use his Batgirl movie to “explore the damage” that made her become a vigilante. I kind of wanted to set out a reasoned and calm counterpoint to this but it just sort of came out as a rant so here we go!
No. No no no no no. We do not need this. The DCEU does not need this. No one needs Barbara Gordon of all characters reduced to another showcase of trauma fetish like Batman has been stuck as for seven decades and counting.

You want the story of why Barbara put on the suit? Here's a quick run down of the best version there ever was: she was too shirt to be a cop. Her father was a cop and as a kid she wanted to be a cop, she saw it as the noblest form of public service and public service was what she wanted to do with her life. Unfortunately, she didn't meet the GCPD's physical requirements even though she was more than academically qualified.
Then one day she does to a costume party, a big political thing her father had been invited to, and she's sort of pissed with her dad over something and she wants to show him up a bit. Her big plan for needling her father? She makes her own Batman costume and she's going to turn up to this party, the daughter of the police commissioner dressed up as the police department's dirty little secret.

And then someone takes the party hostage and its just her in a Batman costume and she's really smart and has enough bsic self-defence to get by and she manages to rescue everyone but before she can tell her dad who she is everyone is taking pictures of “the Batgirl” and suddenly there's a new vigilante in Gotham. She sees her way into public service, a way to do right when the official channels of law and order don't want her, she decides she'll become the Batgirl for real. She tries things, screws up, takes advice here and there, meets Dick and starts the whole on-off relationship thing, and over time she earns enough respect from Batman that she becomes the first costume in Gotham he “allows” to operate in the city outside of his immediate operation (a cool tradition of the female Gotham heroes is that, Cass Cain aside, they tend to be independent operators outside of Bruce's strict control).

Its as simple as that. There's no great damage or trauma there. Barbara Gordon wanted to do good and the Bat allowed her to do that when doing it the socially acceptable way wasn't possible. That's Barbara's story. For that matter, its Kate Kane's story, too. Not every superhero needs to be wedded to GRAND SUFFERING and ETERNAL TRAUMA just because untreated mental illness is the only motivating factor that seems to work for DC's marketing people.

Its not like Barbara is without pain or eternal conflict. Depending on the version you're reading she blames herself for Jason Bard's shooting and the end of his GCPD career; the end of her relationship with Dick is a source of eternal mixed feelings; and, to be frank, being the daughter of the police commissioner and a vigilante is one hell of a line to walk and you're going to end up with issues. The thing is that this doesn't totally define her the way the death of his parents defines Bruce or her cashiering from the military defines Kate's journey to the costume. Even when she loses the use of her legs and becomes Oracle that trauma does not define her. Its ever-present, as it should be, but again it isn't her soul motivating factor.

One might almost call her very varied set of emotions and motivations... complex? As if she were, to coin a phrase DC seems to not be aware of, a “complex character”?

Just a thought. 

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