THE WRIGHT STUFF #2: Sexism and Ableism
I’d like to discuss two comics characters whose revamps exemplify two ISMs…
Amanda Waller made her first appearance in the DC mini-series Legends #1, in 1986. Amanda was a unique character to comics. She was at once an antagonist and a protagonist. She was a fierce, strong, take-no-prisoners kind of person who wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with Batman himself (something even Superman would be cautious to do). Amanda was also obese, older, plain, and black. Qualities we had never seen in one individual in comics. She was a ruthless leader of a covert organization that used super criminals to perform black ops missions using death as motivation for co-operation. Some twenty-six years later, The New 52 happened, and Amanda was now younger, thinner, and more “attractive”. I should qualify that by “attractive” I mean by Hollywood’s and societal standards, not my own. So there goes the only older, woman of colour who was overweight and powerful all of comics existence. Why? Because DC/Time Warner wanted a more “glamourous” character they could portray on the big screen and the little screen. Never mind that there are actresses like Patricia Belcher who would’ve made the PERFECT Amanda Waller. I’ve heard people say C.C.H. Pounder would’ve made a good Waller, but personally, I think C.C.H. is still a little too thin and “attractive” for the role. So DC in its infinite wisdom decides to “pretty up” one of the few realistic characters in their plethora of properties. To me, this screams of sexism, and ageism. Whether it was intentional or not, the message DC is sending out is: “no one wants to look at a fat, old, black woman”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those annoying comics fans who wants everything to stay exactly the same as when they started reading comics. I believe comics need to adapt with the times. However, when you “clean house” you don’t just throw out everything with dust on it. You work with what you have. Sure, some things are completely worn out and need to be replaced, and some things are tatty and need some recovering, but you DO have things you’re proud of a they only need some light dusting. Amanda Waller and Barbara Gordon/Oracle were characters that DC SHOULD have been proud of and just dusted them off. Instead, they were tossed in the garbage and replaced with cheap knock-offs. By making these characters just like every other female in their portfolio DC has displayed blatant “looksist” sexism with Amanda Waller (to say nothing of the ageism) and with Barbara Gordon they have shown us how little regard they have for the disabled. DC has recently opened their universe up with multiple earths again, I can only hope on one of those earths there’s a fat, old Amanda Waller and an Oracle still in her wheelchair.In 1967 Barbara Gordon made her “Million Dollar Debut” in Detective Comics #359 as Batgirl. Not the first girl with a “bat” in her name, but this one seemed more interested in pursuing crimefighting than being a romantic interest for a crimefighter, as her hyphenated predecessor Bat-Girl was. In the comics Batgirl was a bit more equal with her fists than her TV counterpart, though she did have storylines where she used make-up to defeat criminals, and refused to fight because she had a broken heel on her batboot. Women were still “the weaker sex” to a lot of men in that era. As the times changed, Barbara went from meek Librarian to Congresswoman; a more powerful position for a more powerful woman. Batgirl evolved from being a counterpart to Robin, the sidekick, to an equal to Batman. Then in 1988, “The Killing Joke” graphic novel happened. Barbara was assaulted by the Joker and left paralyzed. I have to admit, that storyline infuriated me. I had grown to love Barbara over the years and felt having the Joker do that to her somehow took away all the strength she had shown in the past. However, in 1989 were introduced to a mysterious hacker was the go-to person for all of DC’s heroes for information, calling themself: Oracle.
Oracle was revealed to be Barbara Gordon. Showing her inner strength once again. Barbara wasn’t going to let trading legs for wheels get in her way to fight crime. So good was Barbara, that even Batman himself could not figure out who Oracle was at first. Oracle soon formed a partnership with Black Canary and a team called: “Birds of Prey”. Birds of Prey had several mini-series, and three volumes of ongoing series (the first volume ran a respectable 127 issues). Then, The New 52 happen. Like Amanda Waller, the things that helped to make her unique in a world of cardboard cut-out, caped crusaders clad in clingy clothing was taken away. Barbara could now walk again. Not only was Barbara no longer Oracle, but the character of Wendy Harris (who was also in a wheelchair and being groomed as a protege) no longer seemed to exist to replace Barbara in the role. So not only was one disabled character magically returned to the status quo, but another disabled person was completely wiped from continuity. Don’t want those disabled people cluttering up your pretty little world DC? Maybe not, but THAT IS how it felt to the disabled community. A slap across the face with Barbara and then the back of the hand with Wendy. The infuriating irony of all this is, that there have been two people take the mantle of Batgirl since Barbara became Oracle. The last one, Stephanie Brown, was high school aged and clad in a purple and black costume. So what do the geniuses at DC decide to do? De-age Barbara to Stephanie’s age and give her a new costume that is (you guessed it) purple and black.