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Dick and Babs :)
No ship bashing is going on here (obviously), it’s just that I got carried away and wrote too much. Brace yourselves :|
This is all good but I do want to step in and say that in the original canon, Babs was 7 years older than Dick. This was made pretty darn explicit:
(Batman Family #7)
(Batman Family #10. Dick was in Hudson University at this time, so he was around 18 to Barbara’s 25 - which fits perfectly with the 7-year age difference mentioned in the last scene.)
Fans (and early shippers!) even commented on this at the time:
(For the record, while I agree with Mr. (or Ms.?) Rivera in sentiment, I would point out that while 18 may technically be of legal age, a relationship between a teenager and someone significantly older is often problematic, regardless of gender.)
So you can accept whatever canon you like about their age difference (DC’s certainly changed their story plenty over the years), but you can’t really come along and say “Babs was 17 when she became Batgirl and anyone who doesn’t think so is wrong”, because that wasn’t the original canon and it wouldn’t become the canon until decades later. Per the original canon, Babs was old enough to already have a PhD when she became Batgirl:
That’s from Detective Comics #359, the issue that introduced Babs to the world. In fact, those are the very first panels she appears in in her civilian identity. And one of the very first facts that the story goes out of its way to establish about her is that she has a PhD and graduated summa cum laude (with the highest honors).
Bear in mind that this was the sixties. The women’s lib movement was in full swing. Women around the world were fighting to break glass ceilings in education and careers. Barbara was officially conceived of and promoted as the new, feminist Batgirl (as opposed to Betty and Kathy Kane). If you don’t think her degree of education was part of that, I think you’re missing a big part of the picture here. Barbara’s PhD was a symbol of her power and intelligence, just like the fact that she later became a Congresswoman.
And the fact that DC felt the need to de-age her over the years, until in later versions of her backstory she’s too young to have had a PhD when she became Batgirl (although I’d point out that even in Batgirl: Year One, she’s already graduated from college early, not high school. That’s why she’s thinking of applying to police academy. Read the book’s Wikipedia entry, for example), too young to have been a Congresswoman in her Batgirl years, and so DC just retconned these elements right out of her backstory… well, that says something pretty un-empowering, IMO. Especially when you consider that Barbara’s romantic relationship with Dick, and the idea that people would be put off by having her be too much older than him, may well have played a role in the change. I’ll give DC the benefit of the doubt and say maybe they were just trying to appeal to a younger audience, and thought books like Batgirl: Year One would sell better with a teenage protagonist. But the implications there aren’t so great, either.
But back to the original canon. Regardless of which origin story you’re going by, you’re definitely right that Dick was a teenager and not a child when Babs became Batgirl. How old exactly? Unclear. Old enough to have already founded the Teen Titans a while back (the Titans were officially formed in 1965, Babs debuted in ‘67). Also old enough that it wouldn’t be too long before he headed off to college (which happened in Batman #217, published in 1969). But still young enough that he was drawn as significantly shorter than Babs:
(Detective Comics #359)
So… my best guess would be that Dick’s around sixteen here, and that him heading off to college was around a year later in comic-time. According to the seven-year age difference established in the Batman Family era, that makes Babs around 23. Which is a bit young to already have a PhD, but we can just accept that maybe she skipped some grades in this version of canon as well. ;-)
Sorry to be going on and on about this, but the thing is, I’m one of those people who actually likes Dick and Barbara’s original age difference. I like Babs having been a bit older and more mature (and do bear in mind, 23 is still not old) as Batgirl. I like her already having been highly educated. I like the element it brings to Dick’s unrequited crush on her back in his Robin days - it makes sense to me that as someone who was dealing with some very adult issues at a young age and had to grow up fast, Dick would have felt drawn towards someone older. It also makes sense that Babs, although thinking he was cute, wouldn’t have been interested in a teenager. (The fact that my own first crush was on someone older probably also factors into why I like this version of canon so much, I admit!) And I also like the element it bring to their adult relationship - even today, it’s still common to see younger women paired up with older men but pretty rare to see the reverse (especially without obnoxious “cougar” comments). And it’s not like seven years would have been a problematic age difference once they were in their twenties-thirties (which is when they actually became a couple, as you rightly point out).
So, IDK, I actually really like the original canon here, and I don’t think there was any good reason for DC to change it. And you can absolutely think differently, but the point is that people who canon Babs as being significantly older than Dick aren’t actually wrong.
Under the cut because this is long, by the way, it’s a DickBabs moment, but not a particularly happy one, so warnings there, but anyone who is knowledgable about Babs and Dick’s relationship, I’d like your opinion on whether it was OOC of Dick or not.
Devin Grayson, for some reason, LOVES to write Dick as callously oblivious and Babs as perpetually annoyed. To me, that characterization of Dick reached its absolute point of unbelievability in this scene, from Nightwing #85:
Okay, first of all, I have issues with the way Babs is characterized here too, but that’s an entirely separate post.
But Dick, just… no. Babs basically never voices that kind of naked insecurity over her disability, and whether you consider it in-character for her here or not, there’s no doubt that if she did, Dick would immediately take notice and respond appropriately to reassure her. The way he brushes her off here is so cruelly insensitive to her feelings, it just makes me wince.
I mean, just compare that to how well he reads and responds to her insecurities in Nightwing #38 (written by Chuck Dixon), for example:
Now, Dick’s not perfect, and it’s certainly plausible that he could be too distracted or overworked/tired to read Barbara’s (or anyone else’s) mood correctly every once in a while. It’s also perfectly plausible that this could lead to him being accidentally insensitive now and then. I can also see him realizing Babs was in a bad mood and thinking being silly would cheer her up, but having it misfire.
But Dick is, as a rule, a pretty sensitive guy, and he’s good at reading people. Especially someone he’s as close to as Babs. Unless there was something pretty major distracting him, he’d likely realize his mistake pretty quickly in either of those situations, switch into serious mode, and talk things out properly with her. The way Devin Grayson just writes him as obliviously trampling all over Barbara’s feelings all the time often feels false to me.
The fact is, the way Devin Grayson writes their relationship, you almost feel like Dick doesn’t really understand Babs (however well he might think he does), and Babs may love Dick but she doesn’t really like him all that much. Neither of which is the way I see their relationship, nor the way other writers have portrayed it.
What’s particularly frustrating about Devin Grayson’s writing is that she’ll get it so completely right one moment, and then so utterly wrong the next. She’s a good (if problematic) writer, and her characterization can be wonderfully spot-on at times. But issues like this keep me from really appreciating the way she writes Dick and Babs.
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