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So usually we’re all about jokes here, but guys, we have to talk about Issue 8, aka “Dick Grayson shows Babs she could be pretty again if she’d just trust a man to help her.”
Fuck, this issue pisses me off. So here’s the first thing you see:
Black Canary’s art deserves a post all to itself, but for anyone who got their dicks out for another Playmate-traced jerkfest, sorry! This issue is about a woman in a wheelchair.
This is what disabled women wear on dates, right? Baggy olive drab sweatshirts?
Oh, and khakis.
This has been driving me crazy for eight issues. We talk a lot about how women are sexualized in comics, and Black Canary definitely runs around contorting herself into improbable positions. But isn’t it equally problematic that Oracle is pictured in ratty sweats most of the time?
Anyway, Babs and Dick get to talking about their demons, and Babs is all:
Dick’s like, “Yeah, I get it, you SAY you’re fine, but lemme mansplain about how you can’t possibly be happy in a wheelchair.”
"Man, you’re right, Dick, my life IS unfulfilling! That’s why they put me in an XXL sweatshirt instead of spandex! It’s a metaphor."
Incidentally, to drive the point home, we get a shot of a clearly Playmate-inspired (or traced) pre-wheelchair Batgirl.
"I mean, before your spinal cord got severed you could practically touch your hips to your boobs!"
So, anyway, Dick “Amazing Grace” Grayson decides to teach Babs how to be sexy again, by LEAVING HER DANGLING THIRTY FEET IN THE AIR WITHOUT WARNING OR CONSENT.
But it’s okay, Babs! All you have to do to get down is admit he’s right!
So of course, he gets smooches.
But once they’re back on the ground, for SOME REASON she doesn’t want to date him!
"Right, so, I’ll just keep pushing, then. You’ll let me in eventually, and it’ll be so worth it when you’re sexy again!"
So, to review. Black Canary:
Barbara Gordon on her own:
Barbara Gordon when she turns herself over to Dick “It’s How You Use It” Grayson:
I need another fucking drink.
You make a good point about the way Oracle is de-sexualized vs. the sexualization of regularly-abled women, but I would point out that “This is what disabled women wear on dates, right?” isn’t really a valid argument when Babs and Dick both clearly say that this isn’t a date:
The issue of them potentially dating is brought up in this issue, but this in itself is not a date. No reason Babs should get dressed up just to see a friend. If you wanted to really (over)analyze it, you could actually argue that, since she seems to want to make very sure that Dick knows they’re just doing this as friends, maybe she purposely didn’t get dressed up to make sure he got the message. But that could just be me reading too much into things.
That doesn’t negate your larger point, which I think is a true one, that Babs as Oracle tends to be de-sexualized because of her disability while other women in comics are sexualized. But it is worth noting that saying Babs’ outfit doesn’t make sense for someone on a date is kind of meaningless when she isn’t on a date.
So, let’s get to the content of the issue.
First of all, Dick is not “showing Babs she could be pretty again”? The issue of her looks is literally never brought up in the issue? I get that you’re being sarcastic to make a point, I really do, but you’re also seriously misrepresenting what the issue is about.
More on that later.
Let’s talk about Dick asking Babs what she misses most.
I really do understand why people see that as problematic, and if you only look at it in the context of what Babs says in the panel right before it, it certainly does sound like Dick hasn’t been listening to a word she’s saying. She says she’s happy in her new life and his response is to ask what she misses most? WTF is wrong with that guy, right?
But if you look at it in the larger context of what Babs says on the page right before that (the page your image of Batgirl comes from), it makes a lot more sense:
Look at what Babs says here: “I remember that night every time I answer the door. And I think about what was taken from me.”
Here’s the thing: This in no way contradicts what she says later about being happy in her new life. Babs can be happy and fulfilled in her role as Oracle (as she herself says, maybe even more than she was in the life she had before), but she can still feel there are things she’s lost, and rightly be angry about that.
There’s a reason Dick says he’s been listening to every word Babs said. He heard the part about how she’s happy in her new life, sure enough, but he also heard the part right before that, where she talks about what was taken from her, and that’s why he says what he does. He’s not contradicting her or “mansplaining” anything - he’s actually directly responding to something she said before.
Babs has moved on, and she is happy in her new life as Oracle, but at this stage in the game she’s also still got a lot of anger and bitterness over what happened (understandably so), and Dick’s perceptive enough to see that. The reason he asks her what she misses most - and then proceeds to show her it’s an experience she can still have - is that he’s trying to show her there are some things which she feels she’s lost which haven’t really been taken from her after all.
I think a lot of people see this issue as Dick trying to focus on the past, but it’s really about the future. That feeling of flying Babs loved? The one she thought she couldn’t have in her new life? That’s an experience she can still have. You could speculate on the larger meaning of what the flying symbolizes, but at its most basic I think it’s meant to encapsulate the things Babs feels were “taken from her”. Obviously, there are some things - like the ability to walk - that she’s never getting back, plain and simple, but there are other things she feels she’s lost that Dick is trying to tell her can, in fact, still be a part of her life.
Far from trying to tell her that she “can’t possibly be happy in a wheelchair”, Dick is actually trying to show Babs that her new life doesn’t need to be as limited as she thinks it does.
And once you look at it in that light, the scene where he gets her to do the jump (or whatever you want to call it) by herself makes a lot more sense. It’s very, very significant that he tells her not just that she has to trust him, but that she has to trust herself. Again, it’s about showing her the possibilities in her new life, the amazing things she’s still capable of doing, the experiences she can still have. That’s not to say there weren’t things Babs was already loving in her new life, but there were also things she felt she’d lost. And that scene is her realizing that some of those things haven’t been lost after all:
Look how happy she looks when she says “I do, don’t I?” Again, it’s because she’s realizing what she’s still capable of, realizing that there are things she thought she’d lost which can still be a part of her life.
Some final thoughts:
Okay but what if there were a Team Batgirl book with Oracle calling the shots and Black Bat and Batgirl out in the field (or Nightwing!Steph and Batgirl!Nell yesplease)… that started out as a question but now I just really want that
I’ve spoken about wanting a book like that in the past, actually! Even had conversations with other fans about who should be the theoretical writer/artist for the book. A lot of people tend to go with either Bryan Q. Miller or Gail Simone for writing, but my personal belief tends to be that Cass is a lot harder to get right as a character than Babs or Steph, so I’d rather have a writer who’s proven they can write her well, which neither Miller nor Simone has (and in fact, Miller’s treatment of Cass was pretty dang problematic, though I’m willing to believe there was editorial interference involved.)
My personal choice would be Dylan Horrocks, who had a quite good run on Cass’s Batgirl series and wrote some absolutely fantastic scenes between the three:
The choice of artist is less tricky as I can think of a bunch who’d do a great job… but as we were discussing the other day, Marcus To needs a project worthy of his talents, and he’s definitely shown he can draw all three of them fantastically:
So that would be my dream team for the book. :-) Dylan Horrocks as the writer, Marcus To on art.
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