Tag Archives: Gail Simone

Hero of the Week Award: April 12, the Trans100

12 Apr
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

This week it is a true pleasure to celebrate the first publication of the Trans100, a project to celebrate heroes in the transgender community. Curated by Toni D’Orsay of This Is HOW and Jen Richards of wehappytrans.com and supported by GLAAD, it’s the first effort of its kind. It is intended to become an annual effort and very much a work in progress. Richards notes in her introduction:

If you recognize that this project is incomplete, and yet still has much to offer, then we trust you will find what we did: an awe inspiring collection of one hundred amazing people doing important work. Not the only hundred. Not the hundred you agree with. But one hundred that reveal a cross-section of trans people active in the United States right now, that indicate the breadth and depth of the work being done by and for the community.

The focus is clearly on the work, as emphasized by the many wonderful people celebrated on the list. It’s a marvelous project, helping raise awareness and provide contacts and context for growing media attention around trans issues in the U.S.

It was a particular pleasure to see my dear friend Jenn Burleton celebrated on the Trans100. Jenn is the Executive Director  of TransActive here in Portland, a pioneering organization providing services to transgender and gender nonconforming children and youth. TransActive will be hosting an Open House on April 17 from 4 to 7.

Honorable mention this week goes to Gail Simone and DC Comics for introducing the first out transgender character in mainstream superhero comics. Simone is an immensely talented writer with a unique connection to her fans. She understands that the comic industry is still overdependent on characters that date back to the 50s and before, frequently falling short of representing modern readers and their communities. She introduced Alysia Yeoh in Batgirl #1 (Sept. 2011) as Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon’s roommate. In Batgirl #19, out this week, Alysia tells Barbara that she is transgender. Simone notes that comics (especially independent presses and “mature audience” books) have had some trans characters before, most of whom achieved gender-fluidity through fantastical means like magic, shape-shifting, brain-swapping, and cloning.

Those characters exist [and] that’s great, but I wanted to have trans characters who aren’t fantasy-based. And I feel like there’s a lot there yet to do.

Thank you, Gail Simone for your continuing efforts to move mainstream comics forward.

Women In Comics: Batgirl Returns

11 Sep

Barbara Gordon Back In Action

September 2011 marks DC Comics undertaking their biggest reinvention ever. The company is relaunching every character and starting 52 new ongoing series with issue #1. Although the company has engaged in various reboots of its continuity over the past twenty-five years, this is the most serious overhaul, truly re-inventing all the characters. As we noted here at TSM last month, the relaunch is missing a valuable opportunity to involve more women creators and characters in the new universe. (Prime example: the new Justice League features seven heroes, six of whom are men. How’s that for bold reinvention?) This week, we got a taste of one of the major exceptions as Batgirl #1 was released.

The classic Batgirl was Barbara Gordon, daughter of Gotham City police commissioner Jim Gordon. A librarian by day, she took on the role of Batgirl to fight crime, at first in parallel and eventually in occasional partnership with Batman and Robin. Added almost simultaneously to the campy 60s TV show and to Detective comics, the character was always something of an afterthought (a four-color example  of the glass ceiling). Barbara had a loyal if limited fan base, but never significant sales as a lead. Her fate changed dramatically in 1988 with the publication of The Killing Joke. In that story, the Joker shot Barbara Gordon to punish her father, not realizing she was also Batgirl. The bullet lodged in her spine paralyzing her. Over the following two decades, Gordon has operated from a wheelchair as Oracle, a nexus of information and organization for the superhero world. Critics have rightfully lauded this presentation of super-heroics from a disabled person. During the same period a couple of other people have worn Batgirl’s cowl, having solid (if limited) fan bases and decent critical success.

When DC announced the new 52, one of the most controversial announcements was the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. What happened to Oracle? Did DC remove the shooting from continuity? The one bright spot was that Gail Simone, one of the strongest female voices in comics today, was announced as the writer. Simone also has a long history of writing Barbara Gordon as Oracle in the book Birds of Prey. She had long resisted taking Barbara out of her chair. When told that this was an editorial fiat, however, she looked at the history of other characters since 1988 and refused to give up one of her favorites.

[With other characters,] arms and legs get ripped off, and they grow back, somehow. Graves don’t stay filled. But the one constant is that Barbara stays in that chair. Role model or not, that is problematic and uncomfortable, and the excuses to not cure her, in a world of purple rays and magic and super-science, are often unconvincing or wholly meta-textual. And the longer it goes on, the more it has stretched credibility. But now, everything has changed. If nearly everyone in the DCU, not just Batgirl but almost everyone, is now at a much earlier stage in their career, then my main objection no longer applies, because we are seeing Barbara at an earlier starting point.

So how is the first issue? Amazing. [SPOILER ALERT]  Simone keeps the shooting in the story. Barbara is finally mobile after three years. The injury haunts her, and has a clear impact on her heroics. While I might have preferred that we keep Oracle, in Gail Simone’s capable hands we get to see the honest aftermath of a horrible injury as seen through the eyes of someone whose avocation demands physical excellence. Brava, Gail, well done!

My biggest criticism is retaining the name BatGIRL. Barbara Gordon is a professional woman. The name is at least as derivative as it was in 1967. Sadly for Barbara (but good for the comic-reading public), DC also reinvented another weak Bat-character recently. Batwoman, originally a lame Lois-Lane-in-spandex character during the 50s silly Batman comics, was rewritten as a gritty detective and a lesbian starting in 2006. DC is launching a new Batwoman #1 next week, so we’ll see how well they do with that character in the new 52. Sadly, it left Barbara Gordon with the lamer name.

Overall, however, the relaunched Batgirl is brilliantly handled. It’s action-based super-hero comics with a heart and conscience, just as we would expect from Gail Simone. Farewell, Oracle, but welcome back Batgirl. As a rare female lead in the new DC Universe, you are a bright spot of feminist strength. Long may you run.

Women in Comics: Everything New is Old Again

1 Aug

Pioneer Gail Simone

The comic book industry has typically been viewed as a straight, white boys club, and for good reason. The bulk of the major characters are men as are the writers and artists. Sadly, this kind of tradition builds on itself as men write more men for boys and men and girls are left feeling the medium has nothing to offer them.

A significant exception to this rule is the amazing Gail Simone. A long-time comic writer and a major talent in the field, Simone came to prominence through her website Women In Refrigerators. Named for the rather gruesome fate of a minor female character in Green Lantern, the site accurately contends that female characters in comics are routinely treated to worse fates than their male counterparts. Bad things happen to everyone in comics (that’s part of the narrative tradition, after all), but the extent and permanence of damage done to female characters is very disproportionate. Simone has done her best to work against this, especially in the long-running, mostly-female title Birds of Prey.

DC Comics is relaunching all of its titles this fall, providing a great opportunity to bring in and emphasize more diverse talent and characters. Sadly, as Tim Hanley effectively enumerates, the new DC has even fewer female creators and characters. (Simone is one of only two women credited with books in the relaunch!) Pressed by the comic fan community over the weeks since the relaunch was announced, co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio offered a tepid “we’re going to do better, really” statement.

We’ll have exciting news about new projects with women creators in the coming months and will be making those announcements closer to publication. Many of the above creators will be working on new projects, as we continue to tell the ongoing adventures of our characters. We know there are dozens of other women creators and we welcome the opportunity to work with them.

That’s lovely, guys, but you couldn’t have made the effort during all the work that went into the relaunch? Comics are suffering a slowdown in readership and sales. A big reason DC has stated for the relaunch was a chance for new readers to come aboard and enjoy the stories. How many new female readers are going to be interested in stories where they are more marginalized than ever?

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