Seeing the Good in DC Comics

A weird lesson for myself in recovering from hurt and giving people/groups/companies/whatever a chance. A comic book publisher in this case, but I think some of it applies to people too. And to upcoming commentary on Age of Ultron if/when I get around to it.

I’m a Marvel fan. When I started really reading comics around the age of 15 (as opposed to manga and Archie, which tend to get me “not-a-real-geek” eyerolls), it was all Marvel all the time. Mostly X-Men. I didn’t have the money to buy comics often and my local library was not well stocked in that department, so I wanted to keep it simple and stick with one basic story and set of characters. I stuck with that until about halfway through college, when I finally branched out into other Marvel comics like Runaways and eventually even gave DC a try.

I didn’t know much about DC. Superman seemed silly and naive, Wonder Woman looked like fanservice for guys. At least there was Batman, everyone likes Batman. But then when I finally started reading Batman…Oh noes! Turns out I don’t like him after all. Whenever people I knew talked about superheroes, they thought Batman was best. More realistic and relatable than Superman, you know? But that’s not the point of superheroes! I want them to be good, I want them to inspire us to be better. Batman can’t inspire me to be better, because he’s not that good in the first place. Like his villains, Batman is just driven to do what he does because he can’t do anything else, because he has this obsession that has utterly defined him. There are good things about the world of Batman, I like the idea that anyone can make a difference, that you don’t have to be a particularly good person. (Of course, it helps if you’re incredibly rich and have all kinds of advanced technology at your fingertips, but there are other heroes in Gotham who don’t have the same resources but step up anyway.) But Batman himself is not an inspiring character for me and I don’t like reading him.

Then I read The Killing Joke, in which Batgirl is shot and paralyzed for the sake of tormenting a male character and otherwise has no importance to the story, no participation in the story as an actual character. That one hurt. But I discovered Batwoman and The Question (Renee Montoya version) and liked them a lot, so I was almost ready to give DC a chance…but then there was an art contest where DC asked people to draw Harley Quinn, my favorite character from the animated series, committing suicide in sexualized ways. Soon after that the excellent cartoon Young Justice was cancelled because it was mostly girls watching. Oh, DC. I was done. From that point on I went from just not paying much attention to DC to actively avoiding them. I wouldn’t even read the ones I knew I liked because I didn’t want to support the company. (TBH, I still hesitate a little when I realize I’m reading and buying more DC than Marvel these days.)

It’s not that they weren’t doing good things in between, from snippets I’ve seen in reviews and comic news it seems like I missed quite a bit of good work. I’m looking forward to catching up on it now. The company is huge, it stands to reason that some of their people would be doing amazing things while others seem determined to undermine progress. I was only seeing a small part of the company. But that small part did a lot of damage and I needed some space, which helped me to get some perspective and also figure out what I’m looking for in comics. After awhile of staying away from that whole mess and finding things I liked in Marvel and even more in other lesser-known publishers, I started noticing the good in DC.

I decided to pick up an issue of Batgirl on a slow week. The series had recently gone through a change in creative team and style, I remembered seeing the redesign for her costume and liking it, and it reminded me a little of the new Ms Marvel comic aimed at younger girls. Empowering, cute, fun. Great examples of female characters who can just be themselves and have fun, and be strong because of those things. Kamala (Ms Marvel) doesn’t stop being a geeky teenager when she’s acting as a superhero, she plays into it. Barbara (Batgirl) uses social media to fight bad guys. They’re both much more positive about youth culture, hobbies, and technology than I’m used to seeing. I appreciate that. And when that Joker variant cover caused so much conflict recently, I was glad to see that the creators agreed it was inappropriate and wanted to keep things empowering and fun for this audience. It made me look back at Gail Simone’s run on the series, and I actually almost started crying with joy in the comic book store when I flipped through volume 1 and saw some panels taken from The Killing Joke. She fixed it. It was already fixed and I didn’t know.

(I don’t want to make it sound like getting to walk and fight again is what “fixes” the Batgirl situation. I’ve seen bits and pieces of her time as Oracle too, and I think that also counts as fixing it. I just haven’t had a chance to read it yet because of my DC boycotting time. I’m getting caught up slowly, and Batgirl was the most readily available. I have mixed feelings about losing Oracle as a character and what that means in terms of disability representation. But whatever form it takes, I’m mostly just glad to see her keep going and to know that The Killing Joke didn’t get the final word on who she is and how much she matters.)

When this book was published and I started hearing about it everywhere, I took up an interest in Wonder Woman as well. Picked up both the original and some more recent comics from the library, watched the first episode of the live action TV series, loved all of it. Not so much the newer stuff I’ve seen…In all fairness, I haven’t given it much of a chance (again, boycott), but the things I’ve heard in comics podcast seem to confirm my feelings that it’s different in ways I won’t like. The description for the first issue of her Convergence story (a multiverse event DC’s doing right now) features Steve Trevor coming to the rescue. I like Steve. I recently defended the possibility of a male lead/love interest in the upcoming Wonder Woman movie, because he was a pretty major character in the classic stories, which are still my favorite. But Wonder Woman saves the day in a Wonder Woman comic, okay? I feel like that should go without saying. (And she probably does. I doubt they actually made her a damsel in distress here, I just don’t see the need for the description to focus on Steve.)

DC’s got a lot of potential. Some very empowering female characters that I want to see more now that I’ve gotten some distance from the incidents described above. With Convergence, I’ve been able to read more of The Question (featuring Batwoman and Huntress! Squeeeeee!), Oracle, the other Batgirls. I’m excited for all those things, and for upcoming DC titles like We Are Robin and Black Canary, for more Batgirl, and for catching up on some of what I missed. One of the people who works at the local comic shop spent some time telling me about her love of Superman and making some recommendations. I’m skeptical but willing to try. And of course now I want to read all of Birds of Prey, Batgirl, and Batwoman.

People make mistakes. So do companies. I know I do, and now that we can so easily make our bad decisions online and have them documented, it’s really hard to ignore that. Sometimes I come across something I wrote a few years ago and wince. I’ve learned a lot in a short time, and I wouldn’t want to be judged by my worst moments. That doesn’t mean someone hurting is under an obligation to just get over it or that we can’t criticize missteps. Criticizing something doesn’t mean the person who did it is a bad person, it just means there’s room to be better. Taking time away isn’t a punishment for bad behavior, it’s self-care. The point is to bring forward the best parts of ourselves and everyone else. Express the hurt, forgive and try again if/when you can, and acknowledge that we all screw up and we can all do better. It’s a really good feeling to get excited about what’s next from a company I wouldn’t have trusted before. I’d like to see that kind of growth and mending happen in all my wounded relationships.

3 thoughts on “Seeing the Good in DC Comics

  1. More navel-gazing.

    When I started this blog, I decided I wanted to write at least once a week. I knew they weren’t all going to be good. The point is to get better.

    So sometimes I feel really good about a post and want to share it everywhere, sometimes…not so much. And sometimes I feel like there was something there at the start, but I lost track of it somewhere in the extreme wordiness and multiple revisions. That’s where I am with this one, like I know this was important for me but a lot of it is based on things I know but don’t know how to communicate so it’s just going to come off like “…ok, you like a comics publisher now, good for you.” 😀

    Yeah. That’s about it. That and the idea that because I didn’t have any experience with DC other than the bad, I didn’t just not like them, I sort of felt like that was the right decision, you know? Like if you know someone and have positive experiences, you can overlook a lot. With DC I always sort of felt like I knew what was going on and they were just objectively not as good. Recently I was told by someone with a lot more knowledge of comics and whose opinion I trust that Marvel’s record is also bad. I didn’t know that, and hearing someone describe Marvel in the way I think of DC was pretty jarring. Made me think again about how I make these judgments and what or who I might be dismissing because I just don’t know them well enough and never gave them a chance.

    I’ve been known to hold a grudge hard. I always considered that sort of righteous too, like if you wronged me badly enough it just made sense and I shouldn’t be expected to just forget about it. Trying to change that now.


  2. I love the final paragraphs in the post and comment so much! 🙂 The other stuff is interesting, too, but those last words are great!


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