My Frustrations With A Lot Of Speculative Fiction

So, I finally gave in and read A Song of Ice and Fire. This has been a long time pending. I remember I was introduced to the books at a Christmas party in 2011. I…didn’t actually finish them then. But I have now! And I really enjoyed them! I have some issues, but on the whole, they were very enjoyable. Enough to get me to watch and finish the show. Unfortunately, that kind of made me aware of some other issues that I have, both with the books and the show. They’re issues of personal taste, not anything objective, but when I think about them, they’re the same reason so much stuff lately has been hard for me to get through, why that genre that I once loved and still do enjoy isn’t satisfying me anymore the way it once did: the trend towards huge, expansive universes rather than completing actual stories is too much for me.

I like tightly plotted works. I like focus, I like conservation of detail. I like to follow the trail of cause and effect. When it comes to most genres, people would agree with me – excess detail in thrillers or crime novels is unappealing because it slows down the pace. Excess detail and tangents in romances would often be deemed pointless purple prose. But when it comes to fantasy? It’s almost the opposite. Fantasy novels are expected to be sprawling, on an epic scale, with details about every character we ever meet or every place the characters ever go. Like so much else to do with modern fantasy, this began with Tolkien. And my only reaction is…why? Of all the possible ways to be inspired by Tolkien’s work, why did this one have to stick around so much?

I like world building as much as the next person. But a story is more than that. Quite frankly, I think in most cases, it’s overrated. It takes away from characterization and plot development. And while both things can and should exist together and enhance each other, my experience has been that few writers balance it well, instead focusing on the world building to the detriment of everything else. That’s true when it comes to fantasy, that’s true when it comes to “hard” science fiction. Writers are so busy showing off how great their imagination is, they just info dump stuff that isn’t relevant to anything at us just to do it. They never use one word when they could use ten and when they think of a phrasing they like, they use it over and over again. It’s getting really tiresome.

One of my main takeaways from A Song of Ice and Fire was that George R. R. Martin needs a better editor. At least someone to remove some evidence of his creepy fucking fetishes that have no reason to be in the story, but preferably someone with the firmness to insist he pare down and stop going on tangents about the food at a feast or the colours and sigils of some minor house we’re never going to see again. Hell, maybe that would help me decide if I actually like his writing or not. Because as much as I enjoy the story, I’m a lot more conflicted about the writing. It alternates between some utter nonsense that seems to confuse verbosity with eloquence, embarrassingly bad sex scenes, and genuinely wonderful pieces like Arya’s delightfully simple and gorgeous reminiscing about how Needle is all she has left of her home and family. For all that it claims to be a political drama in a fantasy setting that explores how war is hell and power corrupts and all that happens is misery for the commoners that don’t care who sits on the throne, that’s diminished by the fact it’s still almost exclusively told through the eyes of the aristocracy. It tells us a lot more than it shows, and it tells a painful amount.

Take the so-called Broken Man Speech. Out of context, it’s fine. It’s good. But put it back in context and it’s like…we don’t ever really see those broken men. Not like the speech describes. We see traumatized people that start to do worse and worse things to survive, but we don’t see the effects of plain old war on regular old people in any way that really matters to me. Think about the commoners we meet. They’re rarely actually portrayed in a positive light, as the victims that they are, and when they are, it’s still through the lens of the nobility. Like…during the riots at King’s Landing. The focus isn’t on the misery of the people starving when the powerful play their games and use innocents, it’s about how their suffering turns them into savages that rape and abuse women tangentially related to the people responsible. Are there antiwar themes in the story? Of course there are. Are there criticisms of the monarchic systems? Sure. Is it ultimately a story about the human relationship with power and its corruptive influence? I think it is. But when it comes to specifically the idea of the impact all these things on the people on the outside of the power struggle, it doesn’t explore them in any real depth. While I’d be willing to accept that that’s not the story this is, the Broken Man speech indicates that that’s what it’s intended to be, and if that’s the case…I really would appreciate getting more attention on it, rather than the same amount that gets devoted to countless things that don’t actually matter. Concise is a good thing. Conservation of detail exists for a reason. Either explore something or don’t. But don’t just talk about everything for the sake of it.

I’ll admit it – I don’t care about the historical members of each house that are only tangentially related to what is going on in the here and now of the story. I don’t care about however many hundreds of thousands of words that he’s dedicated to the history of the Targaryens that aren’t relevant to the story. It’s great that he has so many ideas about his universe. But what does any of that matter if that’s all so big a distraction, he can’t focus on the central story? I’m in favour of writers writing what they want in their own universe. But I also shouldn’t be expected to care about it. Tolkien spent his whole life revising The Silmarillion. But he did finish the key story that was Lord of the Rings.

Martin defies every rule of conservation of detail ever, and honestly…breaking rules is overrated. Holes is one of the greatest novels ever written. I mean that most sincerely. It’s the closest thing to a perfect book that I’ve ever read. And that’s partially because it follows the rules in a way that children’s fiction tends to do better than adult. It’s not about the what, it’s the how. I wish more people took cues from it when it comes to developing plots. It’s less than fifty thousand words long and it uses every single one of those words to full effect. Three interwoven storylines. Beautiful characterization. Criticism of the American justice system. An explanation of the history of Camp Green Lake and how everyone got to the points they did. There is a reason that it’s taught in schools. It goes on exactly as long as it should and not a minute longer. It’s laser focused. It’s elegantly simple. On a technical level, it’s brilliant, and I wish fantasy writers – and people writing for an “adult” audience – took the same approach.

This focus on the details often seems to me to be another way in which writers try to convey maturity in their works. Sex, profanity, violence, and painstaking detail. I get where that idea comes from…but I don’t think it’s very accurate. First of all, there’s no actual reason why there needs to be such a distinction between what is made for children and what is for adults. Many of the best pieces of fiction can be enjoyed by both. The best children’s books are written in blood, after all. Some works, by nature, are best appreciated by people in a given age group. But artificial ways of intentionally catering to one demographic over another…it seems silly to me. I think what’s needed in adult fiction is the mostly same as what’s needed in children’s literature. That includes focus when focus is needed and exploring the impact of darker subject matter, rather than just including it for its own sake.

On a tangentially related note, I am not even remotely interested in constructed languages. That they exist in so many fantasy – and science fiction, I suppose – works is another clear indication of Tolkien’s inescapable influence on the genre, but seriously? All these other writers are not Tolkien. And I don’t mean that in terms of a quality judgement, I mean it in terms of the fact that Tolkien was a linguist. He wasn’t composing these languages to flesh out the world. In many ways, the languages were the world. They mattered. That’s not the case with most other works, because Tolkien, Arrival, others like them – those are exceptions. I watched Game of Thrones and some of the time, I wanted to scream! It took every bit of willpower I had to not just fast forward through the scenes of Daenerys shouting made up words for entire scenes. There are situations in which having the rudiments of a conlang are useful. A few words, grammar rules, and so on. But entire languages gets annoying. It’s detail at the expense of the broader story. It’s the same reason that I don’t enjoy a lot of hard sci fi.

I have a STEM background and I am fascinated by scientific developments. But when it comes to stories, I mostly prefer softer sci fi, because in most cases, I don’t care about the details of how these things work. Especially because science and technology march on. Ten years from now, a meticulously researched piece may turn out to be completely obsolete. Hard sci fi, all the details about how this fictional thing could work, are usually the purview of people that want to demonstrate how smart they are or how much research they’ve done, not tell a story. For me, the best science fiction has to be the kind that uses enough detail that we can accept it’s based on science, rather than a space fantasy – not that there’s anything wrong with space fantasy at all, it’s just not really science fiction in my eyes – but not so much that that becomes the story if it’s not a driving part of the plot. It’s why I liked things like The Martian, with its clear focused man vs. nature conflict, but have a harder time with some other pieces: the focus on the technicalities gets to be too much for me.

I love fantasy. I love science fiction. And I love expansive universes that feel like real, lived in places. But sometimes, I just we could have more stories that end. Plot, characters, voice, tone, themes…those are what interest me most of all about stories. I’d rather have more focus on them to give me a story that gets to a point than one that drags on forever in the name of worldbuilding.

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Confessions of a Recovering “Book Person”: The Culture Of Prioritizing Books Over Stories Sucks

Do you remember that time a bunch of white girls on Twitter reacted to Marie Kondo’s gentle suggestion that people only keep books around that mean something to them with an absurdly over the top kind of performative outrage? Yeah. That to me is an extension of the same kind of books-for-aesthetic, turning-one’s-nose-down-at-e-books, stupid-phrases-on-mugs-and-bags-about-books-and-tea nonsense that makes me frustrated about how so many readers don’t seem to actually care about the stories in books as they do the books themselves. It’s a weird snobbery that doesn’t actually make sense.

I have always loved reading. I used to go to the library as often as possible, get large stacks of books, blow through all of them within the next day to a week. And I’d read everything. I didn’t have a preferred genre. I’d read everything from Stephen King to Gordon Korman to Shakespeare, Nancy Drew to Of Mice And Men to Harry PotterBut there was a period – late elementary school through to high school, if I could guess – where I’d shifted away from reading whatever, so long as I enjoyed it, to reading for the sake of impressing others.

When I was in elementary school, I was known for reading. It’s what I did. I always had a book on hand, I read ahead in every book we were assigned for class, I participated in discussions, I always had a book of my own on hand. So I became known as one of the “smart” people. Which is fine. But at some point, I had started internalizing the idea that that was what made me smart or unique. That I was a reader had become a cornerstone of my identity. That, I think we can all agree, was really, really stupid. And it started to manifest in other dumb ways – like the recognizable characteristics of white girl book culture. Whenever I had to annotate something for class, I used sticky notes rather than writing in the book itself (this one I probably would have always done). I pearl-clutched at the thought of ever cutting up a book to use it for an art project or using e-books because it’s not the same! I’d always preferred books to television, and I started to think that demonstrated intellectual superiority. It became a point of pride that any of the classics we had to read were things I’d already read. All these things combined to make reading a lot less enjoyable for me. It was only once I started to push back against them that I started to actually love reading instead of doing it out of habit again.

A friend of mine got me a copy of Good Omens several years ago. But there was something about that edition and the size of the pages that meant I could not get through it. I tried. I’d been told it was great by lots of people, and even if I hadn’t been, it’s a little quirk of mine that if someone buys me a book, I have to read it. But I had to restart more times than I can remember because I just couldn’t process it. It wasn’t until I set aside the hard copy and tried the e-book that I could actually finish and enjoy it. This is reflective of a broader pattern in how I’ve begun to interact with books.

When I was younger, I could read anything quickly and process it immediately. I was one of those people who, when a popular theory or idea was floating around about a series, could say, no, that can’t be because of this thing that was mentioned in passing in book 2 after reading a series once. I’d remember every plot point and character name for years after the fact. One hundred percent not the case anymore. Now I often get halfway through a book – not even a long one – and have to stop myself and think, wait a minute…who is Alice again and how is she related to the main character Bob? For whatever reason, that’s less frequently the case when it comes to e-books. So lately, I’ve been reading a lot more ebooks and a lot fewer hard copies. It does nothing to promote reading to behave as if what matters is the physical book. If I still bought into that, then I’d be reading a lot less than I do, not more.

Books – as in the physical paper and ink – are not sacred objects. They’re not magic. They’re just a container for a story. Are those wonderful? Sure. I do enjoy holding a physical book and the feeling of turning the pages. But books are meant to be read, not sit on shelves to impress people – even when that person is yourself. They’re not a symbol of intellectualism and having more of them lying around doesn’t make you more of a reader than someone else. What matters is the stories inside these objects and that they’re consumed, and e-books help that. Removing books from your shelf that you are never going to actually read or reread to make room for books you will help that.

The idea that the physical books are someone special extends to the holier-than-thou disapproving of people using books for art and the suggestion that doing so is destroying it. But this isn’t the Cultural Revolution or Fahrenheit 451. It’s not censorship. These aren’t books being rendered unreadable so that no one can read them. These books aren’t being destroyed. These are mass produced and widely available. Someone using their copy for something else does nothing to make that book less available for someone else. And sometimes a physical book has to be destroyed! If books don’t sell, they get recycled, and then new books can be made from their remains! Would you rather deforestation progress even faster for the sake of never destroying a book? Five hundred years ago, if a book was destroyed, the world was deprived of that knowledge. That is not even remotely the case anymore. A book being discarded or repurposed into an art project does not mean you’ll never be able to read it. So maybe some people should mind their own business instead of fixating on what other people do. This obsessive attitude about what other people do with stacks of paper, ink, and glue does not make you more of a reader or book lover than anyone else, because books are meant to be enjoyed, not sit on shelves to impress people and/or gather dust.

None of this is to say that I don’t appreciate books as a physical object. Even aside from novels, I have a possibly embarrassing number comics around, including some repeats with different covers. Sometimes it’s because I love the art and want a hard copy of it. Other times, it’s because I absolutely love the specific story.  And it took me a long time to get to a state where I was okay giving away my copy of a “classic” book I didn’t like without feeling guilty about it. So I’m certainly not one to judge people for keeping books around. I get it. But I think it’s important to self reflect on why you’re doing it. If you don’t enjoy a book or you never finished…doesn’t it show more respect for that book and its contents to pass it onto someone that might actually enjoy it?

I think it’s tied to the obsession over ~classic literature or the meaningless category that is literary fiction. In a lot of cases, it’s not actually about the book itself but the idea of it. While many of these books are very good and have had a lasting influence on their genres, there are a number of others that are heavy handed, sexist, racist, no longer relevant to today’s society, just plain boring, or all of the above at once. There are books published far more recently that are just as well crafted and thematically meaningful, if not more so,  while also being more engaging and interesting that are dismissed for their genre or the fact that they were written in the twenty first century. That’s silly. Books should be enjoyable. There are books today that have just as much value as books from two hundred years ago. There are books with less. There are a lot of books out there, written over the centuries in countless languages, and each one deserves the same chance as others do to be read and loved. By extension, that means that each book can be hated and discarded. It’s a book and an individual’s feelings towards it. People have different feelings about different books. That’s perfectly fine. Stories are subjective, and there is no right answer about what is good and what is bad.

Books are great. And stories are wonderful things, whether that story be in a book or an e-book or a movie. I just really, really wish the focus was more often on the actual story, rather than the form in which it’s consumed or the object containing it. Books aren’t a sign of how smart we are, so maybe we could just enjoy them instead of dictating how others do or preaching the virtues of something to someone that hated it? Pretty please?

‘Gotham’ Season Five: A Disappointing Dip In Quality From A Team That Can Do Much Better

I love Gotham. It’s genuinely awesome, I love watching every episode, and for the most part, I think the general trend in its quality was upwards. That’s both why I’ve been a bit disappointed in season five and why I’m posting this now instead of after the finale: I know these are people that can do much better than they are now; I’m holding out hope that they kill it with the last two episodes; and even if they don’t, I still want to end the show on a positive note, thinking about what’s good about it, not what’s disappointing. So let’s talk about season five.

One of the things that was awesome about about the show was that it felt like it was constantly improving. Even at its messiest, it was still enjoyable. It’s not that season five has been terrible. The writers didn’t drop the ball as much or as obviously as the Titans writers did with their season one finale…but it sure wasn’t as awesome as different parts of the show has been. As much as I enjoyed certain parts of it, the entirety of the season has made me think, oh. Huh.

Use Of Characters

It started from the very beginning. Season four ended in a spectacular fashion. That finale was amazing. The bridges were blown; the Rogues were carving up territory; Alfred and Selina were about to leave Gotham while Bruce stayed to be completely on his own for the first time; Bruce declared that he was making Gotham his responsibility, effortlessly beat up criminals to find out where Jeremiah was, and stood by Gordon on the roof of the GCPD as an equal. It completely upended the status quo of the show…except 5×01 walked back on Alfred and Selina leaving, so we didn’t get to see how Bruce handles himself alone.

I love Selina and Alfred. They have a great dynamic with each other, they each have a great relationship with Bruce, and the interactions between the three of them is fantastic, because character development is traditionally something this show has done a great job with. But I’d have really appreciated even just an episode or two of Bruce working solo before they got back to the island! An episode of Alfred and Selina on their own! Batman isn’t a solitary hero. He needs his allies. And it would be nice to have that demonstrated definitively in this specific universe by taking away the two people that have served as his primary supports.

Season five Lee is basically season two Lee again. I’ve seen other people complaining about that on Tumblr only to be met with the condescending response that we just don’t appreciate that an ordinary woman can be just as interesting as the Queen of the Narrows. That’s an inaccurate assessment of why we find it annoying. It’s not about Lee’s role in the story or position, it’s about character growth. While where she ended up in season five could have been interesting and earned…we missed a few steps. And honestly? Missed steps or no, I also think season four Lee was closer to being like the Leslie Thompkins of the comics than season five Lee could ever be. She was harder, she was tougher, she’d stopped worrying about anything other than the people of the Narrows and how she could help them. Season five Lee isn’t a result of growth past her dark phase. It’s just her regressing in the most boring way. Which brings us to the next way in which the season has been a bit of a disappointment – the lack of regard for continuity.

Continuity And Timelines

The way continuity used to work in Gotham is that everyone did so many terrible things to each other, that they eventually had to start prioritizing. They’d set aside grudges and feuds, sometimes forever, because they needed the help of whoever they were feuding with to handle something else. There would be nods to past feuds or events, but there would always be something driving them forward so that while past events happened, the focus remained on what was to come. But in season five, it just feels like they’re ignoring all those past events.

Arguably the longest lasting grudge was Lee and Barbara’s – Lee was still mad at Barbara until literally the most recent episode. Unlike most others grudges, this one didn’t fade. Even when Lee had other priorities, she never let go of the fact Barbara tried to kill her. This extended to her being upset at Jim for sleeping with her. Which would have been fine and consistent and logical…except no one brought up Ed.

It’s not that I expected Lee – or even Jim – to point out that it’s hypocritical for Lee to be mad about Jim sleeping with the woman that tried to kill her when she herself had been involved with the man that framed Jim for murder and got him tossed in Arkham. But the fact that no one did, not Harvey or Barbara or any of the people that knew about Lee and Ed’s relationship felt more like a dismissal of continuity and everything that happened in season four than it did an intentional characterization decision. Doubly so in that there was pretty much no conclusion to what happened between those two.

Season four could have been a solid ending for Lee and Ed. They literally stabbed each other! If that’s not a send off for their relationship, I don’t know what is. Problem is, they came back. And not just as minor characters, as characters with pretty substantive plots going on. Had they just not appeared in the season and we were left knowing Hugo Strange had brought them back or had they been in smaller roles that didn’t explore any of their thoughts, feelings, and histories, it would have definitely felt like a cop out…but it also wouldn’t have left us with this awkward situation we got the briefest mention of what happened between them – via Ed telling Lee that she stabbed him first – without it affecting them in any lasting way. The way Lee and Jim left things in season four also felt like a very definitive ending. They weren’t angry with each other anymore, but they weren’t about to get back together, either. Cue season five, where they decided, screw that! They should get married!

The idea of reunification has been a Yo-Yo Plot Point all season. As a result, episodes that are probably good out of context feel like they’re just taking up space and time because they don’t have lasting consequences. Like, what does it matter that Jeremiah dumped chemicals into the river and stopped reunification? The river was cleaned up off screen by the next episode and reunification was on the table again anyway. It’s been going on all season, and it’s getting stale. That kind of back and forth plot with no resolution is fine when it comes to things like relationships and feuds because we’re talking about villains doing bad things, and it’s not like they’re always getting mad about the same thing. But when it comes to the overarching story rather than the characters…it’s just not fun.

All this lack of regard for continuity is even more apparent when you think about how the season four finale ended – the Rogues were all dividing up territory! As I brought up earlier, Selina and Alfred were about to leave the island! But then in season five, Alfred and Selina turned out to have not gone anywhere, and some of the Rogues that were carving up the city, like Firefly and Mr. Freeze, haven’t been seen at all. Even disregarding how the events of this season fit in with the previous seasons, the timeline is a mess! It’s all over the place! Some episodes take place over the span of a few hours or days, either immediately before or after the events of a different episode. Others take place over weeks or months, well after whatever happened in the previous episode. At the end of one episode, Barbara announced she was pregnant. The episode after that was about the couple days after that announcement, and the one immediately after that was her giving birth. The GCPD took back the rest of the city from the gangs and cleaned up the river and whatever else they were doing all off screen! Between episodes! Do I know why they’ve been doing that? Sure. They only had ten episodes to work with, then got two added after the fact. They had a plan as to how they wanted to end the show, and ultimately had to cram it into fewer episodes than they wanted to, with the additional two episodes not being helpful as more than filler because they weren’t told they had them until late in the game. But my understanding doesn’t make it any less messy.

The Newfound Obsession With Elements Of The Mythos

What’s great about Gotham is how it’s an amalgamation of different DC canons. Throughout all the seasons, the creators have taken bits and pieces from comics and movies, blended them with the familiar notes that everyone knows, and put their own unique spin on it to make something that, while very recognizably Batman, is still something we haven’t seen before. Which is why the way this season has handled the Joker and Bane isn’t particularly appealing to me.

I love Jeremiah. And that’s honestly surprising to me because I almost never care about the Joker. The Dark Knight, while a movie I have complicated feelings about, is one where pretty much everyone, regardless of their feelings towards the movie as a whole, adores Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. For me…he was very good, but I think Aaron Eckhart’s Two Face was better! (Actually, I have complicated feelings about that, too, but more in terms of the writing than the acting, and either way, this isn’t the place. But if anyone wants to talk about that…I could talk all day. With dramatic gestures.) I wasn’t left in awe of the Joker! I don’t consider that the greatest villain performance ever or anything. Similarly, Gotham viewers loved Jerome. But Jerome always kind of bored me. He didn’t come across as particularly threatening. He was overshadowed by many of the other villains. Not the case with Jeremiah. But the writers were so fixated on the idea of the Joker and creating this rivalry with Bruce, it felt as if they started buying into the idea that’s been propagated lately about the Joker as the single most important Batman villain, with the biggest role in Bruce’s life, and decided that it’s essential they bring that part of the mythos into the show. The thing is…that’s been so shoehorned in, it falls a bit flat.

In the comics, if we accept it as true that Bruce has any more focus on the Joker than any of his other villains, the only reason for that is that the Joker has hurt his family more directly. Since that family doesn’t exist here, we’re getting Jeremiah pushed in some really awkward ways. It’s not solely a season five problem – the origins of this awkward pushing go back all the way to season two with Jerome. Selina getting shot in season four was very clearly a shout out to The Killing Joke, which I didn’t love that for a lot of reasons. But it’s a problem that’s most glaring here. The allusions to the mythos didn’t feel nearly as much there for the sake of the checkbox as the Ace Chemicals thing or Ecco as a stand in for Harley. Those weren’t necessary, there was no build up. Jeremiah learning about Bruce’s parents and fixating on him so much as his best friend ended up feeling like they were adding more elements of Harvey Dent – who we haven’t seen in forever and who wasn’t much like his comics counterpart – to Jeremiah and making him some strange composite character than actually giving us organic growth to increase Jeremiah’s importance.

On top of all that, neither Bane nor the introduction of Nyssa has done anything for me. For a start, they were both whitewashed, which sucks. Especially because Ra’s wasn’t.  That was great casting, and the first time that the role hasn’t been whitewashed, which made it all the more disappointing to see Bane and Nyssa whitewashed. Even outside of the casting issue, everything about the two of them comes across as derivative of something else. They marked off the checkbox of “Bane breaks Bruce’s back” with a forced, awkwardly crammed in visual of him tossing Alfred to the side. It’s empty. Is Knightfall a good story? Sure. But trying to tie it in here is trite and unnecessary. And a lot of the rest of it comes across as a ripoff of The Dark Knight Rises, just with Nyssa replacing Talia, from the general “Ra’s’s daughter wants revenge” to the specific quotes they use. That’s unfortunate, because Gotham hasn’t actually done that before. Not that directly. It’s always putting unique spins on whatever they’re homaging in a given instant. But this season has just been painfully lazy.  It means that they really have to land the last two episodes to ensure that the show gets a good send off. Unfortunately, some of what we know about them is making me very nervous.

The Finale

From what I understand, Camren Bicondova won’t be playing Selina Kyle in the flash forward. This was a surprise to learn, and I’m still kind of crossing my fingers and hoping it isn’t true. But if it is…yikes.

I had my reservations when I learned that the finale will be set in the future. I discussed that a little here. After we found out how it was going to go in regards to Bruce – David Mazouz’s head imposed on a double’s body – those reservations were mostly centred around whether it would look weird or if Mazouz looks too young to convincingly pass as someone a decade older. But now we’re going back to my original concern: they’re really giving us a finale without all the characters we’ve spent five seasons with. By the time the finale airs, we’ll have spent ninety nine episodes with Bicondova as Selina. We’ve spent so many episodes with them

And what’s worse is there’s no actual reason for the recasting.

It can’t be about age, because they’re using Mazouz for Bruce. It can’t be about “looking like the character” because not only does Lili Simmons, who will apparently be playing older Selina, not bear much more resemblance to the comics version of the character than Bicondova does, they made a decision when they cast Bicondova to begin with that it would be absurd to walk back on now. It can’t be about ability to play the character because Bicondova has owned the role for years, has the athletic skills necessarily to pull off whatever she needs to, and besides, there’s no reason they can’t impose her face on a double as they’re doing with Mazouz if there were major stunts involved. There is absolutely no legitimate reason that Bicondova can’t play adult Selina.

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Simmons doesn’t look dissimilar to Bicondova. But the ways in which she looks different aren’t exactly ways that are believable changes with age. When you consider the fact that she is a few years older, considerably taller, and has a narrower face…it ends up feeling like a rehash of what they did with Ivy. It feels like they’re saying that Bicondova was good enough to play teenage Selina, but they have a rigid image of an adult Catwoman that they’re not willing to budge on, no matter how perfectly Bicondova played the role. And as unpleasant as it is, the rigid image is a very specific “sexiness”,  regardless how little sense that makes for this version of the character. The creators can’t envision a Catwoman that’s not tall and slender and sultry. It doesn’t matter to them that Camren Bicondova is both gorgeous and a great Selina because they apparently care more about their ideal Catwoman aesthetic than they do all the fantastic quirks and nuances to her performance that can’t just be duplicated.

I have nothing against Simmons. I don’t even know who she is. But if this is really happening, it’s gross. Bicondova deserves better than being tossed aside after spending five seasons developing this character. Selina deserves better than to be diminished to just the way she looks. And the audience deserves better than this kind of ending.


Now, look. Gotham is almost always an enjoyable time. Even though I haven’t loved this season, it’s had many good moments. It’s been fun to watch. And perhaps my expectations were unreasonably high going into this season just because of how much I loved season four. But I can’t help but be disappointed anyway. Final seasons should be a culmination of the best parts of a show. They should involve the writers learning from what worked in the previous seasons and learning from their missteps to come up with something amazing. They should remind the audience of why they love the show at all. Gotham‘s season five hasn’t done any of that. After the last two episodes air, I’ll be much more positive and focusing on everything I love about the show, because it’s a lot. But I just had to make note of what I found frustrating first.

Superhero Adaptations As Completely Separate From Superhero Comics: Why Adaptations Can Tell Different Stories

I’ve made multiple posts about the nature of adaptations of superhero comics – one about why we don’t need word for word translations, one about the impact they have on how we perceive characters,  one about how adaptations sometimes displace the material they’re based on in public memory, and a few more. But now I have to make yet another, because a while back, I saw a post saying that you can’t make comic adaptations realistic without completely changing the heart of the comics, and I disagree with all my heart. Because I think that’s why adaptations are nice. By their nature, they’re not going to continue for decades. And that lets you explore topics that will, no matter how good the writing or the art, always end up falling flat in the comics themselves.

You cannot really delve into certain topics in comics because the nature of the medium means they’re never going to change. Take Robin. Obviously, I adore the concept of Robin, the characters to have borne the mantle, and all that. I think Robin is so essential to Batman, that you cannot have a Batman story that rings true without them – or, at least, one of them. But I’m also well aware that, if you apply that to a real world setting, it goes from being a lovely concept of a found family of misfits and strays that don’t fit in anywhere but with each other saving other people so that no one has to suffer the way they did to a frankly disturbing story of reckless child endangerment. This is especially true when you consider the not-Dick Robins, because Dick’s case was unique. He had skills that the others most definitely did not, and the same anger/grief/what have you that Bruce did. By the end of it, he came out shockingly well adjusted. This combination makes it easy to believe that Bruce did more good than harm, and that Dick would have got himself killed had he been left on his own. The others? Not so much! They didn’t have the same skills and training. They didn’t have the same motivation where they were going to do it regardless of what he did or said. They were brought into vigilantism because of the precedent Dick set…and the fact they looked up hugely to Batman. The person that was supposed to be the responsible adult telling them, no, you most certainly cannot go out at night and fight supervillains, these guys are killers. However, Robin – as a concept – is so much part of the foundation of DC that it’s not going to die anytime soon.

My feelings about the oversaturation of the Batfamily aside, Robin as a legacy matters, no matter who’s using the nameSo you can’t have meaningful stories questioning whether or not the legacy should exist. Not really, because even if you have a great story challenging how heroic someone can be if they’re taking a child into combat situations…it’ll fall flat, because nothing changes. It doesn’t matter. It’ll be a forgotten Aesop in a month. You probably think I’m exaggerating, right? After all, we don’t forget about Jason! But even though he’ll always be remembered as the Robin who died and his death had a huge impact on Bruce and Dick, it didn’t really last, because Death In The Family and Under the Red Hood didn’t end the Robin mantle. Court of Owls and all the unflattering parallels drawn between Bruce and the Court didn’t end the Robin mantle. So despite how great those stories were, themes alone don’t really mean anything unless there’s follow through.

You can make plenty of arguments as to how Tim, Steph, and Damian were different from Jason. Sure, Bruce tried to dissuade them more than he ever tried with Dick or Jason. Tim knew full well what he was going into. Stephanie, like Dick, had personal reasons motivating her and was already in costume before she became Robin. Damian was raised to be an assassin. But the fact of the matter is that Robin continues to exist, not because the post-Jason Robins were different from Jason, but because the legacy is too iconic to let die.

Comics work because they’re not set in a real world. They’re in a fantasy where people can have problems that are either like ours or just similar enough to be relatable, but where the solutions they have are not the solutions that should work in a real world. They’re in a world which is just different enough that when something seems weird, we can just shrug and accept that that’s how this other universe is. Comics can delve further into topics like, how healthy is it to deal with your trauma by going out at night and beating up criminals? or is training a sidekick the same thing as using a child soldier? but the second they do, the whole damn universe falls apart, because once you start trying to apply real logic, you can’t stop until there’s nothing left. Once you start trying to ask these questions, more and more will arise. You simply cannot try to apply comic book tropes to a real world setting.

That’s what’s nice about adaptations. Things like Titans and the Under the Red Hood  movie can contextualize comics. They can apply the issues raised to a real world setting. And that’s okay, because they end. When we’re watching an adaptation, we can see things change for the better, we can see characters learning lessons, without having to deal with the fact they’ll inevitably forget those lessons so that the story can continue, because in adaptations, the story isn’t supposed to continue! I talked about something similar in this post about how Jason isn’t a sustainable character. My reasoning revolved mostly around how I didn’t think he had a place to go as a character while still being a vigilante, and I think the heart of that argument is basically the same as this one: conclusions give stories weight. That post is largely about how Jason’s character development keeps getting reversed because he can’t really exist without the angst over his death, and this one is about how in adaptations, he doesn’t need to. In an adaptation, we can have a character that completes an arc, then doesn’t go back on it, because it ends. We can have a story that means something continue to mean something, because it doesn’t continue on only to for the moral of the story to be forgotten.

Death doesn’t mean much in comics. Not just in terms of people coming back, but in terms of the impact on other characters. It can’t. Not when there’s so much going on. It’s not that a death will never be brought up again. But it’s rare that it has a consistent, continuous impact on others, unless it’s relevant to the story being told, like Bruce’s after Final Crisis. And deaths and resurrections are now so common that they lose their impact on the reader. The greatest comics are those that have a point, and when the story is endless, those points almost inevitably get confused.

Furthermore, the writers of adaptations thinking critically about the source material and making changes keeps things fresh and interesting. It gives us things that are different, stories of which we don’t know the outcome going in. That’s not a betrayal of canon. The specific changes made might demonstrate a lack of love for the source material, but it might also demonstrate an enduring love for it. Take Gotham. A lot of people used to – not so much anymore – complain about how it “messed up the chronology”. To be fair, I used to kind of agree. Gotham was sold as a gritty crime drama about the mob families. As a prequel that would tell the story of how Gotham got to becoming the city that needed Batman, the city where supervillains thrived. And that was great. Except that, with a few exceptions, most of the villains that are traditionally around Bruce’s age were aged up so that they were already fully grown adults at the start of the series, while Bruce was only twelve. Meaning that, if the writers followed the traditional timeline, the villains would be well into middle age by the time Bruce put on the cowl, and by the time most of the Batfam showed up, they’d be fighting senior citizens. Which is why it was so great that by seasons two and three the writers had completely abandoned that premise. It became very clearly an Elseworlds tale, because instead of being a Batman prequel, it became what was, essentially, a Batman story, if Batman were a teenager. It’s about Bruce having to get his training from within Gotham, not outside it, and finding ways to help well before developing fighting skills. It’s an awesome take on the mythos and a sign of writers that care about the long history of Batman and telling a good Batman story while also making something we’ve never seen before.

Comic fans are impossible to please, and we all know that. You have people that complain about Gotham being too little like the comics and people that complain about Watchmen being too much like them. So the best way to tell a story based on superhero comics has to be embracing the new medium. As great and universal as the characters are, comics are different from animation are different from live action, and different stories are best suited for each medium. The more that idea is embraced, the better stories we can get.

The Robin Mantle: How Dick Grayson Is One Of The Few Characters To Get No Say Over Who Bears His Name

As with many people, I’m not a fan of the current direction of Nightwing comics. And that’s for a lot of reasons – how isolated it feels, with so few of Dick’s friends and family coming to see him; how silly the whole amnesia plot is; how I half suspect that this is an elaborate plot by Dan DiDio to make sure sales on the book drop so he has an excuse to cancel it and send Dick off into limbo for a while; and so on. But I think the primary reason it bugs me is the context of it in terms of how Dick made the Nightwing identity and how the Robin one ceased to be his.

When Jason became Robin, it was because Bruce decided the title was Batman’s to pass on. When Tim became Robin, it was because he stole the suit, and Dick accepted him partially out of guilt. When Stephanie became Robin, it was because she sneaked into the Batcave and demanded Bruce train her. When Damian became Robin, it was because Dick gave it to him – the only time when Dick actually got to choose who bore his name. My point with all this? That Dick almost never gets a say as to what happens with the first identity he forged. Which makes it absolutely essential he does with the second.

Robin was the first sidekick – even though when it comes to Robin, sidekick isn’t really the right word. And he was really the only one with a codename unique to him with no connection to his mentor – one that could really be the codename of an adult. Think about the Titans – Wally went by Kid Flash. Donna was Wonder Girl, Garth was Aqualad. All of those are names that have a limit on them. You can’t have an adult going around calling themselves any of those, because they’re not a kid, a girl, a lad. If they were to do that, they would always be beneath their mentors. Even the name Speedy – sure, it doesn’t have the same problem where it defines an age, but it was still connected to Green Arrow, because Roy only got that name because of how quickly he could shoot relative to Oliver. Robin was unique. Dick chose it. It had nothing to do with his mentor’s bat motif. And there was nothing about it that meant he couldn’t continue using it as an adult – hell, his Earth Two counterpart did. He moved on, not because he had to, but because he wanted to, and he wanted to not because the name had stopped mattering to him but because the name was too much associated with Batman.

Take pre-Flashpoint Barbara. She defined Batgirl, and it was only with her blessing that Cass took on the role. That blessing led to a really great dynamic between the two of them, and I loved that it happened. But despite this, one can argue that “Batgirl” isn’t really Barbara’s enough that it had to. Because it was a name derivative of Batman. Because as Batgirl, Barbara was just another vigilante with nothing really unique about her. Because even though it was Batman and Robin, not Batman and Batgirl, it was Robin that was less tied to Batman and Gotham. Batgirl wasn’t personal to Babs. Her being a vigilante was. That’s not the same thing. I think Barbara is better as Oracle. I think she moved on a long time ago and it was a mistake to make her Batgirl again, but before the writers did that, her legacy was a beautiful one of choice. Barbara got to choose her successors, Bruce got to choose his. It’s only Dick that’s denied that right – and denied that right repeatedly. People think they have a right to his identity. Not only that, they behave as though they have the right to tell him what his name means, whether that be in the form of Alphonse Whatsit unknowingly telling Ric what Nightwing represents – and not in the form of a pep talk – or Duke claiming that he’s Robin now. Hell, in Robin War, Dick even said that Bruce told him what Robin means. That’s not even remotely what happened! By contrast, despite the fact that the idea of the bat as a symbol has been pushed forever, we don’t see people that are supposed to be seen as heroes dressing as Batman. We have people that are inspired by him choosing their own Bat-identities with their own costumes – Batgirl, Batwoman. But anyone that goes around calling themselves Batman? They’re always considered crazy imposters. Even down to Dick! When he first put on the suit in Morrison’s run, he complained about how he was considered just another imposter and not Batman!

I enjoyed a number of scenes in Robin War. But Dick has always been my favourite comics character, and I felt like it didn’t grasp the point of Robin, or how much Dick shaped that legacy. What’s strange is that it did that without actually characterizing Dick poorly. While I liked that he was written as smart enough to outmanoeuvre all the other players, that the reason he got his brothers to train the kids wasn’t because he thought they were in the right to use the name, but because he was setting them up to be caught by the police so he could get them off the streets and out of trouble and implement his real plan…this was a story that was supposed to be celebrating his anniversary. And it didn’t celebrate what Robin means, what the legacy and symbol represent to the people of Gotham, but focused on the idea that anyone can be Robin. Which isn’t at all what other canon says. Robin War ignored the fact that other official Robins flat out could not be Robin the way Dick was by acting like it’s just a legacy that can be filled by anyone, with or without training, with or without any connection to what Robin means. And it really bothers me how obvious it is that no other character gets this kind of treatment. Hell, one of the “Robins” joined the movement because she idolized Batgirl.  Not Robin. So why the fuck didn’t she put on a Batgirl suit and fight crime?! The concept of Robin is iconic and necessary, but doesn’t get much respect. Lee Bermejo wanted to “update” it by trying to make it into a movement. I think that’s bullshit. If you’re updating Robin, you gotta do the same damn thing to Batgirl. To Batman. But that’s not what happens. You don’t see a We Are Batman movement, because Bruce gets acknowledged as special  somehow. 

And then there’s Nightwing. I like seeing the impact Dick has had on Bludhaven and that he’s inspired others to follow in his footsteps. It’s as if he’s getting deeper ties to Bludhaven as a city, rather than being halfway to Gotham all the time. But it’s another example of people behaving like they have a right to Dick’s identity and taking it on without permission. Dick as Nightwing demonstrates how to take on a legacy with respect and make it your own, how he wished Robin had been passed on – he talked to Clark who told him a story, and Dick, with permission, took on the name as a way of honouring both his mentors. All these other Nightwings don’t know Dick or what Nightwing means. They just took on the costume and started calling themselves Nightwing. And the people that buy Nightwing aren’t doing it to read about a bunch of random characters that only showed up now. We’re doing it because we care about Dick Grayson and the Nightwing identity he made. This feels like writers that are so determined to leave a mark on the mythos that they’re willing to do all kinds of stupid things and use a popular character to do it. It kind of reminds me of Harper Row, and the way her Bluebird costume was so clearly a reflection of the pre-52 Nightwing suit at a time when Dick was off being a spy. These are things that should be his that are being handed off to other characters by writers that expect fans to be excited just because it’s an “homage” to a character we love. It’s really, really not. I’d make the case that Dick is the most important legacy out there. So it is long past time writers stopped giving people elements of his mantles as a way to give them a popularity boost and start actually respecting what those legacies are.

That’s one of the things I enjoyed about when Dick became Batman after Battle for the Cowl. Bruce said that he didn’t want anyone to take up the mantle. Dick saw that he needed to and did it anyway. It’s the only time he’s ever gotten close to doing what so many other characters have done to him. And yet, it was done in a way that made sense in the story, made sense with the characters, and respected the legacy Bruce had built. That’s never happened with Nightwing, and has only sort of ever happened with Robin.

What makes superhero stories interesting is the idea that anyone can be a hero, whether or not they have powers or special abilities of any kind. Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean anyone can be Robin or Nightwing. It means that Leslie Thompkins can open a free clinic in the worst part of Gotham and keep helping people with nothing but medical knowledge and willpower. It means Lois Lane can solve all kinds of problems and fight for truth and justice, armed with nothing but her brain and determination. It means that Bruce Wayne can spend years training to become someone capable of protecting his city. It does not mean that any random person can take up the legacies Dick fought for and forged to honour the people he loves as if he had no unique skills whatsoever. Not everyone can be Lois Lane. Not anyone can be Nightwing. What it means that everyone can be a hero is that everyone can become their own hero.

Dick Grayson is my favourite comic book character of all time. I love Nightwing and all it represents. And I don’t have a problem with Dick setting it aside to go do something else, because he as a character is way more than the name Nightwing. Thematically, though, it does not work anymore for someone else to take up his mantle without him choosing to pass it down. So after this arc is resolved, if the writers want Dick to go off and do something totally different while someone else takes Nightwing? Fine! But that someone else had better be someone Dick cares about, and it better be his choice to give it away.

Looking The Part vs. Embodying the Role

David Mazouz was born to play Bruce Wayne.

Child actors are often pretty hit or miss, right? I mean, sure, you could argue the same thing is true of adults. But it’s often worse when it comes to kids, due to a combination of inexperience and scripts written by people that have apparently not interacted with anyone under the age of eighteen in years. Because of this, the combination of a talented child actor and a competent writer can be absolutely memorable. That’s definitely the case with Gotham.

Every single time I watch an episode of Gotham, whether it’s one from the first season or one from the fifth, I’m left completely in awe of how well Mazouz plays Bruce. In a show full of impressive performances, it’s Mazouz’s Bruce that stands out the most to me. That’s partly because of great writing that shows him developing from a helpless kid that doesn’t know what he’s doing into a capable, confident, and driven young man that may not have all the training he one day will but still embodies the spirit of Batman. The rest of it is because Mazouz’s excellent performance brings the character to life. I look at him and think, this is Bruce Wayne. He’s still a teenager. He doesn’t have the height or build we expect. But you know what? To me, at least, he still feels like Batman.

Maybe it’ll be awkward seeing him in the suit at the end, because he still looks young. I keep seeing people say things to that effect – like, I can’t take him seriously as Batman, he’s too scrawny and young! I disagree, though. Sure, maybe seeing his head imposed on a body double as they try to pass him off as a decade older will be a bit jarring. It’s not like they’re trying to make a thirty year old look forty, where it’s just a question of maybe greying the hair a bit and adding some lines, they’re trying to make a teenager an adult. But I have absolutely no issue with him being Batman. None.

I’ve seen a lot of people – and this was before it was announced that the series finale will take place in the future – saying stuff about how they want to see Batman, or they want to recast with a timeskip because Mazouz was great for kid Bruce, but not Batman. I think all those people are kind of missing the point, because they’re too focused on Batman as “big guy in a cool suit”, and because they’re not seeing that suit, they’re still talking about “when are we going to see Batman”. The way I see it, the answer to that question is we already have.

Forget the proto-suit he wore at the beginning of season four. Forget about the future scene we’re going to get. Forget about how people are always drawing distinctions between Bruce Wayne and Batman. And think about scenes like in 3×14, where he fought Jerome and decided that I will not kill will be his mantra, or when he told Selina’s fence he should have taken the offered deal in 4×15, or at the end of 4×22, when he slams a guy into a storage unit; demands to know where Jeremiah is; then, once the guy claims ignorance, tells him to tell Jeremiah Bruce is looking for him and knocks him out. Those scenes? Those are more Batman than most actors to have played the role have ever gotten. He may not have the name. He may not have the costume. He may not have the build or the age. But he already embodies Batman.

You can see something similar if you look back at Michael Keaton’s version of the character. Keaton is only 5’9″. I’m pretty sure he’s the shortest actor to have ever played adult Bruce. And I think until Mazouz and Affleck, he was the best. With Mazouz, I think people that would otherwise care about the height manage to set that aside just because they see it as him not really playing Batman – which, I guess, is justified by the fact they’re using a stand in in the finale, despite my feelings about how perfectly Mazouz embodies the character. With Keaton, it was more a question of a good use of the camera so his height wasn’t noticeable – and, when we look back on his movies, probably some element of nostalgia. But Keaton’s performance was also convincing enough to pull focus away from how he looked. Looking the part is good. Embodying the role is better.

I was very disappointed when the news broke that there’ll be a new Batman for the DCEU solo movie – especially coming, as it did, so close to the end of Gotham. Ben Affleck’s performance was one of my favourite parts of  Batman v Superman – a movie that everyone reading this probably already knows I love. For me, Affleck was completely unparalleled casting, both because of the fact he looks the part – height, musculature, good looks – and the fact that he nailed the spirit of the character – the intensity, the determination, the drive. The looks alone will never be enough, but it was a very nice bonus. It’s breaking my heart to lose both that Bruce and Gotham‘s so close together.

The problem when it comes to me accepting a future Batman in the films is that Affleck both looked the part and embodied the role. While obviously I prioritize an actor that embodies the character over one that looks the way I expect the character to look, both is preferable. I’d be able to set that aside for an actor that does as tremendous a job as David Mazouz in making Bruce Wayne believable…but I’m not seeing that happening with this next movie. We were fortunate enough to get to two fantastic incarnations of Batman at the same time with Affleck and Mazouz. Now I think we’re going back to decent. After being so spoiled with Gotham and Batman v Superman, I can’t help but be disappointed.

I would have loved to see Mazouz play adult Bruce in ten, fifteen years. He might get taller or he might not, but he’d be fully grown, so his face wouldn’t look weird under the cowl, and he’s already demonstrated how good he is in the role. We’re not going to get that. We’re probably not even going to get someone at that level. So I think all I can do now is hope that whoever is next cast as Batman can do even close to as good a job as Mazouz, because if he can’t…well, his movie is going to be about a Bruce early in his crime fighting career. If he’s not up for the task, I’m going to go back and rewatch  Gotham instead.

My Issue With Barbara As Batgirl

A while ago, I wrote a post about the Robin issue, and I touched upon the idea that writers were paradoxically claiming that Nightwing is what Dick was meant to be and that Nightwing is a lesser hero than Batman, refusing to let him be truly independent. That made me want to write another post on something very similar that happened to a different character: Barbara Gordon, when she was pushed back into her role as Batgirl.

There has been a lot of debate over the years over Barbara’s status and disability, such as in this article from 2009. Now, the writer does a pretty good job of expressing why returning her to her state pre-paralysis is problematic, pointing out that Barbara is one of the very few disabled characters in comics and undoing her paralysis would be making the slate less representative of the world as it is, but he also says something that I staunchly disagree with, and that’s the following:

One could argue that curing Barbara and allowing her to be Batgirl again would simply allow her to do more good fighting crime than she ever could in a wheelchair, but then you look insensitive to the ability and usefulness she has in other capacities as Oracle. Conversely, you could say that removing Barbara from her wheelchair drastically alters her character, but then wouldn’t that indicate that this is a character defined by her handicap? This begs the question [sic] of why so many fans adore her: is it because she’s a bold and daring leader that rivals the Calculator in brains? Or is it because she’s all of that, but stuck in a wheelchair? Think about the question, and surely many of you will find an answer you don’t like.

The problem with this quote is that it’s confusing two issues. Barbara as Oracle matters for many reasons. And yes, one of them is that she’s in a wheelchair! She’s a disabled hero, and erasing that is disgusting. There are very few disabled characters in the DC universe; she’s arguably the most popular of those; and since people in reality aren’t going to get some magical fix for all their injuries, it means something that Barbara lives in a world of aliens and mythological beings, but was still in a wheelchair. But the reasons she matters are part of a different list than that of the reasons why she’s a great character. Sure, there’s overlap, but they are still different lists.

Barbara is awesome because she’s smart and competent, a leader that grew from a teenage girl that saw injustice and was determined to do her part to stop it long before any personal tragedy. And as horribly sexist as her being shot The Killing Joke was – and believe me, I know it is, I talked about that here – it also paved the way for added depth to her character, because it gave her a tragedy. You can’t see what characters are made of until you push them to their limits, and what Barbara proved to be made of was iron willpower and determination to keep fighting.

As Oracle, Barbara wasn’t an extension of Batman. She wasn’t Batgirl, she was the one and only of her name. She’d graduated to being a full partner. She’d already given up Batgirl at the time of her paralysis because she’d outgrown the role, and her paralysis let her pave a new path. Barbara as Oracle wasn’t defined by her wheelchair or how it stopped her from being Batgirl. She was defined by how she got back up and refused to stay down, how she’s brilliant and capable and absolutely necessary to other heroes she is. That all could have happened without the wheelchair. She didn’t need to be permanently paralyzed to be Oracle. But you know what? She was. By the time of the New 52, she’d been so for literally half her publication history. I saw another comment once, from before the New 52. Someone was arguing that Barbara should return to being Batgirl because her paralysis was sexist, pointing out that when Bruce broke his back, he recovered, while Barbara was paralyzed for life. And that may be partly true. But when Bruce broke his back, he never did what Barbara did, never forged an entirely new identity, never built something new and better. When Barbara became Oracle, that’s what she did, and she was Oracle – a fully grown woman in a wheelchair, a leader of a team of superheroes, and a mentor and maternal figure to her successors as Batgirl – for too long to just erase it and force her back into a role she no longer fits.

Removing Barbara from her wheelchair may not “drastically alter her character”. With it or without, she’s still the same smart, tough, badass she always was. But removing her from her wheelchair is synonymous with removing her from the identity she created out of her trauma. It’s disregarding over twenty years of an iconic character’s history – pretty much the most interesting part. And beyond that, it’s just a gross thing to do! You can’t advocate erasing a character’s disability by saying, “oh, she’s a badass character that’s more than her wheelchair”. That’s disingenuous. It’s not a good faith argument. It’s designed to trap people into either saying that they think the wheelchair is the most important thing about her or believing that because it’s not, maybe it’s no big deal to get rid of it. Neither of those things are true! Because yes, Barbara is more than her disability, but that doesn’t mean her disability isn’t a part of who she is. Returning her to her feet was pretty much keeping the bad from The Killing Joke with none of the good that came about because of it.

Look, Barbara is great in all forms. But as Batgirl, there’s nothing special about her. She’s another generic costumed vigilante in a city that has way too many of them. Plenty of girls can be Batgirl, but only Barbara can be Oracle. She helped so many more people as Oracle than she ever could as Batgirl. Oracle is incredible because her paralysis was one of the few lasting consequences in DC. Characters die then come back to life to the point where death is just whatever. They recover from injuries that should have long lasting impacts, if not kill them out right. It’s because of this that comics can get frustrating – at times, it seems like an endless cycle of the same story over and over again, with nothing ever mattering, because we all know it’ll be undone in a few months, only to be brought up now and then when a writer wants some angst or drama. Oracle was one of the few exceptions to that.

She’s been treated terribly since Flashpoint. She’s stopped being a mentor. She stopped being an equal. She’s been deaged and devalued, going from being a long established and independent and the leader and founder of the Birds of Prey to someone that dreamed of joining that team. It’s not even just Barbara – Barry Allen returning to life, everything that happened with Wally, was almost as bad, because that, too, was getting rid of one of the few lasting changes in the universe. But Barbara being forced back into her Batgirl role is the one that bothers me, personally, the most. Batgirl is fine. And Batgirl is not a part of Barbara’s past that can be set aside. It’s her legacy. But she and Dick are counterparts. Batgirl and Robin are counterparts. Barbara has moved beyond Batgirl just as much as Dick has moved beyond Robin. It’s time to let her move on, to let Cass and Steph have Batgirl in their histories again, to let Barbara stop being Anything-girl and be an adult.

It’s also interesting – and by interesting, I mean tragic – to consider how little Barbara’s role as Oracle is really valued when it comes to adaptations. For a start, she’s not going to be in the Birds of Prey movie, even though it’s titled after her team and she was one of the only three core members. But it goes well beyond that and into the fact that we never really see Barbara’s origin. We see her as Batgirl sometimes – Young Justice, the 60s Batman, Batman: The Animated Series. We see her as Oracle sometimes – Birds of Prey,  season three of Young Justice. And sometimes, we see The Killing Joke. But not Barbara’s real origin. Because that wasn’t The Killing Joke, it was what came after. It was her refusing to let anything stop her, least of all the Joker. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy we don’t have to witness her being shot more. I find that very similar to how it’s, in most cases, going to be unnecessary to see Jason get beat to death with a crowbar. I have no issue with not seeing either of those stories played out on screen. But as much as I love seeing Babs as Oracle, it’s disappointing to not see her journey to getting there. The context is so valuable in giving us a rich story.

Barbara Gordon is too damn good a character to waste like this. Maybe we won’t ever get to see her as Oracle again in the main continuity. But if that’s the case, I at least want to see that in elseworlds tale, because call me crazy, but throwing away twenty years of history and a major chunk of a fabulous character is a dumbass decision.