Tagged: Barbara Gordon

John Ostrander: Suicide Squad TPB 6 — Control

This week we wind up our discussion about the 6th volume of DC’s reprint of my (and Kim Yale’s) run on the Suicide Squad. We’ll be discussing the final story in the book; it was issues 48 and 49 and featured Oracle, a.k.a Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl crippled by an attack from the Joker. She then re-made herself into the go-to information broker in the DCU. Well, Kim and I re-made her but you get the idea.

This story brings back another character from the Squad, Simon LaGrieve who had been the Squad’s shrink. He and Waller had not parted well and now he was the head of the Institute for Metahuman Studies (the IMHS). La Grieve was doing Waller a favor in treating two members of the Squad who were hurt in the previous story and in return, had a favor to ask of her.

There was a character in Firestorm (which I had also been writing and from which I also got the IMHS) named Cliff Carmichael who was Ronnie (Firestorm) Raymond’s nemesis. I’d inherited the character and, to be honest, I didn‘t much care for him so I decided he was a sociopath and he wound up at the IMHS.

There at the Institute, thanks to two dunderheaded scientists, Cliff got a hold of the late Thinker’s helmet. (I’d killed off the Thinker in another Squad story.) He used the helmet to analyze the helmet itself, create a series of microchips that he had inserted in his head – along with a computer port – and became a real cyberpunk. He gained the ability to interface with any computer and, oh yeah, could create a field within which he could grab control of another’s person’s brain. Doncha just love simple, easy, straightforward backstory?

Minor digression: The two dunderheaded scientists were named  ­­Pangloss and Caius. Pangloss is named for a character in Voltaire’s Candide and there’s a Doctor Caius in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. I do that from time to time; borrow names from other literary works. Simon LaGrieve was named after Simon LeGree from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He carries no other traits with that odious character but I did it as in in-joke for myself related to Belle Reve prison which had been the Squad’s HQ for much of the series.

Belle Reve is also the book’s connection to Tennessee Williams, being the same name as the plantation that Blanche DuBois and her sister Stella had been raised on in A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche lost it and my conceit is that it was bought by someone who lost it to the government which then built a prison on it. That’s why the prison is in the swamps in Louisiana.  (There’s your bit of Squad trivia for the day.) A plantation should have an overseer and that’s how Simon LeGree became Simon LaGrieve. End digression.

Carmichael, a.k.a. the new Thinker, was now stalking Oracle. Why? Because LaGrieve asked Oracle to help set a trap for the escaped Thinker. The idea was to introduce a virus that would wipe the chips in his brain but the plan backfired and now the Thinker is stalking Oracle to punish her for her part in the scheme. And LaGrieve wants the Squad’s help in stopping Carmichael before he can do it. Of course, Amanda agrees; she and Oracle also have history.

Not really a spoiler alert: Waller succeeds and Oracle survives but not before the Wall also tries on the old Thinker’s helmet. Carmichael with that kind of technology was scary; Waller with it? Brrrrr!

The cover to issue 49 is also one of my faves in the series and one of the great ones featuring Babs Gordon. Drawn by Norm Breyfogle it just has Barbara in her wheelchair pointing a gun out in the general direction of the reader. There’s a bat symbol behind her, a determined look on Bab’s face, and a one-word balloon: “Smile.” Definitely a reference to the Joker who put her in that wheelchair.

There’s some hits and misses in the story. To show the first confrontation between Oracle and the Thinker, we had it take place in cyberspace. The look was heavily influenced by the movie Tron (the first one). It’s interesting but also now a bit dated. Don’t blame Luke McDonnell and Geoff Isherwood who were the artists; they were simply following the instructions of the writers. In fact, don’t blame Kim either; I think this was my big idea.

There are only a few members of the Squad available for the mission: Bronze Tiger, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, and a hidden Atom. We carry over the gag from the previous story that Boomerang’s and Deadshot’s luggage is lost by the airlines, largely due to Boomerbutt. Deadshot is not pleased and Harkness is getting real nervous.

A big issue in this story is whether or not Barbara, who knows that the Thinker is after her, will shoot him. And who does she really want dead? For me, that’s the most vital part of the plot.

The story resolves with Waller getting uncharacteristically physical, basically beating the crap out of the Tinker. Actually, it’s very satisfying, I think. And Oracle agrees to resume her relationship with Waller and the Squad.

Oh, and we also set the stage for the double-sized issue 50 which will be reprinted in late November when the 7th volume of the Squad TPBs come out. Volume 6 will be out around May 23 and now you have all the background dirt on these stories. The Squad should always have background dirt.

John Ostrander: Suicide Squad Redux

suicide-squad-apokolips-now

Oh, you lucky kids.

As I pointed out last week in this column, there is a plethora of John Ostrander related material out there this month for you to buy. You’d think it was Christmas or something.

In the previous column occupying this space, I talked about the first volume of my Heroes For Hire series put out by Marvel. This week we’ll look at Volume 5 of Suicide Squad from DC that is coming out December 27. This one is titled Apokolips Now and the major story arc in the volume takes the Squad to the home of the nastier set of New Gods, Apokolips.

Lots of stuff happens in this volume. Three members of the team die, some walk away, some long running subplots are put to rest – including the revelation that Barbara Gordon is Oracle. By the end the volume, the Squad’s existence has been exposed and so has Waller’s running of the team… and she winds up in prison. Lots of story is crammed into this one TPB.

I want to focus for the moment on the first story in Volume 5. It’s one of the Personal Files that my late wife and co-writer, Kim Yale, and I would do from time to time. Each Personal File would center on one character and through them we would see other members of the team. There was never a mission in the Personal Files; you could think of it as an “All Sub-Plot” issue but I think they were highly effective and, as I recall, very popular with the readers.

This time we focused on Father Richard Craemer who was the spiritual adviser to the Squad. That probably sounds odd but the Squad was secretly headquartered in Belle Reve prison that had an active convict population and Craemer was also prison chaplain. In addition, Craemer was also a qualified psychological therapist and served the Squad that way as well.

Craemer is one of my favorite characters and Kim and I had a very definite agenda in creating and using him. At the time, almost every time you would get a priest or minister or preacher of what have you in comics, they were hypocrites – venal, and frankly rather despicable characters. That simply wasn’t either my nor Kim’s experience. That’s not to say those types aren’t out there and the revelation of pederasts among the clergy is well documented and, frankly, sickening. But not every member of the clergy is like that. It became a cliché, a stereotype.

However, Kim and I both had near relatives who were in the clergy. Kim’s father, the Reverend Richard Yale, was an Episcopal minister, a Navy chaplain and a counselor. My mother’s sister, Sister Mary Craemer, was an administrator at Mundelein College in Chicago and later was very active on behalf of senior citizens. Both were very good people and we wanted a character who would reflect that. And as you may have noticed, we borrowed from the names of them both to create the name of our character.

Father Craemer has a lot of humility and a great sense of humor which he needs in dealing with Waller and the members of the Squad. He listens and he treats everyone with empathy. It’s a known fact of my background that I studied to be a priest (one year, in my freshman year in high school, and my so-called “vocation” came from an overdose of Going My Way).  It’s possible that Craemer, to some extent, might be a projection of what I would have hoped I would be as a priest. Not entirely; Kim was a part of his make-up as well.

Craemer has sessions with several members of the Squad and its support staff; the session with Count Vertigo dealing with manic/depression comes to mind and I’ve heard from those in that community that it was a very accurate portrayal.

I so enjoyed Father Craemer that when he left the Squad I brought him over to The Spectre to be the spiritual advisor to the Wrath of God. Craemer never got the easy gigs.

All in all, I think Richard Craemer was a very successful character and there’s a reason for it. We thought the character through. Just don’t write the cliché. If that sounds obvious, well, a lot of basic writing rules are obvious.

So run out and get yourself a copy of the latest Suicide Squad collection. Get several. Give them out as gifts. People will thank you. And if they don’t, well… I do.

John Ostrander: Savaging Barbara Gordon

Barbara Gordon

Warners has announced that they are making an animated feature of Batman: The Killing Joke, the 1988 one-shot by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Central to the storyline is The Joker shooting Barbara Gordon at point blank range with a large caliber handgun, then savaging her (she is later seen with welts and bruises all over her face), ripping off her clothes, possibly raping her, and photographing her. Some consider it a classic. Others are asking how they can make an animated feature that’s true to the story and more are asking why they are doing it.

The “why,” I think, is pretty obvious – the book made money, evidently continues to do well on the backlist, and the powers that be are presuming it will sell well as an animated feature. They are probably not wrong.

I’ve read many comments on the idea online including female members of the comics community and all the comments I’ve read are disgusted with the idea of the comic as well as the announced animated feature.

At the time that Batman: The Killing Joke was released, I was co-writing Suicide Squad with my late wife, Kimberly Yale. Don’t get me wrong; I was and I remain a big fan of both Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Individually and together they have done stunning work. Moore is one of the giants of the comic book industry. He is, IMO, a better writer than I am and I don’t say that about many other writers (I have a very healthy ego and opinion of my own work, thank you very much). That doesn’t mean he can’t go wrong and I think that Batman: The Killing Joke went wrong.

In the controversial scene, there is the ring of a doorbell at the apartment of Commissioner Gordon. Barbara, all smiles and virtually going “tee hee,” goes to answer it. I should mention there is no chain on the door, no peephole to check who is in the corridor. There is evidently no policeman on guard duty in the hall. This is Gotham City, home of costumed psychopaths, and needs a vigilante dressed up as a bat to control the criminal population. James Gordon is the Commissioner of the Police and there are no safety measures where he lives?

Barbara opens the door. Barbara has been Batgirl and faced some of the costumed psychos inhabiting Gotham. She’s a grown woman who, in her own continuity, had been a congresswoman for at least one term. And yet she just flings the door wide open like a silly ninny.

There stands The Joker and he has a large caliber handgun. He shoots Barbara somewhere below the middle. From the angle, Kim and I thought it was the spine although others think he actually shot her in the uterus. He then rips off her clothes, beats her, takes pictures of her (while her father, off panel, is held motionless by The Joker’s henchmen), and possibly rapes her. Kim and I felt that was strongly implied but, to be fair, it was not directly shown.

I know women who have been assaulted. I know women who have been raped. That’s heinous enough but can you imagine what it would be like to have been shot, to have your spine broken, and then to be sexually assaulted? The pain, the horror – I can’t dwell on it too long.

Kim and I discussed it. To have been shot at the close range, to have your spine shot out, should have killed Barbara. If not, Kim thought severe sepsis would have set in and Barbara would not have survived. However, in the story, she does. That’s a given.

I should point out that the cover has a close-up of the Joker aiming a camera at the reader and saying, “Smile.” In that context, the only possible interpretation I can conceive is that the reader, the viewer, is Barbara as she lay on the floor, after she had been shot, presumably after she had been violated.

How does that feel?

The Bat office was done with Batgirl at that point. Barbara no longer fit into their plans. Kim and I asked if we could have her and we were told that. So we re-created her as Oracle. To us, it was important that the act have consequence. We didn’t want Barbara to magically recover. Given the violence she had endured, we felt she would be paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair. However, we felt she could still be a hero.

It was a given in Barbara’s continuity that she was also a computer wiz. I mean first class. So we gave her banks of computers and made her the info wizard of the DC Universe. It started in Suicide Squad with her advising Amanda Waller, although we didn’t reveal Oracle’s true identity at the beginning. We left clues and, eventually, we showed it was Barbara.

Kim and I felt that, if we did the job well, Oracle could become an important part of the DCU. It solved writing problems for other writers; how did their protagonist learn a necessary plot point? They went to Oracle. She went on to become a valued member of the Justice League and led the Birds of Prey in their own book.

The last story that Kim and I worked on together before she died was Oracle Year One, drawn by the wonderful Brian Stelfreeze. We showed that year as Barbara made the transition from broken hero to dynamic Oracle. She became a strong and much loved icon for the disabled community. In making her a hero again, Oracle allowed others to heal with her. The reader healed with her.

Eventually, DC returned Babs to Batgirl status. Her spine was healed. Gail Simone was offered the job and she took it; she knew they were going to restore Barbara whether she wrote the series or not. She could, and did, make the events of the Killing Joke and Oracle a part of Barbara’s backstory; it wasn’t just forgotten.

It has been suggested that someone else could become Oracle but, to my mind, that wouldn’t work. You can’t just put anyone else into that role. It was the fact that she had been Batgirl, that she was Jim Gordon’s daughter, that she had her own long history, that she suffered the events of The Killing Joke – however heinous – all contributed to who she was. I don’t think anyone else but Barbara could be Oracle for the character to have any meaning.

I don’t know how all that gets fitted into an animated feature. I’m also not sure what parental response will be. It’s Batman, it’s Joker, it’s a cartoon. Great for the kiddies, right? Except this sure won’t be Frozen. If they change what happens to Barbara, I’m not sure it will be The Killing Joke either. If it’s not, why bother?

Oh, right. It’ll make money.

 

 

Martha Thomases: Change

Green ArrowThe drugstore on my corner, Avignon Pharmacy, went out of business over the weekend. We should have known the writing was on the wall when the pharmacy was sold a couple of years ago and the store just sold skin-care, shampoo, bandages and stuff like that. Still, the place had been in business, serving the neighborhood, since 1837. They were the place that could get that hard-to-find lotion, or the medicine the insurance company didn’t know existed. I’m going to miss them.

Change is hard.

Change isn’t just hard for old people like me. It’s hard for all of us. As the link says:

“The problem is that change involves ‘letting go of what we know to be the current reality, and embracing new thought,’ said Jaynelle F. Stichler, professor emeritus at San Diego State University’s School of Nursing. ‘Even something as seemingly mundane as changing the brand of toilet paper can cause a reaction.’”

Superhero comic book fans can be especially traumatized by change. A lot of us (by which I mean, of course, me) fell in love with comics as children, and any change in continuity seems like an assault on our sense of reality. Which is kind of ridiculous, given that superhero comics have hardly anything to do with reality.

I’ve been reading superhero comics since at least 1958. The Silver Age heroes are my touchstones. I loved the original Supergirl because she tried so hard to be helpful and good, just as I did when I was seven and eight years old. I also like the sillier of the trick arrows in Green Arrow’s quiver.

This isn’t to say that I’m against all change. I immediately preferred Barbara Gordon as Batgirl over Betty Kane. I loved the vision of Batman created by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. I liked the Wolfman/Pérez Teen Titans more than the original. The Vertigo Doom Patrol was, I thought, much better than the earlier versions.

Maybe because I’ve liked some changes, reboots and continuity lapses don’t upset me. If a story has a plot that moves and character development along with an engagement with thematic issues that appeal to me, I’ll like it. If I don’t like it, I’ll complain, probably, but I’ll also go look for something else to like. Maybe I’ll check back in a year or so to see if I like it again.

See, here’s the thing I learned when I worked in marketing at DC: every title is someone’s favorite. Books (and characters) I loathed were loved by others, and vice versa. Since I am, generally, in favor of more pleasure, I thought all kinds of people should have the books they wanted.

Giving everyone something different to read might be good for readers, but it doesn’t necessarily work for publishers. Traditionally, corporations make a lot more money from one title that sells 100,000 copies than they do from ten titles that each sell 10,000 copies, especially when these books are only on sale for a few weeks. However, the marketplace has changed enough now, with the growth of trade paperbacks and digital distribution, so that a title that starts slowly can build to sustain a committed and profitable fan base.

The advantage to these smaller audiences is that, taken together, they grow the size of the market so that everyone profits. And by growing the market incrementally, publishers can be much more experimental than they can with big blockbusters.

The movie business has shown us, recently, that putting all one’s creative eggs in the blockbuster basket can ultimately shrink the marketplace. For decades, Hollywood went after the young adult male market as if there was no one else on the planet who wanted to go to the movies. And that worked very well for a while.

Until it didn’t.

The top three grossing movies of the year so far have female leads. A movie aimed squarely at the over-50 market, trounced all the other movies that opened against it.

Blowing things up and super-powers are no longer enough to make a movie a hit. While I enjoy this kind of movie personally, I rejoice at more choices.

The conventional wisdom, that women won’t go to see action movies, especially if they feature female leads, has been convincingly proven wrong, as the conventional wisdom so often is. It turns out that girls and women enjoy watching a woman face a challenge, especially if it involves more than simply romance. It may take a few years to convince the men who run Hollywood, but I’m pretty sure they’ll come around.

Because if there is one thing that doesn’t change, it’s the media industry’s love of money.