Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hell Yes, Starling: My Rambling Thoughts about the DC Relaunch

I didn't begin buying comics on a regular basis until college, partly because there wasn't a comic shop in my hometown and I didn't become competent at driving on the Interstate until the three hour route to my campus forced me to become so, and partly because it wasn't until college when I became particularly interested in characters outside of comic films and cartoons.  I attended my first comic convention in my sophomore year of college, and my eyes were opened to a world of events I'd never before seen:  The Scarecrow had superpowers now?  Lois Lane and Clark Kent got married?  There were super-powered house cats reducing enemies to a cinder?

There will never be a time when this will not be awesome.
Prior to the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, my world of comic reading had been confined to various Batman trade paperbacks, because that's what the library had and that was what interested me.  I'd grown up with Batman and Superman - and later on, Smallville - on TV each day after school, and Christopher Nolan rekindled my love of the Caped Crusader with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  I'd only caught a few episodes of Justice League growing up, and it wasn't until 2010 that Linkara's comic reviews and the Green Lantern-based crossover event Blackest Night caught my eye and I really began to think about other heroes and the attraction they may hold for me.

I began to expand my horizons, picking up collections of the Green Lanterns' War of Light, All-Star Superman, and even reading through years of Wonder Woman's Golden Age wacky adventures.  I started to catch up on all the episodes of Justice League and found myself loving J'onn and Wally West. But despite my growing interest in characters that weren't Bruce Wayne and/or fighting Bruce Wayne, I still only picked up a handful of current comic books.

I'm not great at beginning stories in the middle.  I tried jumping into Wonder Woman and Gotham City Sirens, but with Wondie halfway through a battle with a villain I'd never heard of in the middle of a new continuity I wasn't familiar with, and Poison Ivy and Catwoman reaching the end of a fight that I hadn't seen the start of, I found it hard to connect.  I began to wonder if monthly comics just weren't a medium I enjoyed. 

I turned to Internet communities to try and find good points to jump on, but I was afraid to speak up in the majority of those spaces.  Many DC fans I happened upon were similar to Star Wars fans, in that it seemed a major part of the fan experience was based in hating what the company had been putting out for the past several years.  A large amount of ire seemed directed at Blackest Night in particular, the event that had sparked my interest in comics in the first place.  I felt like a poser, and psyched myself out of trying to connect.  These were real fans, after all: they knew the decades of continuity I was sorely lacking on, despite the best education Wikipedia could provide, and they knew far better than I what made a good comic.

It was through these communities that I learned about DC's upcoming relaunch as well, and what I learned was that it would be awful.  They were doing away with decades of character development, removing DC's disabled icon while claiming the new books would be more diverse, and they were utterly failing to attract interest from anyone outside the pre-established community in their marketing.  I cringed along with these sites as each new development was released, and even though I planned to use the relaunch as my jumping on point, I was convinced it was going to be a train wreck, because everyone I saw who actually knew anything about comics was totally disgusted.

August rolled around, and I chose my selections with all the randomness of a person who doesn't know much about comics presented with fifty-two brand new titles.  "Well, I like Batman, so Batman and Detective Comics and Batgirl and Batwoman.  And I like Harley Quinn, so Suicide Squad.  Etrigan was funny in that episode of Justice League, so I'll get Demon Knights, and I want to know how they can make a comic about a group of people who don't speak, so I'll check out Red Lanterns.  And I like Wonder Woman, and I like girls kicking ass, so I'll grab Supergirl because I like her new outfit and Birds of Prey because I like Poison Ivy."  Internally, a part of me cringed at my thought process, realizing how ditzy and clueless I sounded.  What sort of comic fan was I?  How did I expect to walk around a convention dressed as Wondie when I was so clueless about not only Wonder Woman, but current comics in general?

And then DC's new heroine Starling came literally crashing into Birds of Prey, smashing an antique car into a church, guns blazing.

"I mean, where do you even begin to confess a sin like this?"

Holy awesomeness, Starling.  From the tattoo sleeve to dual-wielding pistols, everything about this girl screamed "badass" from her introductory panel on.  A master strategist and fighter, Starling can not only save the day while delivering a top notch one-liner, but she can do the whole thing with a smile on her face.  What wasn't there to love?  She's a brand new character, adding fresh blood and new storytelling potential, and she's a lady who truly loves her line of work.  And, as issue five revealed, either gay or bisexual, making her not only awesome, but a part of DC's promised diversity.

Starling joins Batwoman, the Question, Voodoo, Bunker, Apollo, and Midnighter as one of DC's LGBT characters.
Well, as the Internet communities I'd found would have it, there was a lot not to love about Starling.  Birds of Prey, particularly under the writing of Gail Simone, was a title that many readers viewed as the cream of the crop before the relaunch.  Now the perfect team-up of Black Canary, Oracle, and Huntress had been splintered for a new team, and here DC was pushing yet another new white-skinned, blue-eyed heroine on us.  Not only that, but the praise other characters heaped on Starling and her snarky, kick-ass ways had branded her in the eyes of many as the worst possible type of female character: the black hole of perfection known as a Mary Sue.  Starling was yet another sign that DC Comics had jumped the shark, and we were all better off going exclusively Marvel.

Starling's reception was the final straw that made me realize these communities were far from the end-all, be-all of comics.  Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of legitimate points of contention with the DC relaunch, and even as a casual comics fan, I still had objections: Why did DC's badass overweight Amanda Waller have to be redesigned as a thin, conventionally attractive woman?  Why did they have to do away with Clark and Lois's marriage and child?  Why did Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown disappear from continuity before I could get to know them (and that's without going into the minefield that was the choice to restore Barbara Gordon as Batgirl)?  I certainly don't want to dismiss all who find fault with the relaunch as whiners or downplay all of their concerns.

But with that said, it was the relaunch - and Starling in particular - opened my eyes to the type of comics fan who only wants their preferred characters acting in their preferred story arcs, even if that means rehashing the same developments over and over again.  The type of fan who would scorn any type of change and often use the banners of diversity as their flagship to do so.  And many of the people that I had encountered in those communities were that model of DC fan, the sort who demanded the status quo be upheld and viewed anything else as ruined forever, as if DC was preventing the sale and reading of the pre-relaunch comics.

Picture unrelated.

DC Comics is far from perfect.  Examples of sexism, racism, homophobia, and ableism can still be found in their issues.  But the relaunch has taken steps to introduce more characters of color and those with orientations apart from heterosexual, as well as to introduce new blood and team ups.  I appreciate the steps that they've taken, and more than anything, I appreciate that the relaunch taught me not to let myself be intimidated out of the community by fans who love to hate all new output, and that it gave me awesome people like Starling - seriously, how can you not enjoy someone who refers to Poison Ivy as "Crazy Salad Lady"? - to enjoy while doing so.

Glad to have helped.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting. I was a big fan of Simone's Birds of Prey, and that title seemed in particular to suffer from the relaunch--there was a lot going on, and it seemed like Simone had to end things in a real hurry. (And the Question was going to join the team! That would have been awesome.)

    At the same time, the new Birds of Prey is definitely one of the top two or three new titles. I've loved the feel since issue one -- this really great superhero meets detective/noir thing. And Starling is indeed great -- without her, the new tone wouldn't work.