In which the blogger continues the piece begun here. The reader might like to know that what follows was largely written in the period between Gail Simone being sacked and then rehired as the writer of Batgirl. The reader might also like to be warned that there's a limited degree of overlap between this post and yesterday's piece about Simon Baz, the new Green Lantern, given that both were concerned with the New 52;
Little speaks as badly of DC as does the characters and themes which were abandoned when the New 52 was jerry-rigged into place. This is particularly true where the wiping from the slate of Secret Six and Oracle is concerned. In so conspicuously excluding both properties from the newly minted DCU, the reboot was revealed to be largely - if not exclusively - unconcerned with issues which might fail to play to the presumably conservative values and peculiarly constrained tastes of the targeted bloke-fan audience.
The company's lack of interest in representing
the physically disabled, for example, can be noted not just in the reversion
of Barbara Gordon to the guise of Batgirl, but from the absence of any new version
of Oracle from the line in the 16 months since the New 52 began. There’s been more than
enough time, you might imagine, to introduce another take on the concept, and it would
hardly have been a difficult business to achieve. Just as a previously-unknown member of the Gordan clan was introduced to fulfil the by-the-numbers stereotype of a yawnsome family psychopath, so too could another sibling have been placed on the board to function as Oracle. Or, as is the way with the superhero book, any number of sub-genre tropes from clones to alt-world look-a-likes might have been put productively to work. But no, DC's concerns have quite transparently been elsewhere.
Indeed, there's an unpleasant irony in how the corporation's post-reboot books have so frequently focused on superheroes suffering extreme examples of body-horror while rarely experiencing any long-term physical or psychological after-effects at all. Writers such as Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone had worked with compassion, intelligence and insight so that Oracle's experiences might reflect both the reality of traumatic injury and the subsequent process
of adaption and growth. DC now often appears to be knee-deep in gratuitous scenes of extreme physical anguish largely for the lad-thrilling hell of it. To even begin to list the super-people in the New 52 who've been impaled, stabbed or run right through would require a considerable post of its own. And though I may well have missed books which took the longterm mental and material consequences of such adversity seriously, those I have come across have typically shown few convincing repercussions at all. What mattered, it seems, was the shock and the gore, indulged in for their own sake without reference to any of the more human issues which might have been discussed. No surprise then that DC's output has seen such crass exploitation tactics increasing in number and scale. How else to keep the attention of an audience which has been so often encouraged to dwell on vicious spectacle far more than emotional substance? And where might such a process end up, given how swiftly desensitisation inevitably kicks in?
Secret Six once proved that the audience could be offered the most perverse and challenging of material while also being encouraged
to both think and feel. Gail
Simone’s purpose on the title was clear. Even as she was keen never to disguise
how disordered and dangerous the Six were, and to do so in a form that was thoroughly entertaining, she always emphasised how
damaged and tortured her anti-heroes were. In short, their inhumane acts were used to
accentuate rather than diminish their humanity, and the worse they behaved, the more their kinship with the reader was emphasised. There but for the grace of God, ran the theme of Simone's tales, and they remain some of the most remarkable in the sub-genre's history. For at the heart of the Six was a
demand that the audience emphasise with characters they'd traditionally been encouraged to disdain, fear and loathe. Instead of simply being faced with the irredeemable, appalling Other, the reader was also made aware of the psychological disorders which stood between the Six and the possibility of their enjoying a more sane and meaningful existence. As such, Simone constantly returned to the debate between free will and determinism, and in doing so, took her stand against reactionary and callously over-simplified attitudes to punishment and control. Where so many superhero books have implied that death is the only possible solution to the well-nigh uncontrollable killing sprees of super-psychopaths, Simone's work on the Secret Six argued that crime is a far more complex and challenging business than that.
In the long months since the Six’s cancellation,
the Bat-books alone have played host to a range of deadly, torturing,
almost-unrestrainable, often-interchangeable psychopaths. From young mister Gordon himself to numberless Owls,
from the Joker to Professor Pyg, Gotham City has been constantly terrorised by cureless, conscienceless maniacs. Though some of the stories have been better than others, the cumulative effect is as enervating as it's distasteful. Few of these tales have focused on the raising of any ethical issues at all. In their so-often desperate rush to bad-ass the reader into buying the next issue, the image of criminal as well-nigh unstoppable Other has been placed at the centre of events. Where once the superhero helped society keep order, now society is so powerless, incompetent and corrupt that it relies upon costumed crimefighters simply to maintain an nightmarish state of constant insecurity and terror. In this, little has apparently often mattered on the page beyond the piling on of an excesses of fear and violence seasoned with a few laddish sniggers. As such, the sight of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason ending a chapter of the current Joker crossover with Bruce Wayne expressing his love and pride for his son seems far more shocking - and welcome - than have any of the Event's many bleak and grimy headline atrocities.
As if attending to the paranoid fantasies of readers who
believe that the world really is out to get them, and that no form of society
can either enrich their lives or protect their interests, one thinly-drawn
child of Lecter after another has stalked Gotham. Of course, such figures free
the tale's heroes from a great deal of the need to reflect anything other than
the bloody-handed, self-pitying conventions of frontier justice. Innocents can
be wounded and slaughtered, tearful heroes can be punctured and swear righteous vengeance, and heroic punishment can be meted out. But then, that's what the New 52 has so often
celebrated, with its Bat-books often seeming to portray a permanently traumatised America, where anything is permissible in order to protect the poor pathetic citizenry against the endless hordes of insane master-killers.
to be concluded;