Gail Simone fired by DC Comcs from Batgirl… via e-mail

On November 30th, there was a rumor flying around about Gail Simone leaving Batgirl, her sole remaining title at DC Comics. Mrs. Simone is usually very good about responding to and interacting with her fans. Her entire response to the rumor seemed to be a single post on her own forum “I have not left Batgirl.” This was a relief to some fans, but the phrasing was cause for concern to others. Apparently, those of us who tend towards the pessimistic were right in this case.

It has been reported, and confirmed by Gail Simone herself, that she was not only fired from the book, but that it was done over e-mail. Apparently new editor Brian Cunningham didn’t feel that she rated so much as a phone call. Personally, I find this horrifically rude and disrespectful at best, and would not wish that kind of treatment on someone I didn’t like, let alone Gail, who has been a favorite of mine for years. From Gail herself:

“Okay, well, if you read the news on Bleeding Cool, I unfortunately have the sad duty to confirm that it’s true. As of Wednesday of last week, I was informed by an email from my new editor that I am no longer the writer of Batgirl.

I cannot express my disappointment at this. I think everyone is aware how important Barbara Gordon is to me, and how important it is to me that her stories be told with respect and care, both for the character and the readers.”

So, what happened with all this? Well, let’s see. Gail Simone is a critically acclaimed, award winning writer. I don’t love everything she did with the rebooted Batgirl, but I don’t think any of it was badly written. I think there’s plenty of that in the DC reboot, but Gail isn’t part of that problem. So I’d say quality wasn’t the problem. Sales? Nope, Batgirl under Gail was selling solidly, over 50,000 copies a month, which is a very respectable amount these days. So why would you fire a popular writer with a devoted following? Possibly another hint, this time from Twitter:

@gailsimone did you not put enough women in refrigerators or something?

— Mike Nelson (@themikecnelson) December 9, 2012

@themikecnelson Funny you should say that.

— GailSimone (@GailSimone) December 9, 2012

For those who don’t know, “women in refrigerators” is a comic fan phrase referring to the deaths of female characters, for no apparent other reason than shock value. The phrase, coined by Gail herself, refers to a story early in the career of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, who comes home to find his girlfriend brutally murdered and stuffed in a refrigerator by the villain Major Force. Kyle lost at least two other girlfriends, both superheroes, along the way, in needless death scenes.  Gail’s response there seems to hint that she was either told she wasn’t killing enough people, or was instructed to kill a female character and refused, or at least didn’t want to do it.

There are a lot of other theories popping up in the aftermath of all this. Some accuse DC Comics of becoming some kind of “old boys” club, with fewer and fewer female staff there. The news about Gail Simone comes uncomfortably close on the heels of the news that Karen Berger, who worked so many years for DC’s Vertigo imprint, had also left. Some have noted that female characters over-all don’t seem to be doing as well in the DCNU. One of the examples cited most often is that they found a way to shoehorn in all four male Robins in their revised timeline, but not only was Steph Brown the only female, left out of that group, she has not appeared in any DC title at all and has been apparently blacklisted by one of the higher ups at the company. Others mention the formerly overweight, tough as nails Amanda Waller becoming yet another pin-up model type in the reboot.

Personally, I noticed a trend in the DCNU that I hoped I was wrong about. Gail Simone was particularly noted for certain titles before the re-launch. She did a great job on Secret Six, a book about a band of third string villains who operated as mercenaries. They followed their own somewhat twisted ideals, and developed some real bonds with each other. The book sold reasonably well, reprint trade paperbacks hit the New York Times bestsellers list, and the title won awards for its portrayal of lesbian characters. Not only did the title not make the jump to the new universe, but it has been retconned away, retroactively erased from the DCNU.

Gail also had a very long run on Birds of Prey, a team founded by Oracle, the former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, and was identified strongly with that team. So much so that many mistakenly believe she created it, although that was actually Jordan K. Gorfinkle Chuck Dixon (another great writer now persona non grata at DC, but that’s another story). Gail was writing the Birds when the reboot was announced, and had the book taken from her, then given to someone who didn’t write comics. As that book and Batgirl unfolded, it became clear both that the previous Birds had never existed, and that Barbara was never Oracle. So, the two books Gail was best known for never happened. And now, she’s been fired from Batgirl, a character she loves, that fans associate with her, for reasons other than quality or sales.

Well, Gail isn’t male. She doesn’t write random violence and death with sex-pot females who serve as window dressing. She writes good stories with depth of character, respecting the history of the characters, and giving them complex motivations and personalities. In short, to many (no, not all) long term readers, she writes the opposite of what the new DC seems to be about. Is this why they took her off the last DC title she was writing?

It’s interesting: DC made the decisions along the way to erase the things Gail was best known for. And now, Gail herself is gone, for reasons so far not released. Of course, DC is a company, they are not accountable to the fans, and they don’t have to tell us anything. But in the absence of information, people make up theories and discuss rumors. I can’t say that anything I’ve mentioned here is why DC did anything and I wouldn’t presume to make myself an authority on their thinking, reasoning, or methods. What they’ve done fits what I’ve noted here. And you add in the oddness about Stephanie Brown, for example, and the general portrayal of female characters, and a pattern emerges. Gail writes real women. Look at the covers for any DC book, or several of their first issues in the reboot. The women wear as little as possible, take THAT off at random, and have sex because they are “bored.” That’s not a real woman, that’s the fantasy of a very immature man. Which is the stereotype of so many comic book fans. Some of whom are now writing and editing these very books. Hmmmm…….

Some Thoughts about DC’s Earth 2 Comic

Several months ago, as part of the second wave of comics in the “DCNU,” DC debuted “Earth 2,” which so far features reboots of characters from the Justice Society. Their decades-long history has been erased, and these new versions are at the very start of their heroic careers. The start point of this title was Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman sacrificing themselves to end the war against the forces of Apokolips. So, from the very beginning, we see things are different, as the “Big Three,” die horrible deaths and large swaths of the Earth are destroyed.

In the initial history, the founding membership of the Justice Society of America was: Atom, Doctor Fate, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Hourman, Sandman, and the Spectre. Of these, so far we have seen Atom, Flash, GL, Hawkgirl, and Sandman as of issue five. Hawkgirl made a comment that could be construed as an allusion to Dr. Fate when she met Flash, and there have been several passing references to Tyler Chemical, which is the company run by Rex Tyler, better known as Hourman. Hawkman and Spectre have both been used on the main Earth, so they are, if rumor is to be believed about restrictions on duplicate characters, not going to appear in the book.

Other passing references have included Ted Grant, before the reboot long-time hero Wildcat. So far, he’s been just talked about as a boxer, and there was at least one poster referring to a Grant vs. Montez fight. Yolanda Montez became Wildcat after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, carrying on Ted Grant’s legacy, and her father was supposedly a fighter Grant had met in the ring. When Al Pratt was exposed to radiation, no doubt giving him his powers as Atom, a soldier near him was called “Harper.” The Guardian was a non-powered hero with an indestructible shield whose real name was Jim Harper. There is a mysterious “World Army” lurking around the edges, and they have made references to Red Tornado and Captain Steel.

Red Tornado was said to be “not completed,” which strongly suggests what we will eventually see is the android version of the character who has wind related powers, best known as a member of the “Satellite Era” Justice League. What many either forget or don’t know is that this android started off on Earth 2. Captain Steel was on the other side of the world, which implies he’s some kind of active operative. There have been, in the pre-reboot world, Steel, also known as Commander Steel, member of the All Star Squadron, Steel, his grandson, member of the often derided “Justice League Detroit,” and Citizen Steel, who was in the last incarnation of the JSA before the reboot. Based on what I’ve seen of the other characters, I’d bet that it will be some version of the original with an amalgamation of bits from the other two versions.

There is a new Justice League book coming next year, and we’re told one of the members is going to be Stargirl, with ties to Starman. Both of those characters have ties to the JSA, but there have been several characters called “Starman,” so we don’t know which it will be. Stargirl is also rumored to have ties to Pat Dugan, who used to be Stripesy, of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, partner to the original Star Spangled Kid, and then was known as STRIPE, when he built a suit of armor. So it sounds like Stargirl and Stripe/Stripesy are not going to be a part of Earth 2. It also sounds unlikely Star Spangled Kid (later Skyman) will be, either. And at least one Starman is out of the running. Three of them, the blue skinned alien Mikaal, Will Payton, and the alien ruler Gayvn, have no ties to the JSA, so if it’s one of them that’s linked to Stargirl, we might still see a Starman in the Earth 2 book… unless that “no duplicate characters” rule comes into play again.

Three of the heroes who have played the biggest parts so far in the Earth-2 book are Green Lantern, Atom, and Flash. All of them are different from their previous incarnations in various ways. The original version of the Flash was a scientist, a brilliant man who adopted his trademark winged helmet by way of tribute to his father, who wore a similar (but non-winged) helmet during his service in World War I. The modern Flash seems to be something of a slacker and drifter– so far all we know is that his girlfriend left him because he wasn’t driven enough and that he has studied parkour (free running) at some point.

Green Lantern has been changed on many fronts. The original used his ring for a wide variety of effects, including the creation of constructs like modern day Lanterns. The modern era version has been shown to fly, use superhuman strength, and stand up to a great deal of damage, more resembling such characters as Superman and Captain Marvel than Green Lantern. His costume has changed a lot, losing the cape and in general looking more like the version in the alternate future story Kingdom Come than most of the ones Alan Scott wore in his time as a hero. They also decided to change his sexual orientation, making him gay in this version. All in all, a great many changes, not to mention the ret-conning away of two marriages and a pair of superhuman children, Jade and Obsidian.

One could almost argue that the Atom has been changed the most. Before the reboot, Al Pratt, the original Atom, was initially a non-powered fighter who later gained a frequently ill-defined “atomic punch.” Pratt had two legacy characters based in different ways upon him: his son Damage and his godson, Nuklon, later known as Atom Smasher. Damage had many powers, but was usually shown blowing things up with a massive energy display. Atom Smasher originally could make himself intangible, but later (and never explained) his power changed to growth. The Atom in the Earth 2 comic shows elements of both these characters; we’ve seen energy blasts come from his hands and he can grow to immense size. Additionally, this version of Al Pratt was a soldier when he got his powers, and is still a government agent. The original Pratt was a hothead and a rebel; I had seen a line from his teammates that “The unofficial battle cry of the Justice Society is ‘Atom, wait!’” So now the modern Atom incorporates two other characters formerly related to him, as well as having changed his personality somewhat.

One point I find interesting about the Earth 2 book is the name. It is not called “Justice Society,” or any version of that. Given the history of the Earth 2 designation and the characters we’ve seen so far, it’s an easy assumption to make that this team will eventually become the DCNU version of the JSA. But we don’t know that’s true, and I’d be a bit surprised if they do eventually name it that. The DCNU seems to be a lot about modernizing things, and really, when was the last time you heard anything calling itself a “society” outside of a college lecture class? I’m hoping that the team eventually pulls together and becomes a real organization, but I don’t know that the name will come back. I am wondering if they might choose to go with some variation of DC’s biggest (literally) Golden Age team, the All Star Squadron.

There’s another detail about the history of this world that seems to me to be glaring by omission. Before the current crop of heroes, there were Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Robin, Supergirl, and Terry Sloane’s “Mr. 8,” (my nomination for worst renaming of the entire reboot). What did these heroes do? There’s been no mention at all of any kind of supervillains. While Batman and his group work fine as street level heroes with no archenemies to battle it out with, that doesn’t really hold for Superman and Wonder Woman. But we’ve heard nothing of any major bad guys, either in terms of what they are doing now or what they had done before. Did Superman and Wonder Woman spend all their time fighting natural disasters?

Speaking of Sloane, he met Michael Holt, the DCNU’s Mr Terrific (formerly Sloane’s handle before the reboot) when Holt ended up on Earth 2 to escape the cancellation of his less than Terrific comic (ok, kidding about escaping the cancellation, but it makes about as much sense as some of the rest of this). Holt hasn’t been seen since, but I’m betting he’ll be turning up in this title eventually.

There’s been a lot of speculation about who else might appear in the book. So far, aside from the ones mentioned or hinted at above, I’ve only heard of one other character for sure. Issue eight is going to see the debut of Fury. Before the reboot, the original Fury was a Greek girl who was empowered by the actual Furies of myth. The second Fury was once Wonder Woman’s daughter, then retconned to be the daughter of the first Fury. Given the speculation around Robinson’s statement that Diana “wasn’t the last Amazon,” it seems like a good bet this new Fury will have some kind of connection to Diana. But what kind, and even if she’s coming in as a hero, remains to be seen.

DC & Dan Didio Dash Steph Brown fans’ hopes. Again.

When DC Comics announced their major reboot into the “DCNU” as many fans call it, there were, as you’d imagine, many changes. Some pleased people, some were troubling, some caused outrage. And, honestly, the way DC management has chosen to handle their fans’ concerns has made some things worse.

Many characters have disappeared in the reboot, with differing accounts of what may have happened to them, or what may lie in their future. One of the vanished is Stephanie Brown, who has been Spoiler, Robin IV, and Batgirl III (or IV if you insist on counting Helena Bertinelli briefly wearing the costume). Her stint as the title character in the Batgirl comic was a fan favorite, wonderfully written by Bryan Q. Miller, and it’s abrupt cancellation displeased many.

As the DCNU developed, Steph fans were even more displeased. While the powers that be at DC seem to be going far out of their way to avoid making definitive statements about the various missing characters, the circumstantial evidence about Steph Brown looks bad for her fans. Barbara Gordon is Batgirl again, and in nearly a year of stories, there have been no mention whatever of other either Steph or fellow former Batgirl Cassandra Cain in the books.

We have definitively seen that Steph’s time as Robin has been erased, making her not only the only retconned away Robin, but the only former Robin to not be active in new book. In the Batgirl books, they have very strongly implied that Barbara has been the only Batgirl. And there has been no mention at all of either Spoiler, Steph’s first identity, or Cluemaster, her father and reason she started her heroic career in the first place.

Not only did Steph vanish, but, surprisingly, so did her writer. Bryan Q. Miller was a fan favorite, and his not getting and books in the DCNU surprised many. However, after the first few waves of announcements, we finally learned that Miller had been given a book. They were continuing the long running hit show “Smallville” in a Season 11 book, and Miler was announced as the writer.

Then, things got even better. Miller announced that one of the characters he’d be bringing in was Steph Brown, as that world’s version of Nightwing. Now, that’s not a costume she’d even worn, and it wasn’t a part of the main DC world, but it made Steph fans happy.

Until this weekend. During the massive excitement of ComicCon disturbing rumors began to surface. Bryan Miller tweeted that he’d been removed from the Superman panel at the Con. And then stories started going around that Barbara Gordon would be replacing Stephanie Brown in the Smallville comic.

Now, understand, Steph’s appearance wasn’t rumor. Miller himself announced, there was art released, this was in TV Guide (why, I don’t know, but it was). The rumors swirled, and DC didn’t’ comment on them until Saturday the 14th.

Now, we’ve gotten this:

The outspoken fan who dresses as Batgirl and has often been critical of DC’s policies towards female creators took the mic to thank the panel for making an effort to expand their roster of creators by inviting the likes of Anne Nocenti and Christy Marx as well as putting Becky Cloonan on “Batman” for an issue. She said there’s still more work to be done, but she was very heartened by the way DC spoke out the policy and worked to make a change.

She then asked about the conflicting talk of whether Stephanie Brown would be replaced in the “Smallville” series by Barbara Gordon after the former idea was announced online. “That is true, and there’s a reason for it,” DiDio said, saying that he supported a switch from the original plan to stay in line with “Smallville’s” practice of introducing iconic versions of the DC heroes into the world of Tom Welling’s Clark Kent. “If we’re going to introduce a character into the ‘Smallville’ world, I want them to be the most iconic versions like Barbara Gordon or Dick Grayson, and maybe down the road we can do more.”

Ok, let’s look at this a minute. “Most iconic”? In Smallville? Really? Why is Bart Allen the only speedster in the Smallville world? Why make up the character of Chloe Sullivan? Or change the races of long time Superman supporting characters Lana Lang and Pete Ross? Why introduce Kent Nelson as Dr. Fate only to kill him? Why was Clark known as “The Blur” for so long? Black Canary as both a radio shock jock and hurling knives? NONE of those things are iconic, no matter how you’re using the word (which Dan Didio seems to have a very fluid definition of).

I’d be really curious to hear what led to this sudden about face. I really doubt Bryan Miller got as far as releasing art and doing interviews without someone at DC knowing what he was doing. Clearly, he got approval somewhere, or at the very least wasn’t told “No.” Yet somehow, after it got as far as art not only produced but released, DC pulled the plug on the story. And the “most iconic” rationalization, which was very strained before this, falls apart here. The “most iconic” Nightwing is Dick Grayson, NOT Barbara Gordon. I’ll also point out that so many of the changes they made to costumes made the characters no longer “iconic” in the comics. Superman wearing armor, Harley Quinn barely dressed, and Damian Wayne as Robin are far from iconic.

I don’t tend to put much stock in conspiracy theories, but there seems to be something afoot with some of these characters. Scott Snyder is currently the writer of Batman, and behind the recent major Court of Owls crossover. Even he can’t use them, to judge from his recent comment that he’d like to use either Steph or Cass when he was told they were “ok to be introduced.” I have a few contacts in the comics field and around the edges, and some sources are saying the recent change has nothing to do with “iconic,” but that the Steph and Cass characters are “toxic,” and Didio and company will not approve their use anywhere.

I don’t know what happened to cause DC to suddenly yank the rug out from under Steph fans yet again, but no one I know of is happy about it. Is it really that hard to give Steph’s fans a little something?

I’ll go out on a joke, as someone posted in a great picture for so many of the missing in action from DC: