I have been a fan of the DC characters since I was a kid. Before Christopher Nolan got his hands on Batman, I watched the animated series and pretended to be a super hero myself. I started reading comics in high school, and I’ve followed some of the characters in all of their media incarnations for years. However, DC comics has a long history of problematic story-telling choices, and their comics often perpetuate all sorts of oppression. And, unfortunately, ever since the new 52 reboot, I find myself uninterested in buying basically any of the new DC series because of the constant marginalisation of minority characters (see the attempted killing off of the Green Lantern, John Stewart, one of the most recognisable Black super heroes in the DC line-up. And the retconning/rewriting of Oracle, Barbara Gordon/Batgirl’s super hero identity she took on after she became disabled. And the murder of Alan Scott’s boyfriend. And the redesign of Harley Quinn. And the list continues).
How do you update one of the most recognisable DC villains of all time? You change everything about her and subtract a good portion of her clothing. Skin tight body suits aren’t sexy enough, you see?
However, despite my continued disappointment, I keep tabs on the comics because I do truly love many of the characters, and if the books get better, I am ready to jump back on board. Editorial might be bad now, but there is hope, right? Regrettably, DC keeps stomping on my dreams of something better, and today’s rant involves some major changes to the book, Birds of Prey.
The Birds of Prey has historically been a book about women in the DC universe. It started as a one shot with Oracle (Barbara Gordon) and Black Canary (Dinah Lance), but grew into a book about a super hero team composed of entirely of women. Being that women are generally unrepresented in most super hero books, it was great to see a book dedicated to showcasing women super heroes doing amazing things without the aid of their male counterparts. While male characters have occasionally been a part of the group, the focus has been almost exclusively on women and their struggles as super heroes, their friendships, and possibly their romances?
The Birds of Prey in the new 52, however, is a new book with new ideas. While I have been tempted to pick up the trades for this series that desire was shot dead with some of the most recent changes. A male character is being added to the cast, and, in a recent interview with DC Women Kicking Ass, Christy Marx, the new head writer of the Birds of Prey, stated that she was excited about “having a male character thrown into the mix. The opportunity can be summed up in one word – romance!”.
This comment immediately got me sputtering with a lot of cranky. While the Birds of Prey has never explored explicit queer relationships, it is a book well-known for queer subtext. For queer peoples looking for representation in the DC universe, this wasn’t a great way of finding ourselves, but it was better than being completely erased. There is a substantial fan-base for those supporting a relationship between Oracle and Black Canary as the two were portrayed in a very deep and intimate friendship in the pre-52 DC universe. To suggest that romance can only now happen that a man has joined the team ignores the history of queer subtext in this series, and certainly seems to imply that fans were silly to expect that the girl-on-girl fanservice was anything serious.
This comment from Christy Marx about romance feels even worse when one considers that fact that Starling, an openly queer/bisexual character, was recently revealed as a traitor and taken off the Birds of Prey team. Starling, otherwise known as Evelyn Crawford, is a new character introduced during the 52 reboot. An old friend of Dinah Lance’s (Black Canary), she was one of the initial characters to join this incarnation of Birds of Prey, and, unlike many of DC’s 52 additions, was actually considered a solid and interesting character. Not only is DC getting rid of a good, female, queer character, Marx’s quote seems to imply that even though Starling was on the team, romance could not have occurred. To suggest this is a very blatant erase of queer sexuality, and a prime example of heterosexism.
I’d like to pre-empt any commentary on the idea that queer people might be finding queer relationships where there are supposedly none to be found. Queer people have every right to expect to see themselves reflected in mainstream pop culture. Additionally, as a queer/bisexual/pansexual identifying person, I don’t see it as strange, weird, or impossible that female characters that were once in relationships with men are now attracted to or in relationships with women. To me, this sort of sexual fluidity is perfectly normal and does not suggest the type of deep character changes that cause comic fans to flail about (as often is said about both Oracle and Black Canary who have been in canon relationships with men). The fact that Oracle and Black Canary’s relationship can be read as queer, therefore, should not be seen as unusual or a delusional fan-based idea (also, can we talk about the ableism in calling fan girls delusional one day?). It is a possible and legitimate relationship that could very easily have been a DC supported development. Instead, we got a heaping dose of heteronormativity instead.
I desperately wish that companies such as DC were willing to welcome readers other than white, 20 year old men, and I refuse to support their work while they continue to marginalise and erase queer peoples except when using us as fanservice. Instead of wasting my time and finances on a company that has proven to me time and time again that it doesn’t care about issues involving women, queerness, disability, race, and other marginalised identities, I’ll be looking for independent comics to support.