09 December 2012

An Open Letter to DC Comics

Dear DC Comics,

I grew up reading comic books, as I've recounted in numerous posts throughout this blog. I quit reading some time around 2000, for various reasons. Not the least of these was that I felt that the comics I had been reading - the lion's share of which were published by DC, mind you - had become lazy and generic and were not stories at all, but contrived events designed to extort me into buying issues from seven books to follow a single story. I felt you were exploiting my interest in your comics, not feeding it.

After about a decade away from the medium entirely, my attention was caught by your New 52 relaunch. It sounded promising. I ran a series of posts going over each of The New 52 groups, figuring out which titles were the most appealing to me as a potential reader. My paltry budget wasn't up to reading all the books that interested me so I had to pare down my reading list to just a few. There was one book that I knew from day one that I wanted to read, though.

Batgirl.

My adoration of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl goes back to 1989, when Batmania prompted reruns of the 1966 Batman TV show to be aired again. I was an instant fan, despite its tone not resembling Tim Burton's film at all. There was room in my world for both incarnations, you know. Then came "Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin" which introduced Yvonne Craig as Batgirl. I was the little boy who had loved She-Ra, Princess of Power. Batgirl was like She-Ra, only better because she was part of Batman's mythology. She's been a favorite character of mine ever since. Truth be told, I even like Barbara Gordon a wee bit more than Batman himself.

There was another major appeal for me of the New 52 Batgirl books, and that's that it would be written by Gail Simone. Truthfully, I can't claim to have read anything else she'd ever written. Her career began around the time I'd bailed on comics entirely. I was aware of her work by reputation, though, and I trusted her to make the book work.

I began following Simone on Twitter, where I connected not only with the writer of my favorite comic book character but with an admirable woman who knows the importance of using her celebrity status to promote strong values of respect, equality and fairness. There was a synergy to it all; I read Simone's tweets to get a better context for reading Batgirl and reading Batgirl helped me understand Simone even better. Gail Simone writing Batgirl was one of the most perfect creator/character pairings I can recall.

I was fortunate enough to attend C2E2 this year with a friend of mine. I covered it for Flickchart: The Blog. I was particularly excited because Gail Simone was an attendee and panelist. I sat in the front row during the Womanthology panel. I don't mean any slight toward any of the other panelists, all of whom are terrific writers and artists themselves, and maybe it was my own bias at work but it was Simone who loomed largest in the room. She drew a bit more applause during her introduction, but she was also the one that the rest of the panelists kept talking about during their turn at the mic. Popularity with fans and respect of colleagues? Check and check.

During my youth, the letters column was one of my favorite parts of any given comic book because that was the forum through which we fans were able to express ourselves. If an editor really wanted to impress me, he or she would publish dissenting fan letters and respond thoughtfully to them. Go back to the first 50 or so issues of Legends of the Dark Knight and read through those sometime. It endeared me to the book to feel that we readers were heard and understood. No one reasonably expects their wishes to be accommodated at every turn, but when and editor says something along the lines of, "You make a good point and it's something we'll try to be mindful of in the future", that goes a long way toward personalizing the reading experience. It makes us feel that our values are respected by the storytellers.

I've tweeted with Gail Simone several times throughout this past year. She has consistently reflected the values that I hold dear, and that in turn has imbued Batgirl with a personalized connection much stronger than the old letters columns cultivated. I started off reviewing all three New 52 books that I read; Batgirl, Batwoman and Detective Comics.

Not only had I returned to reading, but I was going to my local comic shop again for the first time in ages. The Great Escape is a wonderful store in Louisville and it felt good to be supporting them again. In October, I did something I've never done in all my years as a comic book reader. I actually signed up with their holds program, for a single book: Batgirl. It was becoming harder and harder to get hold of a copy of the latest issue before it was entirely sold out. I didn't have to worry about anything else I was reading selling out, but Batgirl was spreading.

It wasn't just the promise of a Batgirl/Joker showdown in the "Death of the Family" crossover that sparked the sales, and I know this because Batgirl Annual #1 had absolutely nothing to do with that arc. Despite that, and despite its $4.99 cover price - $2.00 above the cover price of a regular issue of the book - it was entirely sold out when I went to buy my copy, and that's what prompted me to sign up for the holds service.

I was greatly upset to learn of how DC had unceremoniously pulled the rug out from under Amy Reeder on Batwoman. I was already iffy about that book because of its inconsistency from month to month, but the decision to remove Reeder from the book cemented my decision about it. I finished buying and reading the "To Drown the World" arc, and then I bailed.

I was similarly disappointed when it was announced that Tony Daniel would no longer be the writer/artist on Detective Comics. I hadn't even planned to buy any of the New 52 Batman solo books, but I impulsively snagged a copy of 'Tec #1 and was hooked. I thoroughly enjoyed Daniel's run on the book and I was terribly disappointed that he was let go. I have continued reading Detective Comics, though I've had the book on a very short leash.

Today, though, I learned that Gail Simone has been fired from Batgirl.

I cannot fathom the world in which it makes any sense whatsoever for DC Comics to have done this. It was a tremendous victory for DC Comics for the New 52 to bring back the lost readers such as myself. I know it was important because at every turn this past year, you've made a point of saying so online and at conventions. I can't speak for anyone else, but I can tell you this much: DC Comics, by letting go of Amy Reeder, Tony Daniel and now Gail Simone, has managed to stymie my enthusiasm entirely. I'll continue to buy Batgirl until the last of Simone's work has been published and then I'm afraid I will cancel my holds arrangement. Batgirl was the cornerstone of my comic book reading and by firing Gail Simone, you've negated the personal connection that I've had for it.

You've also made me feel by doing this that DC Comics does not share my respect for its creators. That overshadows everything. We no longer have a letters column, but we have something much greater: we have the Internet. We have Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. Many of us have a blog. I have a Klout score that hovers around the mid-50s, indicating that I have a reasonably strong presence in social media. I can tell you that my posts about Batgirl have been among my most read - thanks in part to Gail Simone herself being kind enough read and tweet links to them.

I'm at a point in my life where I value things like the treatment of people and showing respect for quality work above devotion to fictitious characters. I'll always love Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. I'd have continued reading had there even been a reasonable, understandable explanation for parting ways with Gail Simone. But there isn't one to be found. The sales have been strong; so strong that I couldn't even find a copy of Batgirl unless I was there when The Great Escape first opened on its publication day. The word out mouth has been terrific.

Nor has Gail Simone said anything to embarrass DC Comics. On the contrary, she's been one of the few bright spots amid a New 52 that has insulted and marginalized a great many reader for its chauvinism and boneheaded treatment of story content and characters. Every complaint about Catwoman and Starfire in Red Hood and the Outsiders were always followed by, "At least there's Gail Simone writing Batgirl."

A decade ago, I had no meaningful way of telling you why I was leaving you, DC Comics. Today I do. I enjoyed rekindling our relationship, but you've just reminded me why we broke up in the first place. You can make this right, of course. It'd be easy, too.

You tell us who made this decision and why. If you can give me a good enough reason, I'm even open to continuing to buy and read your comic books. I don't imagine there is so compelling an explanation to be offered, though, so I'll tell you what to do in that case. After you reveal the culprit and his reasoning, you let us know that he's been fired. Chances are, he's been behind the other dubious storytelling and firing incidents this past year anyway. You can have him making your decisions, DC Comics, or you can have me as a reader. You can't have both.

Sincerely,
Travis McClain

3 comments:

  1. Wait what? Where and how did this go down? How much longer does she have left?

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  2. She announced it on Twitter, that she'd been emailed on Wednesday by editor Brian Cunningham that the decision had been made. Every issue of Batgirl that has been officially solicited so far is credited to her. We'll know this week whether issue #18, to be published in March, is hers.

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  3. Just to follow-up, Jon, Gail Simone tweeted this morning that issue #16 will be her last. Even though #17 was solicited with her name, the decision to fire her was made after that was circulated. Issue #16 concludes her current arc.

    That's eighteen total Batgirl issues (#1-16, #0 and Annual #1). A year and a half. Because apparently, someone at DC Comics was dissatisfied by a book with high sales, critical acclaim and strong word of mouth among readers.

    ReplyDelete