Greetings, my fellow random response generators! Falconlord here with another round of Fandom Heresies, where I discuss my more controversial opinions on various fandoms. Other related series will include Fandom Orthodoxies, where I discuss ideas that the fandom at large and I share, and Fandom Funnies, which is random miscellanea I find amusing. Like, for example, discussing what Dungeons and Dragons classes the main cast Tales of Symphonia would be.
Today, we will discuss how the Dick/Babs romance came to be and how it coincided with a steady downgrading of Barbara’s accomplishments.
Join me under the cut!
So, in the last couple of installments, we discussed how Barbara Gordon was created as an equal and love interest to Batman, not a sidekick, and most certainly was not a daughter figure I don’t care what TvTropes tells you.
Now we get to the crux of the argument: how, and why, the Dick/Babs romance contributed to the degradation of Barbara’s character.
The New Teen Titans
We have to start here. In 1980, George Perez and Marv Wolfman were given the Teen Titans book and allowed to reshape it substantially to compete with the all-devouring black hole that was X-Men. I’m not kidding here: X-Men was so popular that in the early 90s, Spider-Man was billed as Marvel’s most popular non-mutant superhero. Yeah. That’s how big Chris Claremont’s baby had gotten.
And Wolfman and Perez delivered. New Teen Titans was a massive success, spawning such iconic storylines as The Judas Contract and being the basis for the hit 2003 cartoon. The Wolfman/Perez team gave us characters like Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, Terra and Deathstroke the Terminator. They also substantially revamped characters like Beast Boy (a member of the Titans from previous incarnations and the Doom Patrol, but it was here that most of Beast Boy’s personality would be established), Donna Troy and, most important for our purposes, Dick Grayson.
Stick a pin in that, we will get to Nightwing in just a second.
However, New Teen Titans’ popularity had a dark side.
While Chris Claremont was (wisely) never given the opportunity to reign supreme over the Marvel universe and drown us in the bisexual orgies we so richly deserve, DC was not so wise with Wolfman. In 1985, they gave him the opportunity to rewrite DC’s entire universe to suit his whims.
The result was…
Crisis On Infinite Earths
A.k.a DC’s single greatest mistake. Explanations for why DC wanted to revamp its entire freaking universe vary, from the official explanation that the multiverse was ‘too complicated’ (buuuullllllshhhhhhiiiiit), to Chris Sims’ assertion of an inferiority complex on DC’s part regarding Marvel, to my preferred explanation of comic book companies giving popular writers waaaay too much power. It doesn’t really matter why DC scrapped the entire universe and start over, though. What matters is that they did it.
And broke. Fucking. Everything.
At the end of Crisis, everybody’s history got rewritten. Except that wasn’t true, exactly. Some characters slipped through the gaps. The most infamous of these are Power Girl and Donna Troy, whose histories got totally trashed by the reboot. But there’s one other person, one who matters much more to us, who also slipped through the holes in DC’s universal reboot. A person who, unlike Power Girl and Donna Troy, actually benefited from the reboot’s inconsistencies.
And that person is Dick Grayson.
Wolfman and Perez basically saved Dick when they transformed him into Nightwing. It’s not that Robin was unpopular, no. It’s that, in the pages of Batman and Detective Comics, Dick dissolved the dynamic duo and grew up, moving on with his life. This was the right move, but it left Dick in a kind of limbo. Robin was Batman’s sidekick, but Dick wasn’t Bruce’s sidekick anymore. He’d moved on, and there was even a new guy wearing the tights in the form of perennial mistake Jason Todd. And that left writers, especially Teen Titans writers, in a bit of a tough spot. If Dick wasn’t Robin anymore, who was he?
In 1984, George Perez and Marv Wolfman answered that question by giving Dick a new superhero identity: Nightwing. And people went nuts.
Nightwing was the logical next step in Dick’s character. It allowed him to step out of Bruce’s shadow, establish his own identity and represented the coming of age of generations who had grown up with Robin. What wasn’t to like about him?
The problem was, like the New 52 and Grant ‘Walking Insult to Bald People’ Morrison’s Batman run, that Wolfman and Perez’ work on The New Teen Titans was too popular to simply brush under the rug with the reboot. So Dick Grayson kept his history intact (more or less), while people like Power Girl, Donna Troy, Wonder Woman of all people, and yes, Barbara Gordon, were de-aged and their accomplishments stripped from them.
Batman: The Animated Series
One thing that always amuses me about modern comic book discourse is the accusations that Bruce Timm is trying to shove Bruce/Babs down everybody’s throat while ignoring the Dick/Babs relationship.
In reality, the exact opposite is true.
As we established earlier on in this series, the Bruce/Babs relationship is the older of the two. The Dick/Babs relationship is almost entirely an invention of Bruce Timm’s masterpiece, Batman: The Animated Series. And he created that relationship by de-aging Barbara back to college (remember, she debuted with a PhD!) and… by aging Dick up to college age.
Yeah. Once again, Dick benefits from a change to the status quo and Barbara gets screwed over. This time, they screw Barbara over specifically to make the romance work.
Now, there are some of you out there who are saying ‘wait, wasn’t the Dick/Babs relationship teased Pre-Crisis?’ And yes, yes it was. In Batman Family, Dick is established as having a crush on Barbara, and Barbara kisses him at least once as a distraction. However, this is Pre-Crisis. Barbara is seven years older than Dick, an established congressional representative, and an independent hero. Dick has just entered college (so eighteen, at the most) is working for Barbara as an assistant in Washington, and is still regarded as pretty much as a kid at this point.
So Dick’s crush on Barbara is largely seen as precocious (and a way for Bruce to tease his kid. Which I mean. Come on. If there’s anybody who can’t say shit about other people’s love lives, it’s Bruce frigging Wayne!) and we should see Barbara’s kisses as sexual assault. Not, you know, the best basis for a relationship.
So there we have it. A key component of the Dick/Babs romance is promoting Dick at the expense of Barbara. And the question is, why? Why, if Barbara Gordon started out as an independent hero, a potential love-interest for Batman (a role she grew out of quickly), considerably older than Dick and a woman with her own career, why was she so downgraded?
And the answer, once again, is Dick. Nightwing was a tremendous change for Dick’s character, pulling him out of Batman’s shadow. And the Batman writers didn’t like it. So in the 90s, they went about distancing Dick from the Titans as much as possible. One way they did that was by building a romance with Barbara Gordon. And it worked, in part because of Bruce Timm, but also because of Frank Miller. Miller de-aged Jim Gordon and gave the Gordons a son. Now, the Gordons had a son in the Earth-One continuity, but he was kind of a minor character and Jim Gordon was older than Bruce, so having two kids around Bruce’s age wasn’t an issue. But Miller, for reasons known only to him, made Gordon Bruce’s age. So Barbara naturally got a downgrade as well. Now, this kind of thing happens all the time in comics and it’s irritating as hell. One day, we’ll do a series on how Marvel is hellbent on keeping Spider-Man from growing up. But it’s especially irritating in Barbara’s case, because it erases all of her Pre-Crisis accomplishments. Gone is the congressional representative. Gone is the independent hero. Now, Barbara is just another one of Bruce’s sidekicks, albeit one that is grown-up and moved on a little.
All to keep frigging Nightwing on the books.
Next week, we’ll discuss Oracle, The Killing Joke and how they also contributed to Barbara’s degradation.