Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I Am Not A Number!

Last week, the scans_daily community on LiveJournal posted the extant pages of Jack Kirby's unpublished version of The Prisoner.

I love the opening on the first page:

In this age, when the individual can find himself at the mercy of advanced technology welded by an organized and ruthless enemy, THIS BOOK BECOMES IMPORTANT TO ALL OF US!!!

That's something Your Obedient Serpent has said for decades, now: McGoohan's eccentric experiment is an invaluable survival guide to anyone living in the (post)modern world. And Jack just comes right out and says it: this comic book is important. No "subtle themes" or "hidden messages" for Kirby. If he thought something was important, he'd SHOUT IT TO THE HEAVENS, in boldfaced italics.

Somehow, he made it work. Which is why we call him "The King".

And this, dear reader, is why it stokes Your Obedient Serpent's ire to hear Starlin and his sycophants expound on how Jack "never really said" what the Anti-Life Equation was. What they MEAN is, "we never read The Forever People." Kirby wasn't at all mysterious about the Equation: he explicitly spells it out (and yes, in boldfaced italics) over and over -- but he does it in the pages of what too many people consider the goofiest, most dated, most embarrassing installment of the Fourth World saga.

Your Obedient Serpent, on the other claw, read Jimmy Olsen, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People when they came out. New Gods, however, didn't cross my path until almost a decade later, thanks to a friend who dragged me to his college library's restricted-access collection of classic comics, specifically so I could catch up on those chapters of the Fourth World that I'd missed.

Perhaps that skews my perceptions of the Great Unfinished Work. Through the '80s, New Gods was reprinted several times, but the other threads of the saga were neglected until their black-and-white collections from a few years back and the wonderful, wonderful Fourth World Omnibus volumes currently being released. New Gods is grand, sweeping, epic, and bombastic -- but I think it's also the Fourth World title that explains the least about the actual philosophical struggles involved.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Viva Oracle!

This was originally posted as a response to Ragnell's post about Booster Gold #4, which ends with the surprise reveal that Barbara Gordon's crippling and subsequent career as Oracle happened because of the Bad Guy Time Travellers and their plot to thwart the origins of the whole Justice League -- including their "rightful" leader, Batgirl.

I love this idea, and I can't wait to see how it plays out... but until I read the comments in Ragnell's post, it never occurred to me that DC would actually have Booster and Rip succeed in "fixing" that one.

Frankly, I think they'd be damned foolish to consider it.

I can't consider Oracle a "mistake" on DC's part. Barbara Gordon as Oracle is a far more interesting, original character than Barbara Gordon ever was as the Earth-One Betty Kane, introduced to bolster the sagging ratings of a campy TV show that most fans would rather forget.

She's a more successful character, too. Her tenure as Oracle (1989-2007) is just three years shy of her tenure as Batgirl (1967-1988). At this stage, her Batgirl career was faltering; one reason Moore was allowed to treat her so cavalierly was because the character has simply failed to find a niche. She had never broken out of back-up series and Special Guest Sidekick appearances. The closest thing she'd gotten to a "team" was as a tagger-on to the Dynamic Duo. In the stories, Barbara was wondering if she was really making a difference as a crime-fighter, if she might do more good by directing her talents elsewhere.

At least one person has said that they want to see Barbara resume the Batgirl role because Oracle, the "Superhero OnStar", "makes things too easy" for other DCU characters, and writers tend to use her as a crutch. To Your Obedient Serpent, this almost qualifies for the Women in Refrigerators List: impose a major life change to a female character to produce a desired effect on a male character.

I keep hearing people object to the creation of Oracle because of the Fridge Listing of Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke. Sure, Babs's crippling is classic Fridge List material. That was Alan Moore's script -- and while it set the stage for the introduction of Oracle, it was NOT her origin.

Barbara Gordon's recreation of herself as the Oracle was the work of John Ostrander, and it was as far from the Fridge List as you can get. It pulled the character out of the shadows of the Established Male Dynastic Centerpiece, and made her a unique, exotic figure in her own right. It gave her her own story, in her own way.

Barbara Gordon was always a highly-intelligent character with a photographic memory. That was there from her introduction. Ostrander's genius was in using the crippling injury imposed by another writer to refocus the character on that intellect.

As a front-line fighter, Barbara was a B-List character, and her chosen nom de guerre insured that she'd remain there, as "Batman's Girl Sidekick". As Oracle, she's A-List. The idea of Barbara Gordon leading the Justice League only makes sense after 20 years of seeing her as Oracle. Batgirl was no leader, and showed no signs of developing into one. As a kick-fighter, she was playing catch-up to people with more training, more motivation, and more special "edges" than she would ever have. It took Ostrander's re-emphasis of the character according to her unique strengths that allowed her to become the formidable presence she is today.

Taking that away from her would be crippling the character. Frankly, if Barbara got the use of her legs back (without time-travel trickery), I'd be utterly disappointed if she gave up being Oracle. She's done far more good that way that she ever would as one more high-heeled boot to a bad guy's face.

(Okay, if she got healed and put the costume on again strictly because she was offered leadership of the JLA, I could buy it.)

And you know what? "Oracle" only works as an ex-crimefighter. Putting some random person hospitalized by violence into the chair and behind the keyboard just doesn't have the emotional impact.

Finally... I'm hardly a fan of the school that insists that a superhero has to have some driving trauma, but I've got to admit, Oracle has a lot more solid motivation than the librarian who took a few judo classes and started crimefighting for fun.