an autumn shade of azure ([personal profile] bluefall) wrote in [community profile] scans_daily2010-12-14 11:42 pm

Why I Hate Wendy Harris (it's not why you think)

It's been quite a while since I've done a crazy pontificating semicolon-abusing teal deer rant here, hasn't it? I think it's time to rectify that situation. With footnotes, even, just to make up for lost time ::cracks knuckles:: So if you feel up to a bit of froth and a lot of , please join me as I natter on about a thing that's been bugging me for half the current BATGIRL run now.

This is Wendy Harris.

She's the comicverse translation of a character from the old Superfriends TV show, who was originally added to the Teen Titans for about six minutes; just long enough for McKeever to make a crass, immature joke about the show, or the Titans death rate, or who the hell even knows what was going through his head, by having a giant evil dog maul her and kill her brother. She's now a major supporting cast member in the BATGIRL ongoing, going by the cape name of "Proxy."

I hate her.

This is Barbara Gordon.

She's my favorite character in anything ever. (Yes. She is. Diana is too. So are Luthien and Susan Ivanova and -- look, it's a crowded top slot, okay? Point is I love her.) And Wendy, by her place in Barbara's life, does Barbara's character significant harm.

Now part of that is just that Babs abandoned Charlie. That crosses a line for me. You can't do that and still be a hero. The two concepts are simply incompatible from where I'm standing; the moment Babs pawned her own daughter off on someone else in a Goddamned note just so no one would interrupt her sulking, she ceased to be a human being and revealed herself instead a reprehensible sack of morally bankrupt fecal matter that somehow learned to talk. Now, like I said, I love Babs, so I'm perfectly willing to ignore that disgustingly, offensively OOC moment and just forget it ever happened, just like I do my best to forget that entire degrading and offensive arc. This is comics, after all, selective canon is pretty much what we do. On both sides of the fence - the Flash team shoved Mopee under the rug just as quickly and vigorously as Supes fans ignored that one time he murdered some dudes. It's actually a pretty important part of comics fannishness. So I kinda hate Wendy Harris, because she makes that important task way fucking harder; her relationship to Babs, what she needs from her and what Babs is getting out of mentoring her, is incredibly similar to Charlie's (and Cass') dynamic, so it's incredibly difficult to see her on panel and not be instantly and jarringly reminded of Charlie (and Cass') continuing abandonment.

But that's not really the main reason I hate Wendy Harris. For that, we need to talk a bit more about Babs.

Specifically, we need to talk about Oracle. Everybody knows this story, if only in brief, mostly because DC simply will not fucking shut up about it: Once, long ago, Babs was Batgirl.

She was a fairly typical badass normal Bat, who haunted the night with a grappling hook and a batarang and beat up criminals in the name of the moon of justice and entertaining comics.

Then she got shot.

(you see what I did there, DC? GIVE IT A TRY.)

All hail Ostrander and Yale, she then decided to reinvent herself as Oracle, who haunted the internet with bleeding-edge technology and bossed around other heroes in the name of justice and entertaining comics.

Okay, so we all know who "Oracle" is, right. She's a superhero hacker.

Except, she's actually not. That really doesn't appear to be how Ostrander and Yale conceived her, and it's certainly not how she's behaved for most of her publishing history as Oracle. What she is, rather, is a planner, a strategist, an organizer, and a detective. She can hunt any hidden truth out of the shadows, or direct a hero or coordinate a team and triple their effectiveness by doing so. For a while, her tagline was, basically, omniscience -- "there's little she doesn't know, and nothing she can't find out." She was more Batman than Batman himself, the logical conclusion of the Batman philosophy: knowledge is a weapon, and Oracle has so much knowledge and so little is known about her (even her closest allies, like Waller and Dinah, didn't know her real name in the beginning) that that alone is all the weapon anyone could ever want. Certainly there was no need for fisticuffs on her part. It was never about anything as mundane and limited as hacking; it was about being the smartest person in the room without having to even be in the room, about having the answer in every situation.1 She was supposed to be Waller's heir, remember. That was her template, not Tron-style cyberpunk. Look at No Man's Land; she ran the whole good guy effort singlehandedly the whole year long with a couple phones and some canned ham. She's never been more all-knowing, more all-controlling, more Oracle than she was then, and she didn't so much as click a mouse that entire crossover.

Now certainly, her facility with computers is not unimportant. Obviously a lot of the world's secrets are stored on computers, so that's a great way to have access to them, and a lot of the world is controlled by computers, so that's a great way to manipulate things. And of course tech is the only way for a non-psychic to not need to be in the room. But there's a lot more to knowing and thus manipulating everything than just cracking some passwords. If you'll indulge me, in fact, I'll go down the list.

For one, Barbara's a genius. DC doesn't really have "geniuses" the way Marvel does, where you've got an explicit hierarchy of the smartest men (always men) in the world, and intelligence is itself a superpower. And Babs is often written like a perfectly ordinary 1600-on-the-SAT girl,2 who knows a few big words and some trivia but is otherwise basically like a million other basically intelligent people out there. But periodically in her portrayal, and certainly conceptually all the time, she's a Marvel genius. She does math in her head that humans are simply not capable of, and you basically can't make a reference that she can't follow.

It's not just the hard sciences, either; she can write a quatrain at the drop of a hat and speaks, again, more languages than a single human should really be capable of, and she memorized Lord of the Rings during a plane flight once.

She's got an instinct for creating new hardware and tech, as well; she's often written as buying Crays or whatever, but occasionally she's been shown to build her own rigs with the same facility with which she writes her own software. Which isn't new for Babs, she was inventing absurdly useful (and more than slightly impossible) Mr Fantastic-grade shit like the multi-color light tracer back in her earliest appearances.

You could wrap all that under the same basic heading of "comic book genius," but the next bit is distinct enough of a skill that we'll call it qualification number two: She's great at plans and fallbacks and the signature Bat tool of prep time. She had enough stockpiled fuel and food to last through the whole of No Man's Land without even a blink of interruption in her power- and resource-intensive Birds activities. Her tower is rigged so tight that Nightwing can't sneak up on her. And she's been known to have contingency plans for Batman's behavior. Yes, that's right, she periodically one-ups the unbeatable Batgod (let's ignore the obvious Birds-era choices and go pre-Crisis again for this one, just because I fucking love that multi-color light tracer).

For three, while she's no J'onn or Diana or even quite a Dinah, and while she's awesomely blind to her own internal workings, she's very intuitive and perceptive about other people and their relationships. She can guess a total stranger's book preferences just by watching her walk into a library.

She's equally good at reading her friends and family, always able to pick out what's actually going on in their heads, even when what they've been arguing about out loud is completely unrelated --

-- which leads us into her fourth qualification, that she's really good at giving orders. In any given situation, she knows what needs to be done and has no hesitation or trepidation whatsoever about telling people to do it, whether they're Batboys, her own loyal operatives, the legendary heroes of the Justice Society, or the bloody US Government.

She's also a detective; she basically grew up in a police station under the watchful aegis of the DCU's finest civilian gumshoes, most notably Jim Gordon himself. Depending on your continuity of choice, she was also trained by Batman, the DCU's finest gumshoe period (well, possibly second to Detective Chimp). Regardless, she's always had a keen talent for putting together clues, seeing patterns, knowing what questions to ask and where to look for the answers to solve a mystery.

(there are better examples, but I felt this post could use more Alfred.)

She is, of course, aided in this by her eidetic memory -- a unique advantage that gives her access to a far wider range of clues, facts and connections waiting to be made than any normal human -- and by her original formal degree (not to be confused with the law degree she got for shits and giggles once), which seems to be pretty widely agreed to have been either Library Science or Computer Science. There's been canon for both and I tend to like her for a double-major myself, but either one would teach her organization and info-mining skills most people wouldn't have such easy access to.

This, my friends, is what it takes to be Oracle. This is what makes Oracle. Inhuman genius across multiple fields; intense computer savvy; a long history of Bat-standard preparedness verging on paranoia; a strong talent for strategy and battlefield leadership, both reactive and proactive; a passion for learning and the keen intuition, exhaustive education, and top-tier detective and info-gathering skills to support that thirst for knowledge; a confident, even bold faith in one's own expertise and authority; a more-than-human capacity to memorize and an equal knack for innovation.

Please note the single most prominent and harped-upon Babs trait there is in modern comics, and the fact that it does not appear on that list.

So what does any of this have to do with Wendy Harris?

Wendy Harris is, as Proxy, a mini-Oracle, an Oracle heir, an explicit Oracle substitute when Babs isn't around to be in Steph's ear.

Wendy Harris has the following in common with Babs:
Computer savvy
A wheelchair

Wendy Harris, as she exists in BATGIRL right now, is a flat-out statement that what makes Babs Oracle, is that her legs don't work.

Guys, I'm not stupid, alright? I know that the second Babs gets the use of her legs back, some dumbass writer will shove her back in spandex and toss her off a roof. I've been reading comics for a while, now, I'm familiar with their patterns of fail. Frankly we're halfway there already, how many times across two volumes of Birds and a few of Justice League have half a dozen writers put Babs in face-to-face escrima combat? Comics writers do not want to write an REMF.3 They want punching and kicking and direct physical peril and badassery through violence. It's what they know how to write, what they're used to writing, what they came into the genre expecting to write, and what they think their audience wants, and we've only been allowed to have Oracle for as long as we have because TKJ didn't give them a choice. I know this. I know that, on a meta level, what makes Babs Oracle is that her legs don't work. And it's not like it's news that writers tend to miss the point of Oracle. And I admit I'm being a little unfair to Wendy, here. If nothing else, there remains the possibility that many of those skills are things that BQM intends for Babs to teach Wendy as she grows into this Proxy role; that "Proxy" itself is designed to grow from the simple mundane superhacker identity that the name, skillbase and everything about the character suggest, into something larger, rather than merely being a demonstration of a perception of the Oracle role as so much smaller than it actually is.

But the meta has never been this bald in the text, and vague potential plans that the creative team might hypothetically have for the distant future make no difference to the here and now. And here and now, I have to say that paraplegia and the ability to write a Python script does not make a person Oracle any more than a tendency to kiss girls and the ability to speak English makes me Wanda Sykes.4 To suggest otherwise is frankly insulting, and speaks to a serious failure of respect and understanding on the part of the characters' handlers.

And that is why I hate Wendy Harris.

1 (And frankly a baseline human like Bruce on a team with Clark, J'onn and Diana should be a thousand times more useless to his allies then post-TKJ Babs could ever be if you put her back the field alongside the other Bats - the physical disparity between a human and a kryptonian is a dozen orders of magnitude greater than the physical disparity between any two humans, period - so in that sense Oracle is actually more suited to play the Batman role on the League than Batman himself. What he brings to the JLA table is not his physical presence in any way, it's his brain, and thus what Babs does for the Birds is far closer to the fulfillment of the "Batman" concept than Bruce has ever managed on the League, where he always ends up punching things in defiance of all sense or reason.)
2 Or 2400, whatever the max score is these days. You kids today and your crazy newfangled essay sections.
3 Rear Echelon Motherfucker. A good succinct explanation is here. Basically it's (slightly outdated) military slang for people whose jobs keep them off the front lines. It's not a friendly thing to call someone, and that perspective on the relative merit of front line folks vs rearguard folks is not limited to the army even a little. Which obviously (and demonstrably, as mentioned) is rather to Oracle's detriment.
4 Man, I wish.