(Edit #2, almost midnight, 4 September: There's a reason I titled the post that way. I was taking a slight dig at my own rantiness. I had the adjective phrase as "totally vicious," modified it to "harsh," & now am going with my first impulse of "unaccountably vicious" since that's what most of you comment on. But really, it's one bit in the whole thing! I was just sort of incoherently going over my dislike of Denny-edited Batman versus my like of Ostrander/Yale.
(So if you're here for your dose of recreational outrage, the line is at the bottom. I have my apology here, & I expect a little bit of snark, if not full fury & lather, at that post as well.)
This is chock full of spoilers, but they're for comics 16+ years old & mostly out of print.
Go see what set me off: "In some ways, Babs had it easier."
1. Suffering of characters is often a legitimate & necessary part of storytelling. Fair enough. But what the story says about suffering matters. Alan Moore & his British ideological kinsmen take the perverse position that one just stands there & takes it.
I suppose that's to be expected in a country where it's a crime to defend yourself from a robber.
I think Paul Hogan was wrong about Americans having questionable sanity, being descended from adventurers. Most of the sane British stock apparently left those bloody dark islands long ago. (Hmmm, Neil Gaiman lives in the US now, does that mean he's becoming sane in our sunnier climate? Nah. It's just a shame the degenerate progeny of our ancestors' useless cousins are invading our shores now. And we foolishly fear the Mexicans!)
OK, I'm kidding. I think it's mainly just British comic-book writers that embrace that trope. And American editors & fans, unfortunately.
2. But to say that Jim Gordon suffered more is total nonsense. They both went through traumatic experiences, & they both had a loved one go through a traumatic experience.
But Babs was crippled.
Oh, that's right, women don't need legs, right? That athleticism she was so proud of, well, she could "grow beyond that." It's an opportunity!
How fully one must have had to internalize sexist literary tropes to think, "Jim suffered more."
Shelly, I know this is out of the blue, but do you have daughters? Do you see them as a function of their father? 'Cos I just had this creepy feeling that you would defend your husband if he abused your daughter.
3. I read The Killing Joke when it was more or less new, as I recall. The characterization was...different, for a Batman story. Did Bruce & Barbara call each other by their first names before that? And we were supposed to sympathize with the Joker, somehow. I wonder how many people kept sympathizing with him even as he kidnapped, stripped naked, sexually abused, tortured--can I just fucking say raped!--Jim Gordon.
Wertham was right about rape fantasies in comics. And the people who published this were part of the problem.
(I liked Son of the Demon a lot better.)
4. On the other hand, I managed to put together a complete run of Ostrander & Yale's Suicide Squad, even though I only bought three (two?) issues before it was cancelled. Now that was, at times a nasty, bloodthirsty book, with other people's characters, their brainchildren, being killed off mercilessly, or (a few times) retconned into...strange & treasonous things. I'm not going to defend it as having a terribly constructive attitude toward shared continuing characters.
But the women were not props. The main character was a woman. And DC's category-happy loose-leaf Who's Who called her "Supporting Cast," 'cos she dressed like a bureaucrat, not an acrobat, & they just didn't get it.
Anyway, Suicide Squad was a monthly book, & some of the stories are clunkers. It had a body count, it could come off as sadistic, &--parts of it are heartbreaking.
I still miss Flo (as does Oracle if there's any continuity). I hear Briscoe screaming "Shivaaa!" at the ever-so-wrong end. I see Shrike going home to Jesus, & think at least she had a good death (& now the tears are in my eyes, because that always brings tears to my eyes).
And I'm still mad about Ravan failing in his quest. Mad not at the writers, but at poor, silly Adam Cray, which then reminds me of how he died, & now I'm mad about that.
And then I see the good stuff: Dybbuk's wedding. Amanda Waller quitting the bloody game at the end. Count Vertigo standing up, saying, "Mortals have killed gods before," then falling down from loss of blood. I'll let the other two "up" scenes be a surprise.*
(Werner Vertigo's hybris apparently got Vlatava destroyed in the Ostrander-written Spectre, which I still haven't read. I really could cuss Ostrander out for frighteningly over-the-top brutality in his writing, of which I know some scary examples. He also did a mercifully forgotten retcon wherein one version of Hawkman killed his own wife. But anyway, Werner got a cool moment.)
If I'm mad at the writers for Suicide Squad, though, it's mostly for things done early on. Casting Karin Grace as a Manhunter & summarily killing her; what happened to Eve's brother & the Land of Nightshades.
Oh, OK, the Apokalips arc in the middle of the series still pisses me off the most. Because I wanted to believe that a certain person wasn't that evil. Because the Squad were so outclassed & had no business there. Mostly because of Flo & Briscoe, though. It hurts.
5. But here's the thing: The "adult" Batman novels of the late 1980's, except for Son of the Demon, were exercises in bringing in someone from outside, who had never written & would never write the regular series, to do a one-off Batman story. Maybe even a "what if." Alan Moore never had to take responsibility for the regular Batman series. Ostrander & Yale, whatever their faults, did.
"Kill your darlings," Kim (or was it Bob Greenberger?) said, & they knew it was their own babies they were messing with. In time, I think they found a stride. At least my favorite Thuggee cult leader got more time to shine than some of the other characters did. Even the traitor had time to make the story work by getting the Squad, & us, to trust her.
That's serial storytelling.
Edit #1, (afternoon, 3 September): When I posted this last night, I started with the idea that I had a point. But fortunately I’m not in a debate, so I can let my position be overwhelmed by facts.
Here’s a big fact: While I found The Killing Joke disturbing on first reading, I sort of accepted it as making a kind of storytelling sense at the time. I was just along for the ride. But years later, Ostrander & Yale, in a story in one of those Batman family anthologies, reframed the end of that story from Barbara's perspective, & that cemented for me that Bruce messed up. I'm not sure to what degree I'd already come to see leaving the Joker alive as a betrayal of Batman's "War on Crime" or of Barbara specifically. But I think I had already turned on Batman.
And it’s Batman as a premise that suffers.
* I'm kidding. I think there were four up scenes. ;p