Friday, November 18, 2022

Hippasus of Metapontum Objects to this Union!

Unsurprisingly, I disagree with this article demanding that DC have Dick "Nightwing" Grayson and Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon get married.

Just get out your '70s MEGO action figures, put Ken and Barbie in the wedding party and marry them yerself, fanboy/girl.

Before I discuss why, a brief aside: do you know who discovered irrational numbers? Most of you will say: I dunno. Most of you who do have an answer will say: Hippasus of Metapontum (and you might add that he was killed by other Pythagoreans for it). And why wouldn't you? If you looked it up on the internet, that's what you'll find, on site after site.  It is, however, not true, and obviously so

Iamblichus? Really, now.
Was Rich Johnston not available?

You'll find it on site after site, however, because all the sites are simply getting the information from some other site. No one actually CHECKS.  But when I was asked to settle a bet between two bickering authors on the subject, I checked because none of these sites had actual citations to any ancient source. Basically, the idea that Hippasus discovered irrational numbers is just "common knowledge" that somebody MADE UP at some point in the last 2500 years and everyone decided to accept it without question.

Common knowledge like, "Batman never uses guns."

I am asking YOU not to do that. Not just with Hippasus. With anything.  That's why I rant on in posts about mischaracterizations of the Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, Riddler, and Catwoman.  That's why I criticize people who talk about How Comics Books Used To Be or Always Have Been who've never read a comic book from before they were born.   This is why I insist that to understand any character, you need to read the character's beginnings.  Read the originals, people.  Not necessarily because they are intrinsically good; but because they are true.  They are not "interpretations" of the character/story; they are the character/story.  Everything AFTER is an interpretation.

Myths deserve varying interpretations; it makes them versatile.
But one must never lose sight of the baseline.

I remember BEFORE Dick and Babs were associated romantically, so for me that is their baseline. I remember reading Batman Family in the 1970s when, since they were now portrayed as older (he was a college student and she was a freaking congressmember), writers felt free to have them start flirting with each other.  

I would LOVE to see this happen during a congressional debate:
"What my attractive colleague has failed to take into consideration is: *MMF!*".

It was all very Swinging Seventies, don't you know. But it was portrayed as adolescent foolishness. Because it WAS.

As stupid as the Bronze Age was, at least IT knew that marrying them was a dumb idea.

A lot of younger readers, however, grew up only with the idea that there was an inevitable romantic bond between the two characters. You can hear in in the article I cited to at the beginning of this post. The idea that they belong together is simply received wisdom, just like the 'fact' that Hippasus discovered irrational numbers, that no one should question.

Well, I do. I oppose Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon's relationship; always have. The ONLY reason I tend to swallow my objections is that I know it's the main obstacle to the worse alternative: Dick and Starfire.

Starfire is everything wrong with how straight men objectify women.

It's a fan-driven relationship.

If Dick being with Starfire is every fanboy's fantasy, then Dick being with Barbara is every fangirl's fantasy.* *(straight fans, that is). I happen to be of the school that "fan service" isn't the right basis for any character's romantic relationship.

I can't imagine why I feel that way.

Just as iconic heroes deserve their own custom-made cities designed as theirs, so too they deserve romantic interests that are designed for that purpose.  Mind you, that doesn't mean that those characters need to be perfect partners (or even GOOD ones).


But they should be at least be 'custom built' for the hero, rather than just slapping an "S.O." label on whatever other lesser hero of the appropriate sex happens to be most frequently handy.

Heroes deserve to have people who love them and support them for their real, civilian selves.  What they do not deserve is to be used as reader-proxies for cos-play fantasies about spandex-on-spandex sex.  

Dick Grayson was introduced as the Sensational Character Find of 1940 to give kids someone to identify with. In a sense, he's the original audience-substitute character. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that we'll still treating him as one 82 years later, but I'm nevertheless saddened by it.

It's an intrafamily relationship.

Their relationship growing up was quasi-familial. It's ain't called the Bat-Family for nothing.  So it's creepy. 

I mean, not "Barry & Iris" level creepy.
But still creepy.

And before you defend it and tell me it isn't... know that as soon as you do, I will ask whether you'd do the same if it were TIM DRAKE instead of Barbara Gordon.  Because Tim Drake and Barbara Gordon are now both portrayed as being roughly in their college years; essentially, the same age. 

Freckles? Really, now.  
Does she have Girl Scout Cookies in her utility belt, too?

The entire history of their relationship is in this context.  It's not like they, you know, met somewhere and developed an interest in each and had to make a conscious, mutual stated effort to establish a positively defined dating relationship. I know they've had SEX, but I don't know that they've ever had a DATE.  

It's hard to tell. From OUR perspective, it feels like they've know each other since... 1967.  So to some readers maybe it feels like it's "about time they get married!". But from an in-universe perspective, that's insane.  They are in their early 20s and have known each for maybe seven years. I'll admit that's a long time at that age but...they have been VERY BUSY PEOPLE during that time.

It's a work relationship.

They work together. That's a terrible basis for a relationship.  It's not just the same profession (crimefighter) but in the very same "office".  What they both obviously need--and deserve--is someone outside of that who can ground them outside of that.  Of course the obvious counter to this is: Lois and Clark work together!

And we all know how healthy THAT relationship historically is.

It's a relationship of convenience.

The whole thing is fetid.   It's lazy of the characters. It's lazy of writers. It's lazy of fans. It undercuts them each as characters.  If Batgirl marries Nightwing, it's pretty much an admission that DC's done trying to grow her character on her own. She's not going to be the centerpiece of her own dynasty anymore; she's just going to be part of Nightwing's because (awesome though she is) he is and always will be a higher-watt character than she.  She will have been Black Canaried, another potentially great iconic female hero who's been permanently hobbled by romantic links to a more iconic partner.  


Respect the characters. Respect yourselves. Stop pushing for Dick Grayson to marry Barbara Gordon.


Anonymous said...

I don’t *hate* the Dick & Babs relationship. They’re often fun together in the current Nightwing run. I agree with your reasons for why they shouldn’t get married, however. I don’t want to see Barbara further diminished.

Minor quibble with one of your points: the characters’ original incarnations. Not the facts, or the idea that people should read old comics before they speak as if they are knowledgable. I think the relevance of older comics in regards to modern characterization is debatable.

In-universe, the various Crises have given characters a blank slate. I don’t care about that, but it’s how DC has operated their universe. More to the point, however, is that characters changing and growing can turn a Silver Age cipher into a modern Good Character. I don’t care about original Robin, but I like (post-Wolfman) Nightwing. I don’t care about original Batgirl (as opposed to Bat-Girl), but I like (and miss) Oracle. Nightwing & Batgirl marrying would be boring, and take them in the wrong direction, but I don’t object to it based on knowing how their working relationship used to be.

I had a whole bunch more I wanted to write about, but stopped myself because I don’t want to post a screed. Suffice it to say, I completely agree with you about how fans can affect comics for the worse.

- Mike Loughlin

Scipio said...

Oh, Mike! If only you had a place where you could post your own screeds! ;-) I encourage it!

I feel your pain about "losing" characters like Oracle. But when you say
"the various Crises have given characters a blank slate" I don't think that's entirely true. It IS true as you point out that it can be great opportunity to individuate or grow them, and for some characters that has worked well. But the fact is that although DC can erase the character's histories and memories in-universe, they can't erase OURS. It bothers me when in-universe retcons threaten to overwrite ACTUAL history of characters because that undermines our ability to understand and appreciate these characters as parts of contemporary culture through the years. Of course "Batman doesn't use guns" in-universe but if we allow that to blind us to the fact that "he surely did used to" then we are white-washing history. When fans are unable to distinguish between the actual history of a character and the in-universe history of a character, it disturbs me deeply. The Dick/Barbara thing smells of that. It is only from the perspective of OUR world that the idea of them together has any justification because we've been watching them flirt for fifty year. But the in-universe context ... isn't really there.

Anonymous said...

Post my own screeds, you say? I heard there’s this place called Twitter that’ll let me do that. It’s been in the news lately. Now might be the perfect time to jump on!

I appreciate the thoughtful response to my minor quibble, and also wish more readers had a better understanding of the history of the medium.

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

So you want to set Dick up with Bette Kane instead?

Scipio said...

The same objections would apply.

Anonymous said...

"I am asking YOU not to do that. Not just with Hippasus. With anything."

Full agreement on this. While it's not practically possible to fact-check everything, a person should fact-check as much as possible. An awful lot of what people have heard, even if it started out as true, has gone through a game of Telephone to the point where it no longer is.

Much of the Internet has become a society of Cliff Clavins, god help us, who are trying to impress one another with how smart they are, whether or not they really are informed and/or intelligent. So they rely on half-remembered tweets they think they saw, make assertions with far more confidence than is warranted, and generally make everything worse.

With regard to Dick and Babs, I agree with you, they aren't a great fit.

With regard to Starfire, I am even agree-ier with you; she's a Boris Vallejo calendar come to life.

As far as retcons go, while it's true that character histories change, who the characters are really shouldn't change that much; the retcons are generally intended to bring them to the same point of utility. Whether Bruce Wayne went to college or spent early adulthood learning martial arts doesn't change that he is a polymath ninja detective.

Anonymous said...

Can I tell you my favorite Hippasus thing (and by "favorite" I mean most hated)? That Gavrilo Princip was getting a sandwich at a deli when he saw Archduke Ferdinand drive by, so he ran outside and shot him.

The truth -- based on very extant court documents, eyewitness testimony, and so forth -- is that Gavrilo Princip was standing outside a deli when he saw Ferdie's car happen by (and stall conveniently). But at some point -- and it seems to have started with a BBC documentary this century -- people decided that it was more interesting if Princip was in that deli, and dining on something that modern viewers would find relatable (people in Sarajevo weren't into sandwiches so that detail wouldn't even be period-accurate).

Either you're telling the truth, or you're lying. There is no third category of "telling the truth but making it better".

And if you're going to say he was eating a sandwich, I say make it even more relatable. Just claim that Princip was a local Galaga champion and he was arrested with a pocket full of videogame tokens.