Death Battle is back in our corner of comics fandom, they’re now doing Babsgirl vs Spider-Gwen fight.
The matchup kinda makes sense, out of the Batfamily characters post-flashpoint Barbara is likely the one easiest to compare to Gwen. But it did made me think of a different kind of comparison between the two than is usually done.
In a way return of Barbara to being Batgirl could be seen as a result of backlash to the popular perception of the character boiling down to “Joker’s victim”. It is certainly an angle many of the “One True Batgirl” crowd members have been using to defend erasing her disability. Of course this ignores , I would even say deliberatelly, the work done by John Ostrander and Kim Yale and legions of writers like Gail Simone that follwoed their lead, to establish Barbara as Oracle, a heroic identity in her own right. Paradoxically, these attempts to “move away” Barbara from Killing Joke made her even more defined by it. The fact it is effectively a decision to cement work of a man as the character’s defining moment, while ignoring work of women to help her move past that, only makes the irony more visible to naked eye. When we add inherent ableism and the fact DC had to screw over royally two other characters, Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, to get where they had put Barbara in 2011, it leaves any possibility of this decision being truly feminist, dead in the gutter. When paired with the massive propaganda game in Batman comics to portray time when Barbara was Batgirl as some sort of magical “best of times” in history of Batman, something that has started with Hush and continued all the way up to Flashpoint, it mires the decision purely into nostalgia.
Gwen Stacy for decades has been known for one thin - the Night Gwen Stacy Died, a story in which she has been killed by Green Goblin (coincidentially, often see as the Joker counterpart in Spider-Man mythos). Similiarly to Barbara the character has been ever since mitologized with a ton of retcons to the point she is nowadays portrayed as nearly a saint. And in similair vein Spider-Gwen’s popularity could be seen as a backlash against her being seen in nerd minds as just “a girl killed by Norman Osbron to make Peter mad”. But unlike DC’s very deliberate attempt at enforcing this, Marvel seems to have stumbled into that by accident - the character was originally little less than one among many new Spiders from across the Multiverse, curiosities for a big event with likely little plans to build on them further, not unlike Penni Parker or Aaron Aickman. Marvel was quick to leap on her popularity and milk it for what it was worth it but they didn’t need to screw over other Spider-heroines. I mean, yes, they did screwed over characters like Anya Corazon and Mayday Parker even in Spider-Verse itself, but it wasn’t done to push on Gwen (with exception of Web Warriors, which was poorly received even by Gwen fans). The stories of Spider-Gwen treat The Night Gwen Stacy Died more like a cautionary tale for this Gwen and underline that she is not gonna be defined by 616 Gwen. Hell, one of characters that usually is most bashed by the chuch of Saint Gwen Stacy - Mary Jane Watson - is argurably most important supporting cast member of Spider-Gwen books. In a way, as we can see in stories like clone conspiracy or Gwen Stacy miniseries, we could even read it that the people who never got over 616 Gwen’s death are not satisfied with Spider-Gwen. Likely because she is too different from the idealized version of Gwen they try to convince whole world existed anywhere outside their heads. I wonder if the insistence to push Spider-Gwen into 616 stories and the attempts to sink shiopping of Gwen with her world’s MJ aren’t editorial attempts to stop Spider-Gwen to truly growing into her own character, leaving reflection of main universe Gwen Stacy enteirly behind.
But that’s jsut my digression. Anyway, Gwen is probably gonna tear Barbara to pieces, Batfamily statistically tends to lose their Marvel vs DC matches on Death Battle. Also, I’m bitter that if it wasn’t for SOMEONE *glares at Dan Didio* Cassandra Cain would likely have enough media presence for a match between her and X-23 be reasonable possibility to be featured on this show one day but as it is now once DB picks up Laura they’re probably gonna have her murder Damian. Through there is some thematic comparison there too, what with both of them having their character development yeeted through the window into oblivion and nuked from the orbit for good measure every time a new writer takes over the reins….