Last week, Karen Berger announced she was stepping down from leading Vertigo, their independent line; this looked suspicious to many comic fans because all of Vertigo's original characters are now finding themselves being drawn in the mainstream DC Universe. It is believed Vertigo will mostly publish miniseries from 2013 on, rather than long-form stories, outside of Bill Willingham's Fables, which should run forever. Berger is responsible for shepherding into being such epic creations as Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Brian K. Vaughan's Y: The Last Man, and -- did I mention? -- Fables, which is non-stop awesome. What's notable about these titles (among many that Berger brought to the public as an editor, or as Executive Editor at Vertigo) is that they appealed to a female readership, as well as the standard male fanbase for comics; these stories were about fantasy and sci-fi, but they were also about shattered or complicated structures, character development, and relationships, far more than most mainstream superhero comics have been in the last three decades. Berger was a prime example of an artist bringing a needed new perspective to the art form, and I cannot understand why she should would voluntarily leave the company, unless DC has decided to subsume their most popular indie characters into their bigger books, and she couldn't handle the now-lighter touch that would accompany with what had been serious, edgy work (I should note, this is pure speculation on my part). Whatever the cause of this exit, Karen will be missed in comics.
Hot on the heels of Berger's shocking announcement came this weekend's Twitter reveal that Gail Simone (pictured above), of Secret Six, Birds of Prey, and "Women In Refrigerators" fame, has been fired from writing The New 52's Batgirl series -- and by email, no less! Editor Brian Cunningham relieved her of her duties on the title last week, and Simone told the world this weekend that her last issue writing Barbara Gordon will be issue 17. Gail Simone is easily one of the nicest comics creators on the planet (from all I hear), so getting the boot by email is already shoddy treatment. But what's puzzling to most fans is the fact that Simone's book was pretty much a critical and commercial success for DC. It may not have hit Death of Superman levels in sales (would you want that kind of bubble burst, guys?), but the book did decent, and Simone is universally beloved and followed by many. She should be universally beloved for her epically gracious stance in announcing her firing, but first and foremost, what I've always admired about Gail is her willingness to stand up and say, "The way you're treating women here is wrong, guys who write comics. As a community, what can we do about that?" I loved Gail's run on Birds of Prey (despite her art partner Ed Benes' constant sexualization of her female team), precisely because she showed how female friendship and moral compromise can work on real world terms within a fantasy world. Her work on Secret Six was loony and touching, her work on Wonder Woman saved Diana after years of horrifying editorial decisions, and I've heard her Deadpool stuff is hilarious. She is one woman who knows how to write, and DC booting her this way, conveniently after her exclusive contract with them has dried up, makes no sense from a creative or a business standpoint to me. Speculation abounds about what the higher-ups at the company were thinking, and who knows if Gail will continue to work with them, though not on a regular title? (Full disclosure: I wasn't in love with The New 52 Batgirl, but I admired Simone's general handling of the book. She had to rehabilitate a wheelchair-bound woman without discriminating against disability itself, and overall, I think Gail still made Babs' time as Oracle viable, even if Barbara never registered as strongly in her restored superhero role as she had when she was a disabled character.)
What Karen Berger leaving, and Gail Simone getting fired, does make clear to me is that DC defines "change" as their only option in improving sales. They will damn varying points of view, tornado potential character growth, and alter what might be interesting structures provided by artists who aren't white dudes, all in the name of keeping sales up -- despite Marvel NOW! dominating November. This releasing of people from projects actually reads as the opposite of change, though. By getting rid of people who challenge your readers, you're not only alienating creators' fans, you're also losing out on where those artists could have taken us. When women I know ask me to recommend starter comics, I send them to complex, philosophical projects Berger greenlit, such as Y: The Last Man or Fables. When I feel left out of the sexy-time, bubble-headed superhero romp that is Wonder Woman's portrayal in The New 52 Justice League, I have Gail Simone's superior examination of a woman in a man's world to comfort me, and point out that my problems matter to someone in the industry. Without these two lady titans championing women's voices, I worry for DC Comics. Because DC sure as hell isn't worrying about me as a reader. They want sales, and they're not ashamed of the fact that they only support the superstar, cookie-cutter dudes who write for them (some of them are good; almost all of them are white). Why not take a chance and tell stories worth telling, from all corners of the globe, Dan DiDio? Why not let a book develop for more than a year before you torpedo examinations of transgender life (this was part of Simone's run on Batgirl)? Why not give the world a new female superteam, or make your already-published female superteam book a priority? Why not trust your female talent, instead of turning your creative offices into a boys' club?
In the long run, I shouldn't even have to be typing this. It's evidential. We need diversity in comics, or they will be known as stupid little boys' fantasies forever. When comics could be, as Berger and Simone proved, so much more.
UPDATE.: Geek Mom over at Wired has provided some facts that escaped my notice till post-posting this post. Apparently, Simone was fired due to creative differences with her editorial masters; the conflict possibly surrounded the reveal of her transgender character, or it came from editorial pressure to kill Barbara's mother in the latest "Death In the Family" Bat-Event. I could see Simone objecting to violent treatment of her female characters, or ignorance over gender issues, as that's what her "Women In Refrigerators" site was all about cataloging and challenging.