Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Batgirl 19, originally released April 10th, 2013.
Shelby: I’m the oldest kid of three. My brother, sister, and I get on famously now, but that certainly wasn’t always the case. As a kid, I knew that Lindsey and Ben would always be compared to me; I came first, chronologically speaking, and that made me the yardstick. It’s not a fair system: not fair to the sibling forced to be the standard and DEFINITELY not fair to the siblings forced to be compared to someone else instead of being free to forge their own path. Happily, though, the Peterson kids weren’t raised in Gotham, where sibling rivalry is enough to turn a kid with an overachiever sister into a sociopath.
Babs finally has a second to catch her breath; the first item on her to-do list is coming clean to Alysia and apologizing for abandoning her with beat-to-hell Joker thugs. Babs tells her everything (excepting the whole Batgirl thing), and Alysia has a little secret of her own; she’s transgender. No time for more than a quick hug, because Batgirl has a murderous brother to catch. She and her mom have set a trap for James, and the inevitable fight ensues. Barbara, Sr., isn’t fucking around this time, and shoots him. Before Babs can react, James hits her in the head hard enough to leave her seeing double. The fight ends with James catching a batarang with his face and breaking his back on a railing before falling to his death. Of course, the commissioner shows up just in time to try to arrest Batgirl for murder.
We finally get the big showdown we’ve been waiting for: Gordon vs. Gordon, the ginger battle of the ages, and it boils down to sibling rivalry? It seems pretty…trivial. One could argue that the jealousy paired with James’ sociopathic lack of empathy tipped him over the edge to CrazyMurderTown, but it feels like an over-reaction extreme enough to be unbelievable. While I may not be totally on board with the source of James’ motivation to be HORRIFIC, I am looking forward to the Gordon family conflict his “death” will generate. First of all, calling Batgirl the murderer isn’t totally fair; Barbara, Sr. did shoot him first, after all. Then again, Babs hit him in the eye with a batarang.
She claimed she tried to save him when he fell off the pier, that the concussion paired with the rain caused her to fail. But I wonder just how hard she tried. I also can’t totally blame her for maybe not trying as hard as she could; she wasn’t wrong in assuming he would go on killing no matter what, and he did have a switch blade at her mother’s throat. Question: does Jim Gordon know his daughter is Batgirl? He has to have figured it out by now, right? If not, that is going to be one awkward funeral: Babs having to pretend her father doesn’t have a warrant out for her arrest, Barbara pretending she didn’t shoot her son and that her daughter isn’t wanted for is murder because she is Batgirl.
The other big bombshell this issue is Alysia coming out as trans. I believe this is ultimately a good thing for the medium; more diversity is always preferred to less, and I can’t think of any other trans characters…well, anywhere in comics, really. I’m curious to see how this will affect the character going forward; ultimately, I trust Gail Simone to let Alysia’s gender identity inform her character in a realistic, natural way. I can see how this will bring Babs and Alysia closer together. Alysia identified as one gender, but was forced to conform to another until she was finally able to be herself. Babs also has two identities to contend with, except that she has to balance them both instead of being who she really wants to be. Hell, she may not even really know who she wants to be, Babs or Bats.
So, James is gone, the Joker is gone, the Owls are gone. Babs has one little clean-up role to play in Batman and Batgirl in a couple of months, but other than that she is finally free to have her own story. Will we finally see something come from the potential team up of her big bads? More importantly, how long will it be before James shows up as some sort of wheelchair-bound, one-eyed maniac?
Drew: Oh, we’re definitely getting Evil Oracle somewhere down the line. James Jr. has already made a habit of menacing his family remotely, he’s basically already the malevolent force at the other end of the phone. I’m certainly excited for his return, but I think we all — but especially Babs — can use a breather. The Joker pulled this title to some very dark places, and James has managed to keep us there. Don’t get me wrong — I love being creeped out by James, and Simone and Sampere manage to deliver several skin-crawling moments this issue.
I think Simone could have maintained the specific sense of dread that James’ presence seems to have, but I’m actually glad she didn’t. One of the things that I loved so much about this series was Barbara’s upbeat attitude — sure, she had been through a lot, and was dealing with PTSD, but at least she was getting out there, moving out of her house, going on dates, and kicking some ass. I entirely respect that Babs shouldn’t be cheery given all of the things that have been going on, but I really miss her sense of humor.
To that end, I think this issue demonstrates a pretty clear path for that — not in the tear-filled Gordon Family Showdown, but in Barbara’s scene with Alysia. Simone’s efforts to introduce trans characters to comics is a noble one, but I’m more concerned about what this scene means for the characters. Alysia has put her trust in Babs, sharing her most profound secret. Babs, for her part, rewards that trust perfectly.
Shelby, you make some great points about the similarities between the notion of being transgender and the identity issues that go along with being a superhero, so I think it’s no mistake that Babs shows her love by asserting her identity. Simone has strengthened this parallel by driving Barbara’s identity issues into the closet, as it were, by having her father attempt to arrest her.
Of course, those parallels only emphasize the disparity of trust going on here: Babs doesn’t disclose her most profound secret. I’m certain that this mirrors the struggle many trans folks must have when deciding whether to disclose their identities, which makes me think about trust in a very different way. It’s a challenge I’d never considered, but Simone dramatizes it beautifully here.
As much as I’m looking forward to the exploration of Babs and Alysia’s friendship, the focus of this issue is on James Jr, and I must say, Shelby, I was much more satisfied with the family drama. James’ time in Gotham has been so specifically directed at torturing his family, I can’t imagine another way for this to end. It was always a family affair, and a dramatic fight scene in a moody rainstorm seems like the the most appropriate conclusion. To me, it’s not just about sibling rivalry — James was jealous of Babs, to be sure — but about James resenting his mother for making him wish he was something other than he is. It resonates strongly with the identity issues going on elsewhere in the issue, and explains why James seems so fixated on torturing their mother, specifically.
It’s a beautiful issue — one that manages to earn the otherwise overly-emo trappings of its denouement. Basically, I’m happy about everything about it: I’m happy we’re done with James for the time being (with the potential to have him come back in an even more thematically resonant capacity), I’m happy the focus seems to be shifting back towards Barbara’s civilian life, and I’m happy to have Gail Simone back in the writer’s seat. Shelby is right to cite that Babs is finally free to take control of her series, and there’s no writer I trust more with that than Simone. She knows just when Babs needs a muffin.
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