Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Batgirl 28, originally released February 12th, 2014.
Shelby: Not that long ago, we had a glut of vampires in popular culture. Twilight, Vampire Diaries, True Blood: we were inundated. It didn’t seem that unusual to me, though; my high school into college experience featured a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Hellsing (the anime, not the awful movie), so “Vampires did it!” isn’t really that strange of a story for me. Outside of Legenderry and the occasional Halloween issue, though, vampires are not something I expect to see in the comics I’m reading. Needless to say, I was intrigued by the cover of this month’s Batgirl.
Our gal Babs is out on patrol when the group she’s after is taken out in the blink of an eye. No worries, it’s just Stryx, who wants Babs’ help finding a missing mute girl. They go undercover as GCPD detectives to talk to the girl’s mother, and on their way out are confronted by Mr. Uchida, otherwise known as Silver.
Silver is under the impression that the entire Bat-Family are vampires, ruling over the sheeple of Gotham through fear, political influence and economical manipulations. No joke. They fight for a bit until the police show up, and Silver tops his crazy sundae with the crazy cherry that is the belief the missing girl is a vampire queen, which is why he kidnapped her and strapped a bomb to her that’s going to go off at dawn.
I feel like Gail Simone is taking a cue from her own creation Silver with this issue: if you’re going to do something crazy, then really embrace that crazy and go full tilt. This story is bizarre and out of left field, but she’s so committed to it that I think it works. Let’s start with our new villain Silver; I very intentionally brought up Hellsing in my intro, because Fernando Pasarin has given Silver a very “Alucard” look.
I think it’s a combination of the hair and being dangerous and crazy. I really like the white and silver design of … uh, Silver. It gives him this clean, pristine look that is perfectly opposed to the dark costumes of our heroes. He really thinks of himself as a force of good for Gotham; he wants to save the people from the tyrannical rule of the Bats, he views the Batman rogues gallery as “freedom fighters,” he helps the poor victims of Batgirl by staking them through the heart before they can turn to vampires themselves. A real hero of the people. But seriously, Simone is raising the question of what exactly is the side of good when it comes to vigilantes. Babs places a call to Knightfall for help in finding the missing girl, and I would put her in the same category as Silver. These are people who believe in a greater good, and think that what they are doing is right, but have lost sight of the boundary between good and bad. That’s the difference between a vigilante like Batgirl and a vigilante like Knightfall or Silver; they will do whatever it takes to stop evil, even if their actions themselves would be considered evil. Babs and the rest of the Bats know that doing evil to stop evil kind of defeats the purpose.
Even with these big ideas of good and bad, and the difference between a villain and a vigilante, Simone still keeps sight of that Babs as a character. Her reaction to the news that Stryx wants to rescue this girl because she’s mute is, “Oh, honey.” You can’t really beat Babs trying to deal with Stryx wanting to wear an old prom dress to go undercover, though.
It’s such a classic Babs moment; her declaring the Court of Owls sucks for not letting Mary have the normal girl experience of getting fancy new clothes, and ultimately giving Mary the dress. Babs has gone through a lot of crap lately; it’s kind of nice to see her in a new story that is just a regular Batgirl adventure. She doesn’t have to deal with a dream fake Gotham or a dying quasi-boyfriend or psychotic brother or absent mother or issues with her father. All she has to do is rescue a little girl from a psycho who thinks she’s a vampire and feels he is making the city a better place by staking innocent people through the heart. No big deal, right Drew?
Drew: You know, I actually found myself wishing that this issue found Babs facing a less big deal. Part of that is that Babs can just use a break — all of that stuff you mentioned is pretty heavy — but I think I’m just ready to focus a bit more on her. Simone has done a brilliant job of giving Babs a believable psychology and an interesting corner of Gotham, but she’s also gone out of her way to give the same treatment to all of Batgirl’s foes. I feel like a bit of a heretic asking for less psychologically constructed villains, but they’re kind of getting in the way of really developing what’s going on in Barbara’s life. Babs mentions Alysia, Ricky, and her Father in passing in this issue, but those are some of the most interesting relationships in this series.
Not that Mary isn’t a great alternative. I actually enjoyed the pairing of Barbara’s talkativeness with Mary’s utter silence, and I absolutely love the outfit-picking scene Shelby highlighted above. Babs has perhaps the most normal life of all of Batman’s allies, making her one of the easiest to relate to, which is why confronting her with that normalcy is such a brilliant move. When she’s used to gallivanting with a billionaire vigilante and all of his billionaire vigilante wards, it’s easy for her to take her normalcy for granted, but Mary’s life is on the other end of the spectrum. She never went to prom, never went shopping with friends, never even got to learn the dos and don’ts of dressing herself as a kid. Having Babs realize how lucky she is just to have a closet full of clothes offers a healthy shot of perspective to the readers of this series.
It’s scenes like that that make me wish we could put more of the focus on the psychology of this series recurring cast, rather than adding another delusional psychotic to the mix. I appreciate that Silver’s visions of vampires is several degrees removed from Knightfall’s Punisher brand of justice, but I think Shelby is right to point out how similar they really are. This feels like a bit of a rehash, only less morally intriguing, since Silver’s “we have to kill all vampires” mission reads as clear-cut insanity, rather than some misguided sense of duty.
Part of my problem may be that all of the details we learn about Silver actually make him less believable to me. We never get any explanation for how he became so unspeakably wealthy, no origin for how he came to believe Batman and his allies are vampires, or how he found a servant so loyal as to go along with every insane whim. Without those grounding details, Silver feels beyond phony — like a Bond villain, only less believable — which hobbles his utility as a mirror for Babs. For all of the focus on Silver, he doesn’t come off as anything other than a monster, which makes me wonder why we couldn’t have focused on something more psychologically straightforward — say those copycats — with the hopes of elucidating something about Babs or her relationship to the world around her.
I hate to get so down about a series having too much character development, but Simone has carved out such an interesting corner of Gotham for Babs to inhabit, and I’d like to have the space to just live in it for a while. I’d like to actually see how Babs is navigating her quasi-relationship with Ricky, or just see what the heck Alysia us up to. More than anything, I want to see Babs get a chance to feel her feelings. She’s been put through the wringer, and she could use some time to reflect. This vampire stuff is obscuring that reflection, which should be Silver’s first clue that they aren’t real vampires.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?