Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Batgirl 31, originally released May 14th, 2014.
Shelby: I love me a good, jovial villain. Any bad guy can be evil and cranky, but when they’re amiable, pleasant, flirty even, that is hands down the best. Those villains are unpredictable and creepy. Best/worst of all: you can almost find yourself liking them. They don’t fit into the standard good guy/bad guy dichotomy, which creates a far more complicated relationship between them, the actual good guys, and the reader. I love complicated relationships with fictional characters (what’s up, John Constantine), so I’m thrilled to see Gail Simone and Fernando Pasarin welcome Ragdoll to Gotham City and Batgirl.
This is Ragdoll. Trigger warning: this is some scary-ass shit straight out of a horror flick.
According to his wikipedia page, Ragdoll is triple-jointed: all the goodness of being double-jointed, plus super-stretchy tendons and ligaments. He’s been hired to protect a subsidiary of Mr. Rain from vandalization at the hands of Alysia and some of her friends. They were talked into it by Michael, associate of Charise a.k.a. Knightfall, and instead of being a harmless stink bomb like they were told, they nearly released a toxic nerve gas which would have killed everyone in the building. Alysia called Babs, who in turn released the fury of the Bat upon Ragdoll. In the end, he let everyone go because technically he had done his job protecting the building, so all’s well that ends well, right? Wrong, because Ricky is suing Jim Gordon for shooting him without cause and Babs is under some sort of mysterious surveillance.
I feel like we’re back on track with the Batgirl I’ve come to love these last few years. There was the weird foray into vampire lore with the Silver arc, then that terribly out-of-place (thanks to Forever Evil) issue with the monster from the shadows, but now we’re back to the norm. I’m happy to see Charise back in the game again; she plays such an interesting role as the sort of “dark Batgirl.” Here, we find Charise, Babs, and Alysia all with the same basic agenda. Alysia is playing a short game, looking to take out this particular corporation. Both Babs and Charise are playing long game, looking to eliminate Mr. Rain, but they’re approaches couldn’t be more opposite each other. Charise has no problems throwing away people like Alysia for her cause, while Babs will go out of her way to protect them. Ragdoll actually just makes things more complicated. His morals are almost more in line with Babs’, but only because he hasn’t been paid enough yet for anything else.
Turns out, in a twisted sort of way, Ragdoll was more in the right about this whole scene than Babs. His mission was to non-lethally take out a group of terrorists who, knowingly or no, were about to commit mass murder. It’s a spiky bit of morals that we see reflected in Babs’ conversation with Ricky. Ricky was shot while trying to shoot a gangbanger; he was protecting his family the only way he knew how. Babs tried to protect him as well, but Ricky was shot by her own dad for her efforts. Now, Ricky is going to sue the commissioner; it’s a deliciously complicated situation. Jim Gordon was just doing his job, doing what he thought was the right thing. Unlawful though it was, I would argue that Ricky was doing the right thing as well. We’ve got two men, both trying to protect those important to them, at odds, and our gal Babs is caught square in the middle.
This is the kind of storytelling I love to see; there isn’t really a clear-cut bad guy. Ragdoll and Charise are obvious front-runners, because of their willingness to hurt others in their quest for their definition of the right thing. At the same time, Babs kicked the living shit out of Ragdoll for hurting Alysia.
She admits herself that she was was close to killing him. I know the whole, “we’re not so different, you and I,” trope is used a lot, but I never get tired of it. Especially when we see it, not as a part of some villain’s monologue, but played out in the story. Simone gives us what she excels at with this title; a tricky set of morals in a situation that’s more gray than black and white, and a superhero who is, at heart, just a regular person with the same doubts and insecurities we all have. Patrick, did this issue feel like a return to the norm for you as well? Does Ragdoll freak you right the fuck out? He’s so unsettling, and I completely adore him and am totally terrified of him all at once.
Patrick: You know what? Once we actually got some quality time with Ragdoll, I was not so much scared by him as just kind of confused. But that’s the classic horror movie villain, isn’t it? I like that first handful of pages a lot — y’know, where it’s all flashlights and screaming and no one really knows what’s going on. The kicker, of course, is when Ragdoll appears as a mess of hair and limbs, scurrying under the door to the stall Alysia is hiding in. Pasarin, evidently not content with the various messes I just mentioned, also puts the dude in an expressionless, featureless white mask.
Unfortunately, the more exposure we have to the character, the more his seemingly-magical skills start to feel silly, rather than intimidating. Shelby points this out, but the character is also making a case for himself as not-really-a-bad-guy, so maybe we’re meant to slowly sympathize with him? I don’t know — the closer his abilities come to Mr. Fantastic levels, the less I buy what’s going on. Also, maybe I’ve been trained by so much experience spotting broken back posing in comics, but Ragdoll’s body looks less like the abilities of some triple-jointed gymnast, and more like the work of someone who wanted to sacrifice the human form for a cool panel.
Hey, I think I might be a little confused about everyone’s motivations in this issue. There’s a lot of information that’s being doled out in achronological order here, so there are a handful of reveals to sort out. Let’s see how I do. Alysia and her friends were going to righteously vandalize a laboratory that tests on animals (including monkeys). When approached by well-dressed man with a stink bomb, they don’t think twice how fucking weird that is. Our well-dressed stink-bomb-distributor is employed by Charise, whose goal — as stated on the final page — was to warn Mr. Rain “to keep his filth out of Gotham.” That might just be Charise trying to save face in front of her lackey, but it sounds to me as though she put a deadly nerve toxin in the hands of a stranger and just hoped she wouldn’t be able to use it? Or if she did want Alysia and her friends to successfully launch the toxin, why not send in one of her own metahumans?
Then to top it off, Ragdoll turns on his employer because they were testing on monkeys and Ragdoll is partial to monkeys. Hey, Ragdoll, heads up: we’re all partial to monkeys. They’re basically small hairy people that do hilarious shit. There’s nothing in the story to illuminate Raggy’s affinity for monkeys, so I’m just going to assume it’s because he kinda sort moves like a monkey (you know, just like how Otto Octavius was always coming to the defense of octopuses). In fact, that final scene wherein he murders Mr. Travers while yelling “YOU DIDN’T TELL ME YOU WERE MEAN TO MONKEYS!” reads as straight crazy.
Maybe the common thread between all these stories is people going into tough situations with incomplete information, and the trouble they have reacting in real-time. Babs doesn’t know why she’s going to see Ricky in the hospital — she has some guesses, but she’s not at all prepared to deal with what he actually has to say. Alysia and her friends want to make a statement, but don’t realize they’re pawns in a corporate intimidation war. Ragdoll wants to protect his client, until he realizes his client does something he doesn’t approve of. And while it’s only temporary, Batgirl jumps into a fight with Ragdoll without knowing how to take him down. Interestingly, Batgirl seems to be the most resilient of these characters, adapting to the changing circumstances on the fly. By a harsh point of comparison, Barbara is totally ineffective in the face of the unknown.
I cut that together from two separate pages, but those are four consecutive panels, and literally all the action Babs takes after getting this news is to run away. If adaptability is the name of the game here, it’s interesting that there’d be such a gulf between Barbara and Batgirl (spoiler: they’re the same person).
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?