Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing Batgirl 32, originally released June 11th, 2014.
Patrick: I was recently putting together a resume for a creative position, and I found myself completely unable to distill what’s special about me into a digestible collection of jobs and experiences. Just by virtue of being a human being for over thirty years, I’ve amassed a weird collection of skills and experiences, and the only reason I can believe that it’s all part of a single lifetime is because I was there to experience it all. I’ve got something of an obsessive mind, and a propensity to burn myself out, so my list of former passions is long. The point is, there’s a lot feeding into the person I am today, and while it’s easiest to say that I am the handful of things that have effected me most recently (i.e.: improviser, writer, comic enthusiast, administrator), that definition is woefully inadequate. The same is doubly true for superheroes, and Batgirl 32 revels in developments from the recent past while acknowledging a history (both real and invented) that demands to be honored.
Batgirl is trying to take down Knightfall’s criminal empire. The problem being that Charise is just too good at being flexible, relocating everything at the mere hint that Batgirl is on to them. This is… frustrating to Barbara.
Unfortunately, the private life of Barbara Gordon is similarly frustrating: she walked in on her roommate gettin’ it on, her boyfriend is suing her imprisoned father, and her former college roommate tries to recruit her for a secret spy organization. Oh, that last one sounds more like a Batgirl plot point than a Babs plot point, doesn’t it? The college roommate in question is Munirah Khairuddin, adorably shortened to “Muni,” a new creation by Simone. You might not have guess that, however, because Simone weaves Muni into Babs’ pre-New-52 history, even going so far as show Barbara grieving for her assumed-dead friend while in her wheelchair.
Obviously, this is a loaded image. I don’t know if there’s still a contingent of comic fans that prefer Barbara as Oracle, but the issue of ownership of a particular version of something is all over this issue. Batgirl begins the issue lamenting the current state of Gotham, even declaring herself done with “Gotham, the way [it is] now.” Her complaints are a little more specific: heroes that kill, relatable villains, etc. Charise also refers to “Gotham the way it used to be,” and wonders whether is wasn’t better the way it was. Not that it much matters, Gotham is the way it is, and there’s no such thing as going back.
One of those big new things is that Jim Gordon is in jail for manslaughter, a development from Batman Eternal. While Simone acknowledges that Gordon’s in jail, the subject at hand is Ricky’s impending lawsuit. Charise sends Bonebreaker to pressure Ricky into dropping the suit. Her reasoning is that she doesn’t want this giant of man — this fundamentally good cop — to be taken out by the actions of some punk kid. But, like, punk kid or no, Gordon’s kinda fucked. Simone had so patiently set up a scenario where the safety and well-being Commissioner Gordon hinged on the actions of Barbara’s friends and enemies. It would have been a powerful inversion of those terms, with Ricky representing the threat and Charise representing the solution. With the developments from the weekly in play, neither the threat nor the solution seem to matter that much. I’m starting to think that the Gotham Barbara Gordon mourns at the top of the issue is the same Gotham that Simone wishes she were still inhabiting. There are always going to be things beyond Simone’s control that force their way into the Batgirl narrative — Forever Evil, Zero Year, Death of the Family, The Night of the Owls — and that’s a shame precisely because she’s so damned good at building an expansive playground for the character all by herself.
Just take a look at how much Simone-spun mythology fills this issue: Knightfall and her whole organization (including Gretel and Bonebreaker who are either name-checked or appear here), Ricky and Gordon, Alysia, James Gordon Jr.’s death. All of these things play into this issue, and Simone goes on to introduce more to Babs’ history in the form of her prodigious former-roommate-turned-secret-agent. It’s almost too much already, and it’s a bummer to see it clouded even further by plots that the series is inheriting from other books.
Shelby, when I interviewed Simone at C2E2, she mentioned that she was finally getting to a story that she’d been wanting to tell since the New 52 started. Do you think we’re moving into Charise’s endgame here? Or perhaps something that puts Babs’ back in the chair? That’s all silly speculation, but there’s definitely something fun about knowing that this arc is something the writer has been excited about for years. Also, can someone explain to me Fernando Pasarin? Sometimes I feel like the dude couldn’t draw a non-lumpy face to save his life, but then he pulls off these beautiful, naturally, expressive little moments like this…
…and suddenly, I don’t know how to criticize him anymore. One last prompt question: why would Babs’ turn down Muni’s offer? Wouldn’t see be better equipped to fight Charise with a spy organization at her back?
Shelby: Maybe Pasarin just really excels at profiles? Because you’re right, that’s a lovely image, especially when compared to something like…
Seriously, what the hell is happening to Alysia’s face? That’s a mess.
Once again, Simone gives us a Babs we can relate to. Who hasn’t had a day at work where nothing seems to go right and it feels like your coworkers are just getting on your case instead of actually helping? I know I have, and it doesn’t matter that I work in IT instead of punching henchmen in the face. And I’m sure we all know what it’s like to have a seemingly irreconcilable problem with a significant other, just probably not the fact that our SO is sueing our father for damages from that time he shot him (Happy Father’s Day!). Simone has such a knack for taking these giant, bizarre, terrible problems and presenting them to us in a way that we can understand and empathize with. She keeps Babs so well grounded that when problems arise that we can’t easily relate to, i.e. being recruited for a super-secret spy agency by a former roommate, we still manage to see Babs’ side of the issue.
Speaking of that job-offer, what a complicated issue for Babs, emotionally. First of all, she’s got to deal with the whole, “I thought you were dead, and I mourned you, but you’ve been alive this whole time” thing. Then we’ve got the whole, “Also, you drugged and kidnapped me off the street” thing, which gives Muni two strikes before she’s even made the offer. Babs’ biggest point of contention with working for a spy agency seems to be her outrage at Muni’s complacency when it comes to spying on civilians. That struck me as a little odd at first, but after reading your comments on Gotham as it was, and Babs as Oracle, it makes a little more sense. In Simone’s run of Birds of Prey, Babs could do virtually anything as Oracle. There was no system she couldn’t hack, no phone she couldn’t tap, no record she couldn’t read. It was a power she respected, and was careful to not abuse, and I think her outrage here hearkens back to that.
It also serves to knock her back on track; she’s been getting a little fast and loose with her punching and her anger the last few issues, and I think this offer of more power and less responsibility when wielding it made her take a step back to the Babs we know. Until she finds out what Knightfall did to Ricky’s brother, that is. Not only is she back to angry Batgirl, she’s back to relatable territory — I know I’ve been so mad at work I’ve seen spots. I can’t wait to see where this rage will take her, how far it will take her. Will she cross the line that keeps her different from Knightfall? With Black Canary and Huntress (!) coming along for the ride, she’s basically equipped with an angel and devil on her shoulders, and I can’t wait to see how it all works out.
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?
Both Simone and Bennett have been leaning on rage as a recurring thing for Babs – that’s a relatively new characterization for her right? I don’t think of Oracle as a particularly angry character (and Lord knows that the bat-verse is already chock full of rage monsters), so I’m starting to wonder if anger is an intentional new direction for the character — part of her coming out of the chair and dealing with the way her world has changed. When this series started, there was a lot more survivor’s guilt, but that seems to have transitioned to the more violent aspects of PTSD.
Patrick, Shelby, while I agree on both of your interpretations on why Babs doesn’t want to join the spy agency, I think y’all are overlooking the largest: she doesn’t want to fake her death. The pain she felt when she thought Munirah was dead is still raw to Barbara, and she doesn’t want to do that to the people who love her, no matter how fractured their relationships may be right now.
It’s interesting that this is specifically the exact opposite of what Nightwing is doing right now
Wow, yeah, good point about Dick. Babs’ outright refusal (without really giving it any honest thought) makes a lot of sense in that light, and makes Dick’s decision seem even crazier. I’m telling you, Simone’s none too happy with what’s going on at DC right now, and she’s letting people know it.