Suzanne Drew and Patrick are discussing Batgirl 37, originally released December 10th, 2014.
Drew: I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that Barbara Gordon has one of the least memorable origin stories in the Bat-mythos. In fact, without the inciting incident of murdered/criminal parents, or simply figuring out Batman’s identity, it’s arguable that she doesn’t have an origin “story” — she just kind of became Batgirl in the same way someone becomes an adult. That means she doesn’t have the same motivations built into her character that Bruce, Dick, Jason, Tim, Cassandra, Steph, and Damian all have. That’s not to say she’s a lesser character — indeed, she’s been the center of several great stories — just that her “mission” isn’t as strongly defined or as personally motivated as those of her peers. With Batgirl 37, writers Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart turn that lack of definition into a huge asset, making Babs an infinitely more believable 20-something.
Babs has been aware of an imposter for a while now, and this issue puts her face to face with this imposter Batgirl. The bigger story is the social phenomenon Batgirl has become, which makes the influence of this doppelgänger all the more threatening — Batgirl’s “identity” (in the public persona sense, not the under-the-cowl sense) is very much defined by the actions carried out in her name. Heck, in a reference both to her home medium of comics and the notion that our social media presence tells a kind of narrative about who we are, the portraits of the bat-impostor tell a literal story.
They’re just pictures, sure, but they say something about their subject. It’s a fascinating comment on both art and social media that reminds us that even our most thoughtless actions my be full of meaning.
A literal identity thief might feel like a clumsy way to address important issues regarding internet security and public image, but Fletcher and Stewart have actually tapped into something much more relatable. By the issue’s end, Babs resigns to a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” embrace of social media, opting to take control over her public image, rather than have it defined for her. This is a strange, but very real aspect of modern celebrity — it’s no longer enough to be fighting crime in the shadows, fans now want a much more intimate relationship with their stars, from reading their stray thoughts on twitter, to (apparently) seeing pictures of every meal they eat on instagram.
It’s a decidedly different world than the one Batman lives in, but that only helps further distinguish this series as something au courant. That runs the risk of feeling dated, and while I suspect the references to Tinder and Uber may not age all that well, the real story here lies in Babs setting the course of her own life. Batman hasn’t been a physical presence in this run, but he doesn’t need to be to loom large over this series. Babs has struck out on her own, but did so without any defined path, strongly paralleling the directionless independence that’s all but universal in young 20-somethings. What does Babs want to do with her life? Who does she want to be?
True to her 20-somethingness, Babs doesn’t necessarily come out of this experience with an actual answer, but she does seem to have a better idea of what that answer might look like. The low-hanging fruit is eliminating what it doesn’t look like — drunken crime sprees are decidedly out — but Fletcher and Stewart have some of their own pet peeves to mention. The biggest one seems to be the up-his-own-butt pretension of Dagger Type.
This issue is full of digs at overly-pretentious art-speak, but I think focusing them on “Batgirl” (complete with the series title font!) serves as an assurance from Fletcher and Stewart that this is decidedly what this series is NOT about. This won’t be a grand artistic statement, this isn’t geniuses handing down their gifts to the pitiful masses — it’s about “authentic” stories (here represented by the actual Batgirl) told simply and clearly. Indeed, my own assessment might be a bit too up-its-own-butt to fully reflect what Fletcher and Stewart are going for, but I don’t think I’m wrong to see some meta-commentary going on here.
Nor do I think it’s wrong to carry that reading to its logical conclusion on the next page, where the audience turns on Dagger for exploiting them for money. Again, Fletcher and Stewart seem to be assuring us that this isn’t their intent. That may be a harder pill to swallow on the macro scale — Batgirl is ultimately a property of Warner Bros. Entertainment — but the smaller, “we’re not sellouts” message rings very true to this series, which continues to cultivate a very distinctive feel.
Speaking of that feel, I’m still loving episodic nature of this series. By the end of the issue, we’ve learned that Dagger was just a puppet of an even bigger baddie out for Batgirl, carrying on that seed planted back in issue 35, but still delivering a satisfying single issue. I’m also continuing to love this art team, from Stewart’s layouts to Babs Tarr’s finishes, to Maris Wick’s colors, but alas, I haven’t left enough space to shower them with appropriate praise. Hopefully Patrick can pick up my slack.
Patrick: Sure, we’ll get to the art team in a second, but first let’s address the elephant in the room. This issue has taken a lot of flack from the LGBT community for the depiction of Dagger Type (which still sounds more like a description of a Pokemon than like the name of an artist to me) as a duplicitous trans-woman. But more than being disappointed with Dagger, Allies have been mostly disappointed with Babs’ reaction after she forcibly robs the imposter of one of the signifiers of her gender identity. Babarba rips off faux-Batgirl’s cowl — and inadvertently, her wig — revealing that the imposter has cis-male characteristics, causing Babs to say “But — you’re a…” before Dagger interrupts with “a genius?!”
The implication is that Babs was going to say “but — you’re a man.” For me, as a white, thirty-year old, mostly straight cis-male, the hurtful tropes at play in this moment were buried by the context. Drew mentions this above, but I was solely fixated on the fact that someone had co-opted another person’s identity and planned to make it their brand. I see a commentary on the commercialization and commoditization of celebrity when it’s taken out of the hands of the individual. What’s more, I believe that’s what Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr intend as well. But damn it all if we don’t have to check our privilege a little bit here. The creative team was gracious enough to see the criticisms of the LGBT community head-on, with a sincere apology on twitter, making no attempts to equivocate or put the responsibility for being offended on the reader. I’ll admit — with a dollop of shame — that my immediate response to this was to get frustrated at the community for being willfully ignorant of the context of the rest of the issue. The irony, of course, being that I was willfully ignoring a cultural contexts that stretches far beyond 19 pages I was accusing people of ignoring.
But to that end, I am a little disheartened to see comments on LGBT and Ally websites that members of those communities will be dropping the book or boycotting the creatives or anything like that. Batgirl is where this conversation is happening in the medium. That’s partially because of the groundwork Gail Simone laid in her run on the series — in addition to being a delightful queer advocate, Simone introduced Alysia, Babs’ trans roommate, to the Batgirl mythos. However, I believe it goes back further: Drew mentioned that Batgirl may not have a concrete origin story. I might argue that we’re still in the midst of a greater origin story that traces itself through being paralyzed, recovery, and into the modern incarnations of Batgirl. The character takes turns being a representative for under-represented people, which actually might be truer to her first origins anyway. So I can see where it’d feel like a betrayal to have Batgirl — currently a minor-champion of trans-awareness — proceed without the kind of sensitivity that should be innate for said champion. The conversation around this issue has been enlightening, from nearly all participants, and I’d hate for members of the LGBT community to remove themselves from the conversation.
Okay, I promised at least one observation about the art team, so let’s talk about the light coming off of Dagger’s final Batgirl costume. Between the variety of sequins on Dagger’s costumes, to the lighting rigs at the art gallery, to the flash on Babs’ phone, there is a lot of emphasis — both visually and narratively — placed on the source of light. The flash is even set-up in very James Bond-esque fashion early in the issue (Chekov’s iPhone?), and Qadir establishes the potency of the flash-as-weapon. I really like seeing Babs’ charge in with one form of weaponized light to take down Dagger, who is weaponizing light, and the attention it attracts, in a completely different way.
It’s a thematic unity that’s perfectly matched Wick’s colors, which seem to magically leap off the page, in a way creating their own light. Also, I do most of my comic reading digitally, so I’m literally taking in more light on that third, mostly-white panel. I’m curious about how this experience translates to the printed page — I trust that the electric blue accents go a long way toward making it feel like light, even on paper, but that’s just speculation.
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?