Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Batgirl 38, originally released January 14th, 2015.
Michael: Sometimes you just get sick of being yourself. What I mean by that is we all have a point where we say “Why me?” “Why do I have to suffer?” “Can’t things just be easy for once?” If life is a story, then we might not always like the role that we’re cast in. Being a “supporting character” gets old; everyone wants to be the star eventually. Batgirl 38 finds the creative team and Barbara herself asking these types of questions of identity. Can’t a Batgirl just fight crime and enjoy herself in the process? Not quite, it would seem.
Batgirl 38 continues the revamp of the title as a high-energy, social media-savvy 21-year-old (according to her hooq profile), who has the flaws of many a 20-something. Babs has embraced her role as a social media celebrity/vigilante and is feeling pretty damn good about it. Unfortunately Dinah and Barbara’s new beau Liam disagree with how she’s going about it. Dinah doesn’t think Barbara’s being herself and Liam disagrees with Batgirl because he’s a cop and “vigilantes go outside of the law rabble rabble rabble.” Babs then goes off to take down another social media menace but she ends up doing more damage than good.
I love Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart including Black Canary in the mix of Batgirl’s supporting cast – Dinah and Barbara’s relationship has always been a lot of fun to watch. Dinah berates Barbara for being “a completely different person,” and Barbara snaps back “I’m sick of feeling miserable all the time.” Barbara Gordon is a fantastic character (as Batgirl and as Oracle) but her life has been overshadowed by the tragedy at the hands of the Joker in The Killing Joke. Gail Simone rightly embraced it on her New 52 launch of Batgirl, but she still put Babs through the wringer with her psycho brother, absent mother and her father leading a manhunt for Batgirl. With this fun new direction Fletcher and Stewart (and Babs) are saying “Enough with the darkness. I want to be happy!”
Not only does Barbara want to come out of the darkness, she wants to be in the spotlight. The chance to “be somebody” is clouding Barbara’s judgment and making her a little self-righteous and brash in the process. Much in the way that Batman’s foes are twisted versions of himself, the villains of Cameron and Fletcher’s Batgirl thus far are versions of what she could become if she continues down this path of vanity. Barbara’s friend Nadimah explains the dangers of celebrity and self-obsession (referring to the pompous reality star Jordan Barberi) and how it could turn someone into a “narcissistic monster.” Rather than admitting that she might be relishing in her fame a little too much, Barbara decides to focus her energy on Barberi. Is Barberi a distraction from the narcissistic monster Babs is becoming? Possibly.
Cameron and Fletcher seem very interested in zeroing in on millennials; particularly the nature of celebrity, popularity and “likes.” Being a student of the Bat, Barbara is used to hiding in the shadows. However, her social media fame has made her a public figure, and with that there are perceived responsibilities and expectations. Barbara is a young woman still trying to figure out who she wants to be. Now she has to figure out who she wants to be with the feedback of an entire city (or more.) That’s a lot to weigh on your conscience. Am I pleasing the people who “love” me? Is this what my fans want? These are questions Barbara’s never really had to ask herself. She ultimately lets her fans down by closing down Cuppa Joes permanently. And just like that, Burnside hates Batgirl.
Cameron and Fletcher’s Barbara is “Batgirl-as-Spider-Man,” with her lighthearted nature, superheroics interfering with her personal life and the quick turnaround of public opinion. Babs Tarr hits the nail on the head again with her anime-ish renderings that make Batgirl such a loveable book. The opening page with its series of crime-fighting selfies and comments fully embodies the tone of this series. It’s fast-paced, exciting and happy. It’s kind of nice to see a happy Bat-person, no? Tarr’s artwork really takes me to Bruce Timm’s Gotham in Batman: The Animated Series, where Batgirl was also a fun-loving femme fatale of justice.
There are a lot of themes of identity in Batgirl 38, not even mentioning the identity theft from the looming mysterious threat of who knows Barbara’s secrets. With that, I’ll hand it off to Patrick. Patrick, do you think that Barbara is “losing herself” in her celebrity? What do you think of 26-year-old Liam Powell (according to hooq)? And is it just me or are you tired of modern superhero tales giving our hero what I like to call “the nerd in their ear” I.E. Qadir?
Patrick: Oh, no way man — we need that nerd-in-the-ear. How else are we going to get nerds in comics? Plus, if it’s just a matter of Batgirl needing someone to bounce ideas off of, I’d rather it be some disembodied voice than a 12-year old sidekick. Babs is also the quintessential voice-in-the-year support-character — or, she once was at any rate — so it’d be hypocritical of her not to take advantage of one. I’m always a big fan of superhero support staff, and there’s generally not enough earnest exploration of the role those characters play in comics. Not that Stewart and Fletcher are rewriting the rules with Qadir, but, y’know, I’d rather have the kid than not have the kid.
But to answer you first question: I think there is a very real part of both Batgirl and Barbara’s identity that’s being sacrificed at the altar of social media. I haven’t really worked out the math on this yet, but it is interesting to note that one of the reasons Babs doesn’t have her thesis backed up on the cloud is because the program is based off the entirety of her memory and life-experience. For someone with eidetic memory, that means uploading more of herself than she’s comfortable. Ironically, that’s exactly what ends up happening with Batgirl, through forces outside of her control — but not exactly discouraged forces either — there ends up being too much Batgirl out there for the world to access, scrutinize, and ultimately judge.
There’s always a danger in putting one’s self “out there” in any line of work. Expressing any kind of artistic or vocational vision can be horrifying in the real world, but the magic of the internet has made the barrier for commenting on someone else’s hard work immeasurably lower. Batgirl has long been a fan-fav, and thanks to her most recent steward, Gail Simone, being a Twitter and Tumblr darling, the series that bears her name has been subject to that universally critical eye. Stewart and Fletcher are simply bringing Batgirl more in line with Batgirl, if you catch my meaning.
And that’s the part that worries me most about Babs’ newfound obsession with her social media profile: she’s buying into her internet critics more than she’s buying into her real-life critics. She straight-up blows off Dinah at the top of the issue, and she’s not super happy about Liam’s totally legitimate, based-on-experience criticisms of Batgirl — it’s reading a bunch of negative tweets that makes her slam her head against the wall in frustration. And, like, we all know how well-informed those kinds of comments are. (I went down a Tumblr rabbit hole yesterday and read as Deadpool editor Jordan B. White answered fan questions — it’s remarkable how many people “just learned about Deadpool this week” but were fiercely opinionated about whether or not White “should” be able to kill him. It’s insane, and I recommend reading as much as you can stomach because it’s fascinating.)
But I love being nervous about this kind of thing; while we’ve seen elements of social media creeping in to other comics — as in Ms. Marvel and Young Avengers — this might be the first time I’ve seen some of the problems with living this way articulated on the page. Steward, Fletcher and Tarr have a beautiful knack for expressing new media in a a very old-media kind of way -= that amazing first page is like the modern equivalent of the ol’ spinning newspaper trick.
Maris Wick’s colors do a fantastic job of compartmentalizing each discrete piece of information. What would otherwise be an ungainly mess, is much more managable with some simple blocks of bright color. And on that note, I’m impressed with how well this issue (and most issues of Batgirl) read with guided view on a phone or tablet. Right up until the final chase scene, the panels are about evenly sized and shaped, which may not make for the most engaging paper-read, but that does suggest an emphasis on digital, rather than the physical — just like a certain Batgirl I know!
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?