Batgirl 38

batgirl 38

Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Batgirl 38, originally released January 14th, 2015.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

BG 3Cameron 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?

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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.

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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!

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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?

14 comments on “Batgirl 38

  1. This feels like a Marvel comic, right? Everything about it does. It’s got Fraction’s Hawkeye (tone and urban living), Waid’s Daredevil (unhappy character determined to be happy), and Lee’s Spider-Man (such an emphasis on the characters surrounding her secret identity).

    All it’s missing is her best friend dressing up as a Bugbear and throwing flaming watermelons at her.

  2. There’s a lot I like about this series, but their handling of Black Canary is not one of them. Babs being reimagined a few years younger I can swallow, but Dinah is a grown-ass woman who was once married and has served as a government agent and all the mundane, street-level twentysomething drama of this title feels beneath her in a way it doesn’t for Babs for me. Perhaps it’s just because she’s always portrayed in the negative, or maybe its just because, as much as we’ve seen her gripe about the way Babs does things, she certainly hasn’t suited up to fight any crime lately.

  3. Spencer – Very good point. The New 52 is never going to get rid of the problem of cognitive dissonance between what their characters were pre-boot and post reboot. It’s similarly hard to let go of all of the personal trials and tribulations that Barbara overcame as Oracle. Sure, she is still a survivor in The New 52, but by 2011 Oracle was a mature and fully-formed woman who had learned so much from experience. You can’t not have that in the back of your head when you read these characters.

    • In general, I think, you’re either a fan of the modern trend where creators treat franchise properties like they’re creator-owned, or you’re note. Me, I prefer continuity… I think if creators want to do creator-owned then they should just… ya know… create their own characters. That being said, although I don’t like this take on Batgirl, if it had debuted in September 2011 continuity wouldn’t even be an issue. My biggest problem with this kind of take is that it’s so heavily tailored to the team making it that you can be sure the next team, or the one after, is going to completely junk everything they’re doing.

      • I don’t know about “completely”. I mean, Nobody writes Batman like Morrison, but I don’t think anyone could argue that Morrison didn’t leave his mark. Like, Simone’s work (both pre- and post-reboot) are decidedly still a part of this characters DNA. I’m sure future writers will scrap whatever parts of this take don’t work for them (as is always the case with superhero comics), but they’ll also keep a few new things that work. I would think that someone who likes continuity would be a fan of these big changes, since they’re the things that actually demarcate change within the universe. Without sudden changes that scrap the old in favor of the new (let’s have this robin graduate to a different role! let’s kill this one! this one gets to graduate again! this one gets to die again!), Batman would still be shooting bad guys.

        • Well, the interesting thing about Morrison’s Batman is that, as wild as it may seem, his entire philosophy was “Let’s pretend everything ever published in any Batman comic throughout the decades all actually happened to the same guy.” In that sense, Morrison was more beholden to continuity than anyone, as wily as his take may have seemed. Here, where you’re de-aging a character, placing her back in an earlier era of her life despite no time jump, and directly conflicting the objective facts of the previous 30+ issues, it’s less of a status quo change like the type that you’re defending (and the type which I do often actively enjoy) and more of a “What the crap?” inconsistency. The change in maturity level might be a byproduct of that, and at least acknowledging the move and occasionally featuring Alysia shows some connection to the prior issues, but largely it just feels like an entirely different book. I think a good writer knows when to scrap what wasn’t working, but certainly many things about Simone’s Batgirl were working, and this is, to me, just more of the recent trend of creators going totally indie or creator-owned with their style, continuity be damned.

        • Or, maybe I am painting broad strokes, since certainly sometimes a basically sweeping change might be beneficial (assuming the quality of the prior run is scorched-earth-worthy a la Green Arrow). My biggest complaint is the extreme level to which this version of Batgirl seems tailor to this specific team. As an example, I think that Ray Fawkes continuing Gail Simone’s version of Batgirl could have been potentially very interesting, and would have been a believable continuation of the same story, and achieving this wouldn’t have been asking more of Fawkes than of any other comics writer taking over a venerable book/character. Now, imagine Ray Fawkes trying to continue this version of Batgirl; I think it would be awkward for him, at best. He’d probably want to revert to the last Simone issue, or start with his own totally creator-owned approach, which be the beginning of an erratic pattern that’s not conducive to the things that serialized superhero comics are good at IMO.

        • I think it ultimately comes down to how much you actually like the changes in question. As much as I enjoyed the first half of Simone’s run, by the end, it really felt like it had run out of steam. The sales numbers reflected that, which is ultimately why DC opted to shake things up with a creative change — I don’t think it would have been viable for them to just kind of carry the baton Simone had started (otherwise, they would have just kept her on in the first place). I’m really enjoying this current run, so am totally willing to forgive any continuity lapses (honestly, between the various unrelated iterations of these characters in movies, tv shows, and non-canon comics, I don’t even think twice about it).

        • It sounds like you’re unaware Gail left the book due to differences with Katie Kubert? She left, and then was disappointed that Katie then immediately left for Marvel, so Gail could’ve stayed on after all… but by then it was too late and she’d already resigned. She tweeted about it a bit, specifically stating that she wasn’t asked to leave but rather left over creative differences and that it was very hard for her to part with the character, and that she felt it would be difficult to go into detail about without sounding bitter. I’m glad you’re enjoying it, and certainly there are enough books in the DC house style out there for me; I’m just of the mind that the indie approach to franchise characters makes collecting titles less fun for me in the long run.

        • The big reason that I tend to prefer the approach that Drew is championing is that it favors the narrative of the piece in your hand and not the abstraction of the uber-narrative that traces back decades (and across thousands of creators). Continuity is fun to a point, but after like 10 years, everything would basically HAVE to be wrapped up in continuity issues full-time. If someone wants to embrace that continuity and do something with it (a la Grant Morrison), they totally have that option.

          I know we’ve talked about this sort of this on a number of occasions (especially around the subject of legacy characters), so it’s obviously just a matter of taste. At the end of the day, I’d sure hate to miss out on the voice and perspective of this Batgirl series just because it didn’t jive with what is most definitely a different story.

        • I just think that there are other, better avenues for left field takes on already-beloved characters. This feels more in-universe to Teen Titans Go! for me than it does the comics DCU. I can’t imagine this Batgirl participating in any serious line-wide event; Which, to me, continuity is the only reason to place the character in the New 52 to begin with. Otherwise I feel they’re better served as a cartoon, mini, or non-continuity title like the digital-first stuff.

  4. I’m enjoying a lot of this discussion as a newcomer to Batgirl.

    I’m not a Batgirl fan. I don’t care what they do with her character. I don’t care if they make her 10, 20, or 100. I don’t care because I don’t have years invested in her. All of my opinions are with that background.

    This is one of maybe 3 DC titles I buy, and I now buy it completely because it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the DC titles. It doesn’t look like it would be part of a serious line-wide event? GREAT!! Sign me up!! DC’s serious titles mostly suck (to me, for me, and in my opinion)! It doesn’t look like it’s part of the DCU? Outstanding! I’d hate for it to feel like Aquaman or any of the other 25 books that look and feel like Aquaman.

    It’s unique, different, doesn’t take itself too seriously, has somewhat of a message about fame and popularity, and it’s really the only thing in DC other than Batman itself that I want to read.

    Of course, I don’t know all the liberties they’ve taken with her history, character, supporting cast, and motives. And honestly, I still don’t think it’s that great, but it seems closer to what I want to read than most anything else DC is selling right now, so I’m on board. Maybe this isn’t meant for people who really wanted to read her doing Oracle things (not that I’ve read her being Oracle, or even am certain she is/was Oracle. I couldn’t tell a single Oracle story). It’s borderline too cartoony for me, but I liked Squirrel-Girl, I’m reading My Little Pony with a couple kids in my Algebra class, so I can handle some sparkles.

    • Kaif, you zeroed in on the point that maybe this whole discussion is swirling around: that this series is different from the rest of DC’s output. That’s a travesty if you enjoy DC’s house style to the exclusion of all others, but it’s very welcome to those of us fatigued by the overwhelming grimness of DC as a whole, and especially welcome to Marvel fans looking for a more approachable foothold in DC’s output. This obviously owes a huge debt to Hawkeye, both in terms of its focus, tone, and possibly readership, but in my opinion, all of those things are great to emulate. Mileage will definitely vary on that front, but I think it’s a big plus that DC is diversifying their publishing line.

    • I’m not saying there’s no room for a book like this to be published. Hell, I sub Scooby Doo Team-Up, a much more cartoony/weird book to feature DC heroes. I’m saying I have zero clue what the advantage is supposed to be of making this The Official New 52 Version Of Batgirl. The one that’s specifically published to be in-universe with their other comics.

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