Today, Michael and Spencer are discussing Batgirl 39, originally released February 18th, 2015.
Michael: In most pieces of pop culture, the protagonist is the point of entry for the audience into the fictional world that we are experiencing. You’ll often see events or circumstances that the protagonist themselves isn’t immediately aware of, but for the most part you are riding shotgun with the main character. In comic books, that means you follow the story with the benefit of the main character’s narration/inner monologue. The tricky thing is that your hero may not always be a reliable narrator. Even if they aren’t intentionally misleading you, they are probably not giving you the full story. Such is the case of a one Barbara Gordon, the titular Batgirl.
Following the events of last issue, Batgirl finds herself to be the scourge of her new home of Burnside. The whole town has got it in for her, and she soon finds out that someone has hacked her friend Frankie’s dating app hooq and posted a bounty on Batgirl’s head for $20 million. The mysterious enemy that has been behind all of Batgirl’s Burnside woes seems to be closing in, and Barbara fears that the culprit behind all of this might be Barbara herself. After turning her down initially, Dinah comes to Barbara’s aid and the two of them come to the possible conclusion that the culprit IS Barbara – a digital version of her at least. Concerned that Frankie is in danger because of all of this, Batgirl breaks into hooq’s offices. There she discovers that Frankie has learned the truth about her secret identity and that the digital Barbara (Oracle?) has come to collect.
The concept of the unreliable narrator has always interested me, but more interesting is the narrator that finds themselves unreliable. This concept has played out in books/shows like Dexter and in various high-concept films such as Inception, Shutter Island or Memento (basically anything starring Leonardo DiCaprio or directed by Christopher Nolan). Heroes often come to a moment where they are questioning themselves, but questioning yourself on a mental level is one of the deepest levels of humility. “What if I can’t trust myself?” is a very scary question.
Despite Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart’s new approach to make Barbara Gordon younger and maybe a little more impressionable, she is still going to be the smartest person in the room. That’s why she has such an “oh shit” moment when she realizes that the person she may be up against is herself. In a way it reminds of the JLA storyline Tower of Babel where Batman’s plans to take down the League are used against him, or Infinite Crisis, where Batman’s Brother Eye becomes smarter than its creator. Basically, Batman is super smart and so is Batgirl, and they should not be messed with.
Batgirl 40 will of course reveal the story behind this “Oracle” (and so will Secret Origins 10?) but with what we know so far it’s intriguing to see Babs go toe-to-toe with herself. Fletcher and Stewart have been trying to revamp Barbara Gordon and give her a new lease on life. Barbara has moved to a new part of town, made new friends and had an actual social life. But as comic book-dom always to come back around it seems that the past might not let her change. At face value I’m reading this “Oracle” as the past version of herself saying “you can’t have this life, it wasn’t meant for you.” You could read that as Barbara Gordon is not allowed to be Batgirl and have a normal life for a young girl in her 20s. On the more meta end, you could also read this as Oracle (Barbara Gordon of pre-New 52) coming back and saying “you stole my life.” The fact that Convergence is looming in the distance is ruining all of my write-ups because I feel like all roads are leading there. Maybe they’re not, but it’s fun to speculate nonetheless.
Babs Tarr is still rocking it on Batgirl. I love the spunkiness she gives to her characters; she really sells the script that Fletcher and Stewart are laying out for us. When Batgirl was ambushed by a fake mugging and Dinah swooped in to save the day, Tarr rendered the two friends beaming with pure joy. The birds are back, indeed. The scene where Babs breaks into hooq’s office and pulls that motorcycle-grapple-parachute move was pure Mission Impossible awesome.
It absolutely did not need to happen, but it was so cool to watch. The fact that Fletcher and Stewart threw in that little bit where Dinah texted “show-off ;)” was just self-aware icing on the cake. I’m so curious as to what is going to happen next, so I might check out Secret Origins 10 this week. Spencer, what do you think about my Oracle theories? Do you think Convergence is ruining my write-ups? (Don’t answer that.) And isn’t it kind of cool that Babs has a high-level intellect that is too dangerous to replicate?
Spencer: It’s very cool, Michael, but more importantly, it’s been set up exquisitely throughout Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr’s run. Barbara’s computer-like memory, her stolen algorithm, and the fact that Barbara’s brain has already been digitized have been elements of their run from its very beginning, and it helps instantly sell not only the threat of this digital Batgirl, but her very existence (which might otherwise come across as rather strange).
I doubt we’re seeing the revival of Oracle anytime soon (outside of Gail Simone’s upcoming Convergence mini-series, at least), but I do absolutely think that we’re meant to be reminded of Oracle when we get to that final page. I like your reading on this idea, Michael, and it ties in quite well with the criticisms Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr received when taking over Batgirl. Many — including, at least partially, myself — have noted how different this interpretation of Barbara Gordon feels from what’s come before, so why not have Barbara tackle those criticisms head-on in the story? Babs doesn’t seem like herself? She agrees, and she’s working to correct it. Batgirl’s not the crime-fighter she used to be? Her computer double agrees, and she’s going to challenge Barbara for the name. It’s a clever way for the creative team to acknowledge their critics while also creating an opportunity for their interpretation of Barbara to prove her worth.
More significantly, though, the arrival of this new digital Batgirl furthers yet another theme that Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr have been seeding for the last five issues: the concept of digital privacy and the downsides of social media. The very first villain Batgirl faced was Riot Black, who stole people’s personal information and used it against them, but the digital Batgirl takes that modern-day fear one step further; after all, she’s composed of information Barbara herself put online, meaning that she has no one to blame for this other than herself.
Putting personal information on the internet is something many people don’t even think twice about. I recently ran across a mutual Tumblr follower at a concert and introduced myself, and the guy was thoroughly weirded out that I knew who he was and that I spoke to him at all. I agonized about our conversation for days, but the truth is, the guy’s personal information is listed explicitly on his home page; without even trying I spent five minutes on his blog and knew his full name, where he worked, where he went to school, every show he’d ever attended and every show he planned on attending in the near future. I assumed that kind of openness meant he was interested in meeting his followers, but instead he seemed oblivious to the fact that people he didn’t know would have access to his personal information. Fortunately, I’m harmless, but there are plenty of other stories where people are stalked, robbed, or even murdered via information they willingly posted on the internet. As comics often do, this digital Batgirl takes this problem and blows it up to super-heroic proportions, but it still boils down to Barbara putting too much of her life online — in this case, literally everything about her — and then having that information used against her.
(And this isn’t to say that putting information about yourself online is automatically a bad thing — I’d be a hypocrite if I said that — but more to suggest that we should all be aware and in control of what aspects of our lives we present online.)
Fortunately, not everything the creative team has to say about social media and the internet is negative — I think they actually have quite a solid handle on the various ways people use social media in their everyday lives, to the point where internet use feels like a seamless aspect of Batgirl and an easy way to further characterization.
What a simple, powerful way to express the end of a friendship. Honestly, I can’t think of a pre-internet alternative that would be even half as concise and incisive. It’s moments like these that remind me that Fletcher and Stewart know what they’re talking about, and aren’t just old men yelling at clouds when it comes to their criticisms of internet culture. That certainly helps to make their preachier moments (usually delivered via Black Canary) easier to handle.
Speaking of Black Canary, I was thrilled to see her and Batgirl finally reconcile. I haven’t tried to hide the fact that I’ve been slightly bothered by Batgirl‘s characterization of Dinah, who’s mostly been surly and aggravated since moving in with Barbara, but that’s not entirely the creative team’s fault, as the rift between these two women was already established long before they took control of either character. Still, the instant rapport between Babs and Dinah after they make up just shows how much better it is to have them as friends and allies than enemies, and this reconciliation couldn’t have come a moment sooner for poor Barbara, who needs every friend she can get right now.
I also appreciate the way Black Canary is quickly becoming the lynchpin of the little corner of DC Comics Fletcher and Stewart are setting up. Post-Convergence they’ll be spinning Dinah into her own title (with art by the fantastic Annie Wu), and Dinah’s new band, Ashes to Sunday, has been featured prominently over in Gotham Academy. These aren’t exactly Crisis level crossovers, but I still like the ways these little details remind readers of the shared universe these titles take place in. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a three-way crossover soon — that would be fun, right?
Michael, I’ve got to agree with you about the art; Babs Tarr — along with Stewart on layouts and Maris Wicks on colors — are absolutely “rocking it.” I love the bright style, the varied expressions, the density of the art and layouts (the amount of panels per page is still impressive), and especially the action, from the exhilarating bike scene Michael highlighted to the tense, claustrophobic battle that opens the issue. Even the small moments are surprisingly dynamic.
The “tricks” in play here are simple, but effective. We never quite see Batgirl’s face, keeping her at a distance and therefore keeping the mood tense, but even the amount of open space at the bottom of that first panel and the way Barbara descends towards the vanishing point in the second are visually interesting ways to make these simple actions exciting to follow.
Overall I had a lot of fun with this issue. This may not be the Barbara Gordon I’ve always known, but it’s clear that Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr have a plan for the character and an interesting, important message behind it all. Combine that with some dense storytelling and gorgeous art and you’ve got a book well worth reading.
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?