Today, Mark and Spencer are discussing Batgirl 46, originally released Dec 16th, 2015.
Mark: Has anyone been reading DC’s (relatively) new Doctor Fate ongoing? The pitch for it was probably a lot like Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher’s pitch for Batgirl: take a character struggling to find a compelling place in the post-Flashpoint universe (apologies to Gail Simone), and make them balance the typical problems of 20-somethings with the life of a superhero. There are countless problems with Doctor Fate, but one of the major failings is its inability to balance the various threats complicating Khalid Nassour’s life. Everything is treated with equal weight (which in this case is usually none at all), which makes the confrontations and resolutions ultimately unsatisfying.
In Batgirl 46, the many aspects of Barbara Gordon’s life begin to pile up. It’s an honest portrayal of the life of a superhero with a secret identity. Burning the candle at both ends, Barbara finds herself playing catch up in all aspects of her life. As a civilian and a student, Barbara goes door to door trying to collect data that could help keep people in their homes and curb gang violence. As Batgirl, she finds herself trying to keep Stephanie Brown (aka Spoiler) from getting killed by a dangerous mafia crew. It’s a balance Stewart and Fletcher mostly nail, even as the issue carries some of the inelegance that’s characterized the book as of late.
First let’s talk about what didn’t really work. The bookend story of the old woman and her gangster son never really hits as intended. Maybe it’s because Stewart and Fletcher have to dedicate so much of the issue to the completely unrelated Spoiler team-up leaving little time for anything else, but the dialogue in these moments is less than elegant. “Your son is in a gang?” asks Nadiman incredulously, a woman who lives in Burnside. In Gotham City. Let’s be honest, the kid’s lucky it’s only a gang of street thugs. But this hamfistedness is necessary for the equally hamfisted ending, where the old woman specifically calls out Babs for ruining her life.
This same inelegance extends to Barbara’s later conversation with Luke Fox. In a single page we learn Babs is having recurring nightmares starring a soul-piercing creepy figure. It all feels so rushed, like there’s no room for any of these ideas to breathe. And the problem isn’t the actual story beats, it’s that so much of the issue is dedicated to Batgirl’s team-up with Spoiler that there’s no room for the rest of the issue to breathe. And yes, Spoiler’s confrontation with the Hasigawas is neat, but feels completely helicoptered in from another issue entirely. Is there a larger point? Was it editorially mandated? No way to integrate it organically?
ALSO OKAY WE GET IT FRANKIE WANTS TO BE CALLED ORACLE BUT KEEPS GETTING CUT OFF BEFORE SHE CAN SAY IT. GOOD JOKE. NO MORE PLEASE.
What’d you think, Spencer?
Spencer: I read somewhere recently that the Batgirl team isn’t allowed to use the Oracle name, and if that’s true, then Fletcher and Stewart really need to stop teasing it as a possible codename for Frankie. I can’t see this ending well.
Anyway Mark, when you mention that the confrontation with the Hasigawas feels helicoptered in from another issue entirely, that’s because it is. Eiko’s plan and Stephanie’s attempt to stop it are major plot points from the final two issues of Genevieve Valentine’s Catwoman run, and while Spoiler’s role in Batgirl 46 could just be an editorial attempt to wrap up a few loose ends from those issues, I prefer to think that it’s instead meant to integrate Spoiler into Batgirl‘s supporting cast full time. I would like that very much — not only does Stephanie need a new regular book, but Batgirl is already a book about the many different kinds of female friendships, and Stephanie would add a whole new layer to that already rich dynamic.
That dynamic brings many of the issue’s strongest moments. Barbara and Stephanie’s banter during their fight is tons of fun, but it’s Babs and Frankie’s reconciliation that proves to be the emotional center of this story.
In past reviews I’ve found myself voicing many of the same frustrations as Frankie, and Barbara shows a lot of growth by admitting when she’s wrong and supporting Frankie instead of pushing her away. Fletcher, Stewart, and Tarr have been dropping ominous hints about Frankie’s future in previous issues, but if that is indeed the path she heads down, at least it won’t be Babs’ fault, and that shift in their dynamic is a refreshing change of pace from where these kind of stories usually tend to go.
The title of this issue — and presumably this storyline — is “Gang War,” and Stephanie’s plot may also serve as a link between the petty gangs of Burnside and the bigger gangs in Gotham. Really, as scattered as many of the developments throughout this issue may seem, I can already see strands starting to connect them together. Early in the story Barbara discovers that she can’t remember one of her data collecting sessions with Nadimah, and it seems very likely that these blanks in her memory could be connected to her nightmares and the mysterious figure in them — and more than likely, that mysterious figure is behind Barbara’s data getting released to the police. This is a total, unsubstantiated leap, but conservation of characters points towards the gang informant Lewis as being the mysterious figure — again, that’s a total guess, but it would be yet another tidy way to tie all these scattered ideas together into one massive plot, even if I’m not yet sure what the ultimate aim of that plot could possibly be.
The somewhat scattered and rushed nature of these plot points also reinforces how hectic and unmanageable Barbara’s life has become. Mark mentioned that this is just part of being a superhero with a secret identity, but I’ll take that observation a step further and say that this kind of secret identity-mismanagement all traces back to Peter Parker. Spider-Man created an archetype that can be found in dozens and dozens of young heroes since his inception — everyone from the 90’s Superboy to Kyle Rayner, from Blue Beetle to the new Doctor Fate mentioned at the outset of this article — but it’s rare to see that archetype applied to a female character. When women have time management issues, the narratives tend to paint them as harsh, distant workaholics, so it’s refreshing that Fletcher, Stewart, and Tarr just allow Barbara to be a well-intentioned, yet overwhelmed, young woman — just like many other people her age, no matter what gender they are.
In that sense, there seems to be a purpose to both the scattered nature of this issue and the seemingly out-of-nowhere nature of Spoiler’s fight. Even if there wasn’t, though, I’d have a hard time dismissing them, if only because of how fantastically Babs Tarr and colorist Serge Lapointe bring those moments to life. Just look at Mokugeki, Steph’s opponent whose picture Mark posted at the beginning of this article — what an amusing, unique design! He’s certainly not your typical Gotham villain, and that adds a spark to what could’ve been an awfully generic fight scene if this creative team didn’t put so much thought and love into it. Honestly, that fight scene is just one big show-stopping scene after another, from start to finish.
There’s a really fun mix of hard-hitting action and humor here in the way Steph fights, and even in the way her enemies react — look at that poor scared little ninja in the background of panel three! It almost feels like a video game, and I mean that in the best way possible — this is further driven home by Lapointe’s colors, which fill the background with a different, irresistibly bright hue in each panel, as if Stephanie’s hits themselves are exploding into color each time they land. It brings to mind the sound effects from the old Batman TV show, but with tighter choreography, and that’s not a comparison to scoff at at all.
Moreover, Tarr, Fletcher, and Stewart are able to use this fight to further develop the dynamic between these three characters.
I love the adorable inset panel Tarr uses to remind us that Frankie is controlling Batgirl’s bike, and seeing Batgirl, Spoiler, and Frankie all work together so effortlessly really is a powerful moment for all three characters; I hope we get to see plenty more like it as the series progresses. Mark isn’t wrong in saying that Batgirl‘s felt a bit directionless lately, so I can only hope that Fletcher, Stewart, and Tarr double down on the relationships between these women, both as friends and as crimefighting partners. There far too few series where smart, powerful women get to work together like this, especially at DC. It’s the perfect niche for Batgirl.
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?