Today, Ryan M. and Michael are discussing Batgirl 47, originally released January 20th, 2016.
Ryan: Dramatic irony can be frustrating as hell. Having context that a character doesn’t can make them seem inconsiderate or obtuse. You read along, hoping that everyone can figure things out so that we’re all on the same page. However, when done well, it’s an effective way to raise tension in the reader without artificial conflict.
In Batgirl 47, Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher build suspense by playing on reader knowledge and the ignorance of people in Barbara Gordon’s life. Thought she admits to memory problems and is clearly not operating at her usual mental acuity, none of her friends seem to notice. Her father is too wrapped up in his own work to see that something is really wrong. Instead, he feeds into her fear that the police may be spying on her. Luke, who knows about the nightmares, can’t quite connect the dots between the monster standing over Babs in her sleep and her memory loss. When Batgirl and her team break into the police database, they find that she is the source of the leak. Babs doesn’t remember breaking her promise, but when she goes to sleep that night, we see that her nightmare creature is rewriting her memories in her sleep. Babs’ instincts about her failing mind are on target, but no one else sees it.
Bluebird and Spoiler certainly don’t notice that anything is amiss. They stumble over themselves trying not to fan out in front of Batgirl. As soon as she exits, we get their true excitement in the above panel. Their body posture combined with the blue monochromatic inserts of their faces communicate the their happy astonishment. They don’t mind that Batgirl can’t remember meeting Bluebird, but it’s this kind of detail that alerts the reader that her memory is failing.
The art when Babs and Steph first go undercover dovetails with this idea of things not being quite right. The angst that Babs has carried throughout the issue melts away when she is in the police uniform. Instead, the girls look like cheerful dolls.
Their eyes take up more of their faces, they have cute button noses and their faces lose character. In the bottom left panel above, Steph looks more like Melody from Josie and the Pussycats than the hooded hero we see in other scenes. In the first panel, it’s striking how much their faces resemble each other. This choice feels like it could be a reflection of their decision to go undercover. While they are undercover, Batgirl’s instincts are not quite up to par. She identifies her ex-boyfriend as a potential threat, which turns out to be a false flag. Later, when the lights are out, she assures Spoiler that she remembers every inch of the station, but instead leads them right into danger.
She doesn’t even get to star in the climactic fight. When she and Spoiler confront Corporal Punishment, it’s Spoiler that uses quick thinking to come up with a way to win. As a result, Spoiler is arguably the hero in that fight. The art supports the idea of a sidelined Batgirl.
While Batgirl’s acrobatics are on display as she tries unsuccessfully to stop Vicki. It is Spoiler’s face that we see in the fight. She also fails in her first attack, but the page puts her front and center. We are firmly in Spoiler’s point of view, thanks to the panels of her face. In the final panel above, we see her squinty-eyed confidence fade to childlike shock, all with Corporal Punishment leering in the background. Batgirl is not the lead on this page and, ultimately, Bluebird saves the day. Nothing Batgirl does in this confrontation is wrong per se, but it contributes to the feeling that she is not on her game.
Michael, what did you think? How do you feel about the pace, both within the issue and as part of an arc? That Negahedron thing has got to be some kind of weapon, right? And, real talk, is Babs a kook for keeping her USB cables next to her underwear or am I missing a key storage tip?
Michael: The Negahedron is actually a callback to the hastily put-together Batgirl Annual 3 — the mysterious doomsday McGuffin weapon that the evil organization Gladius was after. Piggybacking off of what Ryan said, it is frustrating as a reader when you are aware of things that the characters aren’t. The difference in Batgirl 47 is that we aren’t exactly sure of what we know and what Babs knows, since her memory’s all screwy. Fletcher and Stewart’s “Babs vs digital Babs” was an intriguing part of their run that I’d be happy to see them revisit, but I don’t think it’s going to be so cut and dry. From the looks of it, Barbara’s mind is being tampered with by some sort of magic. I won’t be surprised if Gladius or Spyral is revealed as having a hand in all of this.
Batgirl 47 is unique to other chapters from Fletcher and Stewart because it has its own kind of Birds of Prey team: Batgirl, Spoiler, Bluebird and “The Operator.” (The cutesy joke of Frankie almost calling herself Oracle every issue is getting a little old, however.) The team works well together and its nice to see heroes just fucking team up instead of wasting time with the tired “classic misunderstanding fight.” There have been times in the past where Batgirl creators have made her uncharacteristically uptight or judgmental; making this enthusiastic team-up all the more enjoyable. Though Barbara is more seasoned and experienced than her new teammates, she never talks down to Bluebird or Spoiler. As Ryan already pointed out, Batgirl essentially took a backseat to the fight with Corporal Punishment and let Spoiler have a go.
I know that Batgirl is the more lighthearted and fun of the Bat-books, but the team’s plan to sneak into GCPD is a little ludicrous. Barbara is a college student and I’m pretty sure that Stephanie is just a teenager — any cop worth their salt would spot these two the minute they walked into the building. And did we really have to have Creepy Cop be so over-the-top creepy? I guess it’s a minute part of the plot of Batgirl 47 so maybe stereotype is easier than subtlety. Of course its all the more creepy when you put Stephanie’s age at 17; MAYBE 18. Creepy Cop basically made Barbara’s identity before Harper cut the station power — you’re telling me he’s not going to do some follow-up?
Ryan mentioned the odd juxtaposition of Barbara’s fear that she might be losing her mind with Moritat’s “cheerful dolls” depiction. I’ll see Ryan’s “cheerful dolls” and raise her “buxom pixies.” Another bit of rough character work comes from Eleanora Carlini in the form of Jim Gordon — who apparently still needs to have the uniform of a disheveled cop despite the fact that he’s Batman. Maybe it’s that disheveled cop character description, but Gordon looks less like a cop and more like a cigar store Indian.
I can’t keep track of this kind of thing anymore — does Barbara know that her dad is Batman? The way their dialogue goes it could go either way. I remember being very excited to see how Jim’s turn under the cowl would affect his relationship with Barbara, but I don’t think we’ll ever really see that in-depth. It’s hard for the Jim/Barbara relationship to grow when Jim’s main stuff is going on in the pages of Batman. Fletcher and Stewart try their damnedest to make this gel within the confines of Batgirl but it never really does. Stressed out Jim Gordon feels like a stressed out Fletcher/Stewart trying to reconcile all of the current Batman continuity.
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Barbara knows Jim is Batman. He told her in Batgirl 41
This comic was mixed for me. Many of the problems you had, I didn’t. Honestly, the fact that Barbara and Stephanie were able to just walk in does make a lot of sense. A lot of cons and heists (and this issue was certainly a heist) is built on the idea that if you look like you belong, people aren’t going to study you. There is a reason the most powerful thing a conman can have is a clipboard. Hell, I think I heard a story about a man who would use a Sonic Screwdriver toy, and by using it with confidence, people believed he was an expert checking security systems or something. So quite simply, is there a reason for the police to make a point to carefully study two policemen walking into the station? They look like policemen and walk like policemen, so why would anyone think otherwise?
The strengths of this comic was just the fun of the heist. Jim making jokes about being Barbara’s insider, the simple yet effective plan, and the joy of seeing all these characters get to work together (though you are right about the Oracle joke, as there is no reason why Operator is being used instead of Oracle). And I like how Spoiler gets to take the lead. Not only does it build the idea of Batgirl isn’t on her game, but also means that Spoiler is treated as someone of competence. Though sleazy cop felt unnecessary. Surely there was some other way a cop could be used to build tension, than that cliche. Considering this is supposed to be a book targeted to women, does the fact Stephanie gets to throw a phone at his face (which must be a dream for all women that have met this guy) make up for the fact that they have to read about that frustrating reality in a book that positions itself as escapist entertainment? Why not just have a kind cop that legitimately wants to help the newbies, and create tension with that.
But characters felt off. I didn’t like how Gordon described Geri Powers, which felt like a gross simplification. What makes Geri so good in Batman is that she isn’t bad. She is honestly trying to do her best, and completely unaware that the strategies she wish to use are only going to make things worse. She isn’t using the GCPD as an arm of her company. Everything she has done is to make things better (even if, in reality, they have done nothing but empower Mr Bloom).
Bluebird was worse. Harper Row is a character that is supposed to be a bit abrasive. The hero worship doesn’t fit her. Even if she does want to fangirl out, Harper is not the character who would ever show that. She felt like her edges had been sanded off. Which is a shame, as Harper could be a great character to have running around this comic. The only page that really felt like Harper was her saying ‘You’re Welcome’ after stopping Corporal Punishment, before asking if Stephanie can stay in the safe house permanently the moment she started making Cinderella jokes.
I’m also disappointed the Catwoman stuff from last issue was dropped. As I said, I really liked the sense of threat it gave, especially of a meta level. Batgirl fighting back teh encroaching darkness of Catwoman’s book as the Hasigawas getting involved worked really well in the last issue, and instead, that thread is dropped. Especially as that thread is dropped for what looks to be very similar to the Barbara AI (if not the Barbara AI itself). The actual final page of her memories being rewritten is great, but going back to the same well again seems boring.
The book is still good. The sense of fun is still there, and Spoiler is proving to be an amazing addition to the cast (even as I want a Spoiler/Bluebird book). The story of this arc is a good one, even as I hope it moves away from the similarities to the AI story, and an improvement over the sadly directionless second arc. This one just seemed to have a bunch of problems.
Also, what a terrible cover! The cover feels like it belongs to an inventory issue, and I kept waiting for the reveal of the real cover, like Batgirl 45 had. It is especially bad as you would have thought Batgirl, Spoiler and Bluebird run a heist would lead to an interesting cover
I actually really love the name “Operator” for Frankie. Its a better fit for her role in this book. Frankie isn’t overseeing the entire superheroic community as Oracle once did; she’s working behind the scene with Batgirl and her partners, and that’s it. Operator works. Let’s drop the near-Oracle references now.
To be fair, Oracle didn’t always oversee the whole superhero community either. She begun as a part of the Suicide Squad, then transferred to the Batfamily. I think it was only Grant Morriosn’s JLA where she truly begun being more that just a member of the Batman family and became the person everyone in the Superhero Community talked to. And before Flashpoint, Oracle faked her death to go back to basics, and in the end, the only people who knew she was still alive was the Batfamily. So there isn’t really a reason for Frankie not to be Oracle (especially as who knows where she will grow to, by the end).
The problem is that we are taking far too long to get to the payoff of this gag. I understand that she will call herself Oracle (or call herself something else is an intentional massive troll by the writes) when she gets to fully embrace being a hero, with all the tech stuff, but seven issues and five adventures have been far too long for this particular gag. They quite simply should never have introduced this gag, and in Issue 50 (I bet), have her grand moment introduce her, without this running gag, as Oracle, Operator or whatever name she actually uses.