Today, Mark and Spencer are discussing Batgirl 50, originally released April 6th, 2016.
Mark: Batgirl 50 is the culmination of the Fugue storyline, and Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart successfully check the box on every superhero trope a reader could want. Mind control? Check. A bank robbery? Check. Previously unmentioned deus ex machina device? A big, fat pneumatic tube-shaped check! The Fugue has released all of Batgirl’s previous foes and is using them to set up mind control devices to lure Burnside’s citizens to Burnside Bridge. Then he’s going to blow up the bridge, killing the citizens, and then convince the rest of Gotham that Batgirl is responsible. This is not a good plan!
As Fletcher and Stewart have shepherded Batgirl the book has become more and more cartoony, which is generally fine except when it undermines the heroic nature of these characters.
Two things I hate about this moment: first, it’s a callback to the pretty silly then, even more silly now moment from Batgirl 46 (at least I assume this is the same woman), but whatever. The thing that really bugs me is that every single person on that bridge is in mortal danger, not to mention that Fugue just blew up an entire building moments ago, but Barbara takes the time to not only listen to a reporter’s question but also respond to it with a defense of her and her father. Heroic!
Still, I can never fault Fletcher and Stewart when it comes to the core of Batgirl as a character. All silly plot antics aside (and there are a lot to overlook), Babs disabling her neural implant and taking down The Fugue was pretty badass and emotionally satisfying.
I actually kind of like the video game loadscreen-esque pages that announce the villains and heroes facing off. Sure, it’s egregious padding in a $5 (!) issue, but it’s a fun idea. Wish I knew who to attribute the work to, though, because five artists contributed to this issue but editorial couldn’t be bothered to credit artists with their specific pages.
You can recognize Babs Tarr’s work, though — even if the in media res opening was lame, it at least looked gorgeous.
Look, this issue isn’t especially bad. I even really like the conceit of all these heroes teaming up to kick ass. That’s a fun idea! But I’ve been worn down by slapdash finishes to once-promising books in an effort to wrap things up in time for readers to throw down even more cash on the “for real this is not a reboot, we promise” Rebirth. I hate to be such a grump. Did you have a better time with Batgirl 50, Spencer?
Spencer: I did, Mark, even if I ultimately had some issues with the story as well. Batgirl 50 puts all the strengths, but also many of the weaknesses, of Fletcher, Stewart, and Tarr’s run on full display, which I suppose makes it a suitable conclusion to their tenure on the title.
Mark, you’re right that it’s a shame that the title page didn’t point out which artist worked on which pages, because every single one of them did a great job. One of Batgirl‘s greatest strengths has always been fantastic art, and that carries over to this finale as well — it’s astounding that an issue with five different artists and three different colorists looks so consistently great, but Batgirl 50 manages to pull it off. Perhaps most notable is James Harvey’s two-page contribution (Whose work I recognized from We Are Robin 4):
The general concept here — overlaying Batgirl and Fugue’s respective plans over a map of Burnside — is fantastic, both because it’s an intuitive way to dole out exposition and because it helps make Burnside feel more like a real place, but it’s Harvey who absolutely nails the execution. Series regular artist Babs Tarr pulls off a few similarly inventive moments as well, with major assistance from series regular colorist Serge LaPointe.
The metaphor here is about subtle as Fugue’s sledgehammer, but that’s fully intentional and totally okay — I can’t think of a better way to visualize what Fugue did to Barbara’s memories. I want to draw specific attention to LaPointe’s use of color here; Barbara’s memories are all tinted a cool blue, but Fugue shatters it with this stark, harsh red background. I suppose the “red/blue” opposite stuff is basic color theory, but that stuff’s effective for a reason.
The rest of the issue’s artists aren’t quite as inventive, but they all do an exceptional job of matching this story’s aesthetics, keeping the issue looking consistent, and each brings a few fun elements of their own to their segments. For example, I’m not sure whether Roger Robinson, John Timms, or Eleonora Carlini handled the Operator vs. Corporal Punishment section, but I love the touches of Bruce Timm in their character designs.
It makes me sad that we never got to see some of these latter-day Batfamily characters on Batman: The Animated Series.
On a loosely related note, I think it’s important that Barbara’s allies in her final battle are all women. The Fletcher, Stewart, and Tarr era of Batgirl has put a lot of emphasis on being girl-friendly, and this is the culmination of their hard work — over the course of their run they’ve established a whole troop of powerful women who will work together to protect their friends, and I can only imagine how satisfying that must be for the women and especially the young girls who read Batgirl each month.
Female friendship seems especially important when we consider what Fugue represents as a villain. The man’s a petty crook who was arrested by Batgirl and let his grudge blow things way out of proportion, deciding to ruin her entire life and kill hundreds of other people in the process, and to do so by violating Barbara’s very memories and altering how the public sees her. I can’t help but to compare Fugue to any number of internet trolls; he’s the kind of guy who gets rebuffed or (perhaps even unintentionally) offended by a woman online and immediately takes things to extreme lengths, perhaps hurling around rape or death threats or even starting campaigns to slander her. Fugue has power over Barbara because he can reshape her narrative to fit his whims, casting her as the villain and himself as the blameless victim, and that’s exactly what these kind of internet jerks (I’m thinking specifically of Gamergate and their ilk) do as well.
That’s what makes Batgirl’s victory so cathartic. She wins by reclaiming her narrative, by taking control of her story, taking back her memories from Fugue, and forcing the public to see the truth about them both. I just wish the commentary in this regard was a bit more specific and incisive; the idea of women in this kind of situation being able to reclaim their narrative is powerful, but there’s no real advice here on how that can be done. Barbara turns Fugue’s own weapon against him — what exactly does that equate to in real life? Just trying to tell the truth louder than slanderers tell their lies and hoping people believe it? I don’t know if that’s going to be all that effective without mind-control backing it up.
Likewise, Fugue’s overall plan is a bit spotty. It looks like Fugue was using his own technology for his plan, but there were implications that he was using blueprints he stole from Barbara as well. Maybe my memory is just a bit hazy here, but what exactly was Barbara’s invention and what does it have to do with Fugue’s final plan? Also, Batgirl establishes that, with the exception of herself, all of Fugue’s false memories wear off after a short while. So how, exactly, was he intending to frame Barbara? Was he just hoping that the damage to the bridge would be so traumatic that people would accept Barbara’s part in it even after the hypnotic suggestion had worn off?
To be honest, I didn’t notice any of those problems when I was actually reading the issue, but they popped into my head once I sat down to try to analyze it. That, ultimately, is my experience with Batgirl 50 in a nutshell: it’s a great looking, smartly characterized, super-fun romp of an issue with some strong ideas at its core, but once you finish reading it and try to dig deeper into it, you realize that the issue doesn’t hold together as well as you’d like. I still think this is a really fun issue, but it’s the little details like those and the ones Mark pointed out that prevent Batgirl 50 from being an exceptional issue.
Still, I’ve gotta say that I’m sad to see this creative team go. Their work on Batgirl hasn’t always been perfect, but I think they’ve done some stuff on this title that’s been important to a lot of people, especially the young girls and women who look up to Barbara Gordon. I can only hope the upcoming “Rebirth” creative team will be able to tap into the same inspirational spirit and love for Batgirl that’s defined Fletcher, Stewart, and Tarr’s run at its best.
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