Batgirl 52

batgirl 52

Today, Mark and Drew are discussing Batgirl 52, originally released May 25th, 2016.

Mark: What is the best way to portray a female superhero?

Batgirl 52

The first sizzle reel revealed for CBS’s (now CW’s) Supergirl television series was met with a healthy dose of skepticism and derision since it included a number of moments where Kara is shown doing stereotypical “girlie” things and its The Devil Wears Prada-esque setting. Some compared it to SNL’s satirical trailer for a Marvel Black Widow movie that aired just a little bit before the Supergirl first look was released. The fact that Kara worried about boys at all or worked at a fashion magazine meant that she wasn’t a strong female character. I haven’t watched Supergirl at all outside of the pilot, but the general consensus of her portrayal now that the first season has concluded seems to be overall positive.

Likewise, Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart’s Batgirl of Burnside, making Barbara Gordon more pop and significantly less intense than the Gail Simone run that preceded it, has been met with similar criticism. I’m not a woman, but I am gay and it is through that lens that I approach the desire for people like me to be represented in media by strong characters. In that way, I can understand the eye-rolling at a social media obsessed Batgirl just like I sometimes get annoyed at what I perceive as grossly flamboyant gay characters in movies and TV shows.

But I have to check my annoyance. As much as I want to see gay characters that break out of what I consider to be a stereotype, the truth is that there are many gay people who are like that, happily, and who shouldn’t be shamed for who they are. They aught to be represented in media in a positive light, just like everyone else. What we should be striving for, is an opportunity in comics for everyone to see themselves represented in a positive way. Like traveling towards infinity, we’ll never get there. But every step in that direction is a worthwhile one.

So what is the best way to portray a female superhero? The truth is that there isn’t a “best” — there isn’t a single version of any character that will appeal to every taste. There is no “best” Batgirl, only the one that appeals to us most. And what appeals to me might be different from what appeals to you. But I think we want to foster the idea that creators should be free to tell the stories they want to tell, and recognize that as consumers, we aren’t entitled to anything. Not every version of every character has to be for everyone.

Batgirl 52

All that to bring us to Batgirl 52, the closing chapter of Burnside Batgirl, and it’s a microcosm of the things that made Fletcher and Stewart’s take on Babs both fresh and also frequently irritating. As such, I’m not sure what’s left to say about this issue that hasn’t already been said. Throughout their tenure (though Fletcher is sole writer on this one, as he was last month), Batgirl has only nominally been the star of her own series, and that trend continues here. Batgirl 52 is stuffed to the gills with characters from other books and the now usual team-ups.

The issue opens at Gotham Academy, where Babs, accompanied by a a cadre of superheroes previewing the upcoming Birds of Prey book, work with Maps and Olive to take down the Gladius Commander — who turns out to be a decoy. Turns out the real Commander is on her way to the still-doesn’t-make-any-sense Gordon Clean Energy Facilities to acquire the Negahedron. And even if it’s incredibly goofy, at last Batgirl is finally allowed the dignity of taking down a villain by herself.

The best moment in the issue is one of the final spreads, following Babs through the going away party her Burnside friends throw for her. It’s a nice way to give emotional conclusion to a number of characters who have helped Babs along the way, without having to spend a ton of time doing so.

For my money, everything Fletcher and Stewart had to say about Barbara Gordon culminated with issue #40, and they retread similar ground over the concluding 12 issues with diminishing returns. But ultimately, I think it was a success and a positive tweaking on the character’s trajectory.

What’d you think, Drew?

Drew: You know, I’ve only been a casual reader of the series over the past year or so, so I may not have the perspective to comment on the pace and trajectory of Batgirl of Burnside generally, but I can’t say that I found the retreads of this issue to be inappropriate. As a farewell issue, some reflection is warranted, and I actually found myself impressed at just how much there was to reflect upon. That party scene truly is remarkable, so I’m just going to include the whole thing:

Surprise Party

Don’t worry about the reading order — these vignettes can be taken in any order, really. This is a beautiful way for Fletcher to reflect on the work he, Stewart, and artist Babs Tarr (and others) have done on this series, but what stood out to me was the moment they didn’t write. Namely: Alysia’s coming out to Babs. It’s a key moment in the New 52 Batgirl series, but one that came under Gail Simone’s tenure. Alysia’s one of few elements Fletcher and Stewart carried over from Simone’s run, but including that callback here changes this from a farewell to Fletcher to a farewell to Babs’ entire New 52 interpretation.

Lest that sound a little self-indulgent, relatively little of this issue is actually about saying goodbye. This spread and the page that follows it tug at the heartstrings, for sure, but the rest of this issue is focused on some good old-fashioned superhero action. Indeed, Barbara’s whole team pulls together so effectively here, it gooses the sadness of the goodbye: nobody wants to see a well-oiled machine fall apart. If the Gladius action feels a bit perfunctory, its in service of making the team work together so well.

And boy, do they work well together. As a celebration of this run of Batgirl, this issue is much more about strengths than it is about weakness, and one of those key strengths is teamwork. Everyone gets a moment to shine, and there’s none of the bickering that is typically used to add drama to team dynamics: these are just a group of friends working together to avert disaster.

But, of course, in emphasizing how well the team works together, disaster never really feels like a reality. Even when Gladius has the drop on Batgirl et al, she’s never more than one step ahead. In the final showdown, Gladius isn’t even able to land a blow before she’s unceremoniously dispatched.

More like Gladi-useless, amirite?

Babs just saved Gotham and “a good chunk of the Northeast” from being blown to smithereens, but that fight has all of the ceremony of stopping a purse-snatcher. There are a few lines here and there mentioning the stakes, but nothing in the storytelling ever really makes that danger a reality.

That would be a bigger gripe for an ongoing series, but I’m willing to accept the truncated action here in favor of making room for that party scene. As I mentioned earlier, teamwork has been such a huge part of this series, it wouldn’t be right to say goodbye without giving each of these characters their due — especially the non-costumed ones. Fletcher leaves open the possibility of Alysia, Qadir, Frankie, and Nadimah returning, but there’s no guarantee that we’ll ever see them again. Focusing on their goodbyes is the right choice — one I’m happy to sacrifice a little superheroing to see.

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?

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17 comments on “Batgirl 52

  1. Oh, and how much do we love that alternate cover where Tarr recreated Adam Hughes’ cover for Batgirl 1? I loved that cover something fierce, and it’s fun to see it filtered through Tarr’s sensibilities.

  2. Ultimately, the big difference between the SNL Black Widow sketch and the Supergirl trailer is the character. Black Widow is a spy defined by her seeking redemption because of her horrible past, and trying to reconcile who she is with her wish to be something better. Supergirl is a derivative of a guy who secretly saves the world, which gets in the way of his wish to date Lois Lane. Which is to say that while a Black Widow romantic comedy is utterly wrong, Supergirl is a derivative of a character that already firmly in the romantic comedy genre. That’s why Supergirl was generally well received (and as someone who doesn’t like the show, my problems are less to do with genre and tone, and more to do with the fact that it is a show by the same guy who does Arrow and Flash).

    The big thing is treating the character with respect. It is easy to say ‘it is a stereotype’ out of this idea that playing to an existing archetype is bad, because we know we want to write strong female/LGBT/POC characters, but there is a difference between writing an archetype well and writing a stereotype. I mean, I’ve made the same mistake Mark has with Camp Gay characters. And yet, they exist and a respectful version of that is important, just as it is also important to get a respectful version of gay people like Mark. It is about endeavouring for a world where every single facet on human existence is depicted with the respect it deserves

    So there is no best way to write female characters. Supergirl as a young woman trying to balance all her aspects of ordinary life with being Supergirl is just as good as Mockingbird as a woman who is established into her career, even as she has to deal with the sexism around her and constant, weird medical checks ups. Black Widow as a spy seeking redemption for her past is just as good as Batgirl as a genius Twenty-something trying to reconcile being both Barbara Gordon and Batgirl.

    In fact, while Mark is right that Stewart and Fletcher said everything they wanted to say about Batgirl in issue 40, the strength of the other 12 issues has been how they have explored the other types of women. Yes, it has frequently been inconsistent. But seeing how Frankie, or Spoiler or Black Canary can be heroes has been fantastic. In fact, they probably should have just made a Birds of Prey book

    As an issue, this disappointed me. The problem is that it is so easy, which is weird coming after an issue about how Batgirl needed to travel the world because she was out of it (which was weird after Batgirl 50, but needed to happen, because if she didn’t feel the need to leave Gotham, the next Batgirl run won’t make sense). Which means that from Issue 50 to Rebirth, Barbara’s ‘head-in-the-gameness’ has flip flopped from issue to issue. I wish that this book didn’t feel the need to both set up Rebirth and end heroically. Choose one or the other.

    Still, despite Batgirl’s inconsistent writing since 40, I am really going to miss this book. I’m going to miss reading Batgirl, Spoiler, Bluebird, Black Canary, Operator etc working together. This book had an important place while it was there.

    Hell, I’m going to miss the characters themselves. Considering DC Rebirth shit the bed so bad that I’ve had a copy of Batman Rebirth written by King and Snyder in front of me and can’t bring myself to open it, I can’t see any chance of me picking up anything else from DC. If two of my favourite writers can’t get me to read a Batman book, there is no chance I’m picking anything else up.

    So I guess this will be my last DC comment for the foreseeable future

    • I wouldn’t let anything Johns writes spoil your enjoyment (or even expectations) of any of DC’s stuff — let alone anything with Snyder’s name on it (they’ve pretty much let Snyder ignore anything and everything that has happened in any of Johns’ Justice League or whatever). Patrick jokingly asked me if the issue was just Batman fighting the Comedian for 20 pages, and I can assure you it’s nothing like that. It’s more of a prologue, setting the tone for what seems like two very different stories in Batman and All-Star Batman. Rebirth is decidedly a central theme of the issue, but not in a way that directly alludes to “Rebirth” as an event. Read that issue — I think you’ll like it.

      • The big problem with Rebirth isn’t the story – which does a very good job at telling an emotional and clever story for most of it (the only problem were the parts that were strictly continuity fixing, but that never ends up well).

        It is the theme stuff that really worries me. Geoff Johns, the Chief Creative Officer of DC, made very clear what Rebirth means, and I am struggling to care about DC’s line while this is the direction. At least Batman fighting Comedian for 20 pages would be a commitment to something new.

        Even if it has two of my favourite writers, one of my favourite characters and a fantastic artist, you can’t divorce any new DC book from Johns’ mission statement. And I am struggling to care about the idea of a DC story under that direction

        • Again, I think you’re giving Johns’ will too much credit here. DC knows where its bread is buttered, and they definitely know that Snyder’s Batman was a blockbuster. You can bet they won’t be meddling with that formula for All-Star Batman, and the Rebirth issue successfully melds his sensibilities with King’s. That issue is very much looking to the future (though it does have some nods to the past, but no more than the average Batman story). Rebirth or no, the next year or two are going to be great for Batman fans.

        • I may consider giving Batman Rebirth another try, but I was very generous the first time. I actually had it in front of me, with nothing else left to read or distract, and tried to give enough of a shit to open it. And yet I couldn’t.

          Usually, when I find something this hard to sit down and read/watch/play, it is usually worth watching to broaden my horizons. But this isn’t Magic Mike, or whatever my first horror was. And I’ve probably invested too much willpower into trying to give a shit about DC after Rebirth than it is worth, considering everything else I could be reading/watching/playing instead.

          Even justifying this is kind of hard, because at the end of the day, I just struggle to care enough. I may give it another try, and see if I can open the book this time. Otherwise, I hope everyone else gets some good Batman

        • What is it that makes this Batman issue harder to read than any other Batman issue? Like, is there something about “Rebirth” being printed on the cover that makes this different, or are you just bored with Batman now, for good?

        • I think the simplest answer is that Geoff Johns did a really great job in persuading me that I shouldn’t care about anything DC writes, and I’m going to need an equally good argument explaining why I should

        • I’d think it’s the same reasons you ever cared to read a Batman book. Johns has no more control over what happens with Batman than he did last month, or five years ago, or whenever you last enjoyed a Batman book. Don’t let an unrelated story written by an unrelated writer spoil your relationship with creators that you like.

        • I think it is wrong to say that the Chief Creative Officer of DC has no influence on a book that is currently relaunching under a line wide strategy being spearheaded by the Chief Creative Officer of DC.

          The actual DC Rebirth comic isn’t horrible, as a story. It has its good parts, and it has its bad parts. But DC Rebirth is a statement of intent from DC, a statement from the guy in charge of the relaunch about the values of the relaunch. And that’s the problem. I find the values of the relaunch a major step backwards from DC YOU, which combined hope and optimism with forward thinking and innovation, and therefore I am not interested in the Batman team writing a book under those values.

        • Right, I just think Snyder has the clout to ignore that stuff. Like I said, of all the things that are broken at DC, sales on Batman books aren’t one of them. DC doesn’t have the best track record of not meddling with things that are working, but they do have a pretty good track record of letting Snyder do whatever he wants.

          In my mind, Snyder’s Batman wasn’t good or bad because of the aesthetic of the New 52 — it was just a good creative team working on a character they were excited about. I don’t think that equation is going to change much under any “direction” change. Batman never really lost any of that legacy stuff with the relaunch, anyway, so re-embracing that history is hardly going to change the approach to that character.

        • Except DC have already proved with Rebirth that they are willing to mess with what works. Grayson, during DC You, didn’t just consistently outsell Batgirl, but actually kept sales relatively constant. And yet Rebirth gutted it to return to status quo. And while Batgirl is generally being kept the same, it also ended with a Birds of Prey line up that is being ignored for the more traditional trio.

          And I hugely disagree with the idea that the New 52 didn’t have major effects on Batman. Legacy did get gutted, with half of the Batfamily disappearing. Two Batgirls, a Robin and Oracle all disappeared, and that’s forgetting all the smaller characters like Huntress. Are the Robins even Batman’s adopted children now? I don’t believe so, but that was something that had been fuelling dynamics just before the New 52. Batman Inc, which was the Big Thing that touched every book, disappeared. Even when the book returned, it was more of an oddity on the side that didn’t mean anything until Damien suddenly died.

          And to say Snyder’s run didn’t benefit from the New 52 is wrong. I don’t want to go to into depth into building a particular aesthetic/set of values for the New 52, since I was currently on a break from comics for reasons completely unrelated to this discussion when Flashpoint started, and I missed both the New 52 being announced and released. But Zero Year is living proof of the benefits that Snyder got from the New 52, and according to an interview, I believe he used the New 52 as a reason to make a small change to Thomas Wayne Jnr’s age for the Court of Owls. Add to that the aesthetics/values of a reboot and the fact that the New 52 was a last minute thing and therefore also had its effects on the books, it is wrong to say that Snyder’s run was not is some way connected to the editorial situation of DC at the time. It was a good creative team on a character they were excited about under an editorial that supported their goals

          And even if Batman hadn’t lost his origin, his adoption papers and half his family in the New 52, that doesn’t mean that he won’t be affected by ’embracing the past’. The whole problem with DC Rebirth is that fact that it isn’t about returning to the roots, or anything like that. It is about embracing of elements that were best left behind, of elements that had quite rightly been moved past, because that’s what fans are nostalgic for. And there’s a hell of a lot that can be returned that aren’t as concrete a concept as ‘missing Sidekick’.

          The idea that we can ignore editorial because of the creators is ignoring the long history of good writers making bad work because of bad editorial. Snyder may have enough clout to have no one tell him what he has to do, but I don’t think he has enough clout to not be told what he can’t do (‘it is so easy to say ‘Sorry, we already have plans…’). And King is still developing that clout. Editorial matters, and therefore the values/aesthetic of a line wide relaunch matters

        • I guess I tend to see Snyder’s work as very much a tonal continuation of his Dick-Bats stuff in Detective. His run probably would have had some differences if the New 52 didn’t happen, and he certainly exploited the reboot to surprise us, but I think much of his run could have happened with only slight tweaks. Zero Year is definitely an exception.

          I think we’re just reading Rebirth differently. Or maybe we approach continuity differently. My big takeaway from Rebirth is that DC will no longer apply grim’n’gritty to their whole line indiscriminately. Lighter, brighter, more hopeful characters like Superman and Flash can embrace the things that make them different from darker, more brooding characters like Batman. To me, the continuity stuff is just noise. I only care about Aquaman’s marriage if I’m reading Aquaman (I haven’t been, and don’t plan to). I have faith in both Snyder and King to make Batman stories work in any continuity, so I’m not going to sweat it.

        • To me, there was a distinct shift between Snyder’s Detective run and his Batman run. While Snyder’s run was always changing, his Batman stuff was a big blockbuster while his Detective stuff wasn’t. Detective was much smaller (and the difference between Capullo and Jock/Francavilla is impossible to ignore). But if I was to give the New 52 a particular aesthetic, I would say that all it did was escalate what was already there. The good stuff got better, the bad stuff got worse, and sadly marketing was one of the bad stuff which led to a lot of good stuff getting cancelled. I honestly don’t think there was a lot to the New 52 except for the idea of reboot, which is mostly freeing for someone like Snyder (Cassandra Cain plans aside).

          I’m not the sort of person to care too much about continuity specifics, generally. Even when I was complaining about All-New Hawkeye, my frustrations were less to do with relatively ancient Kate Bishop continuity stuff and more to do with the fact that Lemire had created a work that was inconsistent to the very book that he was making a sequel to (and by sequel I don’t mean the next Hawkeye run, but a story designed specifically to as a follow-up to Fraction’s Hawkeye). I don’t care what you do with continuity, as long as you create a good story out of it,

          To me, DC had already committed to hope and optimism, and to not being indiscriminatingly dark and gritty, with DC YOU. And well it was great to see them recommit to that in DC Rebirth, I can’t help but feel that they also committed to the most regressive form of nostalgia.

          It isn’t about continuity. It is about, during a time when companies like Marvel and Image are creating great works by pushing boundaries on the types of stories they can tell, so many of the story points of Rebirth seemed to be dedicated to returning to the poisoned well because it was familiar.

          With the exception of Aquaman’s marriage proposal (which, unsurprising, is the only plot point connected in no way to Rebirth itself, but the natural consequence of 52 issues of the New 52), DC Rebirth seemed to feel that the only way to return hope and optimism is to be regressive. To return every single element that, for whatever reason, was problematic and needed to be fixed, because that’s what is familiar.

          Marvel and DC YOU proved that you could have hope and optimism return while marching into the future. And yeah, Snyder and King will probably make good work, but there is so much good art in the world. I’m catching up on Spencer’s Captain America because of Steve Rogers, and have a long list of classic runs I want to read. And that’s ignoring the fact that I have roleplaying games to run, a LARP to GM, and a long list of TV and movies to watch, as well as wanting to do some writing. I’ve got so much other art to read/watch/play that I can sacrifice reading good writers writing under a regressive DC Rebirth.

          I don’t need to read DC, nor do I need to read Snyder or King’s latest books. DC could have fixed their tone problems without returning to all the things rightfully thrown out. But if that’s what they want to do, I have other stuff to read.

        • I guess I just don’t anticipate that nostalgia being emphasized uniformly across all of DC’s stuff. They may feel (correctly or incorrectly) that that’s their strongest hand with some of their characters, but I can’t imagine Snyder or King playing along with the kind of regressive storytelling you’re describing. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but Batman: Rebirth felt way more to me like a Batman book written by King and Snyder than it did like a book dictated by editorial mandates. It wasn’t my favorite comic ever, by any means, but the plotting only pointed in new directions: none of the former Robins or Batgirls appear, while Duke Thomas features quite prominently.

          You’re absolutely right that you don’t need to read Batman or Snyder or King, but given their track record, I would hesitate to make that decision based on one comic written by somebody else. I think that would be as misguided as dismissing Snyder’s Batman run based on Johns’ Justice League.

        • I never read Justice League 1, and I wasn’t there when the New 52 started, so who knows how I would have reacted. Though I doubt Justice League 1 was as much as a mission statement as DC Rebirth. DC Rebirth is highly meta, and I think it is fair to say a major part of DC Rebirth is making a statement about DC’s future direction. Especially when lots of interviews before and after actually seem to back that viewpoint up.

          I feel confident I am making a decision based on an understanding of DC’s direction, and not on my opinion of one specific comic book. Who knows what the actual books will be like, but I think there is enough evidence of what DC wants the books to be like.

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