Today, Mark and Michael are discussing Batgirl 9, originally released March 22nd, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Mark: Of the recent Batgirl iterations, Hope Larson’s take on the character has been the most successful at embracing the many disparate aspects of Barbara Gordon’s life. As a young woman, Barbara is juggling her job, her schoolwork, her volunteer work, her friends, and dating all at once. That her job is vigilante heroism and not Starbucks barista undoubtedly separates her from her peers, but in most other respects she’s dealing with a lot of the same issues anyone who lives a busy life will face. But Batgirl embracing the work-life balance struggles of a young superhero is one thing, and making that dichotomy into a satisfying narrative is another.
The many directions Babs is being pulled take center stage in Batgirl 9. First, she’s fulfilling her duties as protector of Burnside, then it’s off to a kid’s coding camp at South Burnside Elementary to volunteer, then an unexpected visit from a friend in need turns into working on a school paper, and finally the continuation of her will-they/won’t-they relationship with the Penguin’s son.
It’s a lot to cram into a single issue, and doing so means all of the moments in Babs’ day are given a page or four to play out, but each segment is too short to be satisfying on its own. The truncated nature of every one means Babs regularly comes across as socially inept or uncaring. In the issue’s most (potentially unintentionally) callous moment, that includes Babs taking a brief second to comfort Alysia after her and Jo argue over artificial insemination before bolting into her room to work on a paper. I get that the pull of the issue requires Babs to only devote so much time to fixing a single problem, but I admit to being a bit baffled at the amount of space the issue devotes to Jo and Alysia’s disagreement only to blow it off instantaneously. Could it be germane to the larger plot down the line? Potentially, but it’s hard to see how we get from here to there.
It’s likely Larson is aware of the staccato nature of Batgirl 9, and that the issue’s stop-and-go nature is a reflection of the larger theme. But the structure being intentionally frustrating is ultimately unrewarding, because of the lack of a punchline of any kind. The issue ends as it begins, with Batgirl in costume, and nothing has been learned or addressed. Larson acknowledges the problem on a meta-level without payoff — unless the whole thing is supposed to be approached on a meta-meta-level, a possibility that feels less than probable (and ultimately not worth the effort).
Structure and theme aside, I just don’t buy Ethan and Babs as a budding couple. Ethan is, frankly, terrible and boring. The boring aspect might be unintentional on Larson’s part, but with clear ties to organized crime, using Babs for publicity, and the least romantic come-on in the form of a toothbrush, Babs should smarter than this tool. There’s plenty of drama and tension to be mined from a superhero and the spawn of a supervillain hooking up, but Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul these two are not.
As with so many recent Batgirl incarnations, all of the pieces are here. Batgirl‘s current creative team is pretty killer, as was the one before, and the one before, going all the way back to the New 52. And yet despite all of the behind-the-scenes talent it’s been way too long since there was a story arc that did Barbara Gordon justice. Is this just a fundamentally flawed take on the character? Or am I being way too harsh on a book that’s early in its run and still looking a bit for its creative footing?
What’d you think, Michael?
Michael: Mark I don’t think you’re being unnecessarily harsh on ‘ol Babs. I think it’s an incredibly hard task to maintain a solo series for “derivative characters” like Batgirl, or at least grab the general audience’s attention. Don’t get me wrong, I love all members of the Bat family but their individual books require a specific angle to capture my interest. I love Dick Grayson but probably couldn’t name a favorite run of Nightwing — the quirky, sexy spy nature of Grayson stood out for me however.
I think that Hope Larson is wisely doubling down on the millennial tech vibe that Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher laid out in Batgirl during the “DC You” phase last year. Providing stories and ideas in the pages of Batgirl that you won’t find in any other Bat-book is what makes it stand out. I wasn’t as interested in the whole “Batgirl abroad” storyline that made up the initial story arc so I’m glad to see Barbara back in her Burnside element.
Mark mentioned how the pacing and staccato nature of Batgirl 9 stood out to him as being a distraction. I agree that Barbara’s busy twenty-something life is a little too busy, but what has got me more distracted is the number of startup apps that exist in Burnside. In this issue we are introduced to the delivery service “Pronghorn” as well as the digital pet app “Doggo.” Chris Wildgoose exemplifies this overpopulation of apps in the opening pages of Batgirl 9, where Batgirl initially loses sight of her Pronghorn robber among a dozen look-alikes. How exactly does one small neighborhood of Gotham City produce so many viral apps?
Logistics aside, I appreciate the ideas that Larson is trying to address within the intersecting circles of tech startups, gentrification and in-vogue charitable causes. The Pronghorn robber that Batgirl apprehends is just the second unvetted app employee that she’s run into in the “Son of Penguin” arc. The notion of a delivery person holding you up at gunpoint is within the same realm of very real possibilities as a car service driver harassing you. It shows that we as individuals need to be careful with app freelancers and so do the companies that hire them.
I agree wholeheartedly with Mark’s toothbrush takedown of the Babs/Ethan relationship. THAT’S the turn-on selling point for Barbara? The dude bought her a toothbrush? Not only is that a lame selling point for Barbara but there’s also a mountain of evidence that she’s compiled pointing towards Ethan Cobblepot not being a good dude. Barbara even questions why she’s still interested in Ethan, following the toothbrush proposal.
The problem there is it’s easy to interpret that reaction as her worried about a guy being more into her than she is into him instead of her being worried that that she’s getting to close to a likely criminal. Barbara Gordon is smarter than all this, and having her so boy crazy over someone who’s clearly not above board is a little insulting to that intelligence. Having Barbara be interested in a mysterious dude is one thing, but to have her be interested in a mysterious dude she knows is linked to some shady shit is frustrating.
Maybe it’s not that Larson is doing a disservice to Barbara’s intelligence but rather that she’s having the character consciously make mistakes. She knows that Ethan is Penguin’s kid and that his company has been colluding with unvetted partners, yet she pursues him regardless. Also, Batgirl 9 is the second instance in this arc where Barbara comments on how she needs to “stop squeezing in ‘one last mission.”
Barbara Gordon is a go-getter overachiever after all, it’s no surprise that she would take on more responsibilities than she can handle. Is it possible that she’s moving too fast to really understand and evaluate the things she’s doing?
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