Comics // Review // Batgirl #45

Concise //

This issue lets the plot take a mostly back seat in favour of some intense emotional beats;  Barbara’s best friend Alyssia is about to get married so Babs has to balance being the best ‘best woman’ ever and dealing with a romantic figure from her own past. It is a solid read with some great continuity and lovely moments, but it also continues the recent trend of a somewhat aimless Batgirl. As ever, though, the art is top notch and this issue benefits from some even more gorgeous colouring than usual.

Batgirl #45 Cover

Spoilerful //

Since the end of the opening arc for this new Batgirl run things have felt ever so slightly off. Batgirl #35 started the story of Babs settling into her new surroundings, introducing some new supporting players, and facing off against a mysterious villain operating through hired guns. It was artfully put together – the story was tightly paced and capitalised on a traditional villain-of-the-week structure to keep the action flowing whilst building up that central mystery. Since the conclusion of that story in Batgirl #40 there hasn’t really been much of a driving narrative behind Babs’ adventures; instead the approach has switched to a far more nebulous storytelling structure that is primarily concerned with the soap operatic elements of Barbara’s life. This isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, in fact it is refreshing to see a superhero book spend some more time on the human drama behind the masks, but it has been accompanied by a lack of over-arching story in recent months that has left the momentum of the book stalling a little.

Alyssia’s renewed prominence in the book has been very welcome, and if there has been an arc for the last few issues it is most probably the run up to Alyssia’s nuptials. The wedding scenes offer a number of really lovely moments, and are an important event for comics in general. Alyssia and Jo’s love, and its celebration at their wedding, is treated as any other characters would be, just as it should be. It is great to see the creators genuinely embracing and supporting these characters and providing a welcome representation of non-hetronormative love in such a mature and positive way. The wedding is also easily the strongest part of this issue with some great scenes between most of the character groupings – Alyssia and Babs have a chance to re-affirm their best friends status with some excellent Bab’s as super-maid-of-honour moments, Dinah makes an appearance, and there is some strong work establishing the playful, budding romance between Babs and Luke. It is also worth calling out the page where Alyssia and Jo make their vows as it is absolutely beautiful in art, dialogue, and sentiment.

I often lament the fact that superheroes rarely get to just enjoy the good times (super villains have an annoying habit of gate-crashing weddings, anniversaries, and graduations) so I was really pleased to see that the ’emergency’ this issue was one born of human drama rather than superhuman tomfoolery. Former love Dick Grayson recently returned to Babs’ life after spending his ‘death’ running super secret spy missions for the last few years (there must be something going around – see also Kurt in Black Canary!). Unfortunately the nature of his non-emergency and it’s place in this issue is quite underwhelming – Dick really lives up to his name here. Why he felt the need to drag Babs’ away from both her best friends’ wedding and a date with her new boyfriend for basically no reason at all is beyond me. I appreciate that he is dealing with some tough ‘feels’ right now and is looking to reconnect emotionally with Babara, but his poor timing here just comes across as jealous churlishness rather than charming and soulful.

The flashback to an earlier time is actually a great little moment (I’m especially fond of having the contemporary dialogue come from our heroes’ younger selves) serve as it does to establish the emotional history for Babs, but it felt totally out of place. This issue is all about looking forward, Alyssia and Jo are embarking on a life together, Barbara and Luke are developing their relationship and the presence of Dick, with his melancholic flashback, is designed to demonstrate how Babs’ is letting go of the sad anchors of the past and embracing that forward momentum towards a better life. But this is an inorganic and quite on-the-nose way to bring up those feelings; Dick appears out of nowhere and almost bullies Babs into joining him on a nothing adventure. He comes across as the superhero equivalent of a massive jerk ex who can always charm you to drop what you’re doing and head over to his place in the middle of the night, you know they’ll only hurt you, but you can’t stop yourself. This is presumably the intention of his characterisation in this issue, but I don’t want to read about a Babs who would fall for that trick – she went through a dark spell a few issues back and this behaviour would sit well there, but with everything in her life back on track and especially on a day so important to her best friend it doesn’t ring true to me that she would drop everything and everyone for this guy. Alyssia even calls out Babs’ poor behaviour, “I mean I know she has a habit of leaving abruptly, but I didn’t think she’d do it today“, and I found myself really disliking Barbara’s decision to put a flirtatious romp above her friend (and boyfriend’s) happiness and I don’t think that was the intention. It really felt like the entire Dick Grayson side-show was an excuse to get Babs in the Batgirl costume for a page or two whilst mercilessly hammering home that Babs wants to move on from the past.

But all of this, the goodness of the wedding and the badness of Dick Grayson, doesn’t really speak to the current underlying weakness in the book. Without a strong central plot for this arc there have been a number of brief adventures and a sidelining of elements of the relaunch that had previously been a part of what made it so great. Characters like Nimah and to a lesser extent Qadir have dropped from view, whilst potential love interests like Jeremy and Liam were cast off the moment Luke arrived. It may be that this was always the intention, and that those characters were introduced only as red herrings for the villain reveal at the end of the first arc, but it is still disappointing as it undermines the living breathing Burnside world that set Babs’ stories apart from the rest of the Bat-family. Even Burnside itself, like those other characters, has become a background in the most traditional sense too; the strong sense of place, of Burnside being a different part of Gotham with it’s own denizen’s, heroes, and villains isn’t quite there now. Babs’ school work isn’t part of the story anymore, her relationships with Dinah and Frankie aren’t driving the plot either (Dinah’s absence makes sense given that she has her own book again, but why isn’t Frankie in this more), and she isn’t working towards anything in paricular. Instead we have seen a relatively low-key set of disconnected multi-part stories. Exploring how her father’s regrettable new role as giant-robot-police-Batman and her best friends wedding affect Babara are interesting topics, but without a strong narrative structure that ties them into Babs day to day life they haven’t been as compelling as perhaps they could have been.

Even visually the book has set aside some of it’s great hallmarks – those wonderful page layouts from early in the book where Babs’ remembers and pieces together clues and panels that integrated modern technology into Babs’ world (text messages, emails, playlists, etc.) have been featured far less frequently. None of this is fatal, and the book is still a good read each month, but it definitely feels like the strong artistic and narrative vision which propelled the first arc has been on a lower setting recently. If this issue came at the end of a breathless arc then it would be a very refreshing chance to catch a breathe and join the characters revealing in the emotional climax of Alyssia and Jo’s wedding. Coming as it does after a number of relatively slow, relatively low stakes, and essentially disconnected stories, the impact of the slow down is lost a little to the point of almost stalling.

This is very much still a fun comic to read and my misgivings with the general pace and feel of the recent storytelling shouldn’t be taken as an argument not to read it. Babs Tarr’s art remains absolutely delightful on every page and Stewart & Fletcher are still writing some engaging, witty dialogue (that bow tie conversation is really quite charming), but it’d be disingenuous not to call out the shift in pace that the book has undergone recently. Even if some of that early magic has dissipated, everything still exists in this book to make it truly great once again; this creative team is incredibly strong and the world they have crafted has the potential for more amazing comic books. I have great hope and no doubt that they will recapture what made this book so good.

Batgirl #45 Panel 1

Batgirl #45 // Writers – / Artist – Babs Tarr / Colourist – Serge Lapointe // DC

Notes //

– Serge Lapointe is on amazing form this issue, with beautiful colouring in every panel. The various hues of pink give the issue a distinct feeling of the romantic backdrop, but Lapointe isn’t afraid to throw in bold colour changes to add drama and impact (the opening page Babs’ to the rescue panels, for instance, do a great job reminding of Batgirl in action – a choice that immediately raises the stakes of every small crisis).

– It’s a great touch having Dinah and her band Black Canary playing the wedding and singing some 80’s power ballads! It’s cool to see a Babs Tarr version of Lord Byron, Ditto, and Paloma too.

– What with the questionable cameo of Red Robin in Gotham Academy #11 as well as Grayson here I’m beginning to wonder if there is an editorial mandate to shoe horn unnecessary appearances into books as part of a miss-judged cross-promotional campaign. (I appreciate that this is a staple of superhero books but it rarely feels as forced as it has in recent DC books)

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Comics // Weekly Pull List // 28/10/15

Some of my favourite books are out this week, plus an interesting new comic from trusted hands.

Weekly Pull List 28.10.15

Art Ops #1 – I know very little about the nature of this book, but the presence of Mike and Laura Allred on art and colouring duties made this worth a blind purchase. The contents look as great as you would expect and the idea of crazy art based hijinks make this a book I’m looking forward to reading.

Batgirl #45 – Babs Tarrs’ art remains a constant source of enjoyment on this book even if this second arc has lacked the narrative strength and clarity of the previous one. This issue promises some big emotional moments though so hopefully will regain a little momentum.

Prez #5Prez really is one of the best political stories out there right now, comic book otherwise, as the pretty outlandish concept of random teen gets elected president by fluke has been turned into an engine for some biting satire. With the brilliant Ben Caldwell returning to pencilling duties this should be another great issue.

The Spire #4 – Drawing on traditional concepts from fantasy, political, and mystery stories The Spire has really grown into a tremendously compelling book. And that’s not to mention the wonderful art from Jeff Stokely!

They’re Not Like Us #9 – I’ve written a lot about this book on here, and with good reason, everything in it from the writing to the art to the colouring to the very concept is just excellent. This really is one of the best books available.

Comics // Review // Batgirl #40

Concise

Since relaunching in Batgirl #35 the rejuvenated Barbara Gordon has fought an eclectic mix of villains, public opinions, and emotional situations, but the real threat has remained in the shadows. Writers Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher reveal all in this very satisfying conclusion to their opening arc, and artist Babs Tarr, with colourist Maris Wicks, delivers incredible art on every page. This has been a deep, brilliant, and emotionally complex story, and this conclusion does not disappoint – excellent stuff.

Batgirl #40 Cover

Spoilerful

There is a lot going on in this issue and it is complex in myriad ways, but every thread is so well handled and the plots so deftly put together that it never feels overwhelming or rushed. In fact the pacing of this issue does a very effective job of building tension and a sense of escalating doom throughout, without ever becoming an exhausting mess. The same can really be said for this run as a whole; it has been crafted as an accessible and ‘light’ reboot, yet if you want it there is some deep of comics/character/social-commentary beneath the surface and this issue is no different. There are revelations, resolutions, action scenes, and exceptional character moments, and it is all delivered with some truly beautiful art. Over the past 5 issues we have seen Batgirl go up against a number of enemies, each one being a shade of her own personality, and the reason for such a diverse yet unified rogues gallery is as satisfying as it is brilliant; the algorithm that Bab’s wrote when she was still raw and recovering from her trauma, has become sentient and it wants ‘its’ body back.

The concept of personal identity, how we perceive ourselves and think others perceive us, has been a central theme of this book since the relaunch; it is a brilliant conceit as it taps directly into the meta-conversation about Batgirl’s new costume and the new creative team itself, the writers are literally writing about their own creative process. Rather than run from or disregard what has come before Stewart and Fletcher have embraced Babs’ history, but they have also allowed Babs to organically move past it – everything that happened in Gail Simone’s previous run is still very much a part of this Batgirl, but the new writing team and Babs herself are looking to get past that dark time in her life. So as the book has changed tone and style, Babs has pursued new interests, moved home, changed costume, established a new network of friends and superhero-support, leaving one dark truth unresolved; that maybe Babs’ cannot escape that dark past, that maybe it will always be the moment that defines her.

The true villain of this book, the alternate Batgirl who has been recruiting villains all along, the algorithm is imbued with the darkest part of Barbara Gordon, her anger and thirst for revenge from before she could process what had happened to her. The genius of this conceit is that it allows the entire book to highlight how much Babs has changed since that time, she has moved from a victim to become a survivor and a hero. The algorithm meanwhile remains trapped in that same moment of confusion and anger, the moment it gained sentience, and it has plundered Babs’ new life for ammunition to use against her – her warmest memories, her public identity, her self-worth. Each villain seen so far has been a counterpart to Babs’ in some way so it is only natural that the culmination of this theme, the arch-nemisis, would be a direct counterpart to Babs’ entire identity. This corrupt copy of Babs’ mind has twisted what it means to be a hero and a defender of Gotham; its broken logic dictating that all crime can be stopped if you remove all the potential perpetrators. This isn’t the most original evil A.I. plan, nor is the Wargames-logic-explosion an all-new resolution to it, but the themes at play here are far stronger than any single element of this villainy. Much as Gotham is the product of its vibrant and brilliant people, this book is so successful because of its strong, diverse, and compelling characters.

Alongside identity as a key driving force for this arc, there has always been the idea that relationships, and friendships in particular, are one of the most important things in Barbara’s life. The dual relationships that have shaped this book, and especially this issue, are those of Babs and Dinah, and Babs and Frankie. Frankie has been a big part of Babs’ new Burnside world (And rooting their friendship in the same moment as the algorithm is a canny move) so it is fitting that she looks set to become a big part of Batgirl’s world too. There have been plenty of mentions of Frankie’s expertise in coding so it was pleasant to see that pay off in the final pages of this story; Frankie shines when she patches the algorithm into the big screens to warn everybody, and then goes on to deactivate the satellite – she proves herself a keen field ally for Batgirl and it is great to see a hero that isn’t afraid to put a little faith in her friends. Similarly Dinah gets a chance to step in and take out the HOOQ drones, as well as giving Batgirl cover to make her escape from the cops. Dinah and Babs’ have had an up and down time in the recent past, but their deep bond has always been clear, so it was a great moment when they shared a touching farewell (and then Dinah departs for her new Black Canary book from Brendan Fletcher and Annie Wu – I can’t wait!).

Babs Tarr has done some incredible work in this series and her art here is as wonderful as ever. Every panel is expertly put together and Tarr has such a great way with faces that every moment of pain, anxiety, anger, and joy is brilliantly realised. This is mirrored to great effect in the slowly deteriorating portrait of the algorithm – as it loses its grasp on its identity as the one ‘true’ Batgirl it begins to fragment, distort, and decay, and Tarr renders that process will ghoulish brilliance. In fact the art here all reads amazingly well and just looks so effortless, but the complexity of the panels and the real depth of detail go to show that a lot of great work has gone into this book. The panel of everyone cutting loose and partying after the day is won is a superb piece of artwork that captures the reader experience perfectly – I was celebrating with them. Tarr’s art is supported throughout by some astounding colouring work by Maris Wicks – there are sunsets, and shadowy rooms, and half remembered experiences, and outdoor parties, and all of it is captured in nuanced and sophisticated palettes. Even subtle moments like the activation of the drones and the imbuing of the algorithm with Babs’ darkest self are enhanced by brilliant colouring. It is also worth calling out the layouts by Cameron Stewart as these are really great as well – we’ve seen some excellent pages in this arc (Babs’ memories of the party and chasing the perp in the first issue still stand out as memorable favourites) and there are some more terrific layouts here too, just take another look at that Riot Black take down! The art, layouts, colouring, and lettering are all at their best in this issue with some dizzyingly incredible pages on display. A particular joy was the expansive double page that shows the HOOQ party and calls out the algorithm’s targets in some scene-setting-stakes-raising-tension-escalating-brilliance; and it is full of amazing details too (Tarr is such a generous artist in this regard, always giving readers rewards for paying close attention, like the Sailor Moon inspired incidental character designs). There is simply spectacular work from the artistic team throughout this issue.

This has been a book to watch and a pleasure to read since its relaunch last year, and the conclusion to the first arc does not disappoint at all – the plot is well-considered and offers up a rich tapestry of themes and emotions, the character dynamics are complex and rewarding, the action is fast paced and brilliantly constructed, and the art is just perfect. If you aren’t reading this book then you’re genuinely missing out on the start of a new era of comic books.

Look at this fantastic colouring!
Look at this fantastic colouring!

Batgirl #40 // Writers – Cameron Stewart & Brendan Fletcher / Artist – Babs Tarr / Colours – Maris Wicks // DC

Notes and Observations:

  • Neat thematic Ghost in the Shell reference on the first page, both in issue name (Ghost in the Cowl) and the text layout.
  • A few of the lighter relationships (and playful red-herrrings in the central mystery) received only fleeting references this issue which is an unfortunate necessity given the restrictions on pages and pacing; as such we only get brief check-ins with Nadimah, Alysia, and Jeremy, and Qadir is similarly only briefly on-page (I hope he’s not done being Batgirl’s Q!).
  • Liam the cop does get a nice mirroring of his first on stage appearance at the Dagger Type take down – back then he commended civilian Babs on her good work and here he finally puts a little trust in Batgirl.
  • I love the involuntary reactions that are peppered throughout this book – really small word balloons like “OMG” and love hearts. I don’t know if that is the work of Tarr or the letterer Jared K. Fletcher, but its great.
  • So the debugged and rebooted algorithm with Frankie at the keyboard is going to be the new Oracle, right?

All art belongs to the copyright holder 

Comics // List // A Few Fun Comic Book Bands

For me the most exciting book announced as part of the post-convergence DC universe is the Black Canary ongoing. I’m a big fan of writer Brendan Fletcher and artist Annie Wu did some brilliant work on Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye (plus she did me a con-sketch of Storm that is beyond amazing). In fact Fletcher is in the creative teams behind two of my favourite current books (Batgirl and Gotham Academy) and Black Canary herself Dinah Lance has been a supporting player in the Batgirl book. Dinah recently took on another extra-curricular activity besides fighting crime, becoming lead singer in a band (and the band is expected to be part of her own book when it starts later this year). So what better time could there be to highlight some fun fictional bands that have appeared in comics!

Ashes on Sunday

First appearance – Batgirl #38 (2015)

Created by – Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher & Babs Tarr

Ashes on Sunday
“…You can’t have it both ways…”

Might as well start with Dinah’s band itself! Ashes on Sunday have been hinted at since the first issue of the new Batgirl (along with fellow Burnside band the Draculoids) with stickers, badges, and the occasional name drop turning up every so often. The band is even popular with the students of Gotham Academy with characters like Heathcliff listening to gig bootlegs and wearing pins. Now that Dinah is lead singer (what vocal range does her sonic scream have?) I think we can expect to hear plenty more about the exploits of the band.

Dandelion Naizen & Band

First appearance – Sugarshock (2008)

Created by – Joss Whedon & Fábio Moon

Sugarshock Band
“…I’m not saying I’m rubber, nor did I in any way suggest that you’re glue…”

Sugarshock was absolutely one of the funniest comics I have ever read. Produced by Whedon and Moon as part of the Dark Horse Presents series of webcomics on Myspace (if you remember that site!) the book follows an unnamed band as it takes part in the intergalactic musical-fight-off the Battle Royale with Cheese. There was only ever one adventure with quirky lead singer Dandelion Naizen and her band, but it is a fast paced, zany, and very funny. I do wish there had been a follow up, or even a series, but as it stands this is one of those great little moments where the concept, writing and art come together to produce a perfect book.

The Clash at Demonhead

First appearance – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2012)

Created by – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Clash at Demonhead
“ZAAAHH”

Named for the first game writer/artist Bryan Lee O’Malley ever played The Clash at Demonhead feature Scott Pilgrim’s ex, Envy Adams, on vocals and Ramona Flowers’ ex, Todd Ingram, on bass. Unique amongst the bands in this list by the virtue of actually having music you can listen to! They were brought to life in the amazing movie adaptation of Scott Pilgrim, and the below clip is a music video for their hit ‘Black Sheep’ (performed by real life band Metric). My secret confession is that I still haven’t read Scott Pilgrim so I am only familiar with the movie version, but if the books are anywhere near as good as the film then they will be very good indeed.

Any favourite comic book bands or Dazzler songs that I missed? Throw them out in the comments!

Exploring Costume & Identity with the Batgirl of Burnside

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This essay contains spoilers.

Although a card-carrying member of the wider Bat-family Barbara Gordon faces into her dual identities in a markedly different way to Bruce Wayne. Where Wayne lives in isolation, only donning his mask when necessary to obfuscate his ‘true’ nature as Batman, Barbara has chosen to actively engage with the world she seeks to protect. Babs shares an apartment with someone who doesn’t know her secret identity and regularly socialises with friends. She’s working on her PHD, goes shopping, goes out for coffee, and on dates. But the cowl is still an important signifier, one that distinguishes between the different aspects of Babs’ personality. The conflict between this choice to live a normal life and to take on the identity of the Batgirl is one that runs through the veins of this book. Are we defined by the costumes we chose to wear?

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In her civilian get up Babs is the picture of a typical 21 year old; she wears cute contemporary outfits, has a closet full of casual options, but mostly plays it pretty safe in the fashion department (short red dresses aside). Following the destruction of her previous gear and costume in the fire at Dinah’s Babs gets to putting together a new Batgirl outfit – she goes shopping, extensively despite being low on funds (an email from her bank let’s us know she is in the red), and spends time and creative energy on a fully redesigned and re-imagined look. This could just be necessity, the outfit is cosplay-practical because Babs makes it herself at pace, but there is a huge disparity between the care she takes with her Batgirl outfit and the time taken over her regular civilian appearance. When she needs to be ‘made-up’ for a dating profile she asks for Frankie’s help, she wears the same ‘52’ shirt all moving-day then keeps it on at the housewarming party (and even sleeps in it). When Frankie, Dinah and Babs go shopping she is positively wallflowering – she doesn’t engage with the clothes or the shopping, and just shrinks to the centre of the room (not to mention her ‘unimpressed’ face).

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But there is a clear focus on the importance of Batgirl’s appearance, both on a meta-textual level (this is the reboot issue unveiling a redesigned costumes that might work to raise sales) and on a narrative one. Babs has just restarted her life, she has moved to a new part of town, taken up new academic study, and she is still trying to move beyond the trauma of her past. At first it almost seems like Babs’ had no immediate plans to emerge as the Batgirl of Burnside. She left her Bat-gear at Dinah’s, and anyhow she has nowhere to store it or park her van in Burnside, she has sworn off her previous friendship with fellow hero Black Canary, and she makes no move to don the cowl until it is a personal necessity (after her laptop and algorithm are stolen). Could Babs have been hoping to start this reboot without ever being Batgirl again? She does after all “want to have fun” as Alysia puts it. Then again, it doesn’t seem like a chore when Babs makes that new costume and goes out to take down the bad guy, she genuinely seems to have fun kicking ass and taking names (“that didn’t feel as satisfying as it usually…” at least before the hangover kicks in). She is all action, strategy, and great one liners by the end of the book.

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Outside of hoodlums and scumbag the first villain that Batgirl faces is Riot Black, a DJ and digital anarchist who runs the Black Book, an objectionable website that hosts any and all dirty secrets. Riot Black is a man defined by his image, he speaks in hashtags and corny ‘edgy’ dialogue, he wears no shirt and joins his followers in their revelry, and believes that everyone’s personal identity belongs to him. Through a network of thieves and hackers he will take your secrets from any electronic device (the bank vaults of the modern age) and expose them to the world. Babs springs into action to defeat Black not because he might expose her secret identity as one might expect, but rather to recover her PHD work, an algorithm that we later learn is a map of her mind (it may have included the secret identity, but the intent seems clear here that Babs wants it back for her PHD more than for any potential secrets). It is a traditional superhero trope that the villain has the heroes secret identity in their grasp, but that idea is subverted as Batgirl offers to reveal her identity freely in exchange for Black deleting everything he has, “I’ll give you me” she says. But Batgirl triumphs through ingenuity, the only ‘me’ Black gets to have is the sharp end of a perfectly executed Bat-strategy.

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The Katsura twins, Yuki and Yuri, are introduced to us only in their costumed identities as the Jawbreakers – motorcycle riding warrior twins from the retro anime show ‘Atomina’ (or ‘Science Battle Hero Nuclea’ if you’re a real fan). The only background we get on these characters is consistent with that first appearance though, they want to be the characters from the show in real life. The shop attendant at the Robot Pony anime store tells Babs that they turn up in costume at Otaku events across Gotham and never break character. For these women their personality and how they see themselves, like for many of us, is directly invested in what they wear and how they act – they push people around because they see themselves as the villains. Moreover, the moment they are given the chance to embrace a villainous role they take it without hesitation; they agree to kill Batgirl not just for the money, but to prove that they are “the real Jawbreakers”. These villains want to be who they dress up as, much like Babs becomes more confident and possibly more ‘herself’ when she wears the cowl. That theme, that many people want the world to accept them on their own terms, is what may have caused controversy in the next issue.

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Dagger Type is an artist with a hunger for fame that knows no legal boundary. In the guise of a new Batgirl he robs, fights, and threatens his way across Burnside before putting on an art show that offers to reveal Batgirl’s true identity. Some readers were offended by the representation of Dagger Type, a potentially transvestite character or perhaps transgender, as a 2D caricature of the preposterous ‘other’ (and the negative reaction from Batgirl in particular was also a point of contention especially given her friendship with and acceptance of Alysia, a transgender character). This reading is legitimate and the outrage and hurt understandable, so the eloquent and sincere apology from the creative team is welcome. Many of the characters in the book have sought to identify themselves through the costumes they wear and it is plausible that Dagger Type is similarly presenting himself to the world as Batgirl because he wants to literally be Batgirl, his “becoming” as he says (though a necessarily alternative version of Batgirl to Babs’ one, hence the jewel encrusted costume and criminal lifestyle).

However, there is an alternative reading of Dagger Type that also plays into the theme of Babs’ internal conflict. Dagger Type only ever refers to himself with the male pronoun, he is pictured in typical male clothes at the art exhibition (granted he is also in the Batgirl photographs), his status as trans is never discussed or raised by any character, and he wants to deliver an event/finale to his art installation at a crowded theatre. It is possible that as a performance artist Dagger Type has created a new ‘Batgirl’ character, perhaps in a similar way to those seen in a drag queen performance. The invitation to the unveiling event is described as ‘illustrating’ who is under the Batgirl mask, and on stage Dagger Type states that the “real Batgirl is…me. I, Dagger Type, the artist himself. I am your Batgirl, people of Burnside. The idol you worship.” Dagger Type refers both to ‘himself’ and the fact that he is an artist here; might this entire event be an attempt to recapture the fame and adulation that he feels belongs to him, but that has recently been given to the insurgent Burnside celebrity, Batgirl? In either case it is interesting to note that Dagger Type is taken down by the genuine Batgirl of course, but not in her costume. Babs lost her cowl in the previous fight so has to face the villain whilst they are both unmasked. Dagger Type was right, Batgirl was revealed, and the issue closes with Batgirl taking responsibility for her public image and identity.

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Following this event Babs takes to the celebrity life quickly and embraces social media to grow her ‘brand’, but the uncomfortable duality of Babs’ identity is thrust into stark relief as she begins to grow her emotional life as well. On a couple of dates with potential boyfriend Liam, a GCPD officer, she faces questions about the ethics of vigilantism and Batgirl being a “criminal”. The growth of Batgirl as an icon in Burnside, evidenced by fans, photos, signatures, and strangers taking style cues, is mirrored in the distasteful reality show star Jordan Barberi. Potentially the son of a super-villain, Barberi is presented as nothing more than a vacuous celebrity with no consideration for the consequences of his actions, but he has a following on social media and is idolised in much the same way as we have seen Batgirl being (his Pixtagraph likes outnumber Batgirls even). His penchant for drinking and racing leads him to challenge Batgirl to a race after she rashly confronts him in a club; both make foolish decisions that result in considerable danger and damage. Whilst we don’t find out the impact of these events on Barberi, it results in Batgirl being vilified on social media.

In previous issues Babs’ identity has taken centre stage, driving the narrative, and donning the cowl to do good as necessary, but here Batgirl is the sole driving force. Again and again characters are shown to react badly to Batgirl’s presence – she and Dinah fight whilst, shrouded with shadows, Batgirl looks more like the brooding Dark Knight than ever, Batgirl shows up at Qadir’s home uninvited and he responds (unsurprisingly) cagily, and Liam tries to arrest Batgirl for the damage she does to CJ’s diner. Batgirl has only ever been warmly received by characters in this book (outside of villains), but here she takes over Babs’ life and causes nothing but problems; unlike previous issues we see very little of Frankie or civilian Babs (besides her dates with Liam where they discuss Batgirl throughout), and Babs’ PHD work suffers as she sleeps and drinks through the day to compensate for her Batgirl identity frustration. Babs is struggling to reconcile both sides of her personality, both identities, here and things are likely to get worse as the faux-Batgirl from the fringes of previous issues has been joined by a faux-Babs as well. Even her enemy has dual identities.

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In many superhero books the most compelling villains offer a reflection of the protagonist; Batman’s duality in Two-face, Charles Xavier’s idealism vs Magneto’s unchecked pragmatism, and so on. In this book we haven’t seen the arch nemesis yet (or have we?!), we have only been given some rogues-of-the-week for Batgirl to fight. They are an eclectic mix but with a unified nature. These villains are reflections of Barbara Gordon in many ways, Riot Black shares her eidetic memory and tech-savvy, the Jawbreakers share a formative experience from pop-culture, Dagger Type wants to be famous as the style icon Batgirl (which Bab’s herself embraces through social media and selfies), and Jordan Barberi shares a celebrity status and a certain recklessness. But more than that they all share a desire to curate their own image. They have a desire to present an idealised version of themselves to the world, through their Pixtagraphs and HOOQ profiles, their art, music, and lifestyle. The most important question though is this, which version of Babs’ is her ideal identity, the PHD student with friends and a social life, or the Batgirl of Burnside?

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Batgirl // Writers – Cameron Stewart & Brendan Fletcher / Art – Babs Tarr / Colours – Maris Wicks

All art belongs to the copyright holder