I love Barabara Gordon’s new look and creative team. I also really hate it.
If you’ve followed my writing before you’ve probably become well aware I am very passionate about Batgirls. Why? I don’t even know exactly why, but the mantle of Batgirl and its many wearers strike me a certain way. They mean something to me. So whenever something comes up regarding them, I tend to pay attention.
The announcement from DC last week that Barbara Gordon would be receiving a new creative team and direction on issue #35 with Gail Simone off the book and the book getting essentially a softboot was a surprise to say the least. Bringing on artist-writer Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher for writing duties and introducing (the aptly named) Babs Tarr as artist and along with them a brand new, lighter toned direction is a welcome relief.
Gail Simone on Batgirl was a clunky and depressing affair. Extremely close to the character, Babs being her childhood idol, but heavily shackled by editorial mandates and crossovers, Gail’s Batgirl was exceedingly dark from the get go and an exercise in intense naval gazing. The title did not move anywhere really, rather swam in circles when it came to ridiculous narratives and Barbara’s character growth and even worse villains. Babs being angrier and more reckless gave some actual interesting moments but her return to a mantle she supposedly “was meant to be” cost her losing her entire network and tech skills in the process despite being well old enough to have them.
The sudden descent into darkness I’ll assume was to distance the title and mantle from the generally lighter Stephanie Brown Batgirl that proceeded the reboot. This change back to Babs and making her walk again drew in huge numbers at first; but the title has been shedding readers more or less monthly now that the mystery behind her surgery has faded and lies unresolved and she’s become just another C grade street level operative for Batman. It’s stayed steady, but it’s become a decidedly tepid mess.
Behind the scenes conflict involving an email firing (and rehiring after fan outcry), contention over the fate of Alysia, Bab’s roommate, and Gail now leaving over additional creative differences seem to reinforce a rather contentious process with editorial. Whatever happened it did affect the writing and it’s a shame that Gail Simone, who often wrote Oracle so well, in Batgirl made Babs rather unlikable and the character stagnant for nearly three years. Not to mention introducing the worst version of The Ventriloquist to date making me beg for Peyton Riley. The book was a disaster and it did need a change. Would Gail Simone’s run, had she had full creative control been more balanced and fun and energetic? Possibly. But that’s unfortunately not what we got.
Now, moving forward, the new direction? I’m not that thrilled. While well designed, adorable, practical, modern, and everything I could have ever ask for in a Batgirl title, like seriously the team, the costume, the art, everything is A++, but it just reads…too young. It’s amazing. But not for this Babs, the same Babs that supposedly is still running around in her own title and in Eternal. The Babs that has been Batgirl again for the past three years. The Babs that is a mess, but firmly an adult.
Now I’ll wait to deliver final judgement until after I read it; she may come off as older since a plot point is that she’s seeking out grad school, and who knows, she may be more tech savvy and use her cell phone to hack things (a guy can dream) but visually, the artwork and the cute no-budget cosplay ready styling is much too teenagery. It’s an urban rookie look that would fit Harper Row, Steph Brown, and Charlie Radcliffe. It looks like a great Year One costume. In fact; if this was literally a Year Two mini or series or a stand alone Batgirl AU, I would not be complaining or bat an eye as she looks 16-18 years old. This is literally what Misfit would have looked like had she indeed became Batgirl.
This new look is obviously deliberate; Batgirl and come this fall Gotham Academy will be two specific titles that break DC’s current house art style; DC is after Ms. Marvel readers, and are, I’m guessing, like Marvel, starting to experiment with some younger demographic pandering in their main line. This is GREAT. It’s long overdue, and I think one of the smartest moves they’ve ever done. But it’s three years too late in regards to Babs. It will work; but it’s disappointing.
I understand if during the switch from Stephanie back to Babs, had Babs, having been de-aged, suddenly had a book with a similar younger tone as this will have, it would have made people upset and had been a bit weird. I understand why they would ask Gail to write a more “edgy” book after the switch.
However, had this version of Batgirl come out three years ago as the first wave of the reboot, I would have been fine with it. I would have been hurt as I enjoyed Stephanie as Batgirl, but I would have believed this version of Babs as someone who had been Batgirl for year and then quit and then was paralyzed and now is back. She’s younger, she’s back to basics and trying to get back into it and make sense of what she was doing and is doing it alone without Batman’s help. That would explain the low-tech urban chic. It makes more sense than the literal Green Lantern alien reject armor they put Babs in if going that route of Babs being literal square one and doing it alone. But they didn’t start from square one per se; Babs’ high tech armor is the smart thing to wear if you’ve had a nearly fatal injury that was (lazily) healed with no full explanation along with the disclaimer that it could be reversed at any moment. Now she’s going to wear a leather jacket…with I’d hope kevlar and a metal plate underneath at the base of her back. Being a member of Bruce’s menagerie should mean you never need anything, especially with a “Bat” in your mantle name, and your costumes should be properly armored for one who is at risk. Unless she’s just fully able now and that’s a whole other can of worms.
Essentially, while super well intentioned and by all means a wicked concept for an AU or a totally new canon; they’ve effectively taken away all of Babs power with this new plainclothes version. She appears like a contemporary to the returned Stephanie Brown over in Eternal, who if following tradition of being a year older than Tim, should be 17 and only a year younger than she was when she was Batgirl. If you’re going to make Babs a young hip green thing with a young hip book, you should have done that from the start, or otherwise should just have kept Stephanie Brown in the mantle and given her this same team and a slight costume tweak with the reboot, because she was literally the same thing as this; the difference is red hair. Why shoehorn one character into a role with this tone when you already had what you were looking for. What makes Babs so good as Batgirl when you take all that was unique about her (technology savvy) away?
This may seem like sour grapes, and I guess in a way it is; but it brings us to the broader picture; Babs has been stripped down back to her most basic and elementary of roles since the reboot. They’ve dismantled a juggernaut.
Since the reboot and deaging of about three to five years (I never thought her much older than twenty-five to twenty-seven) they cut out Oracle, the positve height of her narrative arc, but kept the negative story The Killing Joke. By cutting Oracle in any form, even a watered down temporary version at any age, they loose a leader for The Birds of Prey, or at least a solid ally. They also removed any concept of her being a mentor or big sister figure via the additional gutting of the two subsequent Batgirls and Charlie. Gone were the big connections, her role in the Justice League. I know the history is no longer there for her to a be a part of; but that kind of presence could have been reinvented in a smaller but by no means meager scale. A small time hacker who ended up outsmarting Batman; he has her join and she becomes Batgirl. It’s not hard to have allowed Oracle to exist even in the most casual of ways. Give her something other than Batgirl to this woman’s name!
DC has been additionally extremely anti-intellectual with Babs; any any sort of associated visuals that associate her with her former bookworm personality seem to generally be scrubbed; she no longer wears glasses (to my knowledge) and has been generally without much technology. What’s left is just…Batgirl. And Babs was never just that.
She’s regressed. And the way DC plays with Babs is something that would never happen to Dick Grayson to the degree that it has. They would never send him back to being Robin in main canon. To square one. It “doesn’t make sense”. Sure they just “killed” Dick and sent him packing to be a super spy with the kick ass new version of Helena Bertinelli, but that’s just it; Dick generally stayed the same post-boot in terms of experience and he’s now a freaking super spy. To give Gail some credit; at least her Babs and Dick seemed like equals. Now Babs does not seem to be on the same level as him; not with her new costume. She looks small time. And people are following suit; fanart of the new costume has Babs indeed looking again like a teenager.
I hope the writing for this new book is good and that they bring back elements of Babs that have been lost since the reboot. Because in contrast, if you look at it, most of the Bat boys received “upgrades” (whether they actually improved them is debatable) to their base stats with the reboot: for instance Jason has been given additional mystical martial arts and magic training once he came back to life. While Tim Drake was absolutely murdered by his new origin, he was also written as an Olympic level gymnast from the get-go. Tim no longer had to work so hard to fill the Robin boots. The boys get +1’s and made it through (until they killed Damian and admittedly ran Dick through a meat grinder), while all the girls in the Batfamily were cut down and leveled.
Sure Helena Bertinelli (in some manner of speaking) and Stephanie Brown have come back into the fold. And DC has done a good job in expanding the family with women; Harper Row as Bluebird, whatever Carrie Kelly is destined for, Steph, Julia Pennyworth, Babs as Batgirl, Catwoman, and both Helenas at the periphery by association with Babs and now Dick ironically populates the Batfamily with more girls than there were before the reboot (if you sort of ignore the loss of shared Batfamily and BOP members like Misfit and the original Helena B, and of course Cassandra Cain). I will give this book a chance. I want it to do well, because it is perfect. I read they are aiming for more standalone issues and that is something I’ve sorely missed. I hope the circuit board pattern overlay on the one piece of art they released means something. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Babs, who became one of the most important and powerful characters in DC canon, is now just a literal urban crime fighter. With rubber yellow boots.
But I guess she’ll look cute.