Batgirl Part 2: Gail Simone and the New 52

Day 7 Since the Disappearance:

It has been an entire week since Emily’s infiltration mission to Australia vacation began.  Still no word of her return.  I fear the worst.

I’ll continue my writing in this blog.  Messages in bottles until the ink in my heart has long dried up.


Before we go too much further, you might want to read Batgirl Part 1!

We continue our three post trend with one of my favorite comic book authors: Gail Simone.  I fucking love Gail Simone.  If it was up to me, she’d write all comics forever. Well, her and Scott Snyder.

If Gail and Scott co-wrote anything I’d probably just get so excited I might just possibly vibrate apart into a fine particulate blob of fan-girl.

Gail writes an emotional and complex story for Batgirl: the difficulties that come with resuming a role you long since wrote off for a dream.

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At this point I will give the customary spoiler warning.  This one is specific to the New 52.  I’m going to cover some of the arcs to help drive my point home about the power and subtlety that Gail Simone brought to Barbara Gordon.

Gail Simone simultaneously makes Batgirl fierce and strong while making her vulnerable.  The very first arc in the series we see Batgirl come face to face with the villain Mirror.  He is killing people for reasons unknown and Batgirls endeavor to stop him.  During all of this Gail breaks it up early with events in her personal life.  She moves out of her fathers place, meets her new interesting roommate, and deals with the rises and falls that come with having experienced a miracle.

We learn that Barbara Gordon is on Mirror’s list.  He believes he is righting some wrongs in the universe by killing people who experience miracles.

While she is looking for Mirror we see Barbara doubting whether she was worthy of getting her legs back.  She had made peace with the fact that she was paralyzed, and now she has them back and wonders why she was saved instead of someone else.  Barbara is battling her own survivor’s guiIt.

It turns out Mirror was the only survivor in a tragic accident.  One in which he was saved and had to watch his wife and twins burn to death.  He rejects his miracle.  Mirror believes that he shouldn’t have survived and he begs to die with his family.

Both of our characters are here because of a miracle, but they respond in different ways.  Batgirl doubts that she can be worthy of her miracle, and she must combat this self doubt.  Mirror was saved when he didn’t want to be, and now he seeks to right some universal wrong by ending others who have survived when they shouldn’t.  It’s these miracles that have brought them head to head.

This becomes more clear for Batgirl when Nightwing finds her.  He asks about Mirror and how she’s doing, but she deflects by playing a game of city spanning tag.  It’s a poignant scene.

She remembers doing the same as younger prodigies.

She remembers her feelings for Dick before the accident.

She remembers being shot.  Her once proud confidence is now frail and brittle in the face of what’s happened.

When Dick finally catches her, she lashes out at him.  Batgirl resents him, saying that she’s tired of people trying to look out for her.  To defeat her enemy, she must do it alone.  Dick acquiesces and leaves her.

When she finally defeats Mirror she does so by making him reflect upon what he is alive for.  He suffered tragedy, but he needs not continue wasting his life doubting whether he should have died or not.  By defeating Mirror, she defeats herself.  She lets go of her self doubt.

Gail Simone, in a few short pages and a few short encounters, gives us a deeper look at how Barbara feels about her life changing surgery.  And it wasn’t a cheesy, expositional battle.  Gail tells a story more gently than that.  We have parallels to observe and we get to see how others might have responded to similar events.  We experience self doubt alongside Batgirl, and see her relationships developing in response.  Her interpersonal relationships punctuate the feelings inside her.  Her dad cares for her and only wants the best, and even her roommate becomes a staple in her life that she learns to love.

Nothing is cut and dry, and there is plenty to keep us reading.  This level of writing is something much higher than I originally expected out of comic books, and was one of the hooks that gave me cause to try new series.

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After Mirror she meets a woman who calls herself Gretel.  Gretel has the power to mind control people, and she uses this power to lash out against Bruce Wayne for trying to gentrify an old neighborhood.

This is the first arc where we see her being Batgirl and coming face to face with Batman.  It throws her back to before she was paralyzed.  Batgirl took inspiration from Batman.  She worked apart from him.  When she became paralyzed she feared what he would say to her.  The cruel words of how he was right to try and stop her.

In her memory, we get two heart wrenching panels of him standing quietly with her, holding her hands in sympathy.

Before the showdown, she learns that Gretel was a woman who was gunned down dismissively by a mob boss.  She had no one to turn to in the hospital; no one visited her.  She learned to use people instead of trust them.

Now she needs to perform as Batgirl for Bruce Wayne.  A man she felt as though she let down.  When she succeeds in saving him from some mind controlled thugs, he whispers to her, “You were always meant to be Batgirl.”

This fills her with strength and determination.  She confronts Gretel with Batman’s assistance.  He lets her take the lead, which he almost never does.  Fighting and defeated Gretel taught Barbara that even when she feels alone and scared that she has people who love and care about her.

I’d like to point at this time that the dialogue and exposition aren’t super in your face. Gail Simone trusts us to understand, and she feels no need to guide us by the hand.  Her writing has depth, and it comes out in her characters.  All of them.  Her dad is trying to be a cop and a dad without being overbearing and protective.  Her roommates is concerned about her, but trusts her enough to give her space when she needs it and support when she wants it.

This post is already becoming too long for what is supposed to be a delicious Smudde nugget.  Fuck you I’m not stopping.

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During these events, Barbara’s mother comes back out of the wood work.  She tries to pry herself back into Barbara’s life, which adds to the drama of it all.  So in between her internal struggles she now must try and cope with being a daughter to who is essentially an estranged mother.

The last villain that I’ll discuss is Grotesque.  A man who likes the finer things in life, and discards that which doesn’t meet those standards.  This includes henchman and innocents.  Barbara hunts him down, but while on the trail she realizes that one of the henchman she took down was one of the men who showed up with the Joker.  Batgirl must now face someone directly from her tragedy, and man who left her to die.

Batgirl tracks down Grotsque and confronts him.  She finds him with his henchman.  During the battle Grotesque gains the upper hand, but before he can land the killing blow the henchman intervenes.  Grotesque deals the former Joker thug a fatal blow.  Seeing such a waste of human life sends Batgirl into a rage and she defeats Grotesque while proclaiming, “I reject you.”

Batgirl holds the henchman in her arms as he dies.  He confesses that he called the police to go back for the then dying Barbara Gordon.  Seeing this criminals human side gives her resolve to never become something so grotesque because of her tragedy.  She needs to continue to be a great person and never let rage or revenge guide her.

I’m writing this mostly to try and give you a flavor of what Gail’s writing is like.  She did an amazing job with Batgirl, and it only gets better.  I can’t cover it all here, otherwise you’ll never go get all the comics!  Don’t lie, I know you are on your way right now.  But some even deeper and darker stories surface.  The return of the Joker in Death of the Family, and the resurfacing of her serial killer brother.

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The checklist I want you to remember:

  • Batgirl is a strong, complex, intelligent woman.
  • The villains are dripping with deeper meanings for Batgirl.
  • The characters, setting, and world are all believable and well written.

I hope I impressed upon you how great Gail’s writing it.  In next weeks post we’ll cover Batgirl of Burnside when they changed writers.

-DTM

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Batgirl Part 1: Barbara Gordon

Well as I’m sure our dedicated reader(s) has already read, Emily is going to die.

She also left me the keys to the blog while she’s gone.  I’ve got your attention for three straight Friday’s so sit down and shut up.

Lets talk about Batgirl.

Wait, wait, wait… first we’re going to talk about Barbara Gordon as a character.  And then Gail Simone’s New 52 series.  And then we’ll end on Batgirl of Burnside where I’ll be angry for 900 something words.

So.  Barbara Gordon.

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Barbara Gordon is a strong, charming, and human character.  She is a centerpiece in the Bat family, and for a while was literally the core of their team.  Barbara is the daughter of a cop, and because of this she has a strong sense of justice.  She has an eidetic memory and is incredibly intelligent.  Barbara cares deeply about the people she’s helping and feels tremendous guilt for her failures: professional and personal.  She doesn’t fight to solve murders or avenge them.  Its not simply about solving crimes.  Batgirl embodies the idea that life is worth preserving and people are worth saving.  Her duty is to protect the people who need it, to help the ones who are hurt, and to be the guiding moral beacon for many of those around her.

In The Killing Joke she is shot in the spine by the Joker and she becomes paralyzed.  He uses her to try and corrupt Commissioner Gordon.  After the fact she has to retire from being Batgirl.  She is upset that so much was taken from her, but she also hates to see those around her so distraught.  With the help of her friends and family she makes it through a nightmarish time, and as a hero moving forward she does everything she can to do the same for others.

She reminisces later that even though she was in pain and her life had changed forever, she was worried about what Batman would do and say.  She reflects fondly that Batman doesn’t yell or get angry, he stands over her, holding her hand quietly.

That’s the kind of person she is, more worried about how things effect others than herself.  She is more concerned about others, even in her darkest moments.

Can you imagine?  Being that strong and talented and having a chaotic villain show up at your door and take it all away from you?

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Barbara deals with this frequently.  It’s a reoccurring nightmare to her, thinking that one day the Joker might come back again.  Or worse: that he’ll come for someone else. It’s this nightmare that makes her focused and strong.  She fights harder for her friends and family because she doesn’t want any of them to lose what she has lost.  Barbara is vigilant and relentless.

There is a bit in Batman Eternal where Jason Todd says that she was better than all of the Robin’s.  Stronger than him, and stronger than Dick Grayson.  They all see her as the bright and shining hero she still is, and she uses their belief to become something stronger.

Finding strength in her weakness, she became Oracle.  Oracle was the digital and informational center for all of her superhero allies.

Oracle was one of the central characters in Birds of Prey.  With her ability to fight and move limited, she uses her mind as her most dangerous weapon.  She uses her eidetic memory and technological finesse to work over even the most dangerous of villains without leaving her computer.  This is what makes her such a strong part of the Bat-family.  She is a genius, she’s clever, and she’s ruthless..  All of the heroes call upon her, and even Batman depends on her more than he’d probably like.

All I’d do if I became paralyzed would be make excuses like, “My fucking legs don’t work.”

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As Oracle, she rarely went into the field.  Instead, she worked with her team through earpieces and computers.  She often feels frustrated because she can’t be beside them, but she makes the best of it by using her strengths against her opponents weaknesses.  Barbara understands herself and her team members, and is able to maximize their abilities by being the strategist in the background.

We see this quite a bit while she’s the mentor to Stephanie Brown.  Stephanie was originally Spoiler, a girl who was bent on justice but unable to truly manage the role.  Barbara tries to talk her out of it because she’s likely to get hurt.  When she realizes that Stephanie won’t stop, Barbara steps in to help her as Oracle because she doesn’t want to see her get hurt or worse.

But to me what really makes characters interesting is their human side.  She is still vulnerable inside all of that badass.  She has an on again off again interest in Dick Grayson.  I’ve never read an arc where it gets serious, but there are definitely points where she gets hurt because Dick is into another woman.  There are moments where he approaches her, but their lives as heroes interfere too much to have a relationship.  As much as she is strong, she belies a girl who yearns to be normal.  Its a struggle to be Batgirl, to be Oracle, to be a daughter, and to be herself.

This gets especially hard because her dad is Commissioner Gordon.  The hero cop himself.  There are many times when she has to work with him as Batgirl, but to be Batgirl she must inherently undermine and work against her father.  One time she actually attempts to take her mask off, but he stops her because he doesn’t want to think about a young girl on the streets risking her life.

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Its a complicated situation being a superhero.  Many superheroes have a reason to work or be alone, but Barbara chooses to be close with people.  Barbara works to support the people and support her friends.  She is strong because she has people to be strong for, and she worries that her failures will take them away from her.  What makes her the one of the greatest heroes is that her greatest superhero power is that she is a human.  She is flawed, she is vulnerable, and she is brittle.  Even after surgery cures her paralysis, she is still paralyzed for a long time trying to re-find herself.  Its a careful balance to be everything she wants to be while balancing the expectations of others on top of it.  Her story is one of overcoming; of perseverance and duty.  She can’t let things get in her way.  Barbara can’t be a normal girl trying to find herself.  Shes a hero, a daughter, and a friend.  To be all of this and still find strength within she must be more than a woman, she had to find herself as Batgirl.

In the next post I’ll discuss Gail Simone as the writer for Batgirl.  I’m going to re-read the comics I own so I can be extra pumped to write it!

-DTM