The Batgirl team continues to give us more of what someone wants (apparently a lot of someones since the book sells). Unfortunately I’m not one of those someones, but every month I try to find things to say about this book that are positive given its focus on what appears to be a very specific niche demographic. Okay, I didn’t try all that hard last month, but this month, after writing a lengthy review that was pretty much just one long snarl of frustration, I have decided to approach this with a fresh mindset. I don’t think it helped, though, because this book just isn’t great.
Honestly, I want to like this book so much. I want to read Batgirl and I even want Babs Tarr to continue to do the art for it. But so long as we’ve got this writing team at the helm, I feel we’re doomed to superficiality over superheroes.
If you haven’t read my review for Harley Quinn No. 23, I recommend you peruse the diatribe at the beginning at least so you know where I’m coming from (and then go buy that comic because it’s awesome). The problem with Batgirl as the title stands now is that we have a protagonist with a rich background and history who has gone completely blind and deaf to it (for example: remember when Babs’ father actually mattered to her? Like in a big way?), and now she lives in Burnside with an entirely new cast of characters, none of which resonate with me personally because I feel like they’re written as stereotypes and tokens.
Let’s take a closer look at “Gang War”:
Babs and Nadimah are polling people in the neighborhood. Doesn’t matter what for, right? We’ll call it schoolwork because, sure, Babs is in school, remember? Nadimah is our token muslim. I honestly can’t tell you anything about her except that she’s muslim and she once dressed Babs down for being whiny (go Nadimah!). But that’s it. And it doesn’t make for a good character.
Also note: Little old crippled granny has a teenaged son who’s in trouble on the streets. Someone call me a hackney cab, I need a ride to the vomitorium.
Remember when Burnside was a trendy suburbia outside of the infection that is Gotham, with a thriving middle-to-upper class residency and a large student population? Suddenly there are gangs in the streets, slums full of aforementioned little silver-haired old ladies, and evil corporations pushing people out by the use of teenagers who will do anything for a quick buck. Well…okay then.
Babs is overwhelmed. Babs needs a break. Babs always looks like she’s about to have a meltdown. Imagine if Babs was Tim or Dick or Jason or God forbid Bruce Wayne. If they behaved like this, we’d want to kick them in the bohunkus. And they’d deserve it. It’s not okay to me that because Babs is a woman that she acts like a disheveled stressed out mess all the time.
Different little old lady who looks exactly like the first little old lady is harassed by teen gang. Part of the problem is on Serge LaPointe, who colors the women exactly the same. But Tarr could have at least given her a different physique. I make a big deal of this because I initially thought the gang was harassing the first little old lady and that made no sense whatsoever.
Babs also calls out Dylan. That’s great. Humiliating a teenager in front of his peers when you have no idea what his relationship is at home with his mother is always a good call. Babs is a class-A jerk. Always a great trait in a hero.
Page 4 & 5
Babs is saved by Lewis even though (wink-wink) she didn’t need saving. It’s interesting to note that despite all her activity in Gotham and Burnside, these kids call her “Batgirly” and don’t think she’s any kind of threat. It’s offensive and stupid. Is the writing team intentionally trying to subvert Babs’ power here? It’s like she was born yesterday.
Also note: the tried-and-true “can’t talk here, meet me somewhere later” line. If you’ve never read a comic book before in your life, you might find this builds suspense. After about five books, it just deflates the energy and sets up a thoroughly predictable morning-after cut.
Oh look, it’s the morning after.
Babs is groggy and disheveled again. Maybe they’re going for realism here. If you were a superhero, this is how stressful and crazy your life would be. Okay, interesting premise. Can we maybe explore that with someone who isn’t as smart, capable, and competent as Batgirl? No, let’s just dumb her down because this is a book about women for women!
Also note: Introduction of another needless boy complication. Superhero Batgirl has offered to let her friend Greg stay over in the Batgirlapartment. Props to Frankie for calling her out on it, but that feels more like the writers covering their buns than any legitimate, rational conversation.
Also, Babs invites a guy to stay over indefinitely without consulting Frankie. Babs is a jerk.
Babs and Frankie partner up. We’ve had a lot of issues building up to this moment.
Yay! Stars and ponies for everyone: let’s fight crime!
Page 8 & 9
Babs meets Lewis who tells her about Spoiler. We’re halfway through the comic book and now we’re playing catch-up and the world goes weird. Because this book shares continuity with the rest of the Batverse even though it largely ignores that world and even though any attempts to meld this world with that feels like introducing Strawberry Shortcake to Grand Theft Auto. Could be an awesome match-up in the right hands, but so far it feels like a disastrous clash of aesthetics.
So yeah, we get two pages of exposition to introduce Spoiler. Yes, I hate this character, but that’s not really the problem. The problem is two pages of exposition. It’s necessary because these worlds have no points of integration, but it’s just exposition. People talking and standing around. Not even a cool action shot of Eiko or anything. Tarr had help with the breakdowns in this issue, but these two pages she did herself. I think an editor could have helped make this whole sequence a lot more dynamic.
Page 10 & 11
More offensive language: “She’s just a kid.” Spoiler is a few years younger than Batgirl, but she’s gone toe-to-toe with the kids in the big leagues (whether we found that credible is another issue; the point is, it happened in Batman Eternal).
Batgirl finds Spoiler facing off against yet another generic gang who can’t handle her, so they call out the big guy from Osaka.
Page 12 & 13
Note: it’s important that we know he’s actually Japanese because otherwise this might be just a really offensive stereotype or appropriation:
Nope, it still offends me.
What do you make of this goofy villain? He seems to be sporting a Japanese Noh mask with an Elvis pompadour, a Wolverine set of claws, and trendy (always trendy) yellow hightop sneaks. Is he supposed to be scary? Dangerous? What are they going for here? And how do you reconcile this caricature as a threat to be taken seriously?
Page 14 & 15
Batgirl says Mokugeki is too fast, big, and dangerous for either of them to handle him on their own. We’ll have to take her word for it because he looks like none of those things. Also remember: this is Batgirl saying this. She beat the snot out of the Joker once, and fought to a draw with Dick Grayson. Sigh.
They take Mokugeki out in four panels. Not even four big exciting panels. And one of those panels is just Babs’ hand throwing some chewy-gooey bombs.
Spoiler effuses with gratitude. Literally effuses. It’s kind of disgusting.
Turns out Luke conveniently has a place for Spoiler to crash while they figure out next steps. Hey. Maybe Greg can stay there and Spoiler can hang out in the Batgirlapartment instead.
Page 18 & 19
Speaking of Luke, he makes an appearance at last as a convenient sounding-board for Babs’ endless nattering about her overwhelming problems.
Allow me to rant for a moment:
Babs Gordon whines in this book. All the time. She’s a whiner.
I thought in the early episodes of this team’s run the whining was intended to be a brief business for the sake of character growth, but it’s a trait that looks to be staying for the foreseeable future.
Babs complains about her workload, her schooling, her friends, her sleep schedule, the size of her opponents. And then we’re supposed to forget about that because she pumps her fist and puts on a smirky game-face? I can honestly forgive a lot, but the whining is insufferable.
People complained that Simone’s PTSD Batgirl was too gloomy and trapped in her dark thoughts about the past. I’d take that any day over a Batgirl who complains because her friend Alysia is on her honeymoon. Seriously: she listed it as one of the reasons she’s so “stressed” out. I don’t even have words for how self-absorbed and myopic this stuff is coming out of her mouth.
And there’s Luke, a superhero in his own right, neutered, a prop desperately interested in Babs’ nightmares rather than telling her to pull herself together and be a Bat. Then he praises her doodles. And there’s Babs, once the smartest girl in the DCU needing ratification about her negahedron, which, at this point, I don’t even believe she’s capable of comprehending.
This book can’t seem to give us a good cliffhanger. This time it’s Dylan’s over-the-hill mom ranting at the “red headed girl” and blaming her for all the woes in her life. Oh, sure, there was also some muslim chick with her, but she was so nondescript that it doesn’t matter. And Babs, of course, with her terrorized expression at the mere sight of a news report, takes it all to heart because women are incapable of objectivity or rational thought.
Batgirl used to be the smartest woman in the DCU. I was a smart girl once and Babs was someone I could relate to: someone who stood outside the superficial woes of girlhood. I’ve hoped with all the hope in my heart that this team would find its way back to that, but the writers are stuck in an affectation that’s weirdly misogynistic and outdated even as it tries too hard to push its trendy agenda.
This is a book that best serves the casual comic book reader. If all you want is some bubblegum fun, this will fit the bill. While I find it offensive, it’s nevertheless brightly packaged and the experience of it will give you a quick burst of flavor. Then you can spit it out when you’re done. Tarr’s work is falling into bad habits driven by a script that calls for a lot of puppy-faced pouting and “rah-rah” girl power, but it’s still got nice energy. I’d love to see what she could do with better material.
- You’re a fan of this team’s Batgirl. If you already like this book, here’s more of the same.
- You like bubblegum. The Chiclets variety especially.
I’m scoring this based on the consistency of what the team is doing because un-objectively, I want to give it a 2 at best. The writing continues to be predictable, patronizing and uneven, the art is mostly solid with the occasional lapse over into Toonland, and the overall impression continues to be that even though Batgirl is technically still part of the main continuity in the Bat-titles, it’s going to maintain it’s own tone and approach–other books and Babs’ past be damned. While I can see how this book might appeal to casual fans and happenstantial rack grazers, it’s just not something I can recommend to long-time Batfans. I feel like the best we can hope from it is that it generates interest in the larger world of comics for new readers–and in other Bat-related titles specifically.