The Latest Run on Batgirl Disgusts Me

Barbara Gordon is one of my favorite characters in the entirety of comics. Everything about her character, from her witty, sarcastic personality to her indomitable will to push on and fight the good fight, even in the face of extreme personal tragedy, is amazing. I'd go so far as to say that she's even on par with the likes of Wonder Woman and Superman as far as superhero role models go. She's someone that younger people can and should look up to, someone that can teach even grown men and women a thing or two about moving on with their life; no matter what. I can honestly say that on at least two separate occasions her actions and words have directly inspired me to better myself in some way, to examine my feelings in the wake of my own personal tragedies. That being said, I'm sure you can imagine my reservations when I initially saw that DC was planning on taking Barbara in a completely new direction.

At first, the idea of the Batgirl series taking a lighter turn was appealing. Gail Simone's run on the title up to that point had a much darker tone, but that made sense considering that the idea was to examine how Barbara is dealing with her new found mobility. The series touched upon everything from the way psychological triggers effect victims of violent crimes to the notion of having to literally come face to face with your greatest fears. That's not to say that it was always dark and depressing, mind you. You still have those shining moments where Barbara seems almost intoxicated by the ability to once again glide through the air and leap from one rooftop to another, something which she had been denied for years. The next logical step in her overarching storyline would almost certainly have to be something with a lighter tone, something which focuses less on trauma and the resulting PTSD and more on the adventures of Batgirl. That's exactly what we'd get when writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, along with artist Babs Tarr, came on board. I ran into a bit of a problem, however, when I noticed that they went ahead and completely changed the character of Barbara Gordon, giving her personality a complete 180 and essentially disregarding all of her development over the last 30 years.

The Barbara Gordon you'd see if you picked up a new issue of Batgirl is now one which is completely unrecognizable. She has been turned into a hipster who concerns herself a bit too much with partying, who wakes up in the morning to discover she almost slept with some random guy she can't even remember (totally in character for someone who is, perhaps, a victim of sexual abuse AND knows the dangers of such conduct, right?) and never puts down her damn phone. It's a book which is trying so hard to be 'hip' and 'cool' that it ventures into the realm of idiocy, almost as though it's trying to appeal to the very people who consider themselves too 'hip' or 'cool' to read comic books in the first place. It's a book which not only spits in the face of other characters like Jim Gordon and Batman, two men who raised her to be an upstanding person and always do the right thing, it spits in the face of every fan who has been following this character since they first discovered her. It's truly hard to describe just how disgusted I am, personally, by the blatant disrespect shown towards such a great character by sub-par writers incapable of producing a story with anything resembling depth. Before this descends into a 20 page rant that no one, including myself, would want to read, however, let me take a step back and explain why exactly I find this new direction to be horrible.

Characters who make up what is known as the Batman Family (Barbara, Robin, Nightwing, Alfred, etc) generally have a much greater depth of character than is found in most other superheroes. You can chalk this up to the fact that they're normal human beings, allowing for more down to Earth storytelling, or you can just say that Batman and his allies have been lucky in that they've consistently had good writers on their books. I'd say it's a bit of both, personally. Barbara is by no means an exception to this rule, having achieved such depth despite being a side character more often than not. That's not to say that being a side character kept her down for long, of course, nor did it keep her from becoming a pivotal member of the superhero community. After being paralyzed by the Joker, she was reintroduced as Oracle, the woman in charge of feeding the heroes of the DC Universe any and all information they need to get their jobs done. She started off as a simple love interest for Dick Grayson and would before long become a major player, a strong, female presence who is arguably every bit as important as Wonder Woman. 

It then baffles me as to why Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher decided to rip the depth out of her character and replace it with someone that I can only describe as a somewhat ditzy, smart mouthed teenage girl who just graduated from high school, despite being too old for that to actually be the case. DC has made some questionable decisions since the New 52 relaunch in regards to continuity, most of which I'm personally okay with, but greenlighting the idea to essentially de-age her, personality wise, in such a manner is ridiculous. During Gail Simone's run, you had a Batgirl who came off as the natural progression of Oracle regaining her ability to walk. She still had the personality of a mature, witty, sarcastic young woman who for so long had such an incredible responsibility. The "Batgirl" found here in Stewart and Fletcher's run is one which, so far, I wouldn't trust to run a lemonade stand. She's no longer a mature woman, now only coming off as such whenever she's put next to her new circle of friends. Comic book characters and, of course, real people change over the course of time, but it is a rare thing indeed for someone's personality to make such an about face without something of incredible significance occurring. It smacks of lazy writing and shows only that the writers are more concerned with writing a popular comic book than a well written comic book. Simply put, it's impossible to accept that this iteration of Batgirl was ever able to handle the incredible responsibility of being Oracle.

This seems to be a growing trend within comic books, the idea that it's somehow acceptable to ruin decades of continuity just to publish a comic book with "indie sensibilities." Indie comics have become increasingly popular over the years so it's no surprise than that the "Big Two" would want to capitalize on some of that success; taking a concept here, an artistic style there and injecting it into their own books. Indie writers (the ones who DO use similar subject matter, not to imply that all indie writers are the same) get away with it because you more often than not  don't have any pre-conceived notions concerning the characters within. The problem here is that a flashy art style and a flashy story, both lacking in any substance, is not going to work for long if you're forcing it onto characters with pre-established continuity. Everything in this new book, from the way people interact with one another to the characters themselves, reeks of hipster trash that is hoping against hope that the fads within remain in style. It dates the book to an incredible degree, even more so than similar titles, simply because the writers of this drivel don't seem to be capable of telling an effective story. 

And speaking of effective storytelling, there are at least two moments within this book which made me literally face-palm at how lazy the writing was or scratch my head and wonder when Barbara became a complete idiot. 

The part that left me dumbfounded by just how forced and lazy the writing to be found here truly is comes along in Batgirl #37. Barbara and friends are on their way to an art gallery which, unbeknownst to Barbara, is dedicated to an artist named Dagger's interpretations of Batgirl. Needless to say, Barbara finds the whole affair to be less than flattering but things take a turn for the worse when a friend of hers points out one piece in particular. I can almost hear Stewart and Fletcher shouting "Feel something for our character!" as it's revealed that the artist just so happens to have painted a picture of Batgirl sitting in a wheelchair. A good writer, were they trying to throw a trigger into the story to add some drama, would not only make it less in your face obvious but they would also ensure that it was something which didn't defy the laws of probability. Instead, we're given a situation which is so horribly handled that rather than feeling empathy for one of my favorite characters being confronted with her trauma, I'm instead left in a state of shock. Not only at how forced and seemingly pointless this trigger is since it's used only as a way to introduce a villain who, by mere coincidence, depicted Batgirl in a wheelchair (and never actually examines how this trigger effects her), but that Barbara then storms off like an angry 10 year old.

This issue also happens to contain the one page which convinced me that this book will only continue to venture deeper and deeper into near-Liefeldian idiocy. The final page, an epilogue to a story in which the villain is publicly announcing that THEY are the real Batgirl, reveals that Barbara and Black Canary are now standing on top of a bridge. Barbara asks Canary to take a well lit picture of her standing perfectly still in a heroic pose, to which Canary hesitantly complies after telling her how stupid it is. Barbara's logic behind this, however, is that her image will be all over Burnside (the neighborhood where she lives and operates) and that she wants them to see the real Batgirl, the picture uploaded anonymously to "Pixtagraph". A nice sentiment, honestly, but that one speech bubble managed to convince me that this version of Batgirl, and perhaps even the writers themselves, is downright stupid. To put it simply, this obviously lean, attractive, bright red headed white woman in no way thinks her identity could be compromised by distributing a picture of her as Batgirl around the neighborhood in which she lives... a picture of Batgirl who, under the mask, is very clearly a lean, attractive, bright red headed white woman. There have been a lot of really silly attempts to explain how superheroes keep their identities a secret, most notably Clark Kent (though they finally came up with something reasonable), but for THIS to not compromise her identity would have to be seen as an act of God. 

Perhaps I'm being unreasonable; maybe I'm being too harsh on a scene that was just meant to be a quick feel good moment. I'd say that that might very well be the case were it not for that whole bit where she was shot in the spine and possibly sexually assaulted by a villain who entered her private life, albeit in search of her father. The writers are unintentionally suggesting that someone who is the victim of a violent, sexual crime (an incident which these writers also establish she very clearly remembers) would simply ignore that it happened and do something which could very well lead to something similar happening again. Within the context of this character, and remaining mindful of her continuity, this single page is probably the most hacky bit of writing that I have ever seen in a modern comic book. It's lazy and makes zero logical sense, even in a world revolving around comic book logic, and completely betrays the main character by portraying her as a vain idiot. It exposes once again that the prevailing idea behind the creation of this book is not to produce something well written and compelling, but only to craft a story that is as 'hip' and 'cool' as possible. It's a problem which I can only assume will continue to prevail, a problem which could be avoided entirely had the writers bothered to show some respect towards the character they're writing rather than create this Bizarro Barbara.

It's especially interesting to me that most people seem to be completely on board with this new direction. Were it not so blatantly a "No True Scotsman" fallacy I'd question if these people were ever actually fans of the character to begin with. Maybe I'm just too adamant in my belief that whenever you change a character so drastically that there should be a reason for it. A growing number of people within the comic reading community seem to be perfectly okay with the idea of completely changing, maybe even ruining, a character simply for the sake of making a book 'fun' and lighthearted. I'll be the first one to tell you that I'm a bit of an elitist when it comes to my favorite hobby, but shouldn't the most important goal when writing a comic book be to tell a mature, well written story rather than trendy nonsense? Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to imply that every story should be dark and gritty and reach the same levels as a Garth Ennis masterpiece, but something like the latest Harley Quinn book more than shows that you can have a lighthearted, fun story that is still well written and compelling. This latest run on Batgirl seems to be the very antithesis of something like Harley Quinn; rather than embracing the title characters roots and crafting a story which not only provides some quality character development but is also legitimately entertaining, Stewart and Fletcher decide to spin a story filled with flawed logic, stale humor and drama on par with the likes of Battlefield Earth (and at least Battlefield Earth is incredibly entertaining). They almost seem to be going out of their way to distance this version of Barbara Gordon from the one we've had for the last 30 years and, frankly, the lack of respect shown not only for the characters but for the infinitely better writers who came before them disgusts me.