Yep, I have a case of the summer doldrums, so this issue was split in twain.
Oh, hi McKenna! Nice to see you looking a bit more realistic:
McKenna’s stuck at home, cooking up her breakfast’n’beer, because of the open investigation of her partner’s murder. This provides a welcome break from the train carnage, and picks up another thread. Ok, comic, you may have this egg frying scene.
Next, like many a young person, Barbara/BG desperately wants to share more with her father, Commissioner Gordon. But one thing would lead to another and blow her cover, so there’s a melancholy scene of her visiting his office, hoping to have some quality time.
I’d like to focus on two points from BG’s inner monologue for the moment:
“Survivor’s Guilt” and “Breakable”.
Now, the comic format doesn’t allow for too much in the way of shading (HA! see what I did there!) but little flashes of thought like these keep the realistic tempo of the story going. Since this is closer to how many humans think – we tend not to slow it down in paragraphs and discrete chunks of text! Instead there’s a fast association of sensation, concept, symbol, etc. So ok, cool on the “And yet…”/”Survivor’s Guilt?” boxes. I’ll even overlook the constant point of view shift that puts me up their noses…
And then in Gordon’s front pocket….
And finally, places me on the ceiling…
All on the same page! Gah!
Ah, but to return from my fussing. Survivor’s guilt is a pretty heavy concept, and I wonder how much I’ll see that in this and other comics. If you think about it, many heroes have dark backstories, within and without comics. So surely guilt over being fallible should be a recurring thing. The sources of her guilt are pretty plain: BG must surely feel guilty over recovering from her injuries, and certainly from watching the other train blow up. But the concept of guilt, like the concept of miracles, is such symbolically rich territory, I look forward to more exploration of it in later issues.
Now, the other one, her “breakability”, from the line “But do people really see me as that breakable?” Vulnerability is a pretty modern quality for heroes, and a very tricky one for a female character. There’s a lot of pressure to not render female characters or heroes cartoonish. Too much vulnerability, and you have a barbie doll in a catsuit. Too little and you have no conflict, since you pretty much have Ishtar herself gunning for the bad guys. No contest, no interest.
“If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.”
You wanna fuck with her? I thought not. Ishtar Wiki
I admit I’m nervous, as a reader and a feminist one at that, to broach the topic of vulnerability in a female hero. I’m not completely disconnected from comic/”nerd” cultures, and I know a tarot’s worth of female tropes. And I know what happens with those tropes if noone presses for creativity – they lead to lazy thinking and sexist characterization. So I personally would rather err on the side of caution and have an unbreakable heroine, since there are so…many…damn…examples of ostensibly empowered but really not heroines out there. But, I recognize you need human qualities to tell a good story, since all hero stories are about humans anyway. So I’ll see where this goes…what will BG do with her feelings of apprehension, of fear? How will Gordon, as a dad, react? What will the authors leave me with at the end of the run?
Let’s continue to the introduction of Nightwing, BG’s crush. Oh, tread carefully, comic. Tread carefully.
And stop doing this, this is starting to annoy me:
That “Crrasssh” is from BG and Nightwing busting her bike out of impound. Hormones come into play, as they must, and it’s believable…she enjoys being around him, enjoys his body, without turning into some wilting lily. It is not just possible but perfectly normal for women to be turned on and still have thoughts. (Ed note: should I make a cheap 50 Shades of Gray crack here? Nahhh) So this holds water, even though they are both not “normal”.
And, oh, damnit, there’s a bit of melting. But we all do that from time to time. What mystifies me is Nightwing’s expression. This “face” that’s supposed to evoke such powerful feelings, this manly/concerned/apparently sexy expression that BG likes:
I’m not seeing it. He looks a bit constipated. At least let him take the mask off and look her in the eye if he’s going to express concern!
There’s flirty sparring, and just plain sparring as we learn their backstory. He’s a wildly wealthy gymnast, she’s a somewhat less monied ballerina. Pigtails are pulled, fingerpaints are spilled, yada yada, they have the hots for each other.
Speaking of pigtails, BG is about to be swallowed by her own hair! Look at that menacing series of waves behind her!
It’s going to become its own villain. I know it. Tressemayhem. Pantene Pro-Violence. Garnier Nutricide.
ANYway, the two kick the crap out of each other, “flirting in a way only a handful of people on earth could ever match”* , and BG gets carried away, and Nightwing twigs to the fact that she’s upset over a lot of things, but is just lashing out.
Like many real world people going through grief and survivor’s guilt, BG is resentful of coddling, pity, and her own powerlessness in the face of whatever traumatic event happened. She says she wants understanding and respect, and ok, I’ll buy that. That very irrational set of emotions is a very human thing, so once more the character works, and my intelligence is not insulted. (Yes, that’s a horribly low bar to clear, I understand, but I just can’t come up with a more elegant phrasing at the moment!). Three issues in, I still stand by my original positive judgement of “I would let my kid read this”.
*I’ll unpack that “flirting” another time.