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I dunno, I’m starting to find this a bit silly.  Let’s begin with frontmatter.  We open the issue to see BG in a wheelchair, pouting heroically…?

 

 

This begins a dream sequence where Barbara yells at BG for getting her own miracle.  Ok, we’ve already covered survivor’s guilt, this doesn’t seem like an outlandish moment of self doubt.  I should know, I doubt myself all the time!  I’ve had many, many long drawn-out arguments with myself, and I don’t even have to be asleep!

So we’re still batting around the idea (HA!), the problem inherent in “miracles”, that they’re chaotic.  That sometimes the universe doles out good fortune, and there’s really no way to impose a pattern on it. But I find the dream a bit odd.  Barbara/BG accuses herself of not facing her self or her situation, for not interrogating why she was suddenly able to walk again after the Joker’s attack.

 

Dude, she’s only been introspective for the last three issues.  Was I not supposed to know that, was I supposed to skip the character’s constant internal monologue about miracles and stuff?
……………………………….

BG and Mirror are both struggling with “undeserved” advantages of survival and recovery, and this comes to a head in this issue – we’re gearing up for a fight.  Before BG prepares to confront Mirror, though, she has a chat with Alysia, which is kind of a sweet bonding moment…

 

 

Apparently, BG’s slippers are courtesy of Benny Hill:

Most unfortunate.  Luckily, this is a bawdy 1970s blog!   (Oo-er, Missus!)  Anyway, moving on.

On her way to meet up with the baddie, BG stops to save a couple being mugged for their holiday shopping.  In something which I sincerely hope is intentionally exploring that Miracle Thing, she beats up the muggers and  saves the couple, doling out her own miracle:

 


So, Academic Break:  “I get to be Santa this one time”.  BG, like the rest of her comic compatriots, is a superhero, pretty much a stand-in for a god.  Since the dawn of just about everything, humanity has invented complex cosmologies, which, for a long, long time, placed our species at the center of the universe.  We’ve invented gods that were obsessed with us, for good or ill.  We’ve invented gods and figures that want to kill us to bits, and to rectify the disturbing implications of creating a deity that hates us, we’ve invented gods and figures to come in and save our asses.  Because it’s all about us.  None of this should be new to anyone with passing familiarity with the concept of “superhero”.  So, to make this concrete, I did find it interesting that BG, while (at this point) unable to fathom why and how Fortuna spins her wheel, she has made a bit of peace with her role at balancing out this cosmic ledger.  Mirror/Muggers/whatever create chaos, BG flies in and amends that chaos.  She gets to be an agent of something positive, which seems to be just the shot in the arm she needs as she prepares for battle.

BG leaves a note on Mirror’s wife’s grave to taunt him, and tell him to meet her at the abandoned carnival to have a showdown in the funhouse. (which Mr. Elusive New Reader assures me is a thing in the storyline, not just a convenient excuse to have a location with funhouse mirrors.

I noticed this little bit of graffiti as Mirror enters the grounds:

 

 

Hmm, was this what I think it was?  And if so, couldn’t they just say “Iraq”?  I’d like to have been a fly on the wall with the writers, as they tried to come up with homophones for the country…”Murac…Turac…Curac…QURAC!”

There’s a pages-long battle which is mostly fists, feet, and bloody mirror shards.  Not that it’s not interesting, but it’s mostly action, and I don’t want to just put up page after page.  It’s a standard superhero/villain battle: Hero lands punches, hero is knocked around, hero rallies strength and emerges victorious.  Ok, cool, Mirror is defeated physically and psychologically, and presumably hauled off to wherever Gotham keeps its bad guys.  BG goes home and exchanges gifts with Alysia, who has the cutest, scariest expression at receiving hers:

She wants to go to cooking school.  Or has already gone, I believe.  Either way, she’s into cooking, and we all know how great new knives are in the kitchen!

The order is only restored for so long, though, since BG’s mother turns up on the doorstep in the last panel:

 

 

Just…kinda some weird art for Mom’s face.  She’s reminding me of that icon of the Pantokrator aspect of Christ with two different facial expressions at once, but I think that’s just me being an art history buff.

 

Art Break:

This Pantokrator  is an encaustic painting dating to the 600s-700s.  It’s also a beautiful painting, even if Jesus ain’t your bag.  Also, encaustic is a really cool technique, so go learn about it.
At the end of issue four, we’ve not seen BG really resolve her feelings about her own miracle, or the idea of miracles to start with.  Which is ok, something like that shouldn’t be rushed, I suppose, and you can only do so much talking in an issue.  The Mom was kind of dumped upon us (which I guess is the point), after one small reference early in this issue.  But I feel like there maybe could have been a smidgen more background.  Maybe something so rattling as abandoment by a parent could have shaped how BG feels about chaotic things, like misfortune or miracles – as abandonment is pretty much overturning a kid’s entire universe.  What does Mom mean in terms of her (BG’s) psyche?  I’ll see what I find with #5, then it’s off to the next part of the reboot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I was scanning my twitter feed and saw a retweet of this: Amanda “Erudite Chick’s” tumblr where she articulated just what was shoulder-slumpingly disappointing about Playboy bunny superheroes

The cosplayers are sexy.  The costumes look well made.  The whole caboodle clearly took a lot of thought and work.  So why did I feel that familiar feeling of “ugh….”?

I agree with Amanda so much.  This is an issue that remains pernicious within and without fandom.  It’s one of the reasons I avoid magazines, many films, TV, etc. in the first place.  Male characters (across many media) are allowed to be many things, and at the same time.  Sexy, smart, funny, villainous, crafty, whatever.  But appearance seemingly must come first for a female character.  This is ALL over the place, not just fiction.  Go look at a women’s magazine, sometime.  How many beauty/body tips are in there, how many guides to “hotness”, how many airbrushed babes?  Some people counter, saying the rigors of fashion, dieting, and beauty culture are about competition with other women, but they neglect to mention that that competition is in place anyway because of sexist norms and the power structures they rely upon.  If “hot” wasn’t automatically rewarded with all manner of social clout, not nearly as many women would compete for the adjective.

Ah, but I’ve digressed, back to “hotness” and nerdery and Amanda’s post.  Her last paragraph nailed it for me:

“I’m all for feeling sexy and having fun and being stylish and whatever, but it just… This shit drives me crazy. That we spend so much time telling little girls they have to look like this or dress like this to matter[. . .] When it comes to comics, and by extension comic con, creating worlds where girls can fly and lift cars and punch super villains and have stories that don’t rely on men and where they can literally look like anything because they’re drawings on a page it just… it just really sucks that they don’t”

 

Yes, thank you!!  It’s that preclusion of possibility!  Some people, men and women alike, may not get this, but widespread insistence on “hot” for female fans, or the extra public emphasis of this quality, is a telegraph to many of us.  “This is what matters, this is what gets you attention, this is what gets you favor”.  It’s a golden cage.

So, what’s wrong with a bit of T&A you might say, what’s wrong with sexy?  I, personally, think we’d be vastly improved as a culture with more erotic imagery, more nude sculptures, etc. I enjoy the freedom to own and express sexuality, thanks to decades of pioneering feminist work. 

In sculpture, design, and many other branches of art there’s a concept of negative space, the spaces between elements of an object or image.  The negative space is just as meaningful as the positive space.  the interstices speak volumes and have as profound an effect as the forms.  And,  of the compliments “hot” garners have very, very telling negative spaces.  For every positive comment, there’s an undercurrent of negative:  this is all you are, a body, and bodies are limited, and you’re only here for my amusement, and you can’t possibly be anything else, surely she’s too pretty to think, she needs to be coddled, (or, even more scarily) she needs to be owned, she’s a status symbol – she’s a symbol, not a person….

It’s perfectly possible to admire your own definitions of “hot” and not be sexist.  it’s really not that difficult.  And that’s the last time I’m going to worry about including that particular proviso!  Eros is not the issue here.  What Amanda said, what I have echoed, is the issue: preclusion of possibility.  Yet another reminder that boys get to dream, and girls get to be dreamed of. 

The girl Amanda mentioned, the little kid dressed as Captain America, overshadowed by the group of superhero bunnies.  Of course, that tugs me, I like kids, and I recall what it was to be a girl interested more in stories and art than makeup (though I did love my Tinkerbell kits).  What went through that kid’s mind?  Did she notice the skew of attention?  Was she bothered?  We can’t know.  But I am bothered for her, since she’s going to be awash with the same message for the rest of her life in a way little boys just won’t be.  Her parents will have to do the extra work of creating a counter-stereotype environment for her.  (midn you, given the fact they made her a Captain America costume, I’d say the odds were pretty good they’re raising the kid right :))

I do not think that a con or a costume contest should be “sanitized” for “the children”, but there’s a wide, wide audience for these things, and a little mindfulness would help.

Ages ago, I read a BoingBoing.net post about this comic that looked like none I had ever seen.  It was called “Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse” and it was one of the oddest things I’ve ever clapped eyes on.  I ordered it, read it, and went “oh, shit.” You see, I loved it, and I knew that comics, especially the nice slick book-looking ones like this were an expensive hobby.  So I left it at that one volume.

Eventually, when I started dating Mr. Elusive New Reader, and we had reached the stage of making nervous, giggly, exploratory book recommendations to each other.  Having ascertained that he was not squeamish, prudish, or put off by dark humor, I tossed Wormwood vol. 1 at him, blithely saying “oh, you might like this”.  And oh, he did.  In record time, he bought more Wormwoods, and we’re still adding.  Sadly, salaries don’t keep up with bibliophilia.

And it occurs to me now that above my desk, watching me as I type, is a Templesmith print signed “congrats on getting hitched”, which the spousal unit got me at Comiccon.  So yes, Mr. and I have sort of used this guy’s artwork to get into each other’s pants.  And hearts.  Mostly pants.  I’m sure he’d be happy* about that.

So why did I cotton onto Templesmith’s work, which extends far beyond the madcap Wormy One and friends?  His style has the great combination of being what I call “well informed” (read: capable of actual art!) and having a sense of humor.  The dude has serious creative abilities, in addition to seeming mildly unhinged.  I admire the work put into art, however “silly” it may be to some.  And that goes from his skill in the actual architectural/anatomical work to the visceral suggestion of the style:  The Wormwood series, for instance, has this feeling of being grimy (in a good way, I swear), organic, moist…it’s hard to suggest feelings, much less something so weird.  I suppose anyone could draw a drunken, stripteasing leprechaun, or murderous space squid-men, but who else can make you “feel” their skin or…secretions?  (Just go read the books, it will become clear).

So, overall, I approve heartily.  This guy’s work is wildly creative, quite different from the mental template I had previous had for “comic” or “graphic novel”.  Go forth and marvel:

Templesmith.com

________________________________________

*By “happy” I mean slightly queasy.

 

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.

 

Aight, let’s dive right in.    I recall being confused by Mirror’s motivation.  Yes, he survived a horrible tragedy, watched his family die, yes I get it, but I had trouble getting from A to B with this guy.  Issue three opens with BG flying off, Mirror talking to her in her earpiece, threatening to blow *her* up.  In BG’s inner monologue, we see her wondering what makes this guy tick, and here’s her best guess:

Uhm.  Yep.  After Mirror’s family died, apparently he rescued a guy who passed out on a train track.  And this makes him want to blow up people.  Because he’s mad at miracles.  I just can’t quite make that leap.  If there was a bit more about the character’s bitterness, some extra complication, shading, nuance….something?

Anyway, we progress with BG flying off to save a train full of people Mirror is attempting to sabotage.  And I want to take a mini break from that to notice this happy ass pigeon:

Just look at that lil fella for a moment.  I know it’s foreshortening, but doesn’t he look like he’s smiling?  The page itself is a rather nice piece of art, dynamic and dramatic.  It keeps the plot going forward, and gives us a chance to see BG in a cool pose, because superheroes have to pose.

BG continues, breaks into the train to find the last person on Mirror’s list, to save his bacon and defeat the baddie.  Standard fare nothing wrong with that.  Things become complicated pretty quickly, though, as the real target (besides BG’s confidence) is the “Good Samaritan” that rescued Mirror from the car bomb that killed his family.  And he’s on the opposite train, so BG can’t win for loosing:

Carnage ensues.

At this point, I want to look at this thematically, to pull back and address some previous misgivings I had regarding Mirror.  Mirror feels betrayed by the very idea of miracles* and, damnit, noone else is going to get one on his watch.  BG herself is a miracle case, somehow recovering from paralysis.  Miracles are the theme here, unexplained providence, divine favor, whatever you’d like to call them.
They are unfair things, squeaks of Fortuna’s wheel.  In the real world, miracles are what we pattern-seeking beings call the occasional positive effects of the universe’s chaos.  BG accepts her miracle, whatever its provenance.  Mirror can’t accept his, understandably, since he lost everyone he loved. One might say “What is the use of life if the people that make life worth living are horribly killed?”  The figure of the superhero, especially the dark bat-based ones, is to provide parts of that answer.  Like any lore, it’s invented to give us a shot in the arm.  “Hey, life may not be totally random and inscrutable, here’s someone who has a mission, righting wrongs, and bringing justice all over the place!”
This is what makes heroes fun: for a brief while, we can pretend on some level that there’s someone who can swoop in, fix our shit, and tell us it’ll be ok.  Villains are the compliment for that, letting us indulge our need for unpredictability, our fascination with violence, pain, sadism, whatever.  Hard to have one without the other, which is why we’ve had, how many decades of Batman and Joker duking it out over Gotham?
Hero and villain stories give us some semblance of order in our own lives, much like the idea of miracles.  How different are images of Gothamites calling out to Batgirl than medieval images of hardworking peasants calling out to Saint XYZ** while the grinning Reaper peeks into their cottages?  So even though I was griping earlier that “Oh, blah BLAH, why is Mirror doing this?  I can’t get from A to B!  BLAH BLAH!”, I get the pattern here.  It’s the same pattern I’ve seen a million times, from Isis to Cuchulainn to Odysseus and so on.  Bad shit goes down, we want not just a reason, but someone to fix it, to restore balance.  But we can’t ever have perfection, we need a second someone to come in and fuck everything up.
Mirror needs to rail against the unpredictable nature of miracles, and the cruelty of chance (who’s deciding who lives, who dies, and when?  Noone, really, and that can be a scary thought) And since this is a comic, he’s going to rail in an incredibly elaborate fashion, and take down as many people with him as he can.  Including attempting to ruin the psyche of the hero.
BG’s already conflicted about her own miracle, so giving her a Kobiyashi Maru is an interesting move.  I’m guessing, as a reader, that he wants to get under her skin (almost literally with the earpiece transmissions!).  We get to see how this character (BG) handles certain defeat.  There’s a very, very modern thing for you.  A pretty nihilistic thing – no matter what you do it all goes to hell!  But that *is* life, and the real story isn’t quite so much charging in and fixing the situation, but living with yourself the day after, kind of like how a lot of new zombie movies are about the world after “The Event“, whatever it may be.  It’s still stories about our own psychology, the next step after the “someone to swoop in” phase in human storytelling.

The reason for this long derail from the issue is to say “I get it”.

Before I resume, I’d like to draw your attention to two silly things, things I must mention since I must complain.  The first one is this panel, where BG tackles the guy she thinks Mirror is going to murder.  And his reaction is not “holy shit” or “thank you, Batgirl”, it’s

Yep.  Cause that’s what anyone would do in a situation like this.  Next is this unfortunate closeup of what I swear to you is Mirror’s finger on a detonator.  I don’t think the artists thought this one through all the way before saying “yeah, we need another closeup for the tension”

*Presumably because his “miracle” saving came at the price of watching his family burn to death.
**St. Roch, I’m betting, as he was the patron saint of plague.  Like a less sexy St. Sebastian.

Whoazen!

BoingBoing is unveiling The Spinner Rack, which will be a monthly feature about comics, and “lesser known comics” at that!  Yay!

american coca-cola

Writing 2012

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** OFFICIAL Site of Artist Ray Ferrer **