Posts Tagged ‘not too shabby’

Batgirl 3 part 2

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.



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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.

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At the end of #1, BG had frozen when confronting the Mirror, and thus commences a subplot, namely our heroine walking out on a detective and her (the detective’s) murdered partner.  BG pursues, and overestimates her abilities a bit, helping Mirror back up after a fight on the ledge of the hospital…which results in him flinging her off into space.  She grabs a bat-gadget and whips into a cab instead.  Ok, I can see that, she’s young, she’s recently recovered from a paralyzing injury, and let’s face it, not all uses of cool gadgets can look cool – sometimes one has to have a fuckup to be interesting.

And talk about interesting, who’s this cabbie?  A sassy older woman, and a sassy butch woman at that?  Heart!  Apparently, the Cabby isn’t just a background character, since she references “you freakin’ bat people”.  I must find out who this is!  I have extra room in my heart for non-normative characters, thanks to the stereotype of uber-femme-bot that somehow crept into my mental landscape…wonder where that came from?  (You do realize crap like that I just linked to is the welcome wagon many comics newbies get, right?  Even today!)

Speaking of stereotypes and non-normative, Detective McKenna lends some diversity:

This is bugging m: womens’ hair seems to be prehensile in this comic.  Unless McKenna has, say, Asian or Native American ethnicity in her background, her hair would look very different from what we see.  Even with chemical treatments.  I don’t have too many quibbles about art so far, but hair gets me, since it’s one of those things that can easily be ignored, but says so much about a person – or character – or how much time the artist has watched real people in motion.  What’s going on with her fringe?

Caucasian hair doesn’t even do that!  And yet here’s BG with some weird floaty hair when she’s sitting at home, not flying or fighting:

No matter how much Pantene I use, I can’t break gravity.  While I’m picking bones, remember Mrs. Ortega from issue one?  Noone’s hair does this, especially after going thru some hell:

You wake someone up in the middle of the night, they are not going to have glossy waves.  They will look like crap.  Especially if you terrorize them.

So, anyway, back to the….issue at hand!  Ohh!

BG and Mirror continue the festivities, fighting in Gotham Cemetary, and BG, through her inner monologue, lets the reader know how much being punched and thrown hurts (ok, realistic!) But this is interesting, she makes the decision to outsmart him, since she can’t beat the crap out of him, and lifts his to-kill list.  Then wakes up in her flat, with Alysia tending to her.  Tending is the wrong word, here, more like tough love.

And what does BG do?  Asks to borrow a “cute” outfit to go on a date with..her physical therapist?  Odd.

Artpick:  unless Alysia’s idea of a cute outfit is some shiny latex number (possibly!), no skirt does this:

Sorry folks, fabrics outside of the fetish realm won’t reveal your leg contours up to your crotch, except possibly jeggings.  And that goes for the weird shiny pants Mr. Therapist is wearing.  Their jackets seem a little more realistic, but then they look like they had their lower bodies coated with chrome.

So Gregor (he has a name!) and Barbara go for a walk in the park, and discuss, or rather avoid discussing, Barbara’s miraculous recovery from her paralysis.  There’s an odd panel in this exchange:

What questions?  Did I miss something?  That’s perfectly possible.  Are these questions about why she was attacked, because that’s what I’m guessing.  But it’s a bit confusing.  Also, dear lord, does she carry a portable fan for yet more hair action?  But I digress.

In the next “scene”,we see BG hitting the books (or rather the net) to research the Mirror, and this leads  gradually to her tracking down his lair.  He tunes in on a big monitor and clues BG into his backstory.  No quibbles here, it’s pretty traumatic, the art seems ok, and it tells us something about the character, who, until now, has been a walking, murdering wall.  Now he has a tale. Very well!

But that tale, the death of his family….I’m missing something.  Apparently Mirror once saved a man who had collapsed on a train track, a miracle, which we see in flashback  But then, Mirror says to BG, “Miracles are simply God laughing at us”.  Then he reveals he’s planted a bomb on the train of the guy he saved. Did I read this right?

So, I get that he’s in unimaginable grief over loosing his family, but how do we get from that to Good Samaritan to murder? Mirror thinks he should have died with his family (understandable), so he’s going to blow up a train (batshit)?

I’m presuming all will become clear in issue three.  I hope so, otherwise we’ve hit our first real Sour Note.

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I need some sort of form for this, to properly record what I’m going here.  And until I come up with a good one, here’s something ad-hoc – basic info followed by summary and analysis.

Studio: DC

Title: Batgirl

Issue: 1 I suppose

Writers/Artists: Gail Simone, Adrian Syaf, and Vicente Cifuentes

Notes: the new 52;

Impressions: Starting at the cover, it looks inviting enough.  The character looks like she’s based on actual anatomy, there’s a campy “Ah!” in the background, but noone uttering it.  There’s bats, bats are good.


The short prologue with the murder of Graham Carter by someone named “Mirror” is alright.  No quibbles on art or story – it does what a prologue is supposed to do, which is make you turn the page.

I found the art on page three a little confusing.  On rereading, I get that she’s perched on a gargoyle, watching/listening in on conversations within the building, but the order of the chunks of images (the “sentences” if you will) was somewhat chaotic.  But, if you have a character that’s supposed to fly around, don’t expect plain-jane 2d orientation, I guess.

Page four.  Oh, dear.  That’s some weird forshortening.

Still, I should register my delight that she’s wearing actual shoes, that, if a real world person was wearing, they could do all manner of things in.  No over-sculpted stilettos here.  I just want to know what’s up with that right leg of hers!

So, next few pages, where we meet the villain of the issue, who I’m going to refer to as Mr. Spook for now.

At least he’s dedicated.

Mr. Spook and co. have apparently broken into the apartment of the Ortega family, and are terrorizing the good folks in their own bed.  Alright, that’s pretty much a universal nightmare, a pack of crazed killers invading their home, threatening all manner of gruesome things.  And I like the art.  But wait…

OMG, you scrapbook, too?! Oh, Mr. Spook, how awesome you are!  Not only do you and your Brisby Killers go horrible things, you’re organized and nostalgic and crafty *like me!* He spends the next several panels shoving a neatly taped collection of clippings into the Ortega’s faces, which is still pretty awful, even though I’ve mocked it. Batgirl enters through a window with a rather campy “kerrassh!” and starts knocking out the bad guys.  We’re treated to her internal monologue, about how much she enjoys doing just this.  I’m still with you, comic, since that’s a perfectly valid emotion.

Continuing on, there’s a happy ending for the Ortegas, Batgirl goes off into the night, and there’s a flashback sequence to give us some insight into her character. Ok, she’s the commissioner’s daughter, her name is Barbara Gordon, former Bat-pupil, and the Joker shot her years ago.  Ok, so we have a subplot, about her physical and emotional recovery, and part of that is apparently her getting a room-mate, Alysia.


To check in with some analysis, we have a young, talented, but conflicted hero.  She has moments of vulnerability, some bravado, but is fairly believable so far.  By and large, the art is idealized, but well done – it’s clear the team put a lot of care into this.  Let’s hope this keeps up for the rest of the issue.


Right after Alysia appears, the giant shadowy murderer, “Mirror”, from the prologue pops up, in a hospital, shooting the security guard, looking for Theodore Rankin.  Chaos ensues, and Batgirl/Barbara gets the text alert, and charges into the hospital.  We have a significant moment during her confrontation with Mirror, when she realizes he aims his weapon at the same place the Joker did years ago.

BG freezes, and Rankin is thrown from a window, while the surviving partner of the cop murdered by Mirror whips out her gun and trains it on BG.  And there’s our cliffhanger for the next issue.

Some more analysis:  my original ideas still stand.  This does not suck, there are moments of humor, believable foibles, mostly ok art, and no sexism, unless you count Mirror saying “good night, ladies” at the end.  So far, I’d let a kid read this. And that’s not to say “oh, I only approve of family-friendly stuff”, because sometimes you need things that are not for kids.  But, that hypothetical, comic-reading sprout is a good metric for me to evaluate how dark, or how gory, or how erotic, or whatever.  Or how racist/sexist/homophobic a text is, if you want to go to the other end of the gradient.

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