Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hipster Batgirl hurts me. Deeply.

(if you thought Female Thor bothered me, just wait..)

Gail Simone is one of my favorite comics writers. She's always found a way to work in interesting, complex characters (some of whom just happen to be female) into interesting and complex stories without ever being preachy about any beliefs she might hold in the real world. She's done some fantastic work on Deadpool (very hard to write for Deadpool without straying into lolsorandom territory) and fleshed out the Birds of Prey title, giving a lot of extra life and backstory to one of my personal favorite comics characters, Barbara Gordon. When the New 52 event happened in DC and all the books relaunched, Batgirl was relaunched as well, with Gail Simone at the head.

Not pictured: Stilettos, spandex
I was in a bit of an outrage at the time, as since Alan Moore's “The Killing Joke” ended with Barbara being shot in the spine by Joker resulted in Barbara's growth from Batgirl to Oracle, tech support and girl genius for the Justice League. She was the one the heroes turned to when they couldn't figure something out or couldn't get the job done on their own. She even proved herself still physically capable, sparring regularly with Nightwing and Black Canary, and defending herself from Prometheus when her clocktower base was compromised. The news that Barbara would be back on her feet and resuming her role as Batgirl, I was less than pleased. Like throwing things less than pleased. Gail Simone's writing was my one ray of hope and it just so turned out that not only was the series not bad, but was actually pretty damn good.

Simone took Barbara through hell and back, introducing new villains and teaming her up with some familiar faces, dragging her into the Death of the Family with the gruesome new Joker and squaring her off against (and finally redeeming) one of the Talons of the Court of Owls before bringing her face to face with her disturbed brother, James Gordon Jr.

And then Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher took over. The last few panels of Simone's final issue have Barbara deciding that she's got to 'get away from it all' and resume in Fletcher and Stewart's first issue with her moving to a trendy, hipster borough of Gotham called Burnside (think Williamsburg) and returning to college(despite having already earned several degrees). Leaving, bafflingly, the storyline with Batgirl wanted for murder and being a fugitive of the police unresolved, her brother still at large, and unresolved issues with both her father and her boyfriend.

What follows is an unprecedented tonal shift which left me with such a case of whiplash that I genuinely thought I'd picked up the wrong comic. This feels like an alternate universe or Young Adult title, and not at all like the issues that logically follow on from Simone's run. The art is simplistic and flat, not unlike a middling web-comic. The characterization is completely out of place. Barbara is overly awkward. Black Canary shows up and is so glum and grumbling that the artist might as well have just drawn a permanent storm cloud over her head. Simone's trans character(who is a good character on her own without straying near tokenism), Barbara's roomie Alysia is left behind. And in every goddamn panel is somebody wearing skinny jeans or horn-rimmed glasses. The complaints people have about this book being too hipster? Totally valid. There's Starbucks mocha half-caf skinny soy vegan latte and ironic disinterest dripping from the pages. There's hashtags and tinder references every other page. I think I know where they got their photo references from.

And the costume..
I'm fine with the costume. Honestly, in another context, it would be fine. A Young Adult version of Batgirl would be fine in this costume. But Barbara Gordon, in the last three years since regaining her complete physicality, has faced some serious threats, and a single layer of leather is not sufficient for someone who regularly punches out of her weight class. And it's almost like the author knows it, and is embarrassed, as in one of the first few issues of the new team, Barbara's nearly taken out by a cosplayer on a motorcycle with a sword when the costume gives way with one slash. And I've seen people say “Oh at least it's not spandex and stilettos.” **Batgirl did not wear spandex and stilettos**. Read the book. Read. The. Book. Batgirl had proper boots with armored knee covers. Teflon armor with impact resistant plates. Shock plates in her cowl. All those little lines on her New 52 costume? Those aren't sewing seams. Those are armor plates. Batgirl had some serious gear that took a budget to maintain, so don't tell me “oh the van caught fire so I have to make a new costume out of thrift store finds.” Fuck right off with that. Barbara Gordon is damned resourceful and smart, and fully capable of restocking her arsenal with or without Wayne funding.

Better yet, we know Misfit's in the New 52. Give that costume to her. It'll fit. Or have Stephanie Brown move into Burnside and have her be Batgirl of Burnside in that costume. It fits either of those two characters far better than Barbara Gordon, who is a professional crime-fighting vigilante. 

Most damning of all, Gail Simone gave us a very mature, very adult Barbara Gordon. One who faced hardships, betrayal, and devestation and still managed to pick herself up and keep going. Cameron Stewart's batgirl is two giggles and a hair toss from being just another god damn manic pixie dream girl, and that just does not sit right with me.

Oh, Salem, surely you're just overreacting..
I'm tickled that a cross-dressing villain (think Warhol with a Batgirl fixation) garnered him accusations of Transphobia from the SJW crowd after tweeting this. If that's what you think of Barbara Gordon, sir, you don't deserve to clean her highly-functional armored boots.  

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