Posts Tagged ‘Batgirl’
cross posted on geek girls’ network
Geeky women feel constantly isolated, female comic book geeks most of all. Plenty of women are into sci-fi. Plenty more are into fantasy. Female gamer geeks abound in numbers that seem astronomical compared to the measly population of female Wednesday afternoon comics consumers. Some of my girlfriends read “graphic novels,” a term used mostly to make the more intellectually elite comics sound like something, anything, other than a serialized comic. Some of my girlfriends like Sandman, they like Watchmen, they LOVE Fables - but to date I’ve only converted one graphic novel girlfriend into a voracious cape & tights installment reader.
Every week, I bound into my comic shop to pick up my pull list. I have seen two other women there, ever – both employees. (I’m sure plenty of other women shop there. I just never see them.) When I make pilgrimages to Meltdown in Los Angeles, I might see one other lady in the store, but more often than not she’s someone’s mom, someone’s bored girlfriend, or she’s just popped in to pick up some “graphic novel” her hipster friends have been raving about.
(Understand, if the term graphic novel brings more readers to the medium, I’m all for it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think you sound like a snobby jerk when you say it. Are there pik-chers and words in balloons? It’s a comic. Stop kidding yourself.) Ahem.
While the influx of casual new female readers to the comics industry is a great leap forward, we still lag far, far behind in terms of week to week fandom, and even further behind when it comes to superheroes. The general female disinterest in superhero comics isn’t terribly shocking; comic book superheroes are thematically steeped in male wish fulfillment. True, movies like The Dark Knight and Iron Man have made some heroes accessible on a wider cultural level to both men & women, but getting a woman to read anything other than the direct movie adaptation is still going to be a tough sell. Superhero narrative in comics has come a long way since Action #1, but it’s still laden with rock-em-sock-em, save-the-day, get-the-girl motifs.
The Big Two have attempted to market to women in a million different ways over the years. (Don’t get me started on Marvel Divas again.) We’ve had Wonder Woman shoved down our throats so much that we’ve choked on her. Writers like Greg Rucka and Gail Simone have certainly brought her out of bondage – literally – but at the end of the day she is fundamentally un-relatable for most women. Wonder Woman is steeped in male wish-fulfillment fantasies just as much as Superman & Batman are. A writer might be able to rise above that over the course of a single arc, but the truth remains that until we finally find the ret-con that works, Wonder Woman is still a reactionary warrior, a man’s woman. We don’t relate to her, no matter how much they play up the COMPASSION aspect, no matter how much they de-power or over-power her, because she’s not one of us. We need women we can relate to, women that fill a FEMALE superhero wish-fulfillment fantasy, not a warped version of the male one.
Which brings me to the modern Bat-family. I couldn’t relate one bit to Cassandra Cain, the until-recently Batgirl. Cass was socially handicapped and functionally illiterate, thanks to growing up in near-complete isolation. For Pete’s sake, she fought crime in a fetish suit. Her mouth was literally zipped shut in the thing. Even as Rucka and then Simone tried desperately to guide Diana out of the sub-dom bondage subtext, Cass Cain embraced it heartily. Cass Cain was a trained assassin at the cost of severe childhood abuse and some serious Daddy issues, she’s an over the top, beyond screwed up problem for Batman to swoop in and solve. And when Bruce died (sort of) Cass just gave up, passing the cowl to Stephanie Brown, once Robin, once Spoiler and now, something entirely new.
Stephanie’s Batgirl is the most relate-able since Barbara, if not more so, at least as far as so-called “regular women” are concerned. She’s young, she’s in college, she’s kind of a screw-up. True, she’s also a product of the hit-or-miss nineties comics industry, but Steph is just…normal, unlike most women in capes. The first arc of the new ongoing Batgirl book dealt with Stephanie desperately trying to grow up, to see something through and gain the blessing of her forebear, Barbara Gordon. And when she did, I wept. You see, I was kind of a screw-up kid too; I spent most of my early twenties desperately trying not to be total screw-up and generally failing miserably at it. Not everyone was a big mess of young adult flakey-flix, but the need to overcome, to be better than what you’ve been on a realistic human level – as opposed to trying to learn to read and be a little less traumatized by your assassin upbringing? That’s relatable. That’s interesting. That’s a story women who don’t read comics just might pick up. If they knew it existed.
At the other end of the Bat-spectrum, we’ve got Kate Kane, the awesome, punk rock, redheaded, kick ass grown up holy crap-I-want-to-BE-HER Batwoman. And oh yeah, she’s a lesbian. Of course, her sexual orientation is more a matter of fact than a matter of narrative. Batwoman is not an after school special. Kate is the cool senior girl we all wanted to become when we were freshmen. She’ll throw an elbow and kick you into the wall, and she’ll do it in full body armor with her boobs covered up. She’s got awesome hair, badass tattoos and sweet red stomper boots. While Kate gets ground support from her Colonel Dad, she doesn’t need the him or the Oracle in her ear to tell her to watch out for marauding frat boys. In a way, Steph is what we were, and Kate’s who we wanted to be.
Too bad neither one of them actually has POWERS. Even Marvel let the ball drop here. While Marvel technically has more high-profile powered women than DC, most of them are, as Wonder Woman, completely unable to connect. Storm was a princess turned orphan turned queen, Jean is so over-powered they had to turn her into a metaphor for PMS, Emma connects a bit, but only because she’s totally that one girl we ALL hated (admit it, you still know the first and last name of the first girl who told you she was better than you.) The Marvel women we DO relate to on some level, we relate to in the most depressing ways. Rogue is a runaway who hurts everything she touches, we might relate to that on some level as well, but there’s just no happy ending for her – be it in marriage or gratuitous sex or just, you know, being able to be close to ANYONE she loves physically.
And Kitty? Mommy and Daddy loved her so much they sent her to the special school where she could learn to be more specialer. Her biggest problem was that her boyfriend died for, like, ten minutes. And when it comes to Sue Storm, you kind of expect Reed Richards to start humming “Under my Thumb” at any given moment.
Granted there are slightly more obscure female characters that might resonate more with some women, on some level – but when it comes to solo titles, women aren’t buying female-hero helmed ongoings because, for the most part they (a) don’t exist or (b) don’t speak to women. At all. This is beginning to turn over a bit with Kate (+Renee), Steph, and Jessica Drew all heading up their own books right now, which is great – except most women have never even heard of these hero identities, much less the women under the cowls. And the Bat & Spider prefixes don’t help, unfortunately, most women hear _____Girl or _____Woman or Lady _____ and lose all interest.
Pink trade paperbacks and Sex & the City with tights rip-offs aren’t going to bring women around on Wednesdays. Comics only recently became remotely socially and intellectually acceptable for dudes, it’s going to be a while before boys don’t double take when they realize that, no, I am not messing around, I really do know way, way, more about Wolverine than they do. Marvel’s recent Girl Comics is a step in the right direction, celebrating not only female characters but also female creators. The only thing is – why do we need to get our own special book? Why aren’t female characters and creators just standard issue? Women will start reading comics in droves if we can ever get the word out that, holy crap, some of these are good. At this rate, we’ll all be reading comics projected onto the wall by the implants in our brains by the time female creators are standard issue instead of rare & novel. But to get there, we need well written, relate-able, at least vaguely plausible female ass-kickers, not gimmicks and women desperately trying to fulfill male fantasies while kicking half-naked through the air.
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The absolute best thing about the new Long Beach Comic Con was the MASSIVE artist’s alley, which took up most of the exhibition floor. We picked up a couple of little sketchbooks and went ’round collecting cool sketches from artists we like – some big names, some little ones. Check ‘em out (and click to enlarge)!
Bring it on Stephanie haters, I’m loving the new Batgirl book. The move from the dark & twisty, accepted by the Bat-family Cass Cain to perennial screw-up and Bat-family black sheep Stephanie Brown has upset a lot of fans, but putting Steph under the mantle of the Dark Knight Damsel has opened up a great opportunity to showcase Barbara Gordon.
Look, Babs approved wholeheartedly when Cassandra assumed her old masked identity. The boy Bats all loved her too. Cass loved Bruce. Bruce died (sort of). Cass is just NOT into it anymore, and I don’t blame her. Steph is a ditz. She’s sloppy. She screws up, ALL THE TIME. Babs does not approve. Babs wants Steph to go the hell home.
But Babs is Babs, and she knows Steph isn’t going to just go home, so by issue #2, everytime Steph gets in a tight spot, the Oracle is there in her ear. Cass could always manage well enough on her own, she didn’t need Barbara half as much as Steph will. The new Batgirl run seems to be setting up Steph as the brawn and Barbara as the brains, and with Birds of Prey cancelled, I’m all for it.
For years, we’ve all watched Barbara deal with what the Joker did to her. Part of me hates that in a world where dead heroes come back to life weekly, Barbara Gordon still can’t walk. But, in a very bizarre way, getting stuck in that chair forced Barbara to become so much more than a hot vigilante babe. And it’s not because of some lame “overcoming adversity” bullshit. She’s not the magical handicapped girl – no, not EVEN.
With Batman dead (sort of), Barbara is, in many ways, the ringleader of Gotham’s caped vigilantes right now. Dick might be wearing the mantle, but it’s Barbara that’s keeping everyone together. Not only that, but with Martian Manhunter dead too, Barbara’s even keeping the wider caped community in contact.
Stephanie Brown is a screw up, but dammit – she tries. I can forgive her for not being Cass. Barbara Gordon is a badass, and even if her legs started working tomorrow, she’d still be so much more as Oracle than she would be in any kind of spandex.
Babs is just as front and center as Steph in the new Batgirl book. And it’s awesome. Even if you HATEHATEHATE Stephanie Brown, you should pick up the new Batgirl. I’m reading it with vodka and whatever juice I happen to have in the house. You should just read it, period.
This is a recap post. As such, it is SPOILERRIFIC. We clear? Okay. Batgirl #1 starts with a bunch of dumb boys racing to see who can stop just short of a wall while some gangleader takes bets on who’ll die, because criminals in Gotham are always psychotic or stupid. A bat-with-boobs swoops in, stopping both cars – but she’s sloppy and causes a lot of property damage and broken bones in the process. That alone should have told you who’s under that cowl.
Dick-Batman and Damien-Robin are skulking somewhere high above the action, just WATCHING, like dicks. They call her sloppy (she is), and Dick says she’s not as good as the OTHER Batgirl, kicking off the spotlight on the romantic tension between Dick and Babs that DC has promised to carry on throughout the year, DAMMIT. Just do it already.
Next page? SPLASH SPOILER ALERT it’s STEPHANIE BROWN, the Bat-family’s bitch. Batman & Robin (whoever they might be at any given moment) couldn’t give less of a shit about her most of the time, unless she’s literally DYING. Her relationship with Tim was full of dramz and afterschool specials that would never get a comics code stamp. A few Red Robin‘s ago she promised to stop patrolling in the Spoiler persona. Yet here she is, inexplicably wearing Cass Cain’s Batgirl costume, which I guess is her way of getting around that whole PROMISE she made to Tim Drake. I mean Wayne. Whatever.
Next, Stephanie’s mom brings her WAFFLES in BED. Best mom ever. But this was SPOILED at SDCC this year. I had prior knowledge of these waffles, dammit! Mom is proud of Steph for going to college and being normal, no more of that vigilante stuff. She steps towards Steph’s closet asking “What are you going to wear?” The Batgirl costume is hanging up in there, so Steph freaks out and gets between her mom and the closet door. I don’t know about you, but to my mom, that would have been a sign to open the closet door and figure out what the fuck I was hiding in there. But no. Mom leaves. Sigh of relief.
Next, Barbara is watching a ladies wheelchair basketball game, coached by Bruce’s friend Dr. Leslie Thompson. Leslie wants Barbara to play basketball with them. Barbara is FML Alan Moore made me so psychotically angry can’t deal. She takes the subway home, and some muggers go for the chick in the wheelchair. Babs gives them what-for, and enjoys the hell out of it and Barbara Gordon is so fucking awesome I can’t deal.
Stephanie in Philosophy 480 at Gotham U. She’s being flakey and not paying attention, drawing Bat symbols all over her notes. Spacing out, she flashes us back to…
Three weeks ago: Steph as Spoiler and Cass as Batgirl are fighting some thugs. There’s a cute little team up jinx moment here that is actually adorable, but when the fight is over Cass is all fuck this shit Bruce is dead and I don’t WANNA. So she gives her Batgirl costume to Steph and disappears.
Next up, Babs has dinner with Commissioner Dad. All the cops still love Barbara cos she was their “little red-headed mascot.” Babs is touched, maybe, but also non-plussed I think. Commissioner Dad wants to hook her up with the hot new detective at GCPD. Babs is annoyed. Dick Grayson calls, and she’s MORE annoyed, cos omg DO IT ALREADY.
Steph is at home, NOT doing her homework. She’s trying to find a way to rationalize breaking promises to at least three different people and going out on patrol anyway. She’s got a police scanner. Homework or vigilante-ism? Guess which one Steph picks?
There’s a riot in Gotham. Commissioner Gordon is there, his guys are getting killed left and right. Nick (who I think might be Hot! Detective) is with the bad guys. They’re roughing each other up until a little bat punches through the window. She does a pretty ok job of beating up the bad guys, but as usual, she kind of fucks it up, almost getting Hot! Detective Nick killed in the process. Nick radios back to Gordon; “I met my first Bat-person! …Wait? Which Bat are you again?” Stephanie skulks off, annoyed.
Next morning, the gratuitous shower scene. I guess she’s college age now so this isn’t THAT icky. Steph is tired, and thinks maybe she should have just done her homework instead of going out and beating up bad guys willy-nilly. She walks downstairs to see…
A VERY annoyed Barbara at her kitchen table. Steph’s mom is held up at work. Babs is annoyed as fuck. Babs tells Steph to have some waffles. This should be a fun talk…except, END of issue.
Yeah, I’m going to keep reading this as long as it’s Barbara-heavy. Honestly, Steph just needs Barbara in her ear at ALL moments of her life, in costume or not. I feel bad for Stephanie. Everyone loves Barbara, but Steph’s been consistently pulled into the Bat-family only to be unceremoniously dumped out of it how many times now? Maybe wearing the Bat-symbol for real will force her to grow up and be a little less nuts and a little more bad ass? Probably not, but getting this much Barbara in a book is good.
I’ll go ahead and a give it a 3.5 out of 5. It was kind of cheesy, but this is meant to be a lighter title, and I LOVE the Gordons so it gets a big boost for that alone. The second they stop showing up though…well, let’s just say I’m less likely to fork my money over for a Batgirl book without at least a Barbara cameo. Just sayin’.