Monday, July 14, 2014

Thoughts on the New Batgirl

I love Batgirl. She and Batman were the first comics I bought when I started getting into comics in 2012. The show Atop the Fourth Wall--which I've mentioned loving before--sparked my interest in them, and it was Linkara's recommendation to seek out Gail Simone comics that really clicked.

I know that every writer's run must end on a comic eventually. It just happens. But the news that Gail Simone was not going to be on Batgirl after issue 34 was heartbreaking. She managed to take a problematic set-up--Barbara being changed back into Batgirl and regaining the ability to walk--and make it not necessarily as shitty for people with disabilities. I mean, ideally, there would be more disabled heroes so they could do shenanigans like this from time to time without effectively gutting their numbers, but Simone handled the issue with panache and class, dealing with the emotional repercussions of something like this.

However, I gotta say that I'm digging the new Batgirl designs. I've complained previously about the doom and gloom of DC Comics lately, and it's great to see them working to bring more light, colors, and fun to their lines. And with a batbook of all things! Two of them, now!

It's disappointing that things played out this way, however, because Simone has stated that she wanted to do a lighter book and was forced to keep the darker, bleaker tone through editorial mandate. After she left the book, though, a new editor was brought on that did want a lighter tone for the book and hired the current new writers.

Boo. :(

So, anyway, the art seems to have the same heart and levity that Gotham Academy does, so I'm definitely not going to drop the book just because Gail Simone isn't on it anymore. That said, I do have thoughts about the new design.

1) I love the new art style. Babs Tarr brings life to the batverse that is sorely needed. The colors are bright, the style is simplistic but dynamic, with a uniqueness that will make it stand out from the other books.

2) I also love the redesign of Barbara's costume toward functionality. For some superheroes, a legit costume might make sense (see: Aquaman, Superman, Green Lantern), but for someone that's just doing vigilante work on the side? And who's NOT a billionaire (ahem, Bruce), it makes sense that she'd just piece her costume together with whatever is around and just tweak it where needed.

And while I'm on the subject of her costume, let's talk about Batgirl's boots.

As always with a new costume, you've got a few people that don't like it, that think it looks weird or whatever, which, fine, that's your prerogative. However, some have criticized her shoes. I actually saw an in depth discussion about how her new shoes were impractical, that they'd hinder her when it came to fighting and running because they're too heavy.

a. Uh? As opposed to the high heels that so many female superheros wear to crime fight? Yeah, those are practical.

b. Also, have you seen Batman's freakin' feet in a comic in pretty much the last 10 years?

Those are some big goddamned boots. Sure, that is from Batman: Arkham Asylum, and video games will tinker with designs to fit whatever game mechanics and story they're trying to tell. What about in the comics?

Again: big ass boots. But again, this is from Batman: Earth One, which is an alternate reality graphic novel about Batman just starting out as a superhero/vigilante.

What about in the current Batman run? Like, from the main comics?

I'm just saying. I'M JUST SAYING.

I don't want to hear any more shenanigans about her impractical shoes when Batman isn't just wearing some clodhoppers that might be a little too heavy, he's wearing goddamned combat boots.

3) While I love the art style, I'm slightly concerned about the tonal shift. Obviously, I'm in favor of Batgirl becoming lighter and more fun. I just worry about how light they'll take it. To go from dealing with her PTSD-like emotional baggage from her years in a wheel chair and her serial killer brother to the style pictured above? It's very abrupt. Great for new readers, but for current fans, it's almost like a smack in the face.

Some shows, like Teen Titans, were great at balancing light-hearted, goofy story lines with darker, more emotionally heavy stories. I just worry, based on the attitude of the new creators, about how far they're going to take it. They've described it as a pretty clean break, which has it's ups, but also some worrying implications.

4) I'm also not thrilled with them leaving Alysia Yeoh behind. DC's first transgender character, and now she's just fading into the background? Lame.

I guess that's not entirely fair. From what I understand, she's still going to be a part of the cast of characters, she's just not moving with Barbara, but with so few transgender characters anyway, it hurts to see them utilizing her less.

5) There's also something bothering me about the premise of the book. The idea is that Barbara's stuff burns up in a fire and she moves to the hip, trendy part of Gotham. The thing is, Gotham is known for being a corrupt, shitty place to live that needs a lot of work. There's a high rate of both crime and poverty. Batman does a lot of good in both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Batman stops the criminals, Bruce Wayne uses his fortune for not just Bat-stuff but also for public welfare programs.

Batgirl, as described by the new creative team, fights crime because she cares about justice. But moving to the trendy part of Gotham seems like exactly the opposite kind of move. Not that rich, trendy areas don't have their problems, but they're richer, and generally much, much, MUCH better off than poorer areas. Sure, the hipster part of Gotham might lead to more fun adventures rather than the grim and gritty stuff of late, but it strikes me as a bit dickish to essentially abandon that part of Gotham because it was crime ridden--wasn't that kind of the point, Barbara?

It also smacks a little of trying to be trendy for trendy's sake. Like, I see the above picture of Batgirl taking a selfie, and I imagine old white guys in board rooms shouting, "What are the kids into nowadays? Selfies, right? Let's have Batgirl take a selfie! We'll have her move to some trendy part of New York--ahem--Gotham. She can hang out with hipsters and eat kale! That's what the young people are into right?"

I mean, I know the book isn't even out yet and I have no idea how it'll read. It's hard to write a criticism for a book that's not out yet. And, again, I am interested in reading the book, and I'm trying to keep an open mind. That's why I saved this particular point for last.

All in all, I'm willing to give the new book a chance because I like the basic idea of making the book lighter and more fun, and I love the new art style and redesign. But I hate losing the diversity of the current title, I worry about losing the emotional depth of the stories, and I don't want the quality of the title to diminish for the sake of appealing to a younger crowd.


UPDATE: In shiny, happy Gail Simone news, she's already said that she's working on something awesome coming soon.

And her latest tweet appears to give some big hints.

The word SECRET.

Used SIX times.

While I haven't read her Secret Six run, I'm definitely interested. I may have to try to pick those up sometimes in the future.


UPDATE 2 - 9:13 AM: Because Twitter is a strange and random place, my tiny little blog post was seen by one of the authors of the new Batgirl. He responded to a couple of my concerns:

I'm still curious how they're going to avoid Barbara's abandoning the actual needy part of Gotham being a dick move, but like I said before, I'll definitely give the book a shot. I love the art. Once I realized that this was the same person that was also creating/co-writing Gotham Academy (which, duh, how did I not realize that?), I felt a little better.

One further thing I wanted to add: Batgirl taking a selfie is not in and of itself a bad thing. Selfie's are a part of our current culture, and Barbara's a young woman. The contrast of that image to what the books have been so far was just huge--which was almost surely the point.