“Is that one with the selfie the new cover?”
That was a question my coworker asked me the other day regarding Batgirl #41 and the Rafael Albuquerque variant referencing The Killing Joke that I wrote about on Tuesday. She asked this with slight disdain in her voice, as though she had seen the most disgusting thing ever.
“The one with Harley Quinn,” I asked. I love that cover 100 times more in comparison, but I know the actual cover of Batgirl #41 is like how John Oliver describes Uruguay. No one actually cares enough to know what it actually looks like.
I think for a second as she uses some motions before realizing she’s talking about the cover of Batgirl #35, the first issue of the current run by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, and Maris Wicks. This was also the image a lot of us saw of Barbara’s new look that eventually got dubbed “The Batgirl of Burnside.”
Of course, I tell my coworker the short version of that and she just nods and goes away.
What threw me off the most about that interaction was how disgusted she looked when she was thinking about it. Maybe I’m projecting because there is a 15 year age difference between me and her, but I’m a proponent of selfies as a method of self-love. I know if I was Barbara in that case, I would wanting to be showing everyone my new look.
Then I remembered something about the comic that I actually love pretty hard: it has the same mindset about loving yourself.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t had a chance to read Gail Simone’s run that lasted from #1 – 34, but the current run definitely caught my attention when I saw that 1.) Barbara had an amazing new and PRACTICAL costume that was leather and not spandex, and 2.) Babs Tarr, who was entirely gracious about me going “OH MY GOD, YOU’RE THAT ARTIST!” when I saw her Bosozoku Sailor Scout prints at HeroesCon, was on art. Between that and the also fantastic Gotham Academy being announced on the same day, it was time to consider picking up DC again.
I expected that the series would be rather Ms. Marvel-esque, being super cheerful and bright versus the often dark tone of many Batbooks as well as being similar to Bryan Q. Miller’s take on Stephanie Brown a few years ago. What I didn’t expect though was how relevant it was going to be to my generation. #35 opens with Barbara moving across town to Burnside to get a new start on life after a fire claims all of her and Dinah’s possessions. She moves in with Frankie Charles, another computer genius who works for a dating website called Hooq and is mostly a lesbian. If between that and Barbara defeating a DJ named Riot Black with the use of a QR code on a Snapchat analogue didn’t set the mood for the run, I don’t know what would.
Thanks to Barbara’s computer genius and her new surroundings, the series is so engrained into our tech driven society that it manages to explore the positives and the negatives of it without ever feeling like it’s wagging a finger to those damn kids who are on their phones all the time. Ms. Marvel has a lot of that too, but there’s something about Barbara’s struggles that are so uniquely 20-something. She’s trying new things, she gets in over her head, she tries to balance having a love life in a digital age where other things and people kept interfering, and she realizes that she doesn’t have to be an isolated Broody McBroodinson anymore. Even though I’m not a superhero, there was so much about Barbara I could relate to. Not to mention Babs Tarr has such a strong understanding of fashion that mixed with Maris Wicks’ orgasmic colors, I think I have a crush on every character and their fashion sense.
On top of that, Stewart and Fletcher have set out to give Batgirl such a positive attitude. It feels like a cosmic coincidence that Batgirl #40 came out this week when the comics community kept having a debate over the place of The Killing Joke in comics canon. As the talk about the darkness of Barbara’s history raged on in real life, Barbara in the story outright states that she’s deciding to move on from the darkness and anger of her life. She knows where she came from, but she’s not letting that define her anymore. In the story, Batgirl doesn’t just come out on top of her enemies, but her own past too. She’s her own hero on top of everyone else’s.
That’s why I love Stewart, Fletcher, Tarr and Wicks’s take on Batgirl. Barbara makes mistakes, but she bounds back from it with ingenuity and sincerity. She’s fashionable and sociable, but it doesn’t stop her from being tough as hell. Her friendships are the most important to her and have been a huge part of helping her move forward with her life. Team Batgirl gets what it’s like to live in this era and how to move in that space. They’re studying how to be a superhero in a modern connected age and what it means for one person using that to grow as a person after the worst parts of her life.
Maybe that’s helping them learn too. One of the most impressive things I have seen from any comic creator was the apology they issued after Batgirl #37 for the storyline of crossdressing artist Dagger Type. They showed empathy over how negative that trope was and it set precedent for the issue over #41. Not only is their Barbara helping set a standard for a new age in comics, but her team is setting a standard of how you act towards your audience at large.
To close this out, I say the following with complete enthusiasm and sincerity… GO TEAM BATGIRL!