Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thoughts on redesigned, rebooted 'Batgirl' series

As you may remember early in this incarnation of Cary's Comics Craze, I was livid with the new character (and mostly the costume) redesign for Batgirl. The new look coincided with last month's BATGIRL No. 35 — which I fully intended to review just after it came out.

But honestly, I was too miffed. Or was it stumped? Regardless, I just couldn't crank out a review at the time.

Once I had procrastinated on writing a review — much less trying to figure out what to say — I soon realized it was better to give the new creative team another issue and another month and then review this revamped/tweaked version of Batgirl. That way I figured I would be reviewing/blogging with a clearer mind and would give the reboot a better perspective.

Sooo — taking a deep breath, here it is:

Even after two issues (Nos. 35-36), I'm not thrilled with how much younger Barbara Gordon seems to be under writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher.
Batgirl by artist Chris Samnee  (via majorspoilers.com)

Under Gail Simone's (mostly) masterful run, Babs definitely is in her early 20s. The initial reveal by the aptly first-named Babs Tarr and Stewart gave me the impression she is somewhere in her mid-teens. And Gordon's attitude and the way she interacts with people her own age reflects the slightly immature and socially awkward Babs we see in issue 35.

By the next issue, Babs is obviously in college (which wasn't apparent in BATGIRL No. 35) since she's seeking a professor. Credit goes to the artists for this. Babs' body is still slight, but her face looks older and slightly more mature.

This begs the question: Where's the consistency?

Onto Batgirl. The artists have made Gordon less well endowed and certainly less curvy. Her younger-skewing Batgirl costume does nothing but emphasize her smaller frame. In turn, this translates into the "new" Batgirl looking less like the butt-kicker we saw during Simone's run.

The variant cover of BATGIRL No. 36.
And let's face it, while I'm pleased to see Babs/Batgirl isn't drawn with the same supermodel figure that's so overused in comics, the lack of armor and no more of the don't-take-no-crap thigh-high boots takes away from the street-fighter vibe Gordon had going in the previous 34 issues.

Technology — specifically social media — is a big focus. And not just for Babs and her friends.

In issue 35, Batgirl had to track down a D.J./hacker who threatened to post everyone's "dirty little secrets" on his website. In the final and admittedly awkward confrontation, Batgirl outfoxes this creep into texting him her unmasked face (sorta) — only to have sent him a virus that crashes his site and destroys his information.

Babs, in the next issue, has to find someone with the proper external drive to replace the contents of her computer, which held the most important part of her research (which I assume is her master's thesis.) Keep in mind Gordon lost her computer in issue 35.

The online world is a storytelling technique. Email messages, texts and instant messages between characters take the place of the "meanwhile" and "later" or locations used in narrative boxes. (Although many modern comics place such information within the panel, not necessarily in its own box within a panel.)

While this may seem cutting edge and very "now," uh, now, I can't imagine this technique becoming widespread. For one, it's awkward to read. Secondly, using texts, etc. to provide the setting is difficult to understand. More importantly, what's now culturally relevant no doubt will become dated. Very quickly — just as Golden Age and Bronze Age writers' references to entertainers are now when you read books from those eras.

So far, Gordon's photographic memory has played an instrumental role in the plotlines of each issue. In BATGIRL No. 35, her friends get creeped out when she uses her vivid sense of recalling events at a party to track the last time she saw her computer. In the following issue, Batgirl uses a memory of watching a childhood favorite anime-style cartoon to defeat the menacing motorcyclists she faces.

With technology being the crux of the last two stories, this leads me to some questions: Does that mean Batgirl always will be facing online evil as long as Stewart and Fletcher are writing the series? Have we seen the last of any actual villains? (I sure hope not!) Admittedly, some of the villains Simone used and/or created were weak or too one-dimensional for my tastes, but if Batgirl remains immersed in the online world (yaaaawwwwn!), doesn't that beg the question that that same context eventually will be dated? And in that case, won't that lead to another creative reboot?

Grades — Issue 35: C; Issue 36: B- 



2 comments:

  1. I'm coming from a significantly different place, as I detested Simone's run on Batgirl, and don't get how a woman with no career or aspirations could be seen as more "mature" than the current version. Babs Tarr draws her as "younger", but that seems to be the artist's style. The character seems to be motivated, smarter than the previous writer made her out to be, and easy to relate to. Her costume is a big "meh" to me, but, not being female, I've never fetishized costuming, and the majority of the female fanbase online seems to be in love with the new design, so I'll acquiesce to them. As far as the technology goes, being tied to same seems to be Barbara Gordon's fate as a character. Just as microfiche and dusty books did in her Silver Age exploits by making them seem ancient, her current version might look similarly archaic down the road. But that road isn't over yet, and the ride right now is an enjoyable one for this reader. This version, as opposed to Simone's, seems to be a woman who might, under different circumstances, become Oracle. In fact, as I've never believed that the wheelchair was what gave her her brains, she could yet do that same job while occasionally acting as Batgirl as well.

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  2. Kevin, Thanks for such a thoughtful and well written response. You make a great point that this technologically savvy Babs could one day become Oracle. But I politely disagree that Simone's version — which is much more "my Batgirl" — couldn't. While Tarr's artwork certainly skews toward younger looking characters, Babs seeming so more like a teenager is emphasized by the fact she is written much younger and less mature than earlier. I really see it when she's interacting with people her age, who are the distracted, immature "oh my gawwwwd! Did you see...?!?" kind of young people who are more interested in their smart phones than the person beside them. ... To shift gears, what did you detest about Simone's run? I really enjoyed the one- to three-issue runs and being a child of the Bronze Age, I miss the great fight sequences. Simone IMHO really grasps who Barbara Gordon is and what makes her tick.

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