Robot 6

‘Batgirl’ #32 is the best kind of fan service

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[Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss “The best in comics from the last seven days” — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]

She was not Birds Of Prey‘s first writer, and probably won’t be its last, but Gail Simone has become associated pretty closely with the character of Barbara Gordon, and specifically Barbara’s identity as the omniscient info-broker Oracle. One might even say that only Simone could have returned Babs to her original role as Batgirl, as part of the New 52 relaunch. Since then, Simone has quietly made Batgirl into one of the more engaging Bat-books, spending as much time on her relationships as on her crimefighting.

This week’s issue (penciled by Fernando Pasarin, inked by Jonathan Glapion, colored by Blond) is a fine example. All those relationships collide when hardcore vigilante Knightfall decides she doesn’t like “common criminal scum” (and Babs’ boyfriend) Ricky Gutierrez suing ex-Commissioner Gordon. Meanwhile, Babs herself gets recruited by an old college roommate (now part of a super-secret spy outfit, of course) that wants to bring Knightfall down. All this while Batgirl has to deal with the current Batman Eternal status quo, in which snotty cops can (and do) refuse to arrest the Bat-crew’s various foes.

Everything comes to a head around the middle of page 18, when Babs decides she needs to call in her most trusted ally. If you were paying attention at the beginning of the last paragraph, you can probably guess who — and in that spirit, even if you were spoiled by the advance solicitations (like I was), you might still get a goofy kick out of who else shows up, on page 20. It’s a nod to Bat-history in more ways than one, and it expands Babs’ circle of associates in a pleasantly unexpected way.

Otherwise, the issue is nice and methodical. Proceeding episodically, Simone sets up each scene as building on the last, letting the reader experience Babs’ increasing emotional burden. Pasarin and Glapion’s work is similarly straightforward, especially with Babs’ moment of truth on page 18. They portray Gotham realistically without overwhelming the reader with those details, and they have consistently drawn Batgirl/Barbara as athletic and capable without being unrealistically so. Knightfall describes Batgirl as “balletic,” and these artists bring that to life.

Last week, in response to a shareholder who called the company’s portrayal of women “embarrassing,” DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson talked about “heighten[ing] the presence of female storytellers and creators” in comics and “bring[ing] the female characters to light more,” but acknowledged that DC had “more work to do.” The company could start by producing more series like Batgirl.

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That shareholder is no different than another shareholder for Nintendo who wants them to go to mobile. They have to answer to them, or at the very least, answer their questions. They are investing in their company. But I just can’t help and wonder if these concerns are in fact real, or if they are just, trolling. Let’s look at the numbers.

(For the purpose of this argument, we are going to use individual based, single characters. Teamups are out. So X-Men and World’s Finest, respectively, are out of the discussion. I’ll get to those later to add context)

The best-selling female title is, in fact, Harley Quinn. Is not even close. She is averaging 60K or more sales every month. When DC announced a solo title based on this character, I think everyone’s initial reaction was perplexed, because we didn’t quite understand the intent behind this new launch. Throughout her history, Harley has never been a big household name, until Paul Dini introduced her in Batman: The Animated Series. In today’s standard, she is relatively new. Compared to her boyfriend, who has been around since my grandparents were in the early 20’s(RIP), she was an idea in the making. No one really thought how it would work out. But Dini made it work. And look at her popularity. Harley Quinn, in retrospect, works because she feels sympathetic to Joker’s cause. How many news stories you read in todays market about girlfriends going to extreme lengths to protect their boyfriends? A lot. If Bonnie and Clyde taught us anything is that dependent personality disorder is a real thing for those kinds of people. Heck, the recent news story about the Las Vegas shooting. A couple attacked a Walmart. Who did they dress as up? Joker and Harley Quinn. Of course I’m not saying that both Harley and Joker, both fictional characters, are responsible for the Las Vegas shooting in a Walmart. All I’m saying is that women, no matter what we think we know about them, will do for love. And Harley Quinn, the lovable, crazy and enigmatic psychologist, is no different. Her popularity arguably skyrocket with the Arkham games.

The next best-selling title in line was Elektra, who is no stranger in the comic book industry, or in film. She was, arguably, the first ever comic book female film ever made in the early 2000’s. So if anyone has experienced the experiment, is Elektra, played by Jennifer Garner. You would think that Elektra is somewhat popular. A movie was made about her before anyone knew who was Black Widow. But is she highly popular? Is she that big? Difficult to say. In fact, Marvel’s women are interesting characters to dissect. Which will be my next point.

Marvel’s arguably acclaim title as we speak is Ms Marvel. I hear many good things about it. It sells moderately well for a woman title, and is one of the most diverse titles on the market today. I think, based on what I find compatible, Ms Marvel has “it”. Is she Harley Quinn? Not really, but who is. Is she Wonder Woman? Again. Not really. But for a title who is diverse to sell pretty well really speaks volume to the writing about the book than the gender. Just because she’s a woman who happens to be of color does not mean anything. You need to make them interesting and original, and give them a narrative. And is clear she is resonating very well to the masses. Much more than other Marvel’s female characters.

Only two titles, I mentioned above, are in the top fifty*. Harley and Elektra are in the top fifty best-sellers, according to Diamond. Elektra did make her debut, so interest will drive sales for the very first time. The rest of the other female-centric books are the remaining 50-100 rankings. Batgirl, Wonder Woman, She-Hulk and Black Widow make that list. In fact, from 1-100, female-centric titles make up about 10% of the market. The rest of the 90%? All men books.

This…talk about the lack of women titles or creators DC lacks is really premature. The reality is that DC and Marvel both have about the equal amount of female-individual titles, with a couple of female teams: X-Men and World’s Finest, to name a few. Is there a problem with the lack of women titles? I guess is about framing. Will there be a problem if plumbers make up 90% of the male workforce? Probably not, because men are stereotypically judged to do the dirty work. Can we say the same thing about comics? You decide.

I read Red Sonja. I like the comic book. Gail Simone is a very good writer. I don’t read her Batgirl title, and I probably should have. But I don’t. The majority of my comic book collection is male dominated. Am I part of the problem? I don’t think so. I just think when we accuse a publisher or creator of sexism or racism, you need to put yourself in their shoes. How will you react? Is it wrong for boys to like boys stuff? Is it wrong for girls to like The Young and the Restless? Certainly not. So next time you see the argument that this publisher lacks female talent or female titles, think about what you have in your closet. Because if E3 2014 taught us anything is that Batman: Arkham Knight is a very stereotypical game. Is a mans game. Is my kind of game.

*I used Diamonds April’s numbers. Their new numbers for May should be out Monday.

How on Earth was that “the best kind of fan service”? The shared history between the characters is gone and their reunion does not come naturally to the story at all.

What business would Earth 2 Huntress have with the plot of this issue? And isn’t she slated to go back there in a couple of months, making her appearance here completely irrelevant?

It comes off as some serious pandering, nostalgia for sake of it does not make a good story.

I do think Simone is doing a good job with Batgirl, both the book and the character. It doesn’t have that sense of waiting for the next shoe to drop that most of the other Batbook possess. (I mean, Zero Year has been going on for like 15 months at this point. For example.) There are interesting side characters who are somewhat sympathetic but not overdone. There is a sense of continuation between issues even if the action and plot have completely changed. And there IS fan service: I was pretty happy to see Ragdoll up to his old tricks last issue.

It’s not a slam dunk book like Azzarello’s Wonder Woman but it is a good read.

“Throughout her history, Harley has never been a big household name, until Paul Dini introduced her in Batman: The Animated Series.”

This sentence cracks me up so hard…

Oh, that sentence was from Franky, the first commenter, not the original article…

@Franky

“Throughout her history, Harley has never been a big household name, until Paul Dini introduced her in Batman: The Animated Series. ”

As Kurt Onstad so delightfully points out, Harley Quinn was created *by* Dini *for* B:TAS. She has no prior history, and was thus actually a remarkably popular character from the moment she debuted, in fact I think it would be fair to call her the cartoon’s breakout character.

“[Elektra] was, arguably, the first ever comic book female film ever made in the early 2000′s.”

Well, argue all you like, but I think that Catwoman (2004) predates Elektra (2005).

Batgirl is, IMO, a pretty crappy book. They took everything that had become interesting about Barbra Gordon and ditched all of it just to bring her back as Batgirl again. What a waste.

^^ I echo that sentiment

Barbara was a more-interesting, better-developed character as Oracle. Both Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown are by far the superior Batgirls.

While I am a fan of Stephanie Brown as Batgirl, I have enjoyed the return of Babs to being Batgirl. I won’t lie, I miss that her Oracle history was scrubbed away but I think Gail has done a good job with the title.

Barbara Gordon? Stephanie Brown?

Neither are my Batgirl. Cassandra Cain is my Batgirl.

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