The Burnside HOOQ-Up: “Batgirl” #37

By and | December 17th, 2014
Posted in Annotations | % Comments

It’s been quite a week since Batgirl #37 arrived in comic shops, and I wanted to begin by offering a summary of the events.

I believe that’s Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart. Just a fun little cameo, but their placement could not be more ironic in light what’s happened. There they are above a speech bubble from Alysia, complaining about an artist’s lack of social responsibility. That’s essentially what happened when this issue was released. There was a great amount of criticism about the portrayal of the new villain, Dagger Type. Many readers felt that this character and his treatment reflected negative stereotypes, and many reviews of the book reflected that. Ranging from disappointment to outrage, the prevailing sentiment among readers was that this issue of “Batgirl” undermined more positive representations of diverse characters that had inspired confidence in the book’s audience, as this review from explains. The team apologized publicly. Though we are both fans of this reboot, our initial reaction to this issue was quite negative. I think a lot of that had to do with a struggle to understand the team’s portrayal of this character. In light of all the controversy surrounding this issue, Will and I decided to go back and provide a frame for our original discussion.

Sam LeBas: All right, so, I am exhausted having just followed the controversy, I’m sure it’s been much worse for the team.

Will Brooker: Although to be fair, they created it.

SL: They did, and I think they were apprehensive about the reaction that this book would elicit before it ever hit stands.

WB: I don’t think it was about this topic though. My sense is that they felt this issue would really alienate anyone who felt Batgirl had become too light, poppy and girly under their run, with all the glitter and glitz.

I suspect if they had any doubts over whether Dagger would be read as a trans stereotype, they wouldn’t have done it.

SL: I think you’re right. I get the sense that the intention of that scene had more to do with questions about artistic integrity and authenticity. However, it so closely mirrored problematic portrayals of this type of character, that it was difficult to focus on anything else.

WB: The twitter discussion I remember seeing between the creators a couple of months ago, when this book was presumably in production, was about how much glitter there was going to be. I think they might have been worried about resistance from fans who miss the grim and gritty.

SL: I understand that concern. I think for the most part fans have been very willing to let Barbara have fun for once.

With that said, are you ready to go back to our original discussion from the day this issue was published? We’ll get together at the end and wrap up how we’re feeling about Batgirl, after all the controversy.

WB: Take my hand, Samantha, and let’s travel back to Wednesday December 10, before the issue hit the fans.

SL: I thought the tone of this issue was very different from the previous two. It’s a little more grim, and Barbara seems a little more angry.

WB: It was brasher, perhaps. It was Beyoncé in some scenes, Liberace in others. Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. Batgirl from the campy 1960s TV show.

All this, pushing against and bursting through the framework that the creators have set up around Batgirl in the last two issues.

But already, I see we disagree, Samantha. You said grim and angry, I was suggesting… tacky, campy, sensational, spectacular. Your terms evoke 1980 Batman, grim and gritty. For me, it evoked the 1960s TV show and mid-90s Schumacher movies.

SL: Barbara is under personal attack. They refer back to her being in a wheelchair, there’s a gun in a room full of people… It’s pretty to look at but the attacks are much more serious.

WB: Actually, I’ve reconsidered. This was such a hard issue for me to get to grips with that I am struggling to pin down my responses.

Continued below

It reminds me of Basic Instinct and 1990s racy thrillers. It has this showy, daring, rebellious attitude about it, which is actually very glossy, sparkly and adolescent. It’s got this air about it where everyone is horny for everyone else. Everyone is always flirting like mad, blushing. It’s got this crazy throwaway violence and spectacle, and it has … attitudes towards men and women that we will have to unpack.

SL: I can see that. There’s a lot of anxiety in the issue over men and women’s roles, I think very purposefully so.

WB: It feels like it’s on crazy pheromones.

SL: It’s a bit frenzied.

WB: It is ‘hyped up’, that’s another word I would use to describe it. It feels frantic, anxious. It’s frenzied. It’s breathless. It has a certain energy from the first splash page.

SL: Decadent, decidedly more glitzy… it’s quite a departure from the college campus or Frankie’s apartment.

WB: Suddenly, we seem to be more in a Grand Theft Auto world where people can throw flaming bottles in the street, rather than the community where people steal iPads.

SL: So, we open with Batgirl behaving badly, The Bling Ring on acid.

WB: Yes, that’s another way of putting it.I don’t think we have seen guns before, have we?

SL: No, we haven’t that’s new. We haven’t seen this level of violence at all. The girls in the car are about to throw a Molotov cocktail at an elderly couple for fun.

WB: I liked the way this Batgirl is very much styled after Yvonne Craig’s outfit in the TV show, in terms of color.

I think when I first opened the comic, I actually thought this would be a parallel universe of some type. It’s so different.

SL: I think you’re right, there is a definite nod to the Yvonne Craig costume, maybe meant to show that this character is playing at being what we expect from a superheroine; not concerned with utility or practicality, but wanting to look the part.

WB: On the other hand, in ‘realist’ terms, she is somehow incredibly athletic, can perform physical feats, and engage Babs in a fight.

SL: The amount of training the other Batgirl has seems to conflict the rest of the story and her agenda. I thought it was going to be a dream. I was not expecting Babs to confront the literal impostor in this issue; I thought that was going to be held back for the end of this arc.

WB: But wait, she doesn’t. This Batgirl is being employed by a patron.

I also thought that, but we are not at the end of the arc yet. This is like the third opponent on the way to the big boss. And in that sense, I think I was right when I suggested last issue that this was going to be villain-of-the-month.

SL: Right, but I didn’t realize that in the beginning.

WB: Right, same here. We were on the same page.

SL: It made sense by the end of the issue, but it added to the disorientation in the beginning.

WB: It’s very much like a video game. The whole structure is like a game. Which in a way is interesting and fitting, as this Babs is so digitally adept, and I think it also fits the other Babs – Babs Tarr is also a video game fan. But I do think this makes for a predictable structure. Enough that I was able to predict it in our previous HOOQ-Up. A new costumed villain every episode. At the end of the issue they say they were being paid to take down Batgirl. A developing enigma about who knows Babs well enough to do all this. Who knows enough about her past.

SL: I think the pattern does recall video games, certainly, and that makes sense for Babs’ character. It is one way to keep each issue fresh, while building a larger story.

WB: It’s a fairly standard way of building a story arc, perhaps, through a monster-of-the-week which progresses us towards an end point. I think Buffy and X-Files were doing the same thing in the 1990s. The process of detection, integrated with expository dialog cut-scenes, followed by a fight, is also very much in keeping with video game feel and structure: solve a puzzle, hold a conversation, have a fight, move on to next level.

Continued below

SL: I didn’t think she was going to confront this villain in street clothes without any of her gear.
WB: Yeah, when did she lose her cowl? I really didn’t quite see that. The other Batgirl lost her cowl, but when and why did Babs lose hers?

SL: I didn’t see it either.

WB: I faltered on that in terms of continuity. Like we did with the knife slash and ripped jacket last month.

SL: I think it came off in the water?

But why would it? Is it made of sugar?

WB: She had it on when she fell.

OK I think we chalk that one up as this issue’s continuity problem. But I do lose a little faith in storytelling when we come up against these things.

I have another question or issue about the ‘realism’ of a few aspects.

First, we have a sense that everyone has suddenly heard of Batgirl. Not just Burnside – the unmasking is billed as a big event for Gotham. But why has Babs, who is so on the ball and sharp, never heard of any of the clubs or celebrities we encounter in each issue? She lives with someone who works for a social network, but in every issue, she’s all, oh, what new club is this? She acts like she’s discovering everything afresh.

SL: Well, she’s just moved to Burnside.

WB: OK, but there seems a tension between the fact that she’s really well known and iconic, and the fact that this area is still new and unfamiliar to her.

SL: I think it’s meant to communicate that she doesn’t place a lot of value on those things, clubs and celebrities.

WB: And that’s also reasonable, except if you’re going to be a crime fighter in Burnside, clearly this is a big part of the lifestyle. Knowing the neighborhood and its major players would be important.

Otherwise it’s like Batman saying I don’t like costumed villains, so I’m not going to research them. Two of the villains Babs has faced so far are club celebrities. The other two are minor celebs on the cosplay/anime circuit. She would have realized that’s where the next threat is likely to come from.

SL: She doesn’t seem to have made the connection between the club scene and the criminal element, which… she would have done by now, realistically. Maybe she’ll see the pattern now. But she goes to the Dagger Type opening to see what is being done to her image, not because it sounds like fun, don’t you think?

WB: I’m not sure how much she knows about the opening. She’s aware that it’s about Batgirl in some way. She just doesn’t know the nature of the photos. I thought the fact that she was so shocked meant she didn’t expect the images to be of her.

She knew it was a ‘Batgirl type thing’, and the posters show a Batgirl silhouette, but she’s horrified and Dinah finds it hilarious, as if they didn’t know what the art would be like.

SL: She didn’t expect the content, but she knew it was somehow related to Batgirl. I think that’s fair, though, she could have googled it, and I bet she would have.

WB: It seems none of them really knew what the art would be like. Funny this guy is such a famous artist and she has no idea who he is.

SL: Well, that’s a hipster thing, I think.

The cooler someone is, the fewer people have heard of them.

WB: Do people dress up like that for an art show, Samantha?

SL: Do you think Babs would have worn that short red dress?

WB: I like the panel – it’s very Sex and the City, and it strongly recalls the image of her with Zatanna and Wonder Woman, going clubbing, but it’s an art show. I don’t live in Brooklyn but I have been out in Hoxton, which I’m sure is the East London equivalent of Burnside, and people do not dress up like that.

SL: No, I thought the costuming, for lack of a better word, was a bit off. Which surprised me. It’s out of place, and for Barbara at least, a little out of character.

Continued below

WB: The other patrons do look right, to me, for a hipster art gallery, however; so what are Babs and her friends doing? Perhaps Frankie really wanted to dress up and go out, but surely Babs’ dress is more an outfit for a club in Gotham.

SL:It is short, tight, backless and red.

WB: It is, Samantha, thank you for describing the image.

SL: I cannot imagine Babs being comfortable in that dress.

I don’t think Babs has that dress in her closet, let alone the proper undergarments for it.

WB: Because I like this reboot and the creative team, I am always inclined to look for excuses, like Babs is comfortable with her physique… but we saw her cover up in embarrassment in issue #35, and it would be very hard for her to walk up steps without exposing herself.

I agree, do we think the Babs who struggled with make-up in issue #35 has a bunch of specialist bras for a backless dress?

mmmmMAYBE it’s Dinah’s. See how I want to get the book off the hook?

SL: So, we assume that her friends dressed her? Then why does she look so comfortable? She’d be tugging at the hem of the dress, adjusting it constantly.

WB: The team have built up enough affection and loyalty in me, in two issues alone, that I want to find justifications. If this book was not being drawn by Babs Tarr, I would be saying what a sad example of conventional stereotyping

But yes, check out that “Brave and the Bold” issue again. It’s Cliff Chiang art and she is doing exactly that. She’s crouching a little, tugging the hem. That would have been better characterisation here. I can’t honestly believe that Babs would go to an art gallery that’s about Batgirl, with the probable assumption that it’s related to her stalker and the previous hassle she’s had, and knowing that Black Riot was a celebrity and club icon, and TURN UP IN HUGE HEELS AND A DRESS THAT SHOWS HER BUTT. How is she not thinking ‘I might need to run and fight’, let alone walk up stairs?

How is she not prepared to get into some kind of action, when she’s going to a Batgirl-related celebrity art show, while someone’s stalking and trying to kill her as Batgirl?

SL: Where was the uniform?

WB: Sam, it’s in her purse.

SL: No.

That purse has room for MAYBE a lipstick.

WB: It’s like the Flash with his ring. She opens up her one-inch purse and the uniform springs out.

SL: Oh, I missed that. Sorry.

I didn’t know the hipster-vintage ensemble was endowed with magical properties.

How silly of me.

WB: It’s great art. But it jars with my sense of Babs’ character. And I am not saying Babs’ character as I feel it should be from the 1970s and 1980s or anything, or even from Gail Simone’s run. But from Babs’ character under this creative team.

SL: She’s also very in control of her interaction with Jeremy, which seems out of character. She was much more bashful in their previous interactions.

WB: She seemed very keen on him at the end of last issue, and here she’s rushing off. I’m already confusing him with the cop, the way they’re both drawn.

I just think of them both as hunky blushing guys with hearts around their faces.

When she met the cop I was pretty much ‘not again’ – how much blushing and flirting can we have in each issue?

SL: She seems so oblivious to Jeremy’s attention.

WB: I thought Qadir was also portrayed as interested in her

He is already installed as the ‘Q’ from Bond… and now I think of it, of course. Q.

‘Pay attention Babs, I’ve got some new gear for you here.’ I think he’s explicitly based on Ben Wishaw as Q.

SL: You’re right, he does remind me of that actor.

WB:Yeah, so, I have an theory that Jeremy is Emmet Forrest from Legally Blonde, Luke Wilson and Qadir is Q from Skyfall, Ben Wishaw.

Just as jokey references, nothing deeper.

Continued below

Now, Samantha, what did you think about the inclusion of Alysia in this issue?

SL: I feel it was important for her to be there to contrast the portrayal of Dagger later in the issue.

WB: I feel she was barely there, really.

One tiny point I am confused about in the storytelling. When they get out of the cab, and when they are walking as a foursome in the next panel, Alysia looks so different to me that I’m still not sure it’s meant to be the same person.

There’s a very cartoonish depiction of her getting out of the cab, and then she seems to have entirely different hair and colors.

Anyway my intuition is that the creative team feels this is Gail’s character but that it’s a bit of a fan-pleaser to give her a cameo. That is my sense, unsupported by anything I’ve seen them say, but to be honest I don’t think they are committed to Alysia. I sense that they feel they should probably include her or fans will justifiably resent her being written out of the comic and Babs’ life.

SL: She’s not been featured heavily at all. I think you are right about that, she is kept at arms length. She lives in Gotham, making it easy for her to only be included in select settings.

WB: The idea that they have included her to balance what could be seen as a problematic depiction of a transgender character later in the issue is too cynical for me to want to entertain.

SL: I am cynical, and I think there was at least some conscious thought put into her inclusion.

WB: The one thing that rang true for me about her (‘true’ in terms of previous depiction) is her complaint that the art doesn’t have a message – as she was meant to be a bit of a social activist. But as that is one of her very few lines, that isn’t saying much.

SL: I think her lines are interesting, and necessary. She starts an important discussion, really.

WB: She says two things… but OK.

How about Frankie? I think her disability is an interesting addition, especially in terms of Babs’ experience, though not a great deal is made of it yet. It would be good for them to develop that in future.

SL: The crutches are featured more prominently in this issue.

WB: We did not notice them in the previous issue.

SL: No, it’s actually discussed, and having her bring Babs to see the wheelchair photo reinforces the idea that they relate to one another through that shared experience.

WB: Yes, I like that and there is a lot of potential there. I agree with you that this is probably the most compelling moment in the book, and after that, for me… I don’t know what happened, to be honest. I think it could have stayed more focused on character, less pantomime.

SL: Dinah is a total brat throughout this entire issue.

WB: Yes, Dinah. I am really not quite getting it, I mean, Dinah is being actively unpleasant throughout. She seems not to like Babs at all. She’s hurtful and lets her friend down in a dangerous situation.

SL: I do not understand how we are supposed to forgive Dinah for not showing up when Babs needs her. The costume the other Batgirl is wearing in the photos looks a little like Black Canary’s. So, I think it’s strange for her to find the entire thing so funny.

WB: Yeah, Black Canary has never seen superhero outfits, posing, dramatic stances? She is meant to think it’s really Babs? I don’t know.

SL: Is it just that she knows how uncomfortable Babs is with this portrayal?

WB: One thing I really did like was those photos. I would buy those photos.

SL: I did, too. I don’t think they are half as damaging as they are made to seem.

WB: I wondered at the irony of Babs feeling ‘violated’ by the photos of a model, as if it’s because of the sexual poses while she’s walking around wearing such a tiny dress. But perhaps that wasn’t the reason for her distress.

Continued below

This is meant to be a fun book that you can grasp the meaning of with one reading, I’m sure, and yet there’s quite a lot here about character and plot that I don’t understand.

One other thing — Dagger Type posed those photos and hosted that exhibition JUST TO GIVE A MESSAGE TO BABS ABOUT MEETING UNDER THE BRIDGE?

The exhibition was all about a secret message for Barbara? I liked the ASL interpretation, but is that really what is meant to have happened?

SL: That made no sense to me.

WB: The photographer took self portraits just to tell Babs to be under a bridge? She’s in the studio, but all she does is check out one book, then leave? She doesn’t realise it’s ASL until she finds that Dagger owns the book.

SL: I didn’t realize she had moved into his studio space. That makes more sense now.

WB: She tracks it down by Omnicab.

But she goes to his STUDIO… and she doesn’t try to find out who he is or anything? She could find the costumes there. He’s an anonymous artist who’s mounted an exhibition about her. She is in his workspace. But she doesn’t dig through it?

SL: So the entire thing hinged on her figuring out that there was a message in the photos.

WB: Right, so…she knows he left a message. She goes to the bridge. Batgirl shows up. She doesn’t realise it’s Dagger.

SL: Yes, that is the plot, thank you for describing it for me.

Oh, and don’t forget that there are hench-women waiting for her. This is a very big operation.

WB: Can most artists leap acrobatically around a bridge? I don’t know.

Oh, those hench-women. They appear on one page. I like their Bruce Lee/Kill Bill outfits but that’s it. I hate the fact that they seem to be some stereotype of butch women and she beats them up in a few seconds. They are wearing Black Canary style fishnets, which is POTENTIALLY interesting in light of what you noted earlier about the photos, but I’m afraid it’s probably not going to be developed further.

SL: I have trouble with a lot of things about that scene, Will.

WB: Let’s list the things, Sam.

I dislike the hard-ass, snappy dialog: ‘Let’s dance, baby!’

SL: Dagger assumes she’s dead because she fell?

WB: I dislike that Babs can physically take a metal bar from a larger woman and strikes her in the chin with it, making blood fly from her mouth. That just seems unnecessarily violent.

I dislike the ‘bitchy’, campy dialog.

SL: They both lose their cowls in battle.

She doesn’t restrain the hench-women after taking them down.

WB: I like the glitter Batgirl’s outfit and the way it’s drawn and colored.

The way she takes them down is more like Frank Miller Batman.

SL: It’s brutal.

WB: And perhaps even worse, the very idea of hench-women is so pointless, it’s just a convention of video games and the 1960s Batman. We know Dagger-Batgirl can fight, but she’s employed two women to lay into Batgirl with iron bars, while she stands there making a speech? It’s video game logic.

SL: Who are they, why are they there? Are they just hired muscle?

WB: They’re there because the creators wanted to draw those Bruce Lee/Kill Billoutfits.

SL: Which I understand, the outfits are good.

WB: But they’re not hired. They are in it for ‘fame’, like fangirls.

The outfits are good.

The thing is I think we’ve actually held off from discussing the rest, because it gets worse.

SL: Okay, I don’t know how to be nice about this.

WB: I hate all this ‘girlfriend’ sassy talk, and it just gets worse.

‘Stick to the crowd, maybe he won’t see me coming?’ the whole idea of Babs being Batgirl without the cowl was potentially interesting but it’s thrown away. Naturally she uses the new weapon. It’s so corny. Qadir gives her a new device, we know she’s going to use it.

Continued below

There could have been much more interesting ways to deal with Babs being Batgirl out of costume, or with a different type of head covering. What if Nadimah had lent her a scarf?

SL: The idea that the cops think she is just some scrappy kid who takes down a guy with a gun, and they just take it at face value seems so odd to me.

WB: Oh, is THAT your big problem with this scene.

SL: No, it’s not my big problem.

WB: I like a bit of flirting but this Liam guy tipped it over the top for me. I don’t think we need to see Babs blushing at two guys every issue. She is meant to be fairly cool and rational. Anyway, that is not the big problem. We keep delaying because we don’t even want to think about it.

SL I think it is awful that the idea that Dagger is Batgirl is so ‘absurd’ that he is literally laughed off stage. When in fact he is the Batgirl that they have all been fawning over at the gallery. That’s my big problem.

WB: Yeah I don’t know how to get to grips with this. Dagger seems to be a trans woman or at least cross-dresses as a woman. He refers to himself with male pronouns, so I’ll do that here. He is portrayed as a convincing woman for the entire issue. Then suddenly he’s ridiculous. It’s like, he obviously passes as a woman. He seems to still think of himself as Dagger when he’s dressed up as Batgirl. Maybe. That’s not clarified.

I think part of the problem is Dagger is so stylised and caricatured. It could be that Babs Tarr is getting a freer rein over the artwork now, and her style is a little more cartoony. Cameron Stewart perhaps provided more control and structure with the layouts in the previous issues.

And without getting pedantic and creepy about ‘passing’, Dagger’s face looks different as soon as he’s revealed. Look at page 26 when Babs tackles him. Here he’s physically much bigger than her, and more conventionally masculine. Then check page 19, showing Batgirl and the fake Batgirl. At this point, they’re the same height and build.

Again, it’s inappropriate to analyze how much someone passes as a woman, even in a comic book. But I’m just saying, I think the artwork creates a kind of ‘magic’ transformation.

SL In issue #35, Babs says: ‘I never forget a name or face or other exposed body part, for that matter. ‘Dagger is apparently the exception. And in the gallery, she sees his face in his ‘normal’, male guise right next to the images of him dressed up as Batgirl, but doesn’t make the connection.

WB: She has an eidetic memory that can recall images and match them to ASL, but she can’t work out that Dagger’s photo looks like the ‘Batgirl’ in the pictures right next door.

SL: I don’t know anyway to address this ‘reveal’ scene that makes it seem… it seems hateful, and I know it’s not meant that way. It can’t be, right?

WB: Suddenly it’s like HE can’t be BatGIRL.

SL: And why not? I guess that is the big misstep in the issue for me, why the hell not?

WB: I don’t think it can be meant that way, but it comes across too similar to transphobic representations, I think. The way he says this was meant to be his ‘becoming’ – the only place I have heard that before is from the serial killer in Red Dragon. It just seems too much like a psychotic transgender character who is laughed off stage and turns murderous.

SL: If he were the central character here, this would be the single most terrible moment of his life.

WB: Also if s/he is trans, and his expression is always glittery, bitchy, sassy, that’s pretty stereotypical, too. There is not enough in the comic for us to know how Dagger defines his or her gender or sexuality, but what we are given, I must confess, makes me uneasy about how the character is represented.

Continued below

Even Batgirl laughs at him. She is one of the first people to laugh. Babs, with a trans best friend! What?

SL: We know nothing about him, really, but there is no sympathy for him at all. No pause and consider kind of moment, it’s just branded as ridiculous and swept off.

WB: SAM, WHY COULDN’T THEY HAVE HAD ALYSIA IN THIS SCENE? Wouldn’t that have been a braver and bolder thing to do? How does Alysia react? Why did they bring Alysia in, then dump her for this scene, where it actually would have added nuance and complexity? Like, if Alysia was ‘hey, don’t laugh’, and had maybe had a conversation with him?

SL: Alysia could have made all the difference.

I hope it’s not, but maybe Babs starts laughing, hoping others will join in, almost as a strategy… playing on prejudice she believes might exist.

WB: You know I just re-read all that scene and it’s partly the glitter and the flash and glitz, but also the tone, it actually makes me feel a bit sickened. It is just ‘nasty’, it’s a bit horrible.

THEN… just to make us all feel better after the bad trans psycho has been led away… LET’S CONFIRM THAT BABS IS STRAIGHT. Immediately she meets a guy, she flirts and blushes.

SL: Oh, no, you’re right.

WB: Let’s cleanse our palettes after that deviancy with some good old fashioned wholesome heterosexuality. If Frank Miller had written this, I would be ripping it apart. I think the team has earned a lot of good feeling and good faith already, but to me, this is not an issue I loved.

SL: Well, even so, you’re still my favorite person to talk about Batgirl with.

WB: Now here we are, back in the present day. Well, Sam, that was a trip down memory lane wasn’t it?

SL: I’m slightly nostalgic.

WB: I feel the creators had a tough time this week. Maybe they goofed but they are good people. So, let’s spend a moment thinking about how they might have intended this issue.

SL: I think you’re right, they weren’t being intentionally nasty. One thing I have been considering is how Dagger is speaking to creators. Look at the reveal again, he talks about branding, being an icon, doing this ‘for all of us’.

WB: He says the artist becomes the subject becomes the brand.

SL: That could be a comment about inheriting the title and feeling the weight of the expectations for the character.

WB: It’s funny, now all the criticism has been aired and apologized for, it seems possible to come back to that scene differently.

I’ve been thinking – there is sometimes a sense with this book that they are like a little family, a threesome of buddies – they love each other, they’re young and fun themselves – and they are enjoying themselves a great deal, but sometimes a joke works for them, and doesn’t work when it goes public. Like the hashtags.

They included that initially to make themselves laugh and to make Black Riot seem more of a douche. I bet they were thinking, man, Dagger is a real fruit loop, I love to hate this guy, let’s turn up the volume on him.

SL: They were probably also thinking ‘sparkles are fun, let’s do more sparkles’.

WB: Yes, their social media over the last couple of months was laughing about the amount of glitter. MORE GLITTER!

I think they’re nice enough that they were simply nervous in case this amount of glitter pissed off fans of ‘dark Batgirl’. I think they felt Dagger was a pretentious art douche like Black Riot is a macho, tattooed hipster club DJ douche. I bet they enjoyed it in the same way as they enjoy the little cameos of Velma, Shaggy and other creators in the crowds.

They added the bikes to the Jawbreakers because they knew Babs likes to draw bikes. There’s a nice sense of their own pleasure and doing stuff for each other.

SL: That’s all really refreshing, seeing a team who appears invested in one another and the title they are working on. But who are they making this book for?

Continued below

WB: I think they’re making it for themselves firstly. This is what Cameron really wanted to do, strongly. This was his vision. Pop, light, fun, hip. An entirely different direction for Batgirl.

SL: He has shown a very firm commitment a kind of ‘take it or leave it’ idea, but he’s been very gracious about the way he says that.

WB: Yes, an unusual balance.

So this leads us to…

Their vision.

We know this first arc is 6 issues and we’re halfway through. We know its purpose is to get Babs through and away from her past trauma.

SL: Yes, they genuinely want her to be happy.

WB: One of the strengths of the book is that it does keep us constantly debating who the arch villain could be.

I accept it’s unlikely that my amazing theory about Earth-2 Oracle will be behind this plot, but I think some of our other speculations during the past week may help us to understand what the creators have been aiming for, with the arc so far and with Dagger.

SL: He has an air of Joker about him, and with the image of the wheelchair in this issue it’s hard not to think they are calling back to “The Killing Joke”, if only to move Babs beyond it. She takes him down using a camera, it’s a complete reversal of her earlier trauma.

WB: If we did run with the idea that Joker was behind the whole ‘stalking’ arc, it would make perfect sense in many ways. He is playing on The Killing Joke in terms of the photographs. Babs is being confronted with (what we’re meant to assume are) sexualized images of herself, followed by the wheelchair.

SL: She faces the culprit as Babs, too, which I feel is significant.

WB: Joker is exactly the kind of person who would take a vulnerable, pretentious ‘performance artist’ and set him up to be exposed and destroyed. Joker uses aspects of queerness, but in a sometimes shallow, malicious way. He teases Batman with jokes about gayness just because he knows that’s Batman’s trigger – Batman is uptight and repressed.

Joker is the kind of person who would employ people he’d see as ‘freaks’ and use them as puppets who would hurt Batgirl and get hurt themselves, along the way.

Joker is currently using the Justice League as puppets against Batman in Snyder’s run. The whole idea of manipulating someone’s friends, and of using parodies, mocking versions of the hero, is totally Joker. He did it in Death of the Family.

SL: All of the villains thus far have been very impressed with and informed by the idea of causing chaos, ripping apart social order. They’d respond to his agenda.

WB: Even the forthcoming Harley Quinn cover variant, riffing off TKJ, would point to the villain being Joker. Joker also has the ‘management’ skills, the reach, the resources. The only problem is that the creators have fairly explicitly said Joker will not be in it.

SL: Right, but the fact that he’s supposedly not of interest for the team makes me think it might be someone related to Joker, who knows his methods but has an entirely different agenda.

WB: You suggest that it might be Harley.

The Harley variant cover is coincidence, but I could see that working, except for the fact that I get the idea the team want to move away from the Bat mythos.

SL: I think it would be really fun if she were behind this.

WB: The arch villain has to be someone who knows Babs is Batgirl (issue #35), who can hack into her data exploits (issue #36), who seems to know her background (the anime, issue #36), who knows or intuits that sexualized photography will dig at her, who knows she was in a wheelchair (issue #37).

In continuity, we could name half a dozen people who have that info, from Batman down to James, Jr.

SL: Right, I think that it is equally likely that we will see someone introduced as a villain who is based in Burnside.

Continued below

WB: In the gallery there’s a woman with a prominent tattoo in the foreground. I couldn’t be sure whether it might be Starling from Birds of Prey. That’s one of the few characters from the past that I could see coming back. She ties in with Dinah, but she’s not a major figure.

SL: Do you think this team is really going to pull in a deep track character like that? I think it may be an intentional nod, but not a clue.

I’d be very surprised. I’d be less surprised if it’s Nadimah, ha.


WB: It could feasibly be Qadir, but it’s not.

SL: No, he’s too cute to be the big bad guy.

WB: You had a theory that it could be Dinah, based on her malicious attitude and behavior?

SL: I do think it could be her.

WB: I don’t think it is her. I think the team intends her to simply not be fitting into Burnside as she’s older and a serious vigilante.

SL: She lost her home, but was insured. She seems to have stopped patrolling as Black Canary, she wholeheartedly enjoys Babs’ discomfort at the gallery, she doesn’t show up for that fight. Where was she that could have been so important?

WB: It would work for it to be Dinah, but I don’t think it is.

SL: I think it’s REALLY unlikely, but it could potentially be her.

WB: Also, she disappeared mysteriously last month, with a vague excuse about checking out bars.

SL: She was not at the Dagger Type reveal this issue.

WB: But I think this is the team’s idea of characterization, rather than a master plan.

You really think they are going to take fan-favorite BC and turn her into an arch villain trying to kill Babs?

No. Instead, I have come up with a new and more plausible idea that is less exciting, but more plausible in terms of my feel for the team’s ideas. It’s about Barbara’s algorithm, her study project.

SL: And what is that?

WB: Ok, here you go. She was developing the algorithm 3 years ago during her recovery from injury. The algorithm was wiped from the laptop. Let’s assume Black Riot is just a tool here, not the person actually behind that.

The algorithm is a tool for social mapping that incorporates ‘signal data from your brain scan’, according to issue #36.


All the information: her past, the anime, the injury, the photos, her name, her hacks when she was 16. The team introduced this idea themselves. I think that’s it. Whoever has the algorithm is the villain behind this.

SL: So it’s her mysterious advisor, then? George Krupke?

WB: It is possible that he’s out of the way for that reason. He did also mail her in issue #35, so he’s been seeded in the plot for some time.

SL: His name is probably an anagram. Wanna bet?

WB: The name Krupke reminds me most of the officer in West Side Story.

But the team enjoys wordplay, like Dagger Type/Daguerrotype, and the coffee shop Chiroptera. Let’s see. George… K R U P K E… it’s J O K E R


SL: Let me send you that image from #35, with the emails.

WB: This is like being Qadir (you) and Babs (me).

Say what you like about this run of Batgirl, it is giving us a lot of detective fun.

SL: I prefer to be Oralce, but that’s cool, too.

WB: you must be more of a Batgirl fan than me Samantha, as I never heard of Oralce.

I think you sent me a photo from your ‘private collection’.

SL: Sorry, or you’re welcome, whatever.

WB: OK, well, he could have withheld her money, to screw around with her, to keep her on a low budget. That could be part of his amusement.

SL: I think it’s going to be him now, pretty firmly. That fits with the logic and storytelling style of the series.

Continued below

WB: I think it fits.

SL: So, then the question is, who is he?

WB: The team want us to look back, and go ‘Ah! They put a clue in there’. He’s away on some vague trip.

SL: The beginning of #36 is all very suspect. If it were a movie, it would have an ominous score.

WB: He’s mysteriously telling her there’s no funding.

And the project is gone.

SL: He has tech. He has ties to Burnside. He knows the local scene.

WB: I think that’s his real name though. It’s on the door and Jeremy knows him.

SL: He could have been at this for years, since she started developing the algorithm.

WB: ‘He’ll be ‘back from up North next week’ – I don’t know what the time scale is in this comic. Batgirl is famous already and she’s barely moved to Burnside.

I genuinely think we have to consider this not just in terms of the text but in terms of what we can second guess about the team. I think they want to create their own mini mythos here and keep it all internal.

If the big reveal depended on a character invented by Jerry Robinson in 1940, that would really not be their style

SL: No, this is their Batgirl first and foremost.

They mention him in both previous issues.

WB: Krupke is also the only character mentioned that we haven’t met.


Jeremy is Krupke’s assistant. Maybe Liam is the real love interest, Jeremy is the false one. Romance stories usually have a real love and an impostor, a false trail.

Jeremy could be in on it. WHY ELSE IS HE AT THE LAUNCH?

SL: I don’t know, Liam does not have hearts around his face.

Jeremy does…

WB: Maybe Krupke is paying Jeremy to keep tabs on Babs.

SL: Nadimah sort of warns Babs about Jeremy? Vaguely.

WB: It’s weird she says he is damaged goods and implies he’s boring but then hangs out with him at the Dagger Type opening…but then, the characterization is not always 100% consistent in this book.

I think he’s a red herring.


SL: That is a terrible joke, you’re adorable.

WB:But you agree — the facts about Babs’ past are coming from the brain scan in the algorithm she worked on when she was recovering after TKJ.

SL: Yes, that makes sense.

WB: This is how the team are getting Babs past her traumatic past, without actually incorporating it. The villain sees she is traumatized about the wheelchair, by photographs, that she likes anime and bikes, that she’s got an eidetic memory.

I think it could be as simple as this: Krupke wants to steal the research. Simple as that…he’s held back her funding. He’s used it to go North on some trip.

He’s screwing with her from a distance, if he is up North at all.

It’s a story of old guy trying to rip off young heroine. Perfect for the hip, young tumblr crowd. An evil professor.

SL: Right, well, we all know our share of those.

WB: Yeah, I do, actually.

SL: Well, I just know you.

WB: Oh.

I see where you are going.

Credit to the team, that is a real thing that happens — male professor rips off the research of younger female research student.

SL: Do you think he is a new character?

Or is this an assumed identity?

WB: I’m pretty sure I saw them say there will be the return of someone from Babs’ past but I can’t find it now.

I think Krupke having all the knowledge about her past is enough.

That means in issue #38 he makes Batgirl uncomfortably visible and circulates her image everywhere.

In #39 he turns her new community against her (exactly as the text warned in #35), and #40 is the conclusion. In #40, she turns the tables. #39 is the nadir before the triumph. He is trying to drive her out of Burnside.

He is one of the few people who knew she was coming in advance, anyway. He knew she was registering, so he stole her laptop, used Black Riot to get the data. That’s why her laptop is stolen on the first night.

Continued below

One other thing about this plot that nails it home for me…

It leads perfectly into an issue where we flash back, in illuminated blue ‘Detective Vision’, to Babs piecing everything together. Panels from issues #35-39. That is very Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr.

SL: Very much so, you’re right.

WB: They are seeding the Babs memory device into every issue, leading up to this one huge puzzle-solving sequence.

They thought they could beat me, Sam.

They thought they could beat me!

SL: I’m pretty sure I helped with this one.

WB: No.

You just implied I was evil.

SL: I did do that, but I also helped.

NO… wait. It is him. He’s promising the villains their exact desires. Brain scans – he identifies the perfect mark and how to manipulate them.

WB: He promised fame and stardom if Dagger followed explicit instructions. Also, a ‘patron’ is a very patriarchal, older rich guy role. What did the others want?

The Jawbreakers were offered money.

SL: Those bikes, they really wanted those bikes, that came from Burnside College.

WB: Black Riot, is he being paid for?

SL: I think it’s implied that he gets the implant from someone.

There is no indication that he has been paid by anyone else, but I think it could still tie in.

WB: It is certainly a parallel. She has all the info on her HOOQ date. Issue #35 is setting up the theme.

When she gets her laptop back, the data has been wiped.

SL: We never find out if the data recovery worked?

WB: No, we don’t.

Who stole her laptop?

SL: The cute guy. The HOOQ date. He actually took it, but on the orders of Black Riot.

WB: He’s the guy who stole from the other two at the party?

SL: Right.

WB: Andrew/Jason/Brad.

Why did he even contact her?

SL: Because she signed up for HOOQ.

WB:. OK, ‘Brad’ stole Diane’s phone then ‘Jason’ came to the party with Sevin.

SL: And steals Babs’ laptop then.

WB: OK, let’s assume Krupke hired Black and Black hired Brad. Maybe Black would have told Babs this if his brain wasn’t fried.

SL: Maybe there’s an off switch attached to the tech.

WB: So, that issue just introduced the idea.

SL: I halfway expect Krupke’s room to be an empty office, with a link to an underground character.

WB: I think she will finally get into the office, and the chair will swing round…


SL: You know… I think Nadimah’s a mole.

WB: Are you serious?

SL: Yes, I am.

She tells Babs about Qadir who gives her the hard drive. That hard drive is totally loaded with spyware. If she were working for the villain she would know Babs needed it, and could have arranged everything ahead of time.

WB: The villain already has all the information by then, from her brain scanning algorithm.

SL: Krumpke is tracking all of her activity.

WB: Krumpke, is he in Earth-Sam with Oralce?

SL: Like I said, you’re evil.

Knowing where she will be going, who she is talking to and what she knows would be useful still. Real time data.

WB: It would explain why Nadimah was there at the launch.

SL: True, and why she is there at all, really. Like you said last month, a junior researcher like Babs would not have a research assistant.

WB: Sam, you think all of Burnside College is corrupt.

SL: Not Qadir, and really, not Jeremy. I think Liam is probably bad news.

WB: No, Liam is not bad news, you are frustrating me by complicating this.

SL: But Will, Liam had no hearts.

AND he didn’t blush.

WB: Oh, you’re thinking Jeremy is the cute shy guy she ignores, and Liam is the ‘wrong’ love interest. That could be right, but I don’t think he is a villain

SL: That’s all I mean.

WB: I think that’s separate from the main plot.

SL: I agree.

Continued below

WB: Oh, I do have one more serious point about how I see it ending in #40.

I suspect Babs will ‘come out’ as Batgirl so there are no secrets anyone can use against her. The arc is about how she isn’t dark like Bruce. Being open within Burnside about her identity, that she was shot, disabled, traumatised, would be very ‘this team’.

No secrets.

She’s embraced by the community and accepted as they know she is Barbara Gordon. That way nobody else can impersonate her.

SL: I’d be happy to see that, but poor Jim if it goes public. Can you imagine the target on his back if people know he’s Batgirl’s father?

WB: Right, not like now then.

Not like the life he has now.

When nobody is gunning for him, ever.

SL: It would be worse.

WB: I mean now he walks around pretty carefree.

He is the biggest walking target in Gotham.

He is Batman’s friend! Does he have to worry about being Batgirl of Burnside’s dad? It might protect him. Better not mess with Gordon, that’s Batgirl’s dad.

SL: I don’t think it is enough of a reason not to go forward with. I just worry about Jim.

But I think you are right.

There is an element of that in this issue. She says ‘This is how I choose to be seen’ at the end of the issue. Qadir urges her to take ownership of her identity.

I think it is very plausible. It would move Babs away from her past with finality.

WB: That is my longer-term guess for #40, and we have now said enough.

SL: You are still my favorite person to talk about Batgirl with, we could always say more.

And we will next month, so stay tuned.

//TAGS | The Burnside HOOQ-Up

Sam LeBas

Sam resides in Louisiana, and has a twang in her voice, even when her words are in print. Her first crush was Burt Ward. She reviews comics, writes features, and co-host podcasts at She also blogs about comic books from a feminist, literary perspective at You can find her on twitter @comicsonice where she makes inappropriate jokes and shamelessly promotes her work. Other than comic books, her greatest passions are applied linguistics and classic country music. She enjoys quality writing implements, squirrels, and strong coffee.


Will Brooker

Will Brooker is Professor of Film and Cultural Studies at Kingston University. He is the author of several books on popular culture, including "Using the Force", "Batman Unmasked", "The Blade Runner Experience", "Alice's Adventures", and "Hunting the Dark Knight". His most recent work is a chapter on Batgirl for the new book "Many More Lives of the Batman". Brooker also writes the critically-acclaimed comic “My So-Called Secret Identity”, which is moving to print this Fall after a successful Kickstarter.


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    The Burnside HOOQ-Up: “Secret Origins” #10

    By | Mar 9, 2015 | Annotations

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