Written by Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher
Illustrated by Babs Tarr
This month in Burnside, Batgirl is learning to juggle fame and responsibility. While the impostor who has been tracking Babs since the beginning of this arc makes their threats even more personal.
Sam LeBas: For me, “Batgirl” #38 really started to pull a lot of things together.
Will Brooker: I felt this issue involved a lot of satisfying payoff, almost like a mid-season finale. We have a sense now that we’re into the home stretch, gearing up to the end of the arc.
SL: Barbara really finds her voice in this issue. She is able to speak up for herself, explain her thinking and her motivation more than she has in the last three issues of this reboot.
WB: You could say that Brenden Fletcher really finds Babs’ voice in this issue.
SL: Right. She’s very well written here, believable, conflicted, funny at times.
WB: She gets a more developed love life.
The dialogue and the body language and expressions really swing in this issue, in the ‘romance’ subplot in particular. It’s beautiful the way it all works. It seems effortless.
SL: I think there is a new depth to Babs here, even while the creators focus on how shallow she has become.
WB: I don’t think she is being shallow. Also, I don’t think she’s entirely on the right track yet. I think she’s actually still making mistakes. But her ‘shallowness’ is a conscious choice to make more assertive use of social media.
She’s gone from a wild start in # 35 to a more subdued, defensive, reactive position, and now she’s in a strong, defiant mode, but I don’t think that’s the end of her character arc.
I think she still has to reach a resolution about who she is and who she wants to be. It’s like stages of grief, almost. Stages of responding to trauma. It’s impressive as a longer-term character study, told through a pop-crime romance book.
SL: I agree that she’s not finished evolving. She ends the issue, I think, feeling a little disappointed in herself.
WB: Yes, she’s really still processing her own social responsibility, which gives a deeper meaning to the term ‘social network’ and her social algorithm.
Additionally, the algorithm is a ‘map of her head’ and the arc is all about her making sense of herself, so that works on various levels.
SL: Other people have access to the information from the algorithm in a way that she doesn’t currently, it seems, which is a really interesting comment on the way Barbara sees herself at this point.
WB: On the other hand, Samantha, the algorithm is a map of who she was. It’s effectively a map of the pre-Burnside Batgirl; the Batgirl who was still processing the events of The Killing Joke, who went through so much drama with her mother and brother.
SL: There’s a disconnect. Everything seems fractured between that past version and the new Babs, and this story is about working through that disconnect.
WB: In a sense this arc is about the rebooted Batgirl being shadowed and stalked by someone who’s studied and is familiar with the traumatized Barbara from before the reboot. In that respect it’s incredibly meta. I must admit, this comic continues to surprise and impress me. This is the first issue we’ve had mention of Batman, Babs’ mother and her brother.
SL: She didn’t bring any of them up. Did you notice that?
WB: It’s almost as if she’d forgotten them, or tried to forget them.
It’s like the Gail Simone run on the character, which was darker and starker, is still haunting the new reboot, which aims to be lighter and brighter. It’s as though the creators are acknowledging that when you reboot, you can’t simply escape from previous storyline and characterization; you have to engage with them before you can move on. It’s saying you can’t just escape your past. It’s pointing out that any reboot is going to carry along readers and fans who know and remember the last story and its creative team.Continued below
It’s as though she and the creative team wanted to move away from the previous Batgirl, but neither the character nor the team can do that without dealing with that history.
So in addition to a compelling character study, this could be an incredibly clever commentary on continuity and reboots in general, and specifically within DC. If it’s not intentional, it can still be interpreted as such. It could be the most meta commentary since Grant Morrison’s “Animal Man”.
This arc is also about audience and fandom, of course. There are nice details like someone wearing yellow DMs on the subway and the tweet about cosplaying as Batgirl – I see this as another wry little meta reference and a sign that the comic is about its relationship with its readership, almost about itself.
It works on multiple levels – within the fiction and as a commentary about institution, editorial, and storytelling.
I constantly think, reading this comic, that I, Professor Batman, must surely be able to work out what they’re doing, and they constantly do something smarter.
But on the other hand, there are three of them.
Also, I think we did work out the algorithm plot.
SL: I think we did.
WB: I’m not 100% sure about Krupke’s role in that. I thought, halfway through this issue, that we were going to be wrong. But when he didn’t show, I think there’s still a strong possibility that somehow he’s going to be an antagonist.
SL: Oh, I still think he, or someone who has been using his identity, which I guess is possible, is involved in a major way.
WB: If this isn’t taking us off topic, how about Liam’s role in this? It seems to me that the hacked HOOQ site – if the virus currently infecting it is deliberate and malicious – set Babs up with him, and that we’re being told he has been fed info about Babs’ past. He seems like a straight-up guy, but perhaps he’s just provoking Babs into self-doubt about her role as Batgirl?
I think he’s some kind of plant, and shy professor guy is the real romantic hero.
SL: I said that last time.
But Liam hates Batgirl. He would totally take Babs down if he found out who she was.
WB: Yeah, but I don’t think he’s simply the straight-up cop with integrity who would take down Batgirl in the same way early Jim Gordon would take down Batman.
I’m saying he is just a dummy, a player, who has been fed info about Babs and is part of the plot to undermine her.
Their HOOQ coincidences have been set up, you agree?
SL: I agree, completely. The nagging reminders, her suddenly being in his top matches, it’s not a coincidence.
WB: Either he’s acting a part, or he’s really naive, but he’s been set up as part of the grand anti-Batgirl plan.
What he thinks Babs told him in a ‘chat’, which I assume is online, was the fake Babs. So, I think he could be genuine and just being manipulated himself. He’s talking to an imposter who is telling him about her mother and James Jr.
SL: Right, that’s all been fake Babs.
He’s not a bad guy. In fact, he’s a very good guy. He would put doing the right thing ahead of everything else. That means if he found out Babs is Batgirl he would bring her in. I’m not saying he’s a villain, just that someone manipulated the situation to put him there, because they know Barbara having a romantic relationship with a man whose mission in life is to bring down Batgirl is volatile.
WB: That has to be it, I agree.
I like the guy. I found their scenes quite sparky. There was a chemistry.
SL: Personally, I think he seems a little dull, actually. But I don’t much like boy scout types.
WB: I think he’s strong and has passion. I like the smoochin’ scenes. I think they work, they’re fun, they’re PG-sexy and they introduce the romance genre into superhero comics in a way that I think is healthy.Continued below
They look great together.
SL: He looks like Channing Tatum.
WB: I think Liam is probably the nice solid guy that Babs is not meant to end up with.
SL: No, that’s going to end badly. He’s not going to be able to reconcile his anger with Batgirl.
WB: I don’t think that’s the only reason. He is being manipulated and he’s too dull, too straight and stolid.
SL: By the way, we’ve had a fake Batgirl for the last three issues. Now we have fake Babs, texting calling Liam.
WB: Good point. It’s now a fake Barbara. Is the imposter getting closer to her, perhaps?
SL: I think, possibly, it’s meant to show a transition in her self perception. In the first three issues, we saw Babs being much more comfortable as Batgirl. I think in that last issue she took ownership of that identity.
WB: In # 35, the imposter called herself Batgirl, didn’t she? Now the fake is even intruding on her personal life.
SL: Yes, but that’s because the identity of “Batgirl” is no longer on the table.
WB: Ah… I see.
SL: You take my point? She’s conquered that aspect of the internal struggle. She is Batgirl, and the impostor is out of the picture in that respect. Now, she has to figure out who Barbara is and claim that identity, too.
WB:I see it slightly differently in more pragmatic and practical terms, Sam. You are right in more symbolic terms.
I think the fake, the antagonist, has realised that Babs has taken control of the Batgirl identity, and is now moving on to an attack on the Babs front.
SL: Practically, I agree, but this is one big symbolic quest, isn’t it?
WB: Sure, but I’m just saying in plot terms. Just so we cover two levels here.
SL: Fair enough.
WB: Are we cool now?
SL: We are always cool. Don’t be ridiculous.
WB: I don’t know, because if you HATE me so much, Sam… why don’t you pack up all your crap and get OUT of my LIFE.
Do you know what I’m doing there? I am providing a segue that you didn’t even notice, into our next topic of discussion, which is Dinah Drake.
SL: No, I didn’t even notice. Seamless.
So, in the alley, Dinah tells Babs that she is like a completely different person.
WB: Babs is a completely different person. She’s saying, ‘you’ve been rebooted’. Where is the Babs I knew from Gail Simone’s run? (Which we could also say about Dinah.)
I loved this scene. It was so cathartic. We have been feeling the seething tension between Babs and Dinah for four months now, and you and I have been saying, what the hell is up with Dinah? This is like an argument that boils over and in a way it feels great, like a much-needed release.
SL: I actually ended up kind of taking Dinah’s side, which I would never have expected.
WB: I also loved the way they incorporate the ditching of Alysia. It’s so clever and again, self-referential. It actually acknowledges that Alysia has been marginalized within the reboot.
SL: That strain between past and present is played out really well here.
WB: I genuinely think this scene is meant to be meta and referential, as the panel where Babs declares ‘I want to have some fun…’ is exactly what the creators have stated as their intention for the character.
It’s wonderfully smart. It works in-scene, in-universe, and it also works as a commentary about reboots and continuity. I am just eating this up.
SL: I actually said to someone on twitter the other day that Babs has been through enough, she deserves to have fun. The team has been subtly building that into each issue, I feel like I must have been programmed to think that.
WB: I think they’ve actually said that in interviews.
They told me… they told me IN PERSON, Samantha, to my FACE… that this arc was about Babs dealing with her past, and that first she overcompensates and goes crazy, then comes the hangover, and now we’re in the next phase.Continued below
SL: But really, I feel like they very clearly outline what they want for the character here.
WB: Yes, this is an authorial statement. Which means that you siding with Dinah is interesting, if what Babs is saying represents what the creators are trying to do.
SL: That is interesting, especially because I want Babs to have an easier time. I understand why Dinah is hurt and confused.
WB: I think this is just part of it. She is becoming herself after trauma. That is going to be hard. That’s a process.
I love the tall panel of Dinah pointing a finger at Babs while she slouches outside the bar – artistically, in terms of the color and reflections, the amber light, the unique reference to Batman as ‘scariest man on the planet’, which is wonderful as Dinah is pretty bad-ass herself…
But one of the things I like best is that Babs is in the most Batman pose we’ve ever seen in this reboot. She’s saying she’s in the spotlight and he’s in the shadows, while she’s absolutely standing like Batman-in-shadows… which is clever, funny and neat, but also suggests she’s still deluding herself.
Dinah’s last panel there is totally ‘Spider-Man No More’/Rorschach promotional poster from 1986 (comic) or 2009 (movie). Again, it’s very self-referential, playfully knowing.
I think it’s nice to see a woman in this iconic pose, to be honest.
Samantha, what did you think about the inclusion of Ashes on Sunday for the first time, and Dinah’s role in that scene?
SL: I think it’s interesting that Dinah finds the spotlight in this way, contrasting with Babs, who finds fame as Batgirl. She’s allowing ‘Dinah’ to become her public persona.
WB: She is taking on a public persona as Dinah, that’s true, although Barberi doesn’t know her name. It makes sense Black Canary would have ‘sweet pipes’ so that’s neat, again. And note she is singing: “You can’t have it both ways.”
SL: I think that’s essentially what Dinah was telling Babs in the alley, so it fits.
Why do you think Jordan Barberi’s name is so similar to Barbara Gordon? That can’t be accidental.
WB: You’re right. You know what I would think if I was Babs, at this point?
I would think I’m in the goddamn Truman Show, and all of Burnside is some simulation full of actors designed to make me paranoid.
SL: Do you think that’s it? The big reveal?
WB: This is actually more of a paranoid nightmare than Batman ever faced in the Owls storyline. I think what’s going to happen is Burnside is revealed as a fake borough of film-set houses, and all the characters are actors. Dinah will be there saying ‘you did well, Babs! Your face, girl! I thought you were going to slap me.’
But I haven’t gotten to the really big reveal yet.
SL: Are you going to?
As Babs wanders through the abandoned props and sets of ‘Burnside’, a figure emerges.
‘Hh. You passed the TEST, Batgirl.’
‘I needed to know if I could TRUST you, after Joker destroyed the FAMILY’.
SL: Well. Let’s pack up, our work here is done. You’ve solved it.
WB: I know the creative team reads my HOOQ-up discussions with you and realises I’ve cracked it, and submits a new script each month.
‘Damn it, Brenden, he’s worked it out!’
They scrapped a perfectly good issue #40 where Joker was the arch villain behind it all.
SL: Even if you just spoiled the whole story arc, you’re still my favorite person to talk about Batgirl with.
Things we liked about “Likable”
WB: I LIKE the framing and pacing of the action scene, the car chase: it’s smart and punchy in every respect.
SL: I LOVE the color palette in the scenes with Nadimah.
WB: I LOVE the way Babs guzzles down drink in this issue. I think it’s really important to show women consuming food and drinks in comics and she isn’t remotely dainty. She is pouring that stuff down her neck.
SL: I LIKE that Batgirl saves the dog in the chase scene.Continued below
SL: I LOVE the first page. The way the text is integrated is incredibly dynamic.
WB: I also LIKE the fact that even though it’s really modern, the first page also looks like the 1968 Yvonne Craig Batgirl, with its dayglo colors and the foregrounding of text.