Written by Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher
Illustrated by Babs Tarr
For months, Batgirl’s been hounded by an unseen threat claiming to be the “real” Batgirl…and the truth of her enemy’s identity will shock her to her very core!
In our last HOOQ-Up, Will and I tried to figure out what Stewart, Fletcher & Tarr have been building over the last few months. With the release “Batgirl” #39, we are back to see how well our Oracle Theory stood up to this issue’s big reveal. Warning, it’s spoiler city down there.
Will Brooker: Well, Sam, I think we should start this Hooq Up with a solid high five for us. I mean, we did it. when we read this issue, we were like, ‘we did it’.
Sam LeBas: We really did crack it. Our discussion preceding that last post totaled about 20,000 words.
WB: Our efforts were repaid. OK, let’s start at the end.
Shockingly, my theory from our discussion of issue #36 was correct. I think it’s safe to say that at least on one level, the villain is Oracle.
SL: I was surprised to see that, yeah. That you were right, I mean.
WB: I actually anticipated it, I could almost see it: a final page where the green glowing face is revealed. I’m sure we have a chat somewhere, even if we didn’t publish it, where I say, last page, Oracle reveal.
SL: The last panel was spot on.
WB: Let’s go over what we clearly got right. The algorithm turned Burnside against Batgirl. Babs says the problem is not the app (HOOQ), but someone controlling it. Someone who knows me intimately, she says. ‘I think— it might be me’. She realizes Liam knows things about her family. We picked up on that.
Your mind is basically a computer, says Dinah, and then the revelation. ‘Oh. that’s it. Oh my God.’ Here, Barbara Gordon catches up with us.
SL: Right, and she’s realized HOOQ is the root of her trouble.
WB: Which we got. Though we thought it was a little more complex. We assumed the algorithm jumped Riot Black’s network to HOOQ, to the GCPD.
SL: Which I still think makes sense.
WB: There’s another mention of Black here, the second in two issues.
I think what happened with the Jawbreakers, Jordan, Liam and so on will be spelled out in the next two issues. I still think the GCPD is relevant. Phil worked for their data and for HOOQ. The GCPD obtained Black’s hardware and software.
SL: Right. She’s ignoring Liam’s calls throughout this issue, which makes me think that he and the GCPD figure into the next issue.
WB: No doubt that’s how the algorithm got onto the GCPD database and blocked Babs, and perhaps arranged for Liam to be at the Jordan car chase and possibly at the Dagger launch.
SL: I agree.
WB: One thing we also got, but which is worth exploring.
We got it that the algorithm/Oracle/fake Batgirl is fueled by trauma and doesn’t want to let go of the past, in Gotham, and is shaped by her recovery period and depression.
Now, the right hand screen is Jim Gordon reading the newspaper, Joker at the door, and Joker leaving Babs bleeding on the floor… So, it’s a reworking of The Killing Joke. And it’s relevant that this is a reworking, not a straight reprise of the images from the original.
SL: I think that is such a smart way to remind readers of everything Barbara Gordon has been through without making us (and her) go through it all over again.
WB: Well… I’m in two minds.
I can link you to a whole ton of images where that TKJ image has become iconic shorthand. To the extent that even Batman ‘remembers’ it as part of his traumatic life, when the whole point was he wasn’t there, and if he had been there, Babs wouldn’t have lost mobility. So, the fact that the shooting of a now-teenage girl has become iconic, I find a little sad.Continued below
But I would like you to bear with me a moment. A few years ago, Gail wrote a new Batgirl origin called ‘Fire in the Heavens’. In this scene Babs is getting herself coffee from a kind of commercial coffee jug, in what is drawn more like an office. Maybe that’s just misleading art, but Jim is not there. In a later issue, she encounters one of Joker’s thugs from that scene and it’s strongly implied that events happened differently from TKJ.
SL: Right, Gail made the intent completely different.
WB: OK, later she meets Danny, Joker’s goon from that day. Interesting, I’ve seen about 10 depictions of that moment and the goons are always drawn differently, as if they’re symbolic, generic. But anyway here we meet one as an individual. In this story, by Gail Simone, from the New 52, Danny shoots Babs and they just leave her there, take off and leave, and then he calls the police, which saves her life. It wasn’t a deliberate attempt to screw with Gordon… they shot Babs because they hate Gordon and she’s his daughter. So, TKJ in the New 52 does not, explicitly, involve Joker stripping Babs naked and photographing her.
In this issue, Babs is not wearing the yellow blouse that has been depicted and described every other time. She is shot but she is not stripped naked or photographed. She is left on the floor wearing jeans and t-shirt. There is no sexual violation or photography, that we SEE. It could happen, but it’s not shown.
So… TKJ history is being changed.
SL: I think they are intentionally writing that out. They want you to know she was left clothed. That foot is stepping out the door. There’s no question.
WB: That’s what I surmised, Sam. I think there is question, but yeah, that was my reading. He’s walking away. They have rewritten the outfit. Danny explicitly says in Gail’s New 52 run that they shot Babs through her ‘pretty blouse’.
The middle screen shows Babs’ chest in the Gail Simone-era costume.
Which I think might be a little comment cause it’s so similar to the costume design where they contrast the boobs of spandex suit with the modest bust of the jacket. Left, we see Batman ears. Then two images of Babs in the established New 52 Gail origin. Same outfit, same mask, same logo.
SL: Right hand panel: Jim’s there. Which means that the premise of the original TKJ still stands up?
WB: What? He didn’t strip her and take photos.
SL: But it seems likely that Jim Gordon’s still kidnapped.
WB: I am prepared to believe the art in Batgirl #0 was misleading. But how do you know Gordon was kidnapped? Batgirl #0 had no Jim.
SL: Where is he, then?
WB: Right, in the most recent retelling of TKJ (art by Ed Benes). There’s no Jim. Look at the coffee dispenser. Isn’t that what you have in an office at meetings? The ceiling is corporate. It’s not an apartment, but OK, I can accept that’s an art slip.
SL: Okay, so, looking at this, I think they threw Gail’s retelling out.
WB: They didn’t throw it all out, did they? I think they retained the idea that there was no sexual aspect. There is no suggestion here of photograph …except that their Joker has a camera. But then again, he also has a Hawaiian shirt… it’s a tourist outfit. It doesn’t mean he actually uses the camera, except as a prop. I think they’re leaving it open.
The Tarr/Fletcher/Stewart version of the classic frame is identical composition except they’ve inserted their younger Babs in a t-shirt. Otherwise identical.
So, given that they’ve kept the key image identical, I think the fact that they seem to imply Joker left her clothed on the floor is significant.
SL: We know that last image is in sequence with Babs opening the door for the Joker, because the shirt she’s wearing in the center matches the one she’s wearing on the floor. That’s the new ending.Continued below
WB: Yes, certainly. Jeans not skirt, and a t-shirt not yellow blouse, but the coffee table is still there. The iconic image is identical.
SL: I have to say, the camera concerns me.
WB: I agree.
SL: But, I think it is so integral to the iconography, that it would be hard to get rid of it.
WB: It’s a tourist outfit. The hat and shirt are part of his costume, as is the camera. I don’t think he stripped her. Maybe he took pictures of her clothed.
WB: Gail’s story shows Joker taking photos of her, but with her clothes still on. I think it’s possible the new team is following her lead in trying to rewrite the most disturbing element out of TKJ, and about time, really.
Two other things: Firstly, we can confirm that the new team is feeling free to rewrite Gail’s version of events. It’s a different outfit here, and also Babs isn’t carrying a cup. The cup was a significant detail. Now it’s gone.
SL: Originally, she was bringing Jim cocoa.
WB: Right, it was a more domestic scene. Batgirl had retired, and was caring for her fairly elderly father, while he compiled scrapbooks of the past.
OK, point two. Think about it. You’re Gail Simone. You’ve blogged tirelessly about victimized women in comics. If you get the opportunity to tweak TKJ, you are going to do that. I do believe Gail would have intended to tone down the sexual violence and victimization in TKJ. I think the new team is helping to confirm that, or at least not deny it.
I personally think TKJ is a shameful episode in DC’s history.
Do we have to have new Batgirl fans, aged 13 or whatever, finding out more about their new heroine, and having to see her shot and raped? The sooner we write this out the better. How is a tween girl gonna feel? ‘Oh I love Babs Tarr’s Batgirl… I want to read more! Here’s the famous story The Killing Joke… oh.’ It’s a bad story, Moore doesn’t like it himself, continuity is always writing out good characters and adventures, so let’s use continuity finally to wipe out something negative.
SL: The difficult thing about TKJ, and stories like it more broadly, is that it’s not Barbara’s story. She’s truly a victim, and not in the way that we’ve seen with other characters in the same mythos. However, she’s become a symbol for survivors in the years since that story was released. She lives with that and survives, but suffers lasting consequences as a result. It makes her character stronger, more relatable, and so on. I find a lot to admire in this team’s Barbara, and the way she copes with what has been done to her character. Keeping the event itself, without the sexualized violence, makes a lot of sense.
WB: But it shouldn’t be in the service of a plot that’s about Batman, Jim and Joker.
SL: And I think the team, by placing an image of Jim on that screen, has possibly gone back to that narrative.
WB: Fair point, Samantha. We do not yet know.
SL: Jim’s not (I hope) standing around, watching this happen. So, where is Jim while Babs is on the floor? What’s happening to him, meanwhile?
Stewart has said he thinks TKJ is an ugly story. So, I don’t doubt that there have been intentional changes, but the overall plot of that story seems to have been reinstated here.
WB: On one hand, I think this team is very clever and detailed in their attention to both their own work, and the mythos they’ve inherited. On the other, I don’t think a lot of people seemed to notice that Gail had tweaked the canonical New 52 history of TKJ. So it’s hard to know whether and what they are intentionally rewriting here, in terms of both Alan Moore’s original and Gail’s New 52 retelling of those events.
Overall, I speculate that they’ve removed the sexual aspect. They’ve subtly wiped out the naked photos, while perhaps writing Jim back in.
SL: I think that’s a very fair assumption, and I’m glad for the changes they seem to have made.Continued below
WB: Sam, though we guessed that Black Canary would get her own solo title, we didn’t guess she would come back here. Why was that?
SL: Because the team explicitly said she would not be coming back, and we believed them.
WB: They certainly did. There was a word for that at the kindergarten I attended, saying something and then not keeping your word…
SL: They’ve said all along that they were building to something with Dinah, but their artful misdirection led us astray.
WB: They said there will be no Black Canary here, this is Dinah Drake. As soon as I saw the phone display, Dinah Lance, I knew. We got played.
But I didn’t hate them.
SL: Neither did I. I think it’s okay to keep secrets.
WB: Black Canary’s return was so good. I forgive it, it gave us a pleasurable surprise. The scene where Dinah returns is great, and so is the ‘staff meeting’ – it’s glorious. Maris Wicks rules here. The lighting!
SL: She’s really fabulous.
WB: It’s a wonderful scene – Maris Wicks kills the amber sunrise. Cameron Stewart is genuinely the best fight choreographer I can think of in comics now. The best action scene beats. Then you have Tarr with the cute combat outfits, even here, each girl wears a characteristic top — Babs is all baggy and cute, Dinah is more strappy and sexy. And the dialog is also win: ‘HOOQ sent the bikers… what a crappy app.’
SL: Ha, no they catch something brilliant here. Authentic.
WB: So the team lied, but that’s fine because I was rewarded and surprised with a wonderful scene.
SL: These characters are people you would want to be around.
WB: You would want to date them.
The scene where Dinah and Babs hug, and Babs drives her bike up the wall, next, is also awesome.
SL: There is so much going right in this issue.
WB: The action storyboarding is on point, I love Babs shooting her grapple gun: ‘PUM’ sound effect. Loved it in issue #36, love it now.
SL: Okay, so there are some major questions raised in this issue having to do with Frankie.
WB: What is Frankie doing there in the HOOQ office? How did she get there? She’s having trouble walking. So, I assumed she was kidnapped and taken there.
Then Babs and Dinah are scanning the building and Babs notes, ‘two heat signatures… one seated, the other pacing around’. Who else is up there?
Frankie is seated, but there’s another pacing around…
Could it be Liam?
SL: Oh, no.
WB: Unless it’s Krupke, which to me now seems unlikely.
SL: By the way, Krupke totally looks like Sean Connery.
WB: Liam must be involved in issue 40. He has to return for another face-off. Who else wants to bring down Batgirl and can put up a fight?
WB: OK, possibly.
SL: I’m half-kidding. It could be Jeremy, if we are assuming that he has a connection to the algorithm. I can’t see Jeremy as much of a fighter, though.
WB: The other person in the HOOQ building is possibly Nadimah. It has to be someone fairly techy to help the algorithm. But my guess is, I think Liam will show up and do a Jim Gordon in Year One routine – ‘I can’t see you very well without my glasses’, turn a blind eye.
SL: I agree, but that will end their relationship.
WB: Not necessarily. It’s like Jim and Bruce. He knows she’s Batgirl but he accepts she does a social good.
SL: Yeah, they’re not going to be romantically involved.
WB: No, but he’s her man on the force. If we accept that Krupke is a red herring and has no further involvement.
SL: Liam could be integrated into the plot later, he doesn’t have to be the second heat signature to be present for the showdown. The cops could show up on the scene.
WB: I think it’s possible Nadimah is a suspicious character. ‘Want to look at the maps I’ve been working on?’ She acts like she doesn’t know Dinah, or the name Ashes on Sunday. Jeremy simply acts like a clown, and is going to be at the HOOQ party, crushing on Dinah, making Babs jealous. Jeremy is just a fool.Continued below
SL: Jeremy’s just awkward, not evil.
WB: I think Nadimah could be the other person, and I genuinely think Liam’s involvement will be turning up, but letting Batgirl go.
SL: If it is Nadimah, she’s probably being manipulated on some level.
WB: By the algorithm, yes, it would have promised her something. Then Babs would just be disappointed, and forgive Nadimah.
SL: It’s possible Nadimah wants credit for Babs work.
WB: Yeah, why not?
SL: What Nadimah says about Jordan in #38, ‘celebrity is no excuse’, could just have easily been about Babs/Batgirl. Also, I think Nadimah may have a crush on Jeremy. So it’s possible that she is either purely acting out of jealousy, since he has such an obvious thing for Babs, or that she has been promised that Babs will be out of the way if she helps the algorithm.
WB: Yes, it’s plausible.
I think this is the first issue we’ve seen Riot Black, Jawbreakers and Dagger referred to again.
In the scene with Q, Babs is talking about Dagger. She refers to those ‘wild shots’ of ‘him’… just interesting in context, given all the controversy, that she says ‘him’ and the term ‘wild shots’. It’s a curious phrase.
SL: That is interesting.
WB: Yeah, it’s unusual phrasing, and she doesn’t use his name.
Funny, those panels are almost like you and me talking. ‘Are we SURE all those wild shots were him?’ ‘You think there was more than ONE fake Batgirl?’
SL: Right, she’s giving into the idea that her personality could be split, or her memories flawed.
WB: I think that’s well done. Her sense of doubt is evident, she’s really starting to lose it.
SL: It’s her telling us she doesn’t know who she is. It’s the ultimate self doubt. At the most basic level, can I trust my reality?
WB: Like I said, having a Truman Show experience.
Also, we learn that the voice at the end of #38 on the phone sounded like Babs.
Actually, another observation, page 4, Q gives her a huge bag of ‘gear I’ve made’. This has to be used in #40. New props. Whenever he gives her something, we see it brought out in an action sequence later.
SL: We’ll see next month, but for now, you’re still my favorite person to talk about Batgirl with.