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    The Burnside HOOQ-Up: “Batgirl” #40 and Response to Joker Variant

    By and | March 18th, 2015
    Posted in Annotations | 15 Comments

    Batgirl #40
    Written by Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher
    Illustrated by Babs Tarr

    A decision Barbara made during her darkest days in Gotham City returns to haunt her! What was it? And how does it tie into the evil impostor Batgirl? Find out here!

    Will Brooker It’s no negative reflection on the creators that I felt I’d read most of this issue before, because we predicted so many of the plot beats. Let’s just take a moment to run through what we got right.

    Most obviously, the whole algorithm plot, which was revealed in issue #39 and “Secret Origins” #10. We made the connection between the code Frankie was trying to kill and the algorithm.

    We guessed that Liam was ultimately going to do a Jim Gordon ‘I can’t see too good without my glasses’ routine, turning a blind eye to Batgirl.

    We predicted almost word for word the end scene, with the hokey ‘I cleaned up the algorithm so we can use it as a digital assistant… I even gave it a NAME.’ We just guessed it was going to be Q, not Frankie, doing that.

    I believe you and Katie Schenkel guessed that Frankie was going to become the new Oracle, so to speak. Also that Riot Black was going to return as the algorithm’s muscle this episode.

    In fact, it looks like Q might be out of the picture for a while? Babs, on p14, is begging ‘please come through for me one last time.’

    And I didn’t see her using the big bag of gear he gave her in issue #39, unless I missed something?

    Sam LeBas: The algorithm shut itself down. That was a major point we saw coming.

    We also figured the reasons that each of the ‘villains’ was put in her path, though it was never spelled out in detail here.

    WB: Yes. They didn’t really foreground the Erickson model as much as they could have, but I still think it was subtly behind the arc structure — even if it wasn’t quite as explicit as we made it in our reading. And there was a little more depth given to the whole Dagger Type episode, in retrospect.

    The algorithm achieved a kind of regretful self-realisation, as we said it would.

    SL:I said they would reference Frankie warning Babs about the algorithm in this scene.

    There was a complete flashback page, which was more than I expected. 

    WB: We said the finale would focus on the Hooq party, though I didn’t get the sense of the bigger media player taking it over, which was suggested in #38.
    WB: They needed the flashback because not everyone will have read Secret Origins.

    SL: Regretfully, I think I have to admit that Nadimah is not an evil mastermind. 

    WB: I also thought the detective vision scenes in 35, 36 and 37 were leading us to a bigger play-by-play set of flashbacks, revealing exactly what the algorithm had manipulated and when. I guess, maybe, we were the only ones really obsessed with that level of detail. It did confirm that the algorithm moved people around like pieces on a board.

    ‘I have used Hooq to influence user activity and ensure that all…targets are present at the gathering in the city square’.

    SL: Oh we even saw it go from Black’s mind to the the GCPD servers.

    WB: So I think we can assume it manipulated Liam into being at the Dagger Type launch and the Jordan Barbieri car crash.

    SL:Yes, at least the latter. 

    WB: Is Black hooked up to a server… at Hooq? Is that Babs’ laptop? When did the alg awaken?

    SL: Well we explained the three year lapse in memory by saying that it wasn’t accessed until Babs started working on thesis, but it might not be the case. If you want to believe that the algorithm had some hand in planning its own escape, it woke up then. I think it planned its own escape. It’s a genius like Babs. It woke up, didn’t like what it saw, and decided to take her down. But…I don’t think there is enough evidence to say conclusively that that is what happened, just how I prefer to think of it. 

    Continued below

    Actually, no…


    SL: No, Will, I guess it doesn’t.  

    WB: The arc is over.

    SL: It is. 

    WB: We gave this so much thought that we’ve basically written a book of annotations.

    SL: But we have to say good job, the team really stuck the landing. The work they have done in this arc has moved Babs to a better place.

    WB: I don’t think even the creators could tell us exactly how the algorithm got from the laptop, to Riot, to Hooq, to the GCPD. If they could, I applaud them. 

    SL: Their accomplishments here are so much bigger than details like that. This team got Dinah her own book (which by the way, Brenden, if you are reading, I am so excited about), they introduced a black, female ‘team member’ in Frankie. They created a New 52 Oracle.

    They did a lot in six-and-a-half issues. 

    WB: You’re right, the point of this arc, as was implied by the Erikson model they never mentioned again, was emotional.

    It dealt with Gail’s run. It dealt with the Oracle years. It dealt with a dozen retellings of The Killing Joke,. It dealt with Batgirl stories from the late 1980s onwards. It processed all of that in a metatextual way, while also telling a great character-based story, a story that engages with contemporary issues of digital technology and celebrity. It was witty, dynamic, engaging, smart, cute. It was like an essay about Batgirl, hidden in a story about Batgirl

    SL: It’s more than a reboot, it’s a rebirth. 

    WB: You’re right, I mean, look what they pulled off.

    They gave Barbara a genuinely new life. They did a pretty solid job of burying The Killing Joke, or at least marginalising it, and pushing it away. They brought back, and made sense of, Oracle. They launched a new, entirely unique and convincing Dinah Lance, Black Canary title. They have introduced a bisexual black woman with a disability as the new Oracle, and a supporting cast of incredibly diverse characters – despite the whole Dagger Type blip.

    SL: This Babs is not motivated by past trauma, she doesn’t want to be a victim, and she doesn’t have to be. 

    WB: She has finally gone through and defeated that trauma, by literally facing up to it and confronting it.

    SL: ‘Batgirl doesn’t need to be feared.’ 

    ‘Don’t you feel alive?’

    So great. 

    WB: The image of Babs dancing in the crowd is the key to this issue, to the end of this arc. It’s about joy. And let’s agree, Sam, this story arc has been a joy, and it has been a joy to discuss it with you.

    SL: It really has. 

    I am really glad that we decided to discuss the first issue, way back, many months ago. It’s proven to be worth talking about hasn’t it?

    WB: I’d also like to thank Brenden, Cameron and Babs for being so generous and open with us in person and online.

    Oh, sorry, Sam. You didn’t meet them in person? Sorry to rub that in.

    SL:That’s fine, Will. 

    I still got some buttons out of the deal.

    WB: And shout out to Gail Simone for dealing with all the Batgirl trauma that, I suspect, she didn’t always want to deal with, because she got the book to the point where the new team could take over and do this.

    But. Before we wrap up happily, did you want to say something about the new “Batgirl” #41 variant cover, Samantha?

    At the time of writing, DC had not yet announced that the Joker variant cover for “Batgirl” #41 would not be published.

    SL: In fact, I did. I’ll start with the obvious. I saw the cover, and I hated the way it portrayed Barbara. Instantly, I was horrified by the idea that this was going on the cover of a book that has sought to empower her as a character and move her away from the horrific experience she was put through in TKJ. 

    Continued below

    While I don’t question the artistic quality or technical execution of artist Rafael Albuquerque (in fact I have signed sketchbooks and prints of his, and I count him among the most talented artists in the industry), or even the idea that it evokes strong emotion, as many would say ‘is the point of art’, I question the choice.  

    This is Barbara/Batgirl’s book, and she deserves better. 

    In this issue, in fact, she says that her ultimate goal is to make it so no one has to be a victim again, but here we are, one issue later, looking at this. It’s alienating, it’s horrific, it undermines her growth and strength. But what I found more disturbing than the image and its intent, is the way comic fans were responding to it. 

    To me, it seemed there were two major points that I just cannot agree with, on that side of the argument. 

    Firstly, people assumed those who were offended by the cover were not comic readers, or secondly, that they had ‘nothing better to complain about’ meaning ‘no trauma of their own’ that they could not have been victims themselves. 

    There was so much anger, the attitude was so patronizing and ‘shush honey, the men are talking. Go read TKJ, then you’ll get it.’

    WB: I saw another strand of justification and denial too, which was perhaps something I witnessed because guys were less likely to come at me with the first two. The argument that Joker is evil, he’s a bastard, he hurts everyone, and that he’d stripped Jim naked and tortured him too.

    SL: Oh, yes, Jason Todd’s name was thrown around a lot, as well.

    WB: There are obvious counters to this – Joker is actually an incredibly popular character, a cult figure. We never see replays of Jim’s trauma in TKJ, compared to the dozen or more of Babs replays. 

    It should also be clear that sexual violence against women simply works in a different context to other forms of violence. It evokes a whole different set of power relations and experiences. It is not just another ‘bad thing that happens in comics’ like Batman got his back broken. It’s an expression of the ongoing, real-life oppression of women by men. It is a real thing, unlike being beaten with a crowbar or snapped over someone’s knee. It is going to happen to what, one in six women, minimum?

    Whereas, I can be fairly safe in the knowledge that I’m not ever going to be lifted up and have my spine broken by a wrestler. Women genuinely have to fear the real threat of a man sexually assaulting them. Every day. Correct me if I’m wrong. To me, the only people who can’t see this are teenage boys, who are justified in not getting it yet, and older people with the mentality of teenage boys, who have no excuse.

    You could say all this better than me but sometimes, the way things are, it helps for a guy to say it too.

    SL: I am going to say this, and I’m really hesitant to say this in a published piece. But this really upset me, like kept me from sleep kind of upset, and I would like to talk about it, if that’s okay.

    WB: I think this is really the most important thing we’ve addressed in this Hooq-Up and I encourage you to continue.

    I also think it’s about the Batgirl arc, and about what the creators were aiming for throughout.

    SL: I’ve never said this publicly, but I think I’d like to be a counter example to the pervasive sentiments, the misconceptions, that some people seem to have surrounding what kind of people are offended by material like this. 

    If you’re reading this, you know I read comics. I also work in the industry; I’ve invested a lot of time and energy to helping promote, and refine the work of comic creators. I go to cons, I buy the books, I have a bat-signal tattoo. I am a dedicated fan.

    I am also a rape survivor. I’ve never said it publicly. It’s not something I advertise, or bring up in casual conversation. But right now, at this moment, I feel an intense sense of responsibility that demands I say it, now. I feel it is vital, absolutely critical, that supporters know that we are out here. 

    Continued below

    I feel deeply connected to Barbara, to this run, to this new, more optimistic direction. 

    To the idea that something like that happening to you, no, being done to you, doesn’t break you forever.

    And seeing her, back in that position — to push sales — of all things, makes me feel … 

    Disgusted. Unwelcome. Unacknowledged. 


    I don’t expect DC editorial to even know that I have said this, but I hope if you’re one of those people who wholeheartedly believe that things like this are trivial, that they don’t effect anyone that there is no cross-section of fans and legitimate complaints, that you’ll at least consider that, for me, it was a trigger. I spent an entire night lying awake thinking about what it means to survived something like that, and why anyone would take the liberty to bring it up in a way that made me feel weak or threatened, because that is what is happening to Barbara here. I can’t imagine that anyone has the right, or that anyone could argue that they do. Yet they did.    

    So, I am left wondering why sexual violence against women is used as a device to glorify male characters, why it’s treated as iconic rather than horrific, and who owns the experience itself? Clearly, in this case, it’s not the victim. What does that say? 

    I am not making some broad assertion that DC shouldn’t feature the Joker on 25 covers because he sexually assaulted Barbara Gordon, even that he shouldn’t be depicted alongside her (Catwoman handled this variant idea in a great way, and the Joker Saint Sebastian is fantastic). 

    I am saying: seeing Barbara victimized again, in her new uniform, after a powerful arc about finding herself and feeling alive again for the first time in ages, made me feel that a message was being sent, almost directly, saying that all she will ever be is a victim, that her newfound happiness was not well deserved, and could not be sustained.    

    I reject that. 

    WB: Sam, there is nothing much I can say after that, except that, and I think it’s powerful, and I hope a lot of people read it, from fans to creators to editors.

    You are my favorite person to talk about Batgirl with, and I have nothing but admiration for you right now.

    Writer’s note: Hi, it’s Sam. Will and I wrote this Monday afternoon, before DC’s decided to cancel the “Batgirl” #41 Joker variant, at the request of artist, Rafael Albuquerque.

    I considered pulling the piece, I thought it was no longer relevant, that the goal had been accomplished, and there was no point in saying it. I am sure some of you will think that’s what I should have done. However, I reread what we had written, and I think it addresses the response to this controversy more than anything else, and that is still happening as I write this.

    However, I do want to thank Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr for fighting to protect their vision of Barbara a strong, healing survivor. ‘She’s in good hands’.

    Also, I want to offer a sincere and heartfelt thank you to Rafael Albuquerque. I have so much respect for you, and for what you did for this character, for the readers and, without knowing, for me.

    Comic creators like the four of you are setting a valuable example, and you make me proud to be a part of the comic book community. #comicsforward

    //TAGS | Multiversity Rewind | 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 imageaddiction.net. She also blogs about comic books from a feminist, literary perspective at comicsonice.com 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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