Secret Origins #10
Written by Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher
Illustrated by Irene Koh
Get ready for The New 52 origins of Batgirl written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher with art by Irene Koh.
WB: Incredibly enough, as Cameron Stewart confirmed this week, I guessed the twist in November and pitched the idea to his face, which he kept poker.
WB: The algorithm is the new 52 Oracle, and though it isn’t made entirely explicit, the reference to ‘information broker’ is confirmation. That specific term is consistently used to describe Oracle.
This is their way of reconciling the compressed history of Batgirl in the New 52, and the concept of Oracle, which pre-52 was Barbara’s role from around 1988 to 2011.
Now we have established that we – that I – worked out the plot several months in advance, I think it’s interesting to focus on some details.
SL: I have to give you credit. It was your idea.
Now, lets look at how this version of Oracle fits in this arc.
It seems like Babs began development of the algorithm after her brain scan in preparation for her neural implant surgery, the miracle cure that allows her to walk again. She was still in her chair during that time, with no idea if the surgery would work, while putting it together.
WB: It’s not entirely clear if those captions start off as ‘Babs’, and become the algorithm/Oracle, but by the end there’s clearly a distinction. Obviously, the intelligent algorithm becomes independent, and at some point we are hearing its narration while Babs recovers and lives her own independent life.
I’d just like to submit another prediction here that I think the algorithm will be rehabilitated and become an accessory or accomplice for Babs (and Q). So we’ll have Batgirl and Oracle effectively working together.
SL: We see Babs angrily working on the algorithm after the scan. Then why and when does she stop interacting with it? I guess, after she starts walking again.
WB: Then when does it become activated again? When does it begin to process that it’s missed out on events in Babs’ life?
SL: It was dormant for three years, then wasn’t accessed until she applied to Burnside College. She reactivated it for her research. That’s why it doesn’t remember anything in between.
WB: One interesting point here is that the algorithm doesn’t recall anything from the New 52. I hypothesized that the algorithm plot was a way for the new creators of the post-issue-35 soft reboot to engage with Gail’s previous run. Actually, the algorithm didn’t experience any of that – Alysia, Death of the Family, the melodrama with James Jr and Babs’ mother. So my theory that it was thriving on and interacting with the trauma Babs had experienced while being written by Gail wasn’t quite on the mark. Rather, it’s fuelled by the trauma specifically of The Killing Joke, not by Babs’ recovery and subsequent, New 52 PTSD, and her more recent encounters with Joker.
SL: So, the purpose of this issue is mainly to give us some insight into the motivation of the algorithm, as well as confirm that it is a completely separate personality.
WB: The purpose of this issue is to connect the dots for people who are not clever like you and me.
SL: I personally found some of the later pages, where the algorithm is losing its sense of identity very sad. Its voice is tenderly written. That leads me to believe you are right about it being rehabilitated.
WB: You also suggested in our Oracle Theory that, by mapping it onto Erikson’s model of social development At the end of issue 39, the algorithm is still fixed on ‘can I make my life count’? In issue 40, Erikson suggests that the algorithm will move on to the question ‘Is it OK to have been me?’ in a stage of ego integrity vs despair.
But yes, this issue does confirm the algorithm’s motives at this point, which is basically the start of the reboot, around issue 35 – when it’s essentially a newborn, questioning ‘am I alive’? Its voice in this issue sounds very Batman-like.Continued below
There’s a few things I would like to talk about in relation to the retconning and rewriting this origin does.
SL: You think so? Batman-like?
WB: ‘Dangerous is good. Criminals should fear me’. Not Batman? ‘I was born to fight crime’.
SL: Oh, yes. I see your point.
WB: The algorithm, and Babs at this stage, are like Batman swearing his vow to fight crime after his own trauma. It’s a rebirth, in terms of Erikson’s model. It’s a period of mistrust.
And again, you predicted that the algorithm would begin to feel regretful and self-critical, according to Erikson’s model. We can see the seeds of that here, too.
SL: I do think it will ultimately shut itself down, for the greater good.
WB:I think if the algorithm shuts itself down, you’ve basically lost the New 52 ‘Oracle’, which is going to close down that avenue, and I think Oracle has enough fans that they would even like the concept of Oracle to exist.
SL: Oh, no, Qadir will fix it.
WB: OK, makes sense.
SL: There was something about the page where it’s mining Babs social media that struck me as so sad. It’s not an entirely unsympathetic villain, and the last line, ‘I will save this city from itself if it is the last thing I do’, makes me think it shuts down on its own.
WB: Good point, but it hasn’t saved the city from itself. It’s an algorithm. It has not completed its aim. Until it completes its aim, it can’t shut down.
SL: How do you know it won’t save the city from itself? Burnside is in an uproar.
WB: Also a good point. The Joker zombies are crossing the bridge to Burnside in #41, but yes, I think algorithm/Oracle will conclude its arc in #40.
SL: I don’t think the algorithm’s arc will go into issue #41. It will need to be shut down and repaired in the next issue.
WB: To me, #41 is again a meta commentary on how Batgirl’s Burnside continuity is not going to intersect with Batman and mainstream continuity. Babs literally turns that continuity away from her storyline.
By the way, I like that the episode is called “The Algorithm”, because we said that was the whole focus of the arc.
SL: Yeah, I have typed that word a million times.
WB: So much that we started just saying ‘the alg’.
SL: We’ve been treating it as a character for a while now.
WB: When I saw the title, it felt very fitting.
I think they probably changed the title for us.
SL: That’s the story I’m going with.
WB: I could see them talking urgently together at Thought Bubble and I heard phrases like ‘rewrite the story’, ‘ditch our ideas for his’.
I dunno, could be mistaken, but that’s what happened.
SL: Rumor has it.
I dunno, Will, how many times did they ask you to repeat it?
WB: I don’t know, Sam, all I can say is they kept looking over at me as Brenden called DC Comics and muttered ‘we need to rewrite the whole arc’.
Now, CLOSE READERS OF THE HOOQ-UP MAY REMEMBER
THAT FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO
COULD I PLEASE SPEAK ABOUT SOMETHING?
SL: I’m sorry. Please do.
WB: OK, I’d like to discuss how this origin intersects with and rewrites existing, previous Batgirl stories by different authors, in very interesting ways. May I continue?
SL: Will, would you like to tell us about subtle changes to the New 52 Batgirl. Please?
WB: More than that. More than that.
I find this a really interesting text. It is so short, but very complex. On one level it’s Fletcher and Stewart’s work and it operates to confirm their reboot. Here we see the origin of Frankie and Babs’ relationship and of course the start of the whole algorithm arc, which is their own creation.
On the second level it’s a return to and rewrite of The Killing Joke. It’s always difficult to pin down exactly how much the variations in the multiple retellings of TKJ are down to artist interpretation and not writer description. After all not everyone is Alan Moore with his pages of script.Continued below
As I noted last time, for instance, the Joker’s thugs always look different.
In “Batgirl” #39 we noted that Babs Tarr (and Cameron Stewart) were drawing Babs as the Babs from the reboot, wearing a T-shirt and jeans. There was no coffee or cocoa, but Jim was sitting there with his newspaper.
In the previous retelling of events, from Gail’s New 52 run, Babs was actually on her own at the time, and Jim was not involved. The captions specify that: ‘The Joker and two thugs stepped into my house. I opened the door. That’s what kills me. Cop’s daughter. Super hero. And I opened the door. I was supposed to die that night. That was his plan. For my father to find me like that.’
Here we’re back to a combination of previous retellings: the yellow ‘pretty blouse’, the gray skirt, the cocoa; Jim and the Batman scrapbooks. The similarities and differences in the retelling of this iconic scene from 1987 are compelling.
So, in this current issue we have Jim compiling scrapbooks about Batman. Babs is there but younger than she is in TKJ, where she’s already retired as Batgirl. The dialog about the cocoa is there, the dialog about Colleen is there, but they interrupt Moore’s 1987 script with their own material. They’ve used the old story but also changed it. Lines of dialog are identical. But there are differences unique to this retelling.
SL: Right they definitely reference Moore’s original more than Simone’s New 52 rewrite.
WB: Again, I think it’s important to note that the stripping of Babs for nude photos is never mentioned or depicted. In continuity, if it’s not there, it didn’t happen. Until that’s shown, it is not in the New 52. Which is a good thing, I think, and I believe Cameron has suggested in interviews that he’s not fond of that part of the story, either.
So they do go back to the TKJ narrative. But then! They rework and reuse Gail’s story from the New 52, showing us Babs’ New 52 origin as Batgirl.
Here, they actually use lines from her script, which is just fascinating. So this short, 10 page story from 2015 quotes Alan Moore from 1987 and Gail Simone from 2011.
SL: Which works with this younger version of Barbara.
WB: ‘Okay. Okay, Barbara. You trained for this. I admit it. I’m scared to death.’
This is Gail’s voice. That is Gail’s distinctive way of writing Babs.
SL: We get the first Babs internal monologue written by Fletcher and Stewart in this issue.
WB: Right, it’s fascinating, because it’s not ‘their’ Babs saying it. It’s the Babs of 3 years ago, which is Gail’s Babs, and it sounds like Gail’s Babs! Which I think is just fascinating. That repetition, that ‘come on. You can do it’ style
This is Gail’s internal-Babs narration, which has been missing from the soft post-#35 reboot entirely, and here it is, in Oracle’s narration.
SL: Gail’s Babs was always so at war with herself, here we can really see the contrast between that incarnation of the character and the current Batgirl.
WB: Stewart’s storyboarding is often wordless, very visual, while Gail’s version of Batgirl is always in conversation with herself. I actually think it’s an achievement – humble, respectful, and fascinating – the way Fletcher and Stewart have retained the work of Moore and Simone here, while incorporating it into their own unique steer.
SL: This all blends into a really 3 dimensional Batgirl.
WB: I like that they’ve (a) never confirmed any sexual violence or nude photos, and (b) they know the Joker at the door is now so iconic and overworked an image, that they do something new with just that smile. Credit to Irene Koh, of course, for implementing it. I think she turns in some clean work that looks almost like a children’s book, simple and endearing.
SL: Right, and I think overall the TKJ scene is more intimate, the spaces are smaller. Jim doesn’t seem entirely distracted by nostalgia, and he’s actively taking an interest in Babs.Continued below
WB: Yes, you’re quite a Jim fan aren’t you, Sam?
SL: I am. Me and one other person out there, I’m sure.
WB: Then I want to throw you a softball question here.
SL: Yes, Will?
WB: How can we always tell, from looking at Jim, whether he is younger or older?
SL: His hair color.
WB: Right, and check out this issue compared to TKJ. There he’s a white haired old geezer. I’m not sure why he is on the cocoa here, with his scrapbooks, but hey.
SL: Here he’s younger, ‘a white knight’.
WB: Well, an orange knight.
He’s wearing the same outfit as he is in TKJ, as is she, which is curious. It’s a shorter skirt, the glasses are different, but it’s the iconic TKJ outfit.
SL: Is Jim clipping about himself here? Not Batman?
WB: Yes, and no. The headline says, ‘VIGILANTE STRIKES’, and there’s a bat logo.
SL: Which makes me think the hero cop panel may not be a clipping, but a digital memory of the algorithm?
WB: I agree, I didn’t think it was a clipping, at first. But in fact it’s a clipping we’ve seen before, in Gail’s origin; that’s also where the line about Jim as a white knight comes from.
In TKJ, he’s clipping the first encounter between Batman and Joker, which ironically, is a rewrite and retcon within TKJ because the image is from “Detective Comics” #27, which didn’t feature Joker at all!
That image is frequently returned to and reworked – we see it in Kingdom Come and most recently in Zero Year, where Batman is capturing the Red Hood version of Joker.
So, Batman origins often involve a rewriting and a re-weaving of previous stories – and I find this new Batgirl origin really fascinating in its weaving together of TKJ, Gail’s new origin and the soft reboot by Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr.
When we cut right from the Joker panel, which I liked a lot because of its reduction to the bare iconic minimum, to the 3 panels of fists, I thought immediately of the two panels after Babs is shot in TKJ, the Joker’s man punching Gordon. It’s not visually similar, but I almost felt we cut right to Babs blocking Frankie’s punches as if she’s rewriting and responding to that memory.
As if she is saying, ‘never again’. She’s remembering Jim being beaten and that’s fueling her furious response to the punches here.
And hey, I thought only people Babs loves call her Babs! Maybe she fell in love with Frankie real quick.
Also, ballet and judo have been part of Babs’ origin for some time. Judo, since 1967, in fact. Gail specifically confirmed and reinforced the ballet in a tweet to me.
Anyway, I like that they confirm it again here as part of her past, because it’s distinct from Bruce and Dick’s training.
SL: I like that Babs does ballet and reads books.
WB: Yeah, I like that there is something distinct about her training. I am still very unclear about her course of study.
SL: Right, well, so is she. That’s sort of the point, I think.
WB: Is she doing criminology? Library science?
SL: She wants to fight crime, nothing else sticks.
WB: She wants to be a cop?
SL: I don’t think so.
WB: That’s also cute because Bruce kept going to college and leaving, too.
SL: She wants to be Batgirl. She’s trying to figure out if she can fit in anywhere else.
WB: C’mon. Not consciously.
SL: During her retirement? Sure.
WB: Her retirement?
SL: She was retired at the time of TKJ.
WB: Oh yeah, weirdly that’s true. She was retired in the original TKJ, after a long career, and even in the New 52 she’s retired by the time she’s shot – even though, in this compressed continuity, she’s barely been Batgirl for any length of time.
SL: That’s because you can’t shoot Batgirl. She has be a civilian in order for TKJ to happen, which is another rabbit hole, entirely.Continued below
WB: Really strange, but true. She was Batgirl for ONE YEAR. After (one would believe) wanting it her whole life.
SL: So, yes, Babs is retired (we don’t know why she does that. do we?) trying to find a place to feel at home in the civilian sector.
WB: Well, that question leads us to something I don’t think has ever been picked up on. She was Batgirl for a year, according to Gail’s origin story, ‘until I messed up. Story for another time’. She doesn’t mean TKJ. So, yes, Babs retires because… umm… she messed up.
I believe that story hook may have been forgotten but it’s still a kind of missing link. Why did Babs retire from being Batgirl after one year, if it wasn’t because of TKJ?
SL: I am almost sure that this team has noticed that. I think they read like we do. They’ll get to it eventually.
Also, I think Fletcher and Stewart have done something really beautiful here, and I don’t know if they were aware of it.
We see Babs (or the algorithm I am not sure at that point) showing a direct comparison between her interests and Frankie’s, saying that Frankie is ‘just like me’. By making her ‘origin’ or ‘driving interests’ (athletics, dancing, even the disability and interest in computers) so parallel to Babs’, the team gives us the idea that anyone can find themselves in this character, regardless of background or upbringing.
They go on to have Frankie act as a voice of reason when Babs loses perspective, ‘code like this could be dangerous in the wrong hands. Maybe you should let me–‘
Which is interesting, in light of the fact that Frankie is now at the desk in the HOOQ offices with the code (the algorithm).
WB: Very good point, a black woman with muscular dystrophy could be Batgirl. Although, at the same time, I think we’re still being given the impression Babs was driven to be Batgirl, and it’s bound up with her dad being the police commissioner, without which, she wouldn’t have been at GCPD and had her first engagement with criminals.
SL: Right, but different things drive different people, so really, it could have been anything for Frankie. The catalyst doesn’t matter as much as the potential.
WB: She could certainly have been a superheroine or vigilante.
At the same time…
This foregrounds something I’ve always had an issue with about Batgirl. Compared to Bruce’s trauma, and his decade of traveling and training, Babs is just good at sport, likes to dance… if anyone can be a superheroine, that kind of weakens the idea.
SL: We said, after issue #37, that it felt as if the team was scoffing at the idea that anyone else could be Batgirl. I feel they’ve kind of patched that here.
WB: Well they’ve patched it long after the fact, and they’ve not exactly addressed the issue that it shouldn’t be ridiculous for Dagger to be Batgirl. Seriously though, I love Babs and Batgirl but if all it takes to be a Gotham vigilante is competence at judo and ballet, thousands of people could do it.
You like to dance? Fight crime.
I take your point that it’s almost saying Frankie could have been a more responsible Batgirl, and that’s a cool idea.
SL: I think this will play out in #40.
WB: If it’s true, then props to you.
SL: I’m not saying she’s going to be wearing a cape and cowl, just that they will refer to this warning.
WB: I almost wonder how Frankie didn’t get it sooner. She knew Babs had an algorithm based on her brain scan and some kind of dangerous fixation on crimefighting?
SL: She’s been busy and distracted. Hooq is a mess.
WB: It’s comics, it’s a story. So, fair. But, yes, the fact that Frankie is there with the algorithm is significant.
SL: The algorithm remembers her, as a friend.
WB: Of course, yeah. Why is she at the HOOQ headquarters?
SL: She was kidnapped, by the other person, the standing heat signature, whoever that is. She left her phone and crutches at the apartment, which she would not normally do, and the message from the algorithm on her phone says that she was kidnapped.Continued below
WB: Our friend Katie Schenkel on Twitter thinks the other person is Riot Black, as he’s mentioned in #39.
SL: I have previously thought that he might be involved, but I thought it would be more about accessing his platform than him being a physical threat.
HOOQ is being bought, by another digital ‘player’, so I thought he would be involved there.
WB: I assume it’s someone we already met, not some colorful new cosplay villain. Also, I assume Liam wouldn’t be involved in this respect. We speculate he will do a turning a blind eye to Babs/Batgirl, as if he’s Jim to Batman.
SL: I do not think it will be a new villain.
WB: Would be kind of neat if it was Dagger.
SL: Wouldn’t it?
WB: It would give the team an opportunity to address some of the issues from #37, but I feel Dagger’s story is kind of unfinished and could use a revisit. I find I have a real fondness for Dagger now! I think he’s the great character find of 2014. I’m going to pitch a Dagger Type solo title to DC, Sam.
SL: Can I help?
WB: You can talk me out of it, and until that happens, Samantha, you’re still my favorite person to talk Batgirl with.