OK, OK, I’m two days late and it’s only the second week of January. In my defence, alcohol may well have been involved.
As long standing readers of the column will know, I’ve always loved Batgirl. She’s about the only member of the extended Bat-Family I’ve ever had any patience for and Barbara Gordon, in her various guises is in my view one of the best characters in the DCU. Of course Babs hasn’t been Batgirl for some time, but also uniquely amongst the disparate members of the Bat-Family she has retained control of her creation. Batman, in the shape of Bruce or, I suppose for the time being, Dick*, obsessively controls who or what gets to join the family. But Batgirl has always been under Babs’ control.
Barbara didn’t ask for permission to become Batgirl. She wasn’t chosen like Dick, or found like Jason. She didn’t spend months obsessively working out Batman’s true identity like Tim, or bred to the role like Jean-Paul. And of course she isn’t a blood relation like Damien. She just put on a costume and went at it. I’ve made the point before, but it’s worth pointing out again that she also quit on her own terms. Hanging up the cape was her own decision, made some time before the Joker’s bullet made that decision irrevocable.
Since then, whenever there’s been a Batgirl, it’s been with her blessing**, and hers alone. On the face of it then Batgirl is the very essence of the “girl power” ideal. A strong female character born of a strong feminine tradition, taking no crap from male authority figures. It just isn’t that simple though, is it?
Because comics are a heavily male dominated domain, and while the Batgirls get their fair measure of respect in Gotham, they’re treated hideously badly by DC.
I mean, there was the whole “retiring” thing in the first place, which always struck me as more than a little out of character. Essentially her reason for hanging up the cape was “Why would little old me think I could do any good for Gotham when there are all these big strong men around?”*** Just not Babs, in my opinion.
Eventually they did resurrect Batgirl**** in the shape of Cassandra Cain, the illiterate semi-mute fighting machine. I was a little unsure of her at first, but she really did grow on me, not least because of the way she interacted with Babs. But there was surprising depth to Cassandra once her book had been bedded in and her character had had time to develop.
This of course didn’t apparently matter to DC, who killed Cassie’s book in the most perfunctory manner and left the character in something approaching limbo. Now, I accept that there may have been perfectly good commercial reasons for cancelling the book – I don’t know what sales were like, and they might well have been terrible. They could still have treated the character with a little more respect though. She could’ve taken a sabattical to continue her quest to learn to read and write, for example.
Now of course, Batgirl is back, and this time she’s Stephanie Brown – a girl who has spent a lot of time around the Batfamily in various guises. She was “The Spoiler”, teen crime fighter basically getting back at her dad, Tim Drake’s one time love interest and even did a stint as possibly the most spectacularly unsuccessful Robin.*****
In fact, having been away from the batbooks for a while, I think that’s the last time I saw Steph – chained up and beaten almost to death by the Black Mask. I’m not entirely sure what’s happened since******, or quite why she’s been entrusted with the pointy ears – but then it seems that Dick doesn’t quite get it either, so I’m in good company…
I’m enjoying this new Batgirl, but at the same time I can’t help thinking that she’s a bit of a retrograde step in many ways. Steph is a great character – and indeed one I’ve always liked – but she seems to have morphed into the standard wise cracking, smart-ass young hero fitting in a spot of crime fighting between writing essays and trying to stop her mum finding out what she’s up to of an evening.
All good fun of course, but at the same time rather “Burger and Fries” stuff. Cassie was often written in a two dimensional way of course, but she was at least very different from the standard “Young Superhero” we’re all so used to. Not that Steph doesn’t have issues that could be brought to the surface if the writers chose. I surely can’t be the only person who remembers that she has a child out there somewhere, having become a teenage mum back when she was a supporting character in Tim Drake’s life.*******
Still, this wise cracking, high kicking, roof-swinging Stephanie is a lot of fun, and is also probably much more commercial than Cassie, which makes it likely that she’ll stick around longer. This is an excellent thing, because if there’s a Batgirl around then Babs can’t be all that far away, and anything that lets me see more of Barbara Gordon is an unquestionably good thing.
I just typed that out loud, didn’t I?
I’m off to do some back issue catch ups to see if I can piece together the history of Stephanie Brown. I’ll be back on Wednesday (and I will) with a look at some forthcoming******** projects from some old friends of the column, and generally looking forward to what I continue to hope will be a great year.*********
*Because seriously, that’s not gonna last, is it?
**Well, OK, but Helena doesn’t count. She was nothing more than a plot device in an ill thought out crossover maxi-series and was only ever paving the way for Cassandra.
***At least that’s my reading of The Last Batgirl Story, as published in 1988’s Batgirl Special. Check it out and make your own decision, but it doesn’t scream “empowerment” to me…
****Although of course Babs had never really been away.
*****Because not only did Jason last longer, it took The Joker and a poll of readers to finally beat him to a bloody pulp.
******Don’t tell me, I have all the issues and I’m looking forward to finding out…
*******If you didn’t know that, don’t panic – young Tim wasn’t the father and remains the clean ut young man we all know and love. Actually, I don’t recall that we ever found out who the father was, which could make for the start of a great storyline there…
********Not “upcoming”. That’s not a word.
*********So far so good…