Wednesday, July 16, 2014

For Better or Worse, Batgirl's Gettin' a Revamp.

Batgirl is getting a new look, and apparently a new personality to match. It was reported last week that Gail Simone has stepped down as the writer of Batgirl (#34 will be her last issue). Taking her place will be Cameron Stewart and Brendon Fletcher (along with new artist Babs Tarr). Simone is probably one of the most well known and beloved names when it comes to female comic book writers, and deservedly so. Her departure from the comic was bound to result in some pretty significant story changes as the new (male) writers attempt to establish their own voices and direction, but this overhaul is as drastic as it is unnecessary and out of touch. According to an MTV interview with the new creative team, an apartment fire will prompt Babs to leave literally everything behind, move out of Gotham proper, and into a “hipster” neighborhood to pursue a more fun, free, and flirty lifestyle (complete with superhero selfies). Stewart explains, “She wants the opportunity to have some fun and live the life of a young, single girl in the city, so she packs up and moves to Burnside, the cool, trendy borough of Gotham, to focus on grad school.” In the same interview, Fletcher refers to TV shows ‘Veronica Mars’ and ‘Girls’ as their inspiration, “with a dash of ‘Sherlock’ thrown in for good measure” (I’m really not sure why they feel the need to throw in that dash of ‘Sherlock’ since Veronica Mars was a damn fine detective all on her own, but I’ll let that go for now).

I’m not going to tear apart the logistical nightmare they’re creating for themselves (exactly how old do they think Barbara Gordon is, and how much free time do they think one gets while in grad school??), because we are talking about a fantasy setting where superpowers are the accepted norm so I suppose logistics can be an after thought. I’m not even going to go into the fact that Cameron and Fletcher, for all their claims of Babs being a fun, flirty single gal in the city, have essentially described a traumatized young woman attempting to navigate a serious psychological break with little to no outside help, because if I thought for a moment that was intentional I would find it intriguing. I don’t think it was intentional. I think what they’re trying to do is appeal to a demographic that has not traditionally embraced comic books en masse: the 20-something party girl hipsters. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not disparaging a decision to court a virtually untapped demographic (especially one consisting of women). What bothers me so much about this is that they’re using an established character with an established fan base that does not (by and large) include 20-something party girl hipsters. This move could very well alienate the comic’s current fan base, which already had a rocky start during the 2011 New 52 re-launch when Babs ditched the wheelchair and suited up as Batgirl once again.

Despite regaining the ability to walk, the New 52 Batgirl has been dark. Super dark. So dark, in fact, that Gail Simone herself made mention of the need for a change of tone in a tweet after her exit was announced: “…I am sad to leave, but glad they are finally allowing Batgirl to not be so grim every issue.” Now, I am not arguing against the new creative team’s decision to lighten the mood of the book, and I’m even a fan of Babs’ new costume. (Screaming yellow Dr. Martins and a leather jacket? Yes, please!) What I am saying, however, is that this jarring change in direction is not a welcome reprieve from the unyielding shit-storm poor Babs has been caught up in. Rather, it is an abrupt, nausea inducing, 90 mph, 180-degree turn. It feels forced. It feels fake. It feels wrong. The Batgirl that Stewart and Fletcher have described sounds more like a stereotype than a character with any depth. To me, this change feels very out of touch with reality, and I don’t anticipate that it will be received well by the fans. I really do hope that come October, when Batgirl #35 is released, this (otherwise impressive) creative team can prove me wrong.

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