BATGIRL: SILENT KNIGHT REVIEW

Although Barbara Gordon will always be known as the iconic Batgirl, she never got a solo series named after her in the mainstream DC Universe until Gail Simone’s run in the New 52 reboot. (Although her animated series incarnation did get a series called Batgirl Adventures in the late 90s).

No, the first Batgirl to get a solo series named after her is the now little known Cassandra Cain.

Cassandra Cain has the distinction of being the only POC in Batman’s Bat Family (unless you count Dick Grayson with his Romani heritage- although that gets brushed aside), and one of the deadliest hand to hand fighters in the DC Universe. Not only that, but her immense skills meant that she garnered more respect amongst Batman and the Robins than any other Batgirl has recieved before or after her.

So, what was Batgirl’s first solo title like (excluding Batgirl Adventures)? Well, lets have a look at this 2000s series and see if it’s worth checking out.

THE ARTWORK

To say the artwork is hit and miss wouldn’t be entirely accurate. It’s highly stylised, and everything’s bold, blocky and fluid.

It has big, exaggerated, ugly faces, chaotic panel placement, deeply shadowed faces and often backgrounds and even whole panels are washed in a single color (usually blue green or red) in order to give it a moody, or ominous or more atmospheric feel, while all the civillian life scenes are more colourful and bright. There’s also a lot of line work and sparce dialogue, which gives it a really streamlined feel and made the action scenes a treat to read.

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Props really have to be given to the colorists John Costanza and Albert T Guzman for giving it this really dark, almost film noir feel here

All this works phenomenally for action sequences. Cassandra Cain is an all action no talk (literally- she’s a mute who they taught to read body language). So this art style makes sense… mostly. 

The only downside is that this exaggerated art doesn’t work as well for the more low key moments. In fact, some of the character designs can look hideous- Cassandra is the worst offender. Seriously, she looks a lot like the neanderthalls from Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur in some panels:

When you’re dealing with a tragic child warrior story similar to Dark Angel, Hitgirl, or Leon The Professional, you really need emotional subtlety. And it doesn’t help when Batman’s pulling an expression like this.

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This is a major emotional milestone, yet how am I meant to take this seriously?

Oh God, how can you take that face seriously? Just compare that to the subtlety of  Stephanie Brown’s expression in another Batgirl series:

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So much emotion in that one look, and its so subtle as well. This is a HUGE problem because when we have a character who’s mute – or only tals in broken sentences at best- and has no life outside being a warrior, you really need to rely on low key character moments, subtle gestures and facial expressions to draw us in and help us connect with her. The art doesn’t do that.

This isn’t helped by the double edged sword that is her costume. Don’t get me wrong, her Bat costume looks incredible, Black, sleek, and a monstrous mask that looks like something of nightmares. I really like this costume… and yet. A big problem is the fact that Cass was not originally a villain (not until an editorial mandate happened anyway). Cassandra is a tragic figure- raised as the ultimate assassin and forced to kill when she was too young to know what she was doing, let alone say no. She cannot talk, so she relies on expressions to get her mood across- and this mask that obscures her face robs her of a lot of character.

They say that the reason that Roman Gladiators wore masks was because it was easier to kill a man when they didn’t have to look them in the eye and acknowledge them as human. The same principle goes for Cass, as I reckon that the mask makes it harder to relate to her as a character. It doesn’t help that what with the stitching, it looks like a nightmare mask she’s trapped in.

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But still, she’s made to look like an actual badass warrior rather than cheesecake who contorts her spine to get her ass and boobs in full display every other panel. In that respect, no matter what I think of her costume’s flaws she’s still head and shoulders above 90% of other superheroines out there.

Ironically, as Batgirl loses skill and gains language, the artwork balances out and though is less dynamic and fluid, everything looks better. The characters are no longer an eyesore, though I can’t help but think the biggest thing this improvement achieved is making Cass look pretty, and made the civillian life scenes less of an eye sore.

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THE STORY

It’s an interesting story. Basically, Cassandra Cain is a half Asian girl who was trained from childhood to be an assassin by a killer called David Cain. The central gimmic is that instead of teaching her how to speak, she learned to read fighting moves as a sort of ‘language’, and thus she is mute. Honestly, I am not sure if this is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard of, or the coolest.

But then I remembered the Silver Age and Bat-girl’s plan to escape her enemy’s prison by cutting out paper bats and throwing them out of the window, and now it all of a sudden seems completely reasonable.

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Yes, this was completely normal in the Silver Age, which brought us time travelling Wonder tot, Rainbow Batman, Zebra Batman, Batgirl’s ‘Crime Compact’, as well as the demented Bat-baby

Anyway, this is an interesting concept, and creates a certain dilemna in terms of story telling. Since not only. It further shoots itself in the foot by choosing a costume that does not show her face, and an artstyle that does not lend itself to subtle expression.

The workaround was by making Batgirl more of a subject than narrator. Most of the first few issues are narrated by Oracle (Barbara Gordon, who was the previous Batgirl) and Batman. 

Now, a mute protagonist could present a challenge – it could involve Cass slowly learning how to talk, bonding with Oracle, maybe even remembering what her father taught her… but instead they went for an ass pull and had a psychic magically healing her. Seriously. 

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They tried to make it seem like less of an asspull by presenting it as Batgirl having to choose between being the ultimate warrior and mute, or a less skilled, average fighter but able to talk. However, this was clearly done because the writers wrote themselves in a corner by being mute, and didn’t know how to keep this up and keep her interesting. 

It’s a shame, because it was a genuinely interesting problem and there could have been a lot of character development involving bonding with Oracle as she slowly learned language and how to hit in- especially if learning language helped her remember what Cain said as he was training her. Instead we got what we got, with her language skills resulting in her fighting skills becoming more inconsistent, which was a shame, but still made for interesting reading.

It also had another disadvantage of constantly pitting Cass against Mooks. Interestingly, in spite of being by far the deadliest Batgirl and one of the best hand to hand fighters in the DC Universe, her debut fights and achievements are less impressive than Stephanie Brown’s. Even though Stephanie was in part defined by failure and weakness. Still, Stephanie went up against Scarecrow, the calculator, and even a brainwashed Huntress and Catwoman, as well rescuing both Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon.

Both Barbara Gordon and even ditzy Bette Kane got to debut against masked crooks. Here, most of the time Cassandra went against nameless, maskless goons and her biggest threat wasn’t any foes- but rather whenever the writing team needed to give her a random nerfing. This nerfing is explained by the fact that when she gained the ability to talk she lost the ability to read movements, and yet she appears to get her skill back after a training session with Lady Shiva and it still turns on and off.

Speaking of Lady Shiva, the biggest bright spot was their fight. Lady Shiva is one of the strongest martial artists in the DC Universe, whom Bruce trusted to train Tim Drake (the third Robin) and whom managed to knock Jason Todd (the second Robin) flat on his ass in A Death In The Family. This moment made for one of the strongest conflicts in the opening issue. Often, when I see a superheroine pitted against another female I raise my eyebrows slightly, because it just so often feels like ‘hmmm… this should be girly and this foe has a vagina- lets put them up against each other!’ I still remember when Babsy in Gail Simone’s run called half the DC Universe’s female superheroines in to help her and I was wondering ‘what? No Nightwing? Why ignore the male superheroes when the city’s at stake?’ But no, Lady Shiva and Cass Cain make sense. She is also an ultimate fighter who is dedicated to attaining the peek of skill.

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It’s been said that Batman is the least interesting character in his universe, and it’s his contrast with his Rogues gallery  as well as Superman and his allies that makes him interesting. I suspect the same is true for Cass, as her rivalry with Lady Shiva was great fun. Lady Shiva’s ideals and approach was the complete opposite to Batman’s. Plus, having two of the most badass Asian superheroines in the same comic was pretty awesome.

Another high point was that we saw a more softer and melancholy side to Batman. Far from being the immoving stoic, he genuinely cared for Cass, and was the perfect foil to Cass’ father who only viewed her as a killing machine.

Cain was another great villain, as his obsession with creating the ultimate killer was highly reminiscent of Lydecker from dark angel. I’m looking forward to seeing him in future issues.

But a big flaw was to include an annual in this. It involved a completely different creative team and it feels out of place. It basically involves Batman and Batgirl pursuing this cheesecake Indian shapeshifter whom once they catch up with proceeds to infodump her whole life on them. It’s more focused on the plight of the untouchables and how they have few rights in India, and honestly, since this character has no relevance to anything I can’t bring myself to care about the conflict.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, it may be flawed but with its brilliantly fast pace action, fluid artwork and an excellent standoff against DC heavyweight Lady Shiva, this series was a good start for Batgirl. In all honestly, a big part of the reason I love this is because as an unstoppable trained from birth, Cassandra Cain makes for an excellent power fantasy.

However, the issue is held back by the fact that Kelley Puckett clearly hadn’t quite thought through how he was going to handle Cass’s muteness and the central concept behind her fighting skills, and so the random psychic ‘quick fix’ solution made it feel so cheap. Even so, its definately worth checking out, if for no other reason than its an interesting part of the Batgirl legacy.

RATING:

3.5/ 5

THE WORST WEBCOMIC ON THE INTERNET – ASSIGNED MALE: HOW NOT TO TACKLE IMPORTANT ISSUES

Oh God. I’ve actually found it the worst  comic on the internet. This is literally the personification of everything that is wrong with the overzealous left on Tumblr. A comic worse than Sonichu. Less articulate than My Immortal.

A comic is so polarizing, so ranty, it even isolates other trans people and feminists. A comic that is so far left, that when right wing trolls do edits of it,half the time I have difficulty telling which ones are real and which ones are parodies. The only key difference is that the parodies are at least funny. Which is a problem.

Attempts to help like this, done horrendously, to talk about important issues just give trolls ammunition and undermine attempts at improving representation. Honestly, if someone was a centrist, naive and heard endless stories about how bad ‘SJWs’ were and then saw a few of these strips, I can see them easily siding with them. Hell, I actually cheered on the bigot strawmen in half these comics.

BASIC SUMMARY AND STORYTELLING

 

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What is the purpose of this strip?

This strip takes the form of a ‘gag a day’ strip, except without a gag, or humour. Because who needs humour? Instead, we get a heavy handed ham fisted gender studies lecture which usually involves Stephie commiserating with her echo chamber   I mean, band of sycophants friends about some issue, or else berating some unwitting passer by who accidentally stepped on a land mine.

I mean, we read comics to be entertained. No one ever liked PSAs. Even as kids, no one wanted to watch this:

Even when there is a legitimate punchline, it’s often muddied by a bizarre set up:

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I don’t understand what she’s parodying

Wait, so you DON’T want people to research trans issues and be a good ally? What’s your point?? Normally, when this is done, it’s done to parody the weird questions that LGBT people are asked, in attempt to show how demeaning/ ridiculous they are. For example:

‘When did you decide to be straight?’

‘Straight clubs have the BEEESSSST music. Oooooh, I have a straight friend- nothing in common except their straight- you wanna go out?’

But trans issues are more complex than being cis. And they definately need support in this climate.  So it doesn’t work. And her mum asked her a completely innocuous question- what are you spending your money on? Why the sarcasm? Is it because If Stephie said ‘the latest Ms Marvel comic’, Stephie might actually have had an interest and conversation that doesn’t center around gender?

As for It sometimes has mini arcs, but there isn’t much in the way of continuity. No characters really develop, and I still have no idea what personality Stephie’s supposed to have… I know she’s angry, irrational, judgmental and self absorbed, but  I don’t know what personality the creator intended her to have.

Which brings me onto the biggest problem:

THIS AUTHOR HAS NO INTEREST IN WRITING A CHARACTER

Even if this comic is called ‘Assigned Male- the incredible adventures of Stephie who just happens to be transgendered’, don’t be fooled. There is nothing ‘just happens’ about it. Stephie is trans.  I don’t really know anything about her goals, hobbies, or much about her except that she speaks like a gender studies student. Seriously. The author even admits Stephie has no other interests.

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I genuinely had to debate whether to put this in because i wasn’t sure if this was an edit or not.

Lampshading your failure to write an actual character does not fix the problem. Also, there are so many great female lead comics like Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Rat Queens and Ms Marvel… and you’re just going to dismiss the whole medium? When there’s a huge push at the moment to make the medium more inclusive? Hell, we saw another character reading a lumberjanes comic at one point- so the author must know this. And as for videogames, what about Child of Light or Undertale- or freaking Tetris or Candy crush?Or Indie games? Also, football loses value if cis men get anything from it? WTF?

There is one or two token examples of Stephie having a hobby or two– but they were done in a ham fisted ‘tell’ way, is never organically incorporated in the story telling such as say, Lisa Simpson and her sax, or the blokes from Friends and their love of football.

For another example of Sophie’s lack of irony, see this:

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What’s wrong with this panel? This is a reasonable point for every day trans people to make. But in the context of this comic there are  three things:

a) Trans and gender issues are the ONLY thing Stephie can talk about.

b) She’s in a webcomic about a transperson’s life- ie. A PIECE OF MEDIA ABOUT TRANS LIVES FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION

c) IF YOU DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, WHY DID YOU AGREE TO THIS INTERVIEW?

STEPHIE AND HER SOCK PUPPETS ARE TERRIBLE PEOPLE

One thing to note, Stephie is supposed to be 11. She is 11 and she talks like This . Here’s more examples of Dick Grayson, age 12 speaks Stephie and her flunkies talk like:

11 years old – ‘Yes. Because of course I am a heterosexual cis male

11 years old- ‘so you want to compensate for your insecurity regarding your masculinity  and parenting skills by denying my identity‘ – NOT EVEN 20 YEAR OLDS TALK LIKE THIS

11 years old– ‘And spend the summer not getting any sleep because I’ll be so anxious performing a gender I don’t have.’

I understand that some kids are precocious, and the comic even tried to imply this in an earlier comic. But the reason  Lisa worked in the Simpsons was because she was the only character like this, and it contrasted with the straight man ie. the rest of Springfield. She even suffered iscolation from her peers due to her intellect.

This doesn’t work here because half the characters talk like this- even the strawmen. she’s literally like the raging feminists you find on campus that even the other feminists run a mile whenever they see them on the horizon.

Speaking of angry feminists, Oh God, the overwhelming problem with this story is how reprehensible the characters are and how aggressively they spout their views. Lets begin with the first ever comic.

Stephie is sick and Stephie’s mum takes her to the hospital. The receptionist notices that inspite of seeing a little girl, there’s a boys name on the card and she asks Stephie’s militant butch lesbian stereotype mum if there’s a mistake. Her mum, being a responsible adult, explains that Stephie identifies as female in a calm and rational manner…

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Her mum rages at the poor unsuspecting person trying to do their job.

Then, it’s Stephie’s turn. Stephie is angry with her mum. Is it because her mum’s being an irrational rage-aholic? No, it’s because she isn’t doing militant trans activism right. Even though her mum is sticking up for her and using language that mainstream activists use to describe being transgender, she is the real monster for getting it wrong. she throws a complete fit about it. Because apparently Stephie doesn’t think she wasn’t born in the wrong body- she doesn’t have gender dysphoria in spite of having it in other panels when convenient to the plot. No. This is a girl’s body. This is her girl’s penis! Even though she takes hormones and shows signs of dysphoria in some comics and then claims not to have it in others.

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HOW DARE SHE NOT MAGICALLY KNOW THAT STEPHIE’S EXACT WAY SHE VIEWS HER IDENTITY?!

Does her mum punish her for being a little shit? Of course not, Stephie can do no wrong and her mum bends and apologises. But the worst thing is her kid is sick and she leaves to hospital. She is literally going to let her kid be dangerously ill because some medical professional didn’t understand the situation at the counter and she couldn’t control her own kid. What a child abuser great parent.

HOW MILITANT THEY ALL ARE

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Wow. That passive aggressive bullshit definitely won’t isolate people who are reading your comic  to educate themselves and leave only the most militant of trans activists reading

Stephie  and her crew are absolutely horrendous to everyone around them. Even though trans people suffer from discrimination, homelessness and violence at alarming rates, you know what kind of issues this comic decides the tackle? Getting the wrong happy meal!

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Haha, I abused that minimum wage worker for no reason! 

Ah, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen non binary gender bending characters gain superpowers. But remember when Sailor Uranus used her powers to protect innocent people rather than assaulting overworked fast food employee? Yeah, that was terrible motivation. It would have been better if Sailor Uranus used it to attack people who got her the wrong toy on Child’s day or something. That would make her more engaging.sailor uranus.gif

No one even cares if you want a different toy. I used to ask for the boys toy all the time. I worked at a fast food place, we were used to switching them. The bronies already fought that civil right for you.  Let the internet fix this for you:

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This is how she treats the people around her. Attack them for the smallest slights! Most of her friends are trans/ non binary/ gay in some way or the other, but those who aren’t exist for two purposes: to be stawman and commit a slight for Stephie to yell at them about, or b) to worship the ground she walks on and only talk about her issues.

HOW STEPHIE HANDLES DEBATE

Well, it’s not about characters, and it’s not funny, and gives us lectures, it must be educational for newcomers, right? Lets look at how she handles arguments:

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I JUST WANT TO  BE SAFE, YOU PATRIARCHAL. CISGENDERED. BIGOTED. FUCK!

And fun fact! The author trans Yuno Sophie Labelle got kicked out of a local trans group for going off on an angry tirade  ‘questioning their beliefs.’ I wonder how she could have approached them that would have provoked that response?

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And aww, ‘truscum’?  Isn’t that cute. She’s invented a new hate term for transgender people who don’t agree with her! It’s lovely how she keeps those spaces safe for other trans women where they can go and not be verbally attacked.

But that is assigned male in a nutshell.

It doesn’t want to educate the audience. It doesn’t want to make logical arguments. It wants the audience to blindly agree with her points otherwise they’re a PRIVELEDGED CISSEXIST TOOL OF THE PATRIARCHY!

Yet asking questions about those points for clarification- even none invasive none personal questions? SEE ABOVE. And accidentally making a mistake?  … BTW, whatever happened to that kid who said transwomen were women trapped in a male’s body?

Worse still, aside from the strawmen, the biggest target of her ire are the perfectly

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Actually, that’s a pretty good argument- it makes their issues a mater of human rights, and people often dehumanise trans people by referring to them as ‘it’, so it’s something people need reminding. It should be done because they’re smart, funny and talented? Okay, fine. But what about Caitlin Jenner or trans people we despise? Do we get to respect them? What about trans women who are violent criminals? If we respected trans women based on merit, wouldn’t that mean that misgendering women who are terrible people is okay?

This comic doesn’t just rely on blind aggression to argue its points! We also have logical fallacies:

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‘I am a Duck! And my body is MINE. So it can only be a duck’s body. Ducks have all types of bodies ‘ LOGIC

Strawman, strawman everywhere:

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Yes, because transphobes typically have a problem using crass terms for genitalia in regards to transwomen.

Giving the enemy swirly eyes:

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Yeah, twitter wasn’t convinced.

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See what you did there, but no, people not being attracted to trans people is a VERY different debate to people not being attracted to different races. The ‘you are transphobic for not wanting to date me’ directly plays into the TERF fear mongering that they do to lesbians that transwomen are gonna bully and manipulate them into having sex with them.

And the admission that the presence of any logical scrutiny will destroy her:

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Stephie makes an Illogical arguement, is called out on it, then she pivots.

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That does not counter his point

You should try and be more like the perfect ally like Stephie… speaking of allyship

STEPHIE IS SELF ABSORBED

hypocrisy lol

Hmmm, learning and mostly listening….

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Don’t tell other people how to advocate for their rights? Well, that’s good advice. Lets see how long Stephie can keep that up before she starts telling a gay anti bullying campaigner how to do it and making it all about Stephie:

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She couldn’t even listen for a fucking panel. And of course, gay activist couldn’t be allowed to be right or have validity talking about his own his own issues! No, we’re going to turn him into a strawman so her Sueiness can be right!

Oh, gee! Thanks for transplaining to a gay man what homophobia is and making him the REAL homophobe, asshole! Why couldn’t he be as well versed on gay issues as an 11 year old trans girl?

I’m sure a homophobia educator who selflessly devotes his time to travelling around schools to promote equality would TOTALLY start calling femme gays ‘fags’ in the middle of class. It’s not like he would have recieved letters from or spoken to boys who go bullied for being effeminate or anything.

And also- maybe they aren’t tired of the effeminate stereotype because they’re monsters. Maybe it’s because the swishy stereotype is the only representation they get in media, and they’re sick of basically being belittled and reduced to this:

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And lets not forget that she’s only started living as a female for five minutes, and yet she’s the only one enlightened enough to stand up to those sexists and realise objectification is wrong.

She’s also so self absorbed she can’t put her own issues aside to help a kid with his homework:

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This wouldn’t be so bad, but we never see her do anything or care for anyone else’s issues unless its gender related.

This comic isn’t the only one she spent berating the gays for not being good enough cis allies . She never attacks lesbians or Muslims funny enough, even though both groups tend to have far more issue with transwomen in their communities than gay men.

I personally have a theory as to why: morality isn’t based on your actions, but how marginalized you are. You’re only allowed to be sympathetic in this series if you have at least two marginalizations. Gay men are scum because even though they’re cis men and being gay doesn’t cancel that out. Cis women are dickheads because they’re still straight and cis. Lesbians- in spite of being typically more anti trans than gay men- don’t get criticised because they’re still both women AND gay and can’t be evil. Myrick gets forgiven for being traditionally masculine because he’s trans and POC. Her best friend is good because she’s black and female, in spite of being cis.

SCIENCE AND FACTS ARE TRANSPHOBIC

Ugh! The worst thing is that this is anti science and anti reason.

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But Stephie, You  ARE female, so any experiences you have will be a girls experience! It doesn’t matter how you’re percieved. Unless you’re saying that you need other people to validate your identity.

‘Saying there are male and female brains is neurosexist’. First, wha? Second. BUUULLLLLSSSSHIIIIIITTTTTT! It’s not neurosexist, it’s scientifically demonstratable. Scientists have actually done research and found that there are male and female brains.  In fact, it’s those big mean neurosexist scientists that are actually proving that transgenderism has a biological basis and that trans women really do have a feminized brain– thus not men pretending to be women.

But Stephie aint having nothing to do with biology.

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Actually, Mr Scientific Research provides us with DNA testing which can determine how many chromosomes you have. Why don’t you take one if you think they got that wrong, Stephie? Because you KNOW what chromosomes you have; this is a red herring and you know that. And it’s the MALE Y chromosome which triggers the processes in the womb that cause the development of a penis, except in exceptionally rare cases where something goes wrong, so yeah, if everything is working correctly Y chromosomes = boy parts = biological sex.

This isn’t even an arguement that trans activists even use anyway.

Most trans activists  have a perception of reality and can make reasonable arguments see a difference between ‘gender’ and ‘sex’.

Here’s a fucking diagram:

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But for all those gender studies books she reads, Stephie uses the words interchangeably (unless its in a talking point to bash teh gayz), which leads me to believe she doesn’t grasp even the basic gender theory.

But I’ll bite. So… if saying that sex difference isn’t in the brain, has nothing to do with genitals, biology, then it must be to do with clothes and gender roles? What did you say about that again?

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So… the question remains… if gender has nothing to do with genitals, nothing to do with the brain, nothing to do with stereotypes and gender roles don’t mean anything and everyone gets to define gender for themselves… why do you need to identify as a girl? What is your motivation to transition? If girl and boy have no meaning besides what you want it to mean, why can’t you wear dresses and say you’re defining boy as someone who wears dresses? Afterall, you say men are privileged and being a girl sucks, so why do you want to experience life as a girl?

Also, why don’t you have dysphoria in the earlier part of the series and then get dysphoria in the later issues.

THE WORST PART

You know, there is so much more I wanted to talk about but don’t have enough energy to. This comic has ended me. Do you know what the worst part is? This book is being sold and marketed to small kids.

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There are hardly any books dealing with trans characters, so this book about an angry, hateful, irrational person who has no personality is the role model trans children are getting- and what other kids will think being trans means.

If her comics are anything to go by, what riveting reads in age appropriate language we’re gonna get:

riveting stuff

They’re also getting to see a mother genuinely struggle to come to terms with their trans kid’s transition and see them painted as a monstrous harpy.

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How DARE she have difficult letting go of the child she gave birth to and the mother/ daughter bond she thought she was going to be able to treasure the rest of her life. Also, why would she burn clothes that SHE WOULD HAVE PAID FOR?

Why was Sophie so intent on not letting Stephie be a character? Instead of the lectures, why couldn’t she create a role model like Sailor Moon provided 20 years ago? Sailor Uranus was a wonderful role model and a fun character.

Sailor Uranus is brave, strong, cocky, loyal, a race driver, a loving girlfriend and superhero who fights evil with her friends. She doesn’t identify with either gender and takes the male role, pronouns, dress and identity in civilian life . We see her live as none binary without endless soapboxing. We see her fight evil with her friends, bicker with her girlfriend and raise a child, not lecture people endlessly on privilige and cissexism.

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A race car driver AND superhero? It’s almost like she has other things to worry about rather than who gave her the right happy meal

Or even Alyssa from the tween friendly Batgirl comics. She’s not a pivotal character, but she is a character

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OMG Alyssa can be trans AND have a life as well.

Why couldn’t have Sophie given the world one of these women? A girl that trans women could look up to and cis children could recognise as loveable? Why did she have to let her pet peeves- mostly against allies and well meaning people who say the wrong thing- overthrow her story.

She created a platform, and yet she created a work which is more famous for its anti SJW (and much funnier) memes than its content.

But did this always have to be the case? How could Sophie have created a comic that teaches people about important social issues while still being fun and entertaining? Well, next time I’m going to look at some well handled trans/ female etc characters in other mediums, and the odd couple of panels the author sort of got right, to explore how it could be done right.

GIRLS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS: 12 AWESOME TITLES THAT EVERY WOMAN SHOULD READ

Superhero movies are taking over our both the big screen and small and after seeing The Avengers, Jessica Jones, the new X-Men franchise and Deadpool to name a few, you kind of want to check out the comics and graphic novels they were based off of.

However, entering the world of comics for the first time can be a weird, convoluted and sexist and bizarre place. Even with the New 52 reboot, some stories still become a convoluted mess with endless tie ins, seeing your favourite heroines from the tv shows turned into badly written fap material (poor Starfire), and we have cases such as Frank Cho throwing a hissy fit because Greg Rucka (an amazing writer) told him to alter his cover design to make it less sexualised. However, the comic book industry has gotten a lot better, and there are a lot of really great comics and graphic novels out there which treat women with respect and are accessible to new readers.

12. OLYMPIANS- by George O’Connor

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If you’re interested in Greek Myth than this is a great start. It’s fun, clever and provides a very faithful and thoughtful look into the original mythology of the Olympians. This is the series that transforms both Hera and Aphrodite into interesting, nuanced characters instead of the two dimensional hateful bitches they’re normally portrayed as. My reviews of his take on Hera, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Hades, Demeter and Persephone can be found by following the links.

11. Batwoman Elegy

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Isn’t it ironic that a character created to be Batman’s beard became one of comic’s most prominent lesbians? Yeah, Kathy Kane was a silver age creation when distaff counterparts were all the rage, and Kathy Kane along with Bat-girl – no, not that Batgirl, we’ll get to her later- her whole schtick was that she was obsessively in love with Batman. It is believed in order to disprove rumors that he’s gay with Robin. And FYI, her edition makes things so much gloriously worse- just look how miserable Batman is at the prospect of kissing an actual female!

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I love you Silver Age, you never fail to make me laugh

She eventually got retconned out of existence for being ‘too silly’ (presumably along with alien killer cactuses, Rainbow Batman and Batbaby- yes, Batman got turned into a four year old and attacked people on a rocking horse. That happened). However, she was brought back and reimagined as a proud lesbian for the New 52. In this version, she was kicked out of the army under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and wandered around aimlessly, becoming a party girl to forget her problems. She eventually decided to sort her life out and serve her country by taking up the cowl. Colonel Kane her father supported her in her goal and got her years of specialised training with the best of the best, and turned her into a force to be reckoned with.

Greg Rucka is amazing at writing women, and J.H. William’s artwork is divine. Because the whole point of the New 52 was to reboot the comic cannon and make it accessible to new readers (whether it worked or fell flat on its stupid face is debatable), there’s no long backstory you need to know to understand it. Batwoman was my first ever comic book. The reason it’s not ranked higher is because- well, after the opening, the comic does go to really weird places, including having her fight this banshee creature and being assisted by a B-movie werewolf. It’s story telling often becomes shakey, but Batwoman herself is a great character.

10. Batgirl and Robin Year One

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Barbara Gordon is the iconic Batgirl and yet it’s quite difficult to find any comics centring around her pre- New 52 reboot. Here is a chance to read a modernization of the character’s routes before it all got messed up with The Killing Joke. In this, Barbara Gordon is a young woman living in a sexist time who wants to join the police force but is barred due to discrimination thanks to her gender and height. Defying everyone’s expectations of her, she takes up the cowl. Even Batman and Robin underestimate her at first, but she proves herself a valuable asset and her training begins.

Because the whole point of this is an origin story, there’s no need to have any prior knowledge of the Batman universe to understand that. Plus, it also stars a young Dick Grayson, and we all know that he’s always very popular with the ladies.

9. V for Vendetta

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No doubt you’ve seen the movie and know how strong Evey is. Well, the graphic novel is just as good as the film, if not better, and is thought provoking and worth checking out. Alan Moore has a very- spotty- record with female writing, what with humiliating and putting Babsy in a wheelchair and having his female characters constantly threatened with sexual assault (not to mention often pairing them with much older men), and both are true here, but here Evey goes through one of the most compelling character arcs in all of comic books, changing from a frightened victim to revolutionary who carries on what V began.

8. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

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This is definitely one for younger audiences, but it’s fun and there’s definately something for older audiences. Lunella is very rare in that she’s a POC heading her own comic book, and she’s a black girl genius. Moreover, she’s a great character and her struggle with being gifted and the iscolation it brings is really engaging. For more of a discussion of it, I’ve reviewed the first issue here.

7. Lumberjanes

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I heard a lot about Lumberjanes- that it has the great art from the artist who wrote for Adventure Time. Because of the title and the fact it was essentially about a group of girl scouts, I was skeptical. Whenever we read about stories trying to change the way women are portrayed, they inevitably seem to be slice of slice focusing on smaller issues about firendship, coming of age, when sod it- I just want heroines beating the crap out of people and saving the world!

But in spite of that, I was pleasantly surprised. This is that this is a good old school fantasy adventure. It’s fast paced, with a mystery to solve and a whole array of magical creatures they have to defeat. It’s a bit sweet and for a younger audience, sure, but it’s still incredibly fun.

6. SAGA- Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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This is definately one of the most engaging series I’ve ever read and actually had me screaming ‘NOO!!’ Every time a chapter ended and breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it hadn’t. This award winning series is a Romeo and Juliet in space about a couple from two sides of a conflict who have a baby and are on the run from both sides. It’s from the man who wrote Y: The Last Man, and has a plethora of well written females.  Not only that, but it’s bad shit insane and manages to switch between being dark and funny

Even though it’s about a horned man, a winged lady and involves humanoid robots with tv heads which breed like normal humans, it also has one of the most realistic romances I’ve seen in a long time. It doesn’t start with the meet cute, but after they’ve had a kid, and they bicker and compromise like real couples.

Again, there’s a lot of diversity in terms of race, with the female lead and Gwendolyn both being women of colour.

 

5.Batgirl- Silent Knight (Cass Cain run)

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The erasure of Cassy Cain’s run as Bat Girl is one of the casualties of the New 52 reboot, but her series is pretty cool. Not only is she a young Asian superheroine who’s non sexualised, but she’s a complete badass who’s proficient in martial arts and an unstoppable fighting machine.

She was raised to be a warrior, but never taught to be a woman. In place of language she got taught to read ‘body language’- people’s movements in combat, and as such can’t speak. Jurie’s out whether this is the coolest or the dumbest idea ever.

4. MONSTRESS- MARJORIE LIU

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3.Rat Queens

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This is one of the most enjoyable series I’ve come across. I’ve reviewed it here, but essentially it involves a group of cool female friends who’s friendship feels authentic . I love the snarky humour and it’s utterly bombastic, plus the fight sequences are AMAZING.

Not only that, put it has a pretty diverse range of characters, with a lesbian in the main cast, multiple people of colour and one of the rare trans women action leads whom is looking likely to become more prominent. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to read out a badass transgender Orc woman who can annihilate everything in her path.

2. The Batgirl Of Burnside

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I could have put Gail Simone’s run here- and that is definately worth reading- but it was diminished by production issues, its continuous insistence of bringing the Joker in for angst but never allowing Barbara to defeat him, and tie ins to the Death In The Family event which made this series incoherent.

The Batgirl Of Burnside, however, is a great series that is everything New 52 should have been: it really gives her an identity that’s far more than ‘Batman/ Robin’s distaff knock off’, a distinctive world, a great cast of characters and its great solid fun.

The art is gorgeous, and Barbara’s a non sexualised, highly realistic young woman who lives a normal daily life which involves worrying about her Grad project, going on dates, using social media and hanging out with friends. Also, this series has the first trans same sex wedding in comics, which is a nice bonus.

With ‘Batgirl and The Birds Of Prey’ becoming a series, maybe Batgirl will become a spin off more akin to Angel, Xena and The Bionic Woman, a force in her own right and more than just Batman’s distaff. For a more detailed review, please click here.

1.Ms Marvel

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Carol Danvers (the original Ms Marvel, who’s now become Captain Marvel) is another great choice, but I had to go with the Kamala Khan version. I was torn between putting her and Batgirl at number one, but as much as I love Babsy, she is still a distaff counterpart, and I think Kamala might be a slightly better character- I like her doofiness, how much of a geek she is and how she struggles with her relationships with her parents.

Everything about this is great. I love how Kamala started off as a geek idolising the Avengers. The way her Muslim heritage is brought into it is done in a very nuanced, fun and interesting way- showing that Muslims aren’t a monolith, and it deals with Kamala’s frustrations with the restrictions placed on her compared with her peers.

ALSO WORTH CHECKING OUT/ HONORABLE MENTIONS

Spider Gwen is an alternate version of Spiderman where Gwen was bitten instead of Peter Parker- which involves our heroine . Greg Rucka is always great at writing women, and his run on Wonder Woman Rebirth should be promising. Nightwing is a male lead series which has a female audience in mind, as he is a strong, smart more vulnerable young man who is striking out on his own after being in Batman’s shadow, and is the hottest guy in comics; Deadpool isn’t great on women, but his series is every bit as hilarious as the movie and no Marvel knowledge is required. Plus, he became a pirate once for the hell of it- and yes, it was every bit as awesome as it sounds. Persepolis and Bitch Planet are known to be great as well, and as they are their own self contained stories, no prior knowledge is needed (although in the case of Bitch Planet, I personally prefer my feminism more incidental to the story, and build into the world and character writing, rather than being the whole point of the story). Plus, Riri Williams, a genius black girl with become Ironheart in the new Iron man series.

FIVE FEMALE SUPERHEROES WHOSE COSTUMES LOOK KICK ASS

As we well know, Superheroine costumes have long been infamous for being little more than adolescent fap material- and some are complete trainwrecks like Starfire- and look generic and uninspired.However, recently there have been some truly excellent looking female designs, that look badass, practical (well, by the standard of superhero costumes anyhow), non sexualised and distinctive.

5. Wonderwoman

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Wondie’s costume has been redesigned many times  over the years, what with her outfit getting skimpier and skimpier, and then other artists trying to fix that by giving her pants, a jacket and gigantic shoulder pads.

I think Tony Daniel might have nailed it with the rebirth design. A lot of the rebirth designs seem to be trying to make the iconic characters look more like their mainstream movie counterparts, and this seems to be the case with Wonderwoman too. It keeps close to the iconic routes- what with being colorful, but the changes make sense here.

She looks more like a warrior from the Grecean times, and her sword and shield make her look more deadly (and providing more options for the fight scenes), and since her bracelets deflect bullets it makes more sense for them to be bigger.The skirt resembles the kind of armour worn at the time more, and  I like that she’s lost the heels, though I’m not sure if the fact that the metal boots cover the kneecap will restrict mobility or not. However, yes to the cape so much. This is definately a step in the right direction for Wondie.

4. Female Thor 

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Russell Dauterman did an amazing job on this. From her long cape, her ferocious winged masked, and armour which could actually protect her, she truly looks like a heroine who could kick ass.

I also love that her proportions are good, and she actually looks like a fit and athletic woman without weird ginorma-boobs that are held up by the force of magic.

3. Batwoman

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This is gorgeous and has an amazing use of colours. It both keeps the menace of Batman’s design, but is completely different, and I love the ash white skin against the black costume, and the gorgeously vivid reds. Anything J.H. Williams III touches is astounding to look at, and he and Greg Rucka did an amazing job in reimagining the character.

 

2. Spider Gwen

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I think the creative team of Spider-Gwen Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez did a great job  on her. They could have so easily have gone the easy route of just putting Gwen in Peter Parker’s suit, but they really did something different.

It’s not sexualised, and the hood gives it a unique and modern feel. I also like the colour scheme, and it kind of looks similar to something a young woman would wear out in the street.

1.Batgirl

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This is my absolute redesign ever. Designed by Tarr and Cameron, this design keeps Batgirl’s iconic routes but updates them and makes them look more practical. I love how the boob socks are gone and we have a leather jacket, and the more practical shoes are excellent.

REVIEW: The Batgirl Of Burnside vol 1- A great start for die hard fans and newbies alike

When I picked up this title, I was wary of what this new series would bring. I was worried about this story being taken from Gale Simone’s capable hands and put into the hands of some misogynist who doesn’t care about her character. However, I need not have worried, because not only does this series treat Barbara with respect, it also gives it a very unique identity distinct from the Big Man himself and helps put a bit of distance between Barbara and the Killing joke.

You don’t need to know anything about Barbara’s history or Gail Simone’s run to enjoy this comic, and it’s a great place to start if you’re interested in checking out a Batgirl comic for the first time.

However, here’s a quick run down of her history. If you’re not that interested, then skip straight to the section marked The Batgirl Of Burnside, where I begin the review of this book.

BARBARA GORDON: THE ADAM WEST YEARS

The Barbara Gordon incarnation of Batgirl was created during the sixties for the Adam West television show in order to increase female viewership. The character they created was Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, a strong 25 year old with a doctorate in Library sciences and was basically a genius and the picture of what the women’s rights movement looked like at the time. DC incorporated her into the comics shortly afterwards as part of the bat family.

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Feminism: proving that it’s not only the boys who can provide a brightly coloured target to distract people from Batman!

She solved crime alongside Batman and Robin, appearing in the comics but never taking center stage except for years later in Batgirl and Robin year One, where we got to see her backstory, which involved her becoming Batgirl after she was denied the chance to become a detective due to sexism in the force .All throughout she was a popular character, but eventually her character became less prominent and she was gradually phased out, ending in her retiring as Batgirl to join congress… at least a dignified end to a prominent character. And then came this….

THE KILLING JOKE

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The Killing Joke. If you know anything at all about Batgirl, you’ve heard of Alan Moore’s (V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen)  ‘The Killing Joke’. Yeah, it was a psychological piece that was not meant to be cannon and it reduced Barbara to a pawn who was humiliated, paralyzed and victimized in a power game between three men. Moore himself said that he regretted what happened, and that the editors should have reigned him more, but they were like ‘cripple the bitch.’

BARBARA GORDON: ORACLE- DOWN BUT NOT OUT

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Even sexist editors and being wheelchair bound won’t stop Barbara from fighting crime

Barbara was reduced to the wheelchair permanently (even though this takes place in a universe with magic, space aliens and characters who have come back from the dead), but fortunately, Kim Yale and John Ostrander did not agree with her treatment, and decided to make sure her character wasn’t sidelined. Thus the Oracle was born- a genius detective in a wheelchair who provided intel to other superheroes. During that time, Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain took up the mantle of Batgirl with varying success (Cassandra Cain’s run beginning in Silent Knight is really worth checking out).

THE NEW 52 REBOOT

But when the New 52, the reboot of the DC Universe created to appeal to new fans, they took Barbara Gordon out of the wheelchair and gave her back the Batgirl mantle. Yeah, this caused controversy as it miraculously cured one of DC’s only disabled superheroes, and (initially) removed Stephanie Brown and Asian Batgirl Cassandra Cain from the role. After Daredevil, Professor X and Hawkeye (he’s lost a lot of his hearing in the comics), Oracle is one of the most prominent disabled superheroes about- and one who doesn’t have superpowers that specifically make her disability almost irrelevant (a la Toph Bei Fong who sees with earthbending), so a lot of people were understandably upset.

Me personally, I totally understand why people are upset about this, but I’m glad to have Barbara back. In a world where people have come back from the dead, radiation is basically magic that does anything you want, we have magical cures left right and center, I don’t see why Barbara had to be permanently in the chair. I don’t see why The Killing Joke was ever cannon, as it worked better as an imaginary, psychological study of the two adversaries. Her history should never have been influenced so heavily by a comic that was never even about her, and doesn’t make Batman look great after if the last few panels of him laughing with The Joker, the man who damaged the lives of two of his most loyal crime fighting allies, and Batgirl of Burnside is a step in the right direction.

I am sad that Cass Cain almost got retconned out of history and I think it would have been good if someone else could have taken up the Oracle mantle (like how Kamala took up the Ms Marvel mantle after Carol Danvers became Captain Marvel). But I digress, and shall move on to Gail Simone’s run on the new 52.

In Gail Simone’s run, The Killing Joke is still canon (although Bab’s Oracle years happened in a very compressed timeline), and she took her out of the chair and had her finding her feet again as a superheroine, dealing with PTSD thanks to the Joker’s attack.  It was a decent run- but was held back by its links to tie in events, which made it extremely confusing for new readers, and the fact that it kept on bringing the Joker into it, but wouldn’t let her defeat him, so it felt like a weak and somewhat unsatisfying arc that was chasing its own tail.

NOW, ONTO BATGIRL OF BURNSIDE

Now finally, the Batgirl Of Burnside continues from Gail’s run and begins the process of distancing Batgirl from the Killing Joke and bringing her into her own. Ironically, this story achieves what The New 52 was trying to achieve… it keeps her vital traits, while beginning a new story which requires no prior knowledge of Barbara’s history. One of the pivotal events is Barbara Gordon losing her old costume in a fire and having to create a new one and it’s absolutely amazing. Far from the sexualized boob socks, and revealing clothes we’re used to seeing, this costume looks fantastic, practical, and also doesn’t stray too far from its iconic routes- which is where I think the attempts to redesign Wonderwoman’s outfits run into trouble. This is recognizably Batgirl, but her already great costume looks so much better.

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In fact, the whole story is stronger for the way Babs is portrayed. She’s still every bit as beautiful as she was- but she’s clearly not sexualised. She doesn’t wear clothes that no real woman wouldn’t wear, doesn’t possess those bizarre gravity defying boobs that confuse me more than some of Batman’s Silver Age plotlines;  she dresses like a normal 21 year old and she doesn’t stand in any ridiculous hip cocked boobs out pose. She has an expressive face, and all her poses convey her emotions and personality. In short, she feels more like a real person than just some bizarre sex doll.

This story is just so, so much fun. It’s drawn in a gorgeous bright, eyepopping style that helps give this world its own identity. I really think they utilized the lettering well throughout the comic- social media is a big part of Babsy’s world, and this is shown through speech bubbles; we’ll see the text pop up like an iPhone message when they’re reading a text, or we’ll see what looks like an iPhone play screen showing a song that’s playing during a car ride. All this really helps show that this world is immersed in social media and to great effect, and it really helps modernise Batgirl’s world.

And the colouring is great too. I mean, look at that sunset  below, and how bright everything is. I also love how a lot of the background panels are blank with bold colours during action scenes- it makes it look bright and energetic and kind of reminds me of the old school comics while still feeling really modern.

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The style is a lot more cartoony than  in most comics, and in this case it allows for more exaggerated facial expressions which really helps get character across. It’s a world apart from the dark, broody world of Batman, which some fans have criticized but I think works really well in this case. I mean, Batgirl isn’t Bruce Wayne. She’s an ordinary young woman who fights crime and who achieves incredible feats thanks to her determination, resourcefulness and a desire to help people regardless of the obstacles against her- not a brooding millionaire who saw his parents murdered before his eyes. She’s meant to appeal to a new audience- a young female audience- so making her adventures fun and having her deal with things like Uni, friendships, and using social media makes perfect sense.

This is what you want from comics- fun, and every moment of this comic is a riot- whether its seeing her struggle with school work, partying with her friends or fighting Anime inspired robot motorcycle riding twins. Come on, a part of everyone wants to see that, and this kind of fan, insanity is what comics can do which live action television and other mediums can’t do so easily. The brighter art style also gives it a lighter more cartoonish aesthetic, which makes all the silliness easier to swallow.

Some of it is silly- and I don’t fully buy some of it (I have a few questions about the ending, which I won’t go into due to spoilers), but its tone makes it something I can swallow more.

The one problem I- as well as a whole host of other people-  ran into was Dagger Type. Oh dear, Dagger Type.  There was a pretty fun storyline about a fake sparkly batgirl imitating the real one and taking selfies, becoming an internet celebrity, and basically causing trouble. It was fun… and then we got to the reveal, and it turned out that the fake Batgirl was a man… a psychotic, melodramatic Drag Queen/ cross dresser (it doesn’t specify which) who is the unholy union of the sissy villain and the psychotic gender bender ( think Silence Of The Lambs). Yeah, kind of a disaster and quite a slap in the face to people who are trans/ gender fluid or who are not gender conforming in some way. Especially since with Barbara’s trans lady roomie Alysia, Renee Montoya, Batwoman and Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy now confirmed to be an item, the Bat Universe is one that has been pretty LGBT friendly. Not a great move. Notice how he suddenly looks extremely deranged as soon as his gender’s revealed and goes crazy? Yeah, very Buffalo Bill.

HOWEVER– what is the most incredible part of this story is how the creators responded to this problem. They didn’t give a ‘I’m sorry you were offended this was not how this was meant to be read’ non apology, but they listened to the critique and admitted their errors in a highly sincere apology. That shows a lot of maturity and respect for their fans, and makes them a team whose work I’d still want to follow. Afterall, even the most well meaning and liberal of us can make mistakes.

The rest of the issue recovered, however. I liked the inclusion of Black Canary, and I loved the good solid fun everyone was having. Barbara has so many positive female friendships- from Black Canary, to Alysia Yeoh, to her new roommate Frankie and her Muslim colleague- that felt so natural, warm and fun, that it was enjoyable. Not only that, but the cast is so naturally diverse- from the bisexual and gay black characters, to Barbara’s Muslim coworker, who were all smart, likeable young people living their lives.

I liked how social media was incorporated- Batgirl goes on ‘Hooq’ (a form of Tinder) and there’s also a storyline about her positing her antics on social media. This is a perfect way to make her life more relatable to the younger fans its trying to appeal to, and it feels genuine and not written by some old guy trying to be ‘down wit da kidz’.

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I was also pleased that Alysia remained a character. Alysia was Barbara’s transgender roomate that appeared in the New 52, and regardless of whether fans loved or hated Gail Simone’s run, the one thing everyone could agree on was that Alysia was great. A spunky liberal activist, she was kind, capable of helping even Batgirl out of a scrape and she had the kind of genuine friendship with Barbara that is unusual in comics- not only that, but she was one of comics rare transgender characters and her transgender status wasn’t what defined her. She’s not especially prominent here, but she hasn’t been canned and that’s a relief.

It also teased the idea of her new roomate, Frankie, becoming the new Oracle- which would be amazing: it would allow Barbara to return to the cowl, and we could keep a strong role model for disabled reader. This time one who isn’t defined by a mysogynistic misstep by editors who don’t give a damn about the character.

VERDICT: Batgirl is great fun and what the New 52 run should have been: new, with a distinct identity and no comic history knowledge required for new readers.

RATING: 5 smackdowns from Babs/ 5

 

Best of the Best: Superheroines

Superheroes aren’t just for nerdy comic fans any-more (and as a nerdy anime otaku myself, I use the term with nothing but affection). With dozens of Superhero films coming out this year, they’re more popular now than ever. In this list I’m going to look at the most badass, complex and interesting heroines I’ve come across in comics so far.
Continue reading Best of the Best: Superheroines