Favorite Stories Starring Women: Batgirl
|March 23, 2012||Posted by Jess under Comics, Ladytexts|
TGIF! Thank Gardner It’s…Favorite Stories Starring Women! (What. You try coming up with something clever to open these posts with seven days in a row.) Today, we’ll be talking about Batgirl.
Here are the ingredients for Jess’s Perfect Comic:
1. a cheerful teen superheroine protagonist, with
2. a dark past that she doesn’t let get her down,
3. who succeeds at fighting crime due to a combination of skill and gumption, plus
4. lots of female supporting characters
5. with whom she has strong, positive relationships,
6. lots of humor,
7. energetic, non-cheesecakey art,
8. a sense of place within the greater DCU without being bogged down by continuity, and
9. Batman getting slapped in his stupid face.
10. Oh, and if the heroine could wear purple1, my nine-year-old self would really appreciate it. Thanks!
Stephanie Brown has been one of my favorite characters for years, so it was a given that I’d pick up her series, but I was unprepared for just how wonderful it would be. If you look back at that ingredient list, you’ll see a lot of them have to do with tone. Getting a positive comic out of DC is like getting blood from a stone these days, but for two years, Batgirl was there, poking fun at dour Gotham. Not only was the book itself funny, with silly one-off issues where Steph teamed up with Supergirl to fight dozens of old-movie Draculas or went on goofy Valentine’s Day adventures with Klarion the Witch Boy, Steph herself was generally cheerful. She’s been through a lot – criminal father, drug addict mother, sexual assault, teen pregnancy, giving up a child for adoption, being tortured for days, practically dying – but she keeps her sense of humor and her hope for a better tomorrow.
Moreover, the book doesn’t feel the need to constantly dash those hopes. She’s not like Spider-Man, enjoying a minor success only to have a loved one die or turn evil or suddenly hate her. She’s not given plotlines where she fails to save people and then broods about it. Too many comics – especially comics with young or female or C-list heroes – like to show the hero failing in order to make a point about consequences or the frailty of man or whatever, or to have a more established hero save their bacon. Steph succeeds, she saves, she inspires. And not just with bad guys – she brings a bit of extra light into Oracle and Proxy’s lives, and manages to teach grumpy little Damian Wayne how to have fun, at least a little.
In the World’s Finest miniseries, not penned by Bryan Q. Miller, who wrote all 24 issues of Batgirl, Steph and Kara need to be rescued from Toyman by Superman, Dick Grayson-as-Batman, and a disdainful Damian. In Batgirl, Steph reassures Kara that she has a friend who understands the loneliness of being a superhero, and shows Damian how to use a moonbounce. I can tell you which scenario I prefer.
Oh, and the ladies! There’s Steph, of course, and guest appearances from Kara and a few other superladies. But there’s also Barbara Gordon, who does not want to mentor another Batgirl, but who slowly comes to trust and rely on Steph. There’s Wendy Harris, angry and grieving over the loss of her brother Marvin and the use of her legs, gradually finding herself again as she becomes Steph’s eye in the sky. There’s even Steph’s mom, who finally gets to stop being a kind of pathetically Dickensian figure in the background of Steph’s life and becomes an actual person.
Batgirl was a breath of fresh air in an all-too-grim comics landscape. For 24 months it was without fail my favorite comic on my pull list. If we never get its like again – if Steph never makes it into the DCnU proper, despite editorial promises – I’ll never forget that last panel of Steph swinging from the rooftops, ready to fight the good fight.
Where to Buy: The series is collect in three trades, all of which, I believe, are still in print. It’s probably also available digitally, being so recent.
Related Recs: Batgirl: Year One by Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon, and Marcos Martin was one of the first trades I ever read and it’s still one of my favorites. Beautiful, funny, and accessible, it’s a wonderful self-contained story about a smart woman determined to make a difference. The first 60 or so issues of Cassandra Cain’s Batgirl series are also wonderful, though somewhat darker than Steph’s, as befits the character. Cass is a unique and fascinating character, and her struggles to cope with a confusing world and her own dark past are by turns heartbreaking, hilarious, and incredibly badass. And as long as I’m talking about Batladies, I would be remiss in not showering praise upon the currently-running Batwoman (as well as the amazing Batwoman: Elegy), with its lavishly beautiful art, brilliant characterization, and diverse cast.
- Sorry, eggplant. ↩