the batgirl effect

For the Nerds who like fitness:

I’ve been doing a fun thing lately, it’s a blast and I feel good. 

There’s this website, darebee.com, and they post a lot of cool equipment free workouts, and they have some superhero themed ones which I think is awesome! I read a lot of comic books and watch comic book shows and stuff a lot, so in addition to my regular (I like swimming! Front crawls for those superhero delts, yo) I do a set or two of this Supergirl themed workout for everyepisode of a DC show  I watch -

A set of this rad Batgirl one for every DC comic I read -

A set of this Black Widow one for every episode of a Marvel show I watch and every few Marvel comics I read -

They’ve got one for Vikings, Battlestar Galactica, Legend of Korra, Xena, Mass Effect, and a bunch of other stuff. They have ones for the guys, too. Highly Recommend.

Batgirl Annual Vol 1 1: Introducing: Aruna!

Next up in the supportive padding: a Batgirl Annual, which surprisingly takes part in India. How did we get there and why? Who cares? Cass is getting out of Gotham for once and I’m all up for that.

We start with a splash page shot of Cass that is double cringe-worthy, once because female anatomy does not work like that and once because she is seventeen; this is followed by over-sexualized ass-kickery at its finest. The only saving grace in this is that Batgirl is apparently intimidating enough to make the bad guys darken their pants just by looking at them.
Creepy Bat: 7

As it turns out, she and Batman are looking for upcoming movie star Ashok Ramanan, who was recently kidnapped. The two of them throw on some disguises and visit the set, poking both the director and a woman on set – Ashok’s agent, maybe? – who shows them a clip from his latest film. Cass is so adorable enraptured by the kali figure in that movie, she wants to see the video four times:

As it turns out, the Kali figure was done by Aruna Shende, master actor and special effects artist, who seems to be a genius at pretty much everything. They go to pay her a visit and she flees instantly. The remarkable thing here is that Cass enters the apartment after Bruce, but leaves before him, once again demonstrating that she’s the new speedster in the family. Her ability to read other people’s body language also pays off, as they encounter an elderly gentleman on a nearby roof, who is quickly ignored by Batman after he tells them that he didn’t see where Aruna went. Cass is not fooled and as it turns out, the old man is Aruna, a shapeshifter in disguise. (As a side note: Jesus, Bruce, are those ears or horns?)
Fast As Lightning: 15

Unfortunately, the conversation doesn’t go very far, as a group of guys with too many knives and too little brains arrive and taunt Batman about their superiority in numbers. Batman freely admits that he can’t take all of them out, but Cass can. And, boy, does she!
Little Lady Of War: 10
Fast As Lightning: 16

She also manages to track down Aruna, who proceeds to give us an exposition dump on “Untouchables”, a very real and regrettable part of the Indian caste system, which basically forbids any physical contact with the lowest caste of society and leads to huge discrimination. Upon correctly guessing that Aruna is an Untouchable, too, Cass’ entire body language changes from badass vigilante to empathically sorrowful human being, and she comforts Aruna with a gesture that speaks more than a thousand words: she touches her.
Living Emoji: 29

In the following pages, Cass and Aruna visit Ashok’s parents and it is all but confirmed that they are also Untouchables. They don’t know where their son is, but they narrow down the list of people who might know significantly. This time, Cass does the exact opposite: switching from kind, empathic Cass to ruthlessly effective Batgirl in the span of two pages, as they had to interrogate their new target, Ashok’s wealthy neighbor.
Living Emoji: 30
Fast As Lightning: 17

Aruna shapeshifts into a number of different people while interrogating the man, including the shape Ashok. The neighbor instantly tells him that Ashok’s “out back”, but when Cass comes back, the news ain’t good. Her heartbreak at the loss of this innocent boy and anger at the man who killed him out of pure classism and hatred are written all over her body.
Living Emoji: 31

As Batman finally catches up with them, Aruna wonders who would avenge and protect these people that even the law would consider worthless. Cass’ appearances in this issue end with a little grin which expertly communicates that Aruna already gave herself the answer.

4

Batgirl (2000-2006)

“Yeah, yeah, I know. ‘Blah Blah Blah.’”

Barbara continues to press Cass to learn the alphabet and practice communicating in both verbal and written language. She is very much in the right, as being able to communicate with others will not only make Batgirl more effective, but it would also make Cassandra’s life better and open up doors that will remain closed for her otherwise.

Cass, who has never known better and is incredibly smart and on top of her life as she currently knows it, has no invested interest. She respects Barbara a hell of a lot, but she doesn’t take concerns for her own welfare very seriously. She’s taken care of herself for practically her entire life.

On a bit of a personal note, I’ve talked to red-dye-number-five about Cassandra’s language development extensively as she’s a social worker and currently taking classes on difficult cases. We’ve come to agree that the real missed opportunity here is that ASL was not used as a bridge of sorts. It can be reasonably assumed that ASL is one of the many languages that at least some of the Bat Family would be familiar with, and it’s canon that Dick is fluent as he was best friends with Joey Wilson in New Teen Titans. It would have been a great way to get Cass’ interest in learning the new language as it involved a familiar form (the human body) and would help build from that her understanding of speech patterns and verbal communication.

I bring this up because of the last panel. It’d be so simple to incorporate!

Many of you jumped into (or back into) comics with the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl or for the new take on her character starting at #35. In doing so, you voted with your dollars and have made it a great success. So when you saw a cover that showed her in reference to the worst moment in the character’s history instead of in the positive light you were promised, you were vocal about it, getting the attention of DC.

Writer Cameron Stewart took to twitter, agreeing with fans that the cover was not a fit for the tone of the book and fighting for the team’s already beloved vision of Batgirl. After a hash tag campaign, DC agreed, as did the cover artist, Raphael Albuquerque. This led to a lot of discussion about feminism and comics, even resulting in harassment and threats towards those who were against the cover art. DC fortunately decided to listen to Batgirl fans and pull the cover. After observing the debate, I’ve come to the conclusion that DC didn’t do so because of some concern for sensitivity. They did so because they don’t want to lose support in the demographic they have finally started to win over as readers.

And here’s why this is an important victory: it’s a victory against the old dark ages for women in comics and against the worst elements of today’s internet culture. The Killing Joke was published in the 80s, when DC was consciously turning away from the stronger portrayals of superheroines written in the 70s. (If you’ve read the now classic “Backlash” by Susan Faludi,  it’s easy to place in context with the anti-feminist messages from movies and TV in the same time frame.) Supergirl was killed off. Barbara was crippled and sexually assualted for the sole purpose of creating emotional drama for the men in her life- one of the worst examples of reducing a well-developed character to a mere object. The book attracted a certain type of fan who also tended to enjoy other stories of the time featuring the killing, maiming, or depowering of female characters. And for a long stretch of years, those stories were the dominant narrative.

But here’s where the anti female message backfires, and it’s not because of a grand feminist conspiracy. It’s a simple, rational look at the math. If they’re not publishing good female lead stories, female fans drop off. Girls read bronze age comics. Girls watched BTAS in the 90s. But because the Batgirl they loved on screen wasn’t in print, few female bat fans of the 90s ended up buying comics like girls who watched Yvonne Craig did. And actually neither did the male fans, because comic readership predictably continued to decline through the years. Recently, decision makers finally woke up and have made a major push towards appealing to more female readers with titles like the current run of Batgirl. You don’t have to be a feminist to realize a business model that ignores the majority of the population is doomed.

So the internet misogynists can harass the Batgirl fandom, but because they can’t change the facts, they will lose. The comics industry needs to attract more female readership to be successful, and female readers want stories that treat female characters well. Ever increasing numbers of men in the industry and male fans want to see that too, including this blog’s hundreds of male followers.

This particular incident over cover art might not seem so important by itself, but perhaps it’s the moment when we realize the voices calling for positive female images aren’t just the new majority- we are the make or break market demographic. And I’m so glad to be a part of it.

2

In another delightful Batman ‘66 story, Bookworm attacks the Gotham Public Library to access a magical book…which is, of course, safely guarded by our favorite head librarian. Barbara is so prepared for this particular threat that she has the needed page marked to be able to contain any evil the book might unleash.

Remember, kids- knowledge is power! Also, don’t underestimate lady librarians!

(From Batman ‘66 #49, written by Jeff Parker, with art by Richard Case.)