Saturday, January 17, 2015

Batgirl #37 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All right, so I know that this issue has sparked a lot of controversy, with people complaining about Barbara's shocked reaction that the person impersonating her was a man.  But, I have to admit, I thought this issue was really spectacular.

First, I think people might be overplaying Barbara's reaction.  She seemed more shocked that her impersonator was a man than that a man was pretending to be a woman, and I don't really find that all that surprising.  After all, this issue is about the fact that she felt violated because the impersonator had co-opted not only her image but her identity.  She has Dinah take a photo of her that she can post on Instagram at the end of the issue because she wants to assert control over her identity.  (I've previously complained that the authors are trying too hard to make this book hip with their constant references to social media, but it worked better in this issue because social media was an integral part of the plot.)  In other words, Babs was disturbed to discover that anyone was impersonating her, and she was shocked that it was a man.  I'd be surprised if I discovered that a straight woman was successfully impersonating me, because it might really shake up some truths about myself that I thought I understood.  Again, it's not like Babs railed against the "horror" of a man pretending to be a woman (let alone her).  She was just surprised that her own impersonator was a man.  She then immediately got over it and set about regaining control of her identity.

I really think that the focus on the transvestite aspect is overshadowing some interesting commentary that the authors are making about identity.  The authors are telling a story that anyone in the current era of social media can understand, about how hard it is to control your identity in a world where it can be so easily taken from you.  Even a misinterpretation of a Facebook status update can leave people with the wrong impression of you; Dagger Type took that level of theft to an even more extreme level.  If anything, Dagger Type's show is a reminder of the long road that Babs has traveled, and it underscores why it's important to her to keep control over that journey.

Also, the authors manage to get in some interesting commentary about art here.  Dagger Type is mentally unstable, but still, honestly, believable.  He has the arrogance necessary to create essentially a multi-layered, multi-media installation; his impersonation of Babs in real life is essentially performance art, with his photographs capturing moments of that performance.  His attempt to reveal himself as her "real" identity falls flat in part because people see through it as an attempt to promote a brand (his own brand).  I loved the one audience member's comment that s/he wished everything didn't always wind up being an ad.  That right there is some insightful cultural commentary.

Moreover, Stewart and Fletcher continue to flesh out Babs' life in Burnside.  We're reminded of the crush that her fellow graduate student (whose name I can't remember) has on her, and we're introduced to sexy officer Liam.  We also get more information about the threat that the "people" that know Babs' identity pose, as Dagger Type tells Babs that they not only commissioned his exhibition impersonating her but demanded an image of her in a wheelchair.  (It's interesting that he used the plural, "people," here.)  Someone's definitely rattling her cage, and I'm genuinely intrigued to discover who it is.  Finally, we confirm that Qadir is, in fact, designing tech for her, giving Babs her very own Q.  The fact that Stewart and Fletcher have that much burning in the background in a way that feels totally organic to the series (and this issue's individual plot) is just a reminder of how strong this series is getting and how full a picture of Babs' life we're getting.  She's not just Batgirl, as she was for most of Simone's run.

To wrap up a bit, I'm sad that the authors found themselves having to apologize for a character that I not only found interesting in and of himself, but also found pushed Barbara (and the reader) to confront some important questions about identity.  Hopefully it doesn't lead them to shy away from pushing these sorts of limits and of depicting the type of multicultural world that they've created in Burnside.  It would wind up achieving the opposite goal that the people making these complaints presumably have, encouraging authors trying to show a world with a lot of different people to stop doing so.

***** (five of five stars)

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