Things got interesting over the past few days for comics folks who keep their ear to online skirmishes over how welcoming comics is or isn't --- and how welcoming comics should be in the first place. Between the new Killing Joke-inspired and tonally jarring cover to Batgirl #41 (which was just pulled at artist Rafael Albuquerque's request, and in line with the creative team's wishes) and Erik Larsen going on a Twitter rant about comics pandering to a "vocal minority" that in his mind wanted superheroines covered up, it would be easy for readers interested in the new world order of "comics for everyone" to feel discouraged. After all, if some of the decision-makers at DC and one of the owners of Image Comics don't get it, how can we expect everyone else to get it? The answer is easy: we move on without them.
Aside from the obvious, I don't usually like to refer to things as being my "favorites." I talk about so much stuff that I love all the time that every time I settle on a favorite, I almost immediately end up contradicting myself when I remember something else that I love, like when I went on and on about how Impulse #3 is my favorite single issue of all time right before I re-read G.I. Joe #21. There's just so much out there that's great that nine times out of ten, settling on a single thing as my favorite ends up being pretty limiting, and if there's one thing I hate, it's having to go back and admit that I might've been wrong about something. For me to actually settle on something as a favorite, it has to be so obvious that it's above and beyond everything else out there that it's self-evident.
So with that in mind, believe me when I say this: Gotham Academy is, without question, my favorite comic on the stands right now, and it just keeps getting better.
On Monday I reported on the controversy surrounding the most recent issue of Batgirl, issue #37, and the hurt it caused readers with the presentation of a character who played into transphobic tropes. On Tuesday we ran a piece by activist J. Skyler that further placed the story in the broader cultural context of transphobic media. In both cases, our hope was to showcase and respect the opinions of the critics and put their voices ahead of those of the authors or any defensive fans. These are critics who are often marginalized and shouted down; what they had to say about this controversy is important and must be recognized and listened to.
As I also mentioned on Monday, Batgirl is a book at the vanguard of a movement towards genre stories for young, progressive, predominantly female readers -- a more modern and diverse readership than the one traditionally associated with the superhero genre. Because of this, and because the creators apologized for their mistakes, I think Batgirl still deserves support. Issue #37 damaged the book's image and reputation, but it remains one of the best and most important superhero books being published today.
In my online discussions of transgender representation in media, I’ve mentioned that I expect a degree of transphobia is every medium I read, watch or listen to. That’s simply how pervasive the problem is -- and it may take the form of a joke, an off-the-cuff remark, or a non-essential character created intentionally or unintentionally to perpetuate stereotypes about gender variance or utilizing gender variance to underline said character’s psychosis.
It’s with a heavy heart I’m forced to discuss this long-standing media trope within the context of Batgirl, the one area of geek life I considered to be a safe-zone. Within the pages of Batgirl #37 we come across an impostor posing as Batgirl who ultimately plans to kill her in order to assume her identity. As you might imagine, my eyes nearly rolled into the back of my head, accompanied by an aggravated sigh, when the would-be murderer was revealed to be an individual assigned male at birth.
DC's new take on Batgirl has been one of the pioneers of a new movement towards mainstream comics for a progressive young female audience -- a movement whose other flagbearers have become a mantra of sorts in 2014; Lumberjanes, Ms. Marvel, Gotham Academy, etc. In the hands of creators Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr, Batgirl offered a satisfyingly contemporary and feminist take on Gotham superheroics.
So it came as a particular disappointment when last week's Batgirl #37 contained themes and imagery that were transphobic and transmisogynistic, leading several critics to call out the creative team for their insensitivity. This weekend the creators offered a statement of apology, saying, "we want to acknowledge the hurt and offense we've caused."
We've been pretty stoked about the cover to Batgirl #37 ever since we saw it way back in September, but here's something that might surprise you about the glittering, rhinestone-studded costume for our favorite Gotham City heroine: It's not just for the cover. It actually appears in this week's issue, as Batgirl takes a break from crimefighting and decides to try her hand at the other side of the fence, starting with a daring diamond heist with a quartet of thrill-happy crooks.
If that doesn't sound like Barbara Gordon to you, well, there's a reason for that. It seems Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr have decided that Barbara's life just isn't complicated enough right now, and are giving her a criminal-minded impostor Batgirl to deal with on top of everything else! Check out preview pages below!
Years after her rebooted New 52 series debuted, the Bat Signal illuminates the iconic hero Batgirl more brightly than ever before in a retooled title written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, drawn by Babs Tarr (from layouts by Stewart) and colored by Maris Wicks. A stark, dramatic departure from the decidedly dour tone of previous issue, the new book introduced Barbara Gordon's new life in the newly created and decidedly hip Burnside neighborhood of Gotham, where she makes time for crime fighting in between her graduate studies and hanging out with her new supporting cast. Vividly youthful, funny, cute, action-packed and even sexy, the new Batgirl of Burnside sparked interest amongst existing fans, lapsed Batgirl readers and curious newbies (and inspired criticism from people who just hate fun). Crucially, cosplayers immediately started replicating Barbara's new self-designed Bat-digs while the Batgirl of Burnside Tumblr debuted with daily boosts of fan art inspired by the hero's new look.
With the new run's inaugural issue, Batgirl #35, flying off the shelves and Batgirl of Burnside cosplayers running, jumping and otherwise posing all around the Javitz Convention Center, Barbara Gordon was the It Girl of last month's New York Comic Con, where we sat down with the series creators to talk about fashion, boys, and Batgirl's new villains, the Jawbreakers -- a gang of cosplaying bikers making their debut in this week's issue #36.
Listen, Gotham Academy: I already liked you. You had me hooked from the very first promise of teen boarding school drama in a city full of supervillains with Batman showing up to try to reach these kids. That is exactly what I am into in virtually every way, and with the first issue being as good as it was, you didn't have to sell me on the series any harder than you already did.
But then you brought back Bookworm, and cemented your place as the single best comic on the stands today.
Barbara Gordon is for girls. This truth has been obscured over the years, most notably in the Batman: The Killing Joke, in which the classic Batgirl was shot, sexually abused and paralyzed by the Joker and taken out of costume for decades. But just as Superman stands for unimpeachable hope and Batman for rigid justice, Batgirl stands for girls doing what the hell they want. From the moment she debuted as part of the classic Batman TV show of the 1960s, this was clear: she was a librarian, she rode a motorcycle decorated with chiffon ruffles, and she did not give a damn that Batman wanted her to hang up the glittery puple cape and cowl. She was no sweet-tempered Kyptonian cousin, no kid sister, and no swooning girlfriend. As Mike Madrid detailed in The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines, “Batgirl is a female Batman can actually regard as a brilliant peer and a partner in the war on crime, the same way he would a male.”
Gotham Academy is exactly the comic book I want to read.
That probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who's been reading ComicsAlliance for any significant amount of time. I mean, if you made a list of the things I like seeing in my comics, then Batman, teenage mystery solvers, and high school drama set in a superhero universe are all things that are going to land pretty close to the top of the list, and those three elements form the exact core of Gotham Academy's premise. It's so perfectly designed to fit my very specific tastes that you'd actually have to work hard to combine them into something that I wouldn't like.
Because of that, it might be tempting to write off anything nice I have to say about the book, but trust me: this first issue of Gotham Academy is great, not just because it's got a bunch of stuff I want to see, but because Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Geyser, and Dave McCaig, have produced one of the most solid starts of the year.