Welcome to Burnside, Batgirl fans.
In case you haven’t been reading Batgirl before the reboot, here’s a quick recap of what’s been going on so far: In The Killing Joke, Barbara is kidnapped and shot by the Joker, an injury that paralyzes her. However, because the injury didn’t sever her spine, she is a candidate for experimental treatment that may allow her to walk again. After she is able, she leaves her role as Oracle and resumes her role as Batgirl, although she suffers from pretty severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Furthermore, Babs’s brother, James Gordon, Jr., escapes from Arkham; a madman and a murderer, he attempts to kill his mother. Barbara, as Batgirl, injures him by throwing a Batarang into his eye. She assumes she has wounded him fatally, but his body is never recovered. (SPOILER: He actually is recruited to join the Suicide Squad.)
Batgirl #35 opens with Babs moving into her new apartment in Burnside. We see her saying goodbye to Alysia, her old roommate, and hello to her new roommate, Frankie. Already, this issue exhibits one of the things I love about this run of comics: representation. Although it isn’t stated in the reboot (yet, anyway), Alysia, of Signaporean descent, is transgender. Frankie is African American and, we learn later in this issue, bisexual. When Frankie invites Alysia to their housewarming party that night, Alysia begs off—her group is protesting outside of Genuflex, a club belonging to the (apparently notorious) Riot Black. Riot Black runs a blackmail website called “Black Book,” and he apparently sent Alysia something we are left to assume is a dick pic after learning about the protest, firmly cementing his fuckboy status.
We fast-forward to what is apparently The Afternoon After the Housewarming Party. Babs emerges from her room (wearing just a t-shirt and her underwear, we’ll get to that in a moment) and finds a shirtless guy in the living room. His name is Troy. Apparently he and Babs were “all over each other” at the party. Barbara, hungover and still trying to remember the party, leaves to get coffee.
One of the things that struck me about this scene in particular was how it was drawn. Yes, Babs was in her underwear, but she wasn’t sexualized. When Troy emerged from the bathroom, she responded by yanking her t-shirt down to cover herself. There was nothing provocative about the illustration or the situation. We’ve all slept in just our underwear once or twice. This struck me because I recently read Batgirl: Year One, where we see Babs sleeping in a bra and underwear, and it struck me as at least somewhat sexualized. The illustration makes sure we see the cut of Babs’s underwear. While it’s not a thong, they’re cut high on the thigh, and the panel makes sure to give us a clear shot of Babs from behind as she sits up in bed to talk to her father. I don’t know about you, but if my dad woke me up and I was wearing only a crop top/sports bra and underwear, I wouldn’t be sitting up in bed with the covers pushed down past my thighs. Just a thought.
There’s a sidebar conversation that starts as Babs wakes up and ends—for now—before she leaves. Frankie mentions a friend named Diane who apparently met a guy on an app called Hooq—which is something like Tinder but a little less sketchy, it seems. Anyway, Frankie is telling a friend that Diane has a new phone number because this date she met up with ran off with her phone. Also, Troy can’t find his phone. Maybe it’s with his shirt, which he still isn’t wearing.
On her walk to the coffee shop, Babs gets three emails:
- From her academic/thesis advisor, informing her that funding for her research has been held up—but at least her predictive algorithm puts her ahead of the curve, so yay!
- The second is from the bank, telling her that she’s overdrawn her savings account and that she’s in danger of having her assets frozen.
- The third is from Alysia, who apparently stopped by the party the night before and heard that Babs was already passed out in bed. She’s worried about Babs and warns her not to party too hard or too much. It’s kind of a mom-email, but she’s also got a point.
While Babs is ordering her coffee, some guy yells that his tablet was stolen while he was in the bathroom. (Apparently he’s never heard of asking a reputable-looking person to look after your stuff—or, you know, putting your tablet in your backpack and taking it with you.) Babs remembers seeing a hoodie-wearing guy leaving with a tablet and sighs; she takes off after him without waiting for her coffee order. We get an awesome reminder that Babs is Batgirl, even when she’s hungover, as she jumps over rooftops and lands smack in front of the perp in an alleyway. He gets his ass handed to him, Babs takes back the tablet…and then heroically pukes into a trashcan. Ah, hangovers.
That’s another part of this run that I love. This issue was a point of contention for many readers, because it painted Babs as a “party girl” and deviated from who she “really was.” I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. The Batgirl comics aren’t trying to be Batman comics. In contrast to Batman’s dark grays and blacks, Batgirl is lively and colorful. It’s full of life. This is a comic not marketing to males between 18 and 34. This is a comic for someone my age—young women in their twenties who are in school or have recently left school, who understand the societal pressures that come from being in school, trying to write and thesis, and attempting to hold down a social life. These comics are important to me because they allow Babs to act her age. Batman comics seem to pose an either/or message: Bruce is Batman, and he cannot live a life separate from him. But Babs is not Bruce, and this run shows us that Babs doesn’t have to choose—she can have fun and kiss boys and throw up in trashcans, but she is also a superhero who kicks ass (even when hungover) and saves the day again and again.
Babs returns home (sans coffee) to find Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary, in the lobby. Dinah is in the middle of accidentally breaking her phone with a Canary Cry over some recent outrage. There’s obvious tension here—in Birds of Prey #34, Dinah put the whole team in danger to get some personal answers, and Babs told Dinah she didn’t want to see or speak to her. But then Dinah tells Babs the news: her apartment—including her dojo and storage facility—has burned down. This is bad, since apparently Barbara was storing her stuff in there while she moved—costume, gear, van.
They go upstairs to the apartment, bickering about Babs leaving her stuff in Dinah’s storage unit while they weren’t even speaking to each other. Troy is still there (with his shirt on now), still looking for his phone. Babs offers to check her computer to find out what happened at Dinah’s; her van sends footage back to her computer every twenty minutes. Except it looks like Babs’s computer has gone the way of Troy’s phone. Babs goes through her memory of the party to round up a suspect—some guy Frankie’s friend Sevin (another POC who is either gay or bisexual) was hanging all over the night before, and whom Babs suspects might be the same guy with whom the aforementioned Diane went on a date. The connection is the Hooq app, and Babs tells Frankie, who does the coding for the app, to help her set up an account.
Cut to: new costume montage! Babs’s sewing session is interrupted by a message (via Hooq) from “Brad.” We next see “Brad” waiting on a bench in the park, receiving a message from Babs that she has to cancel last-minute. Enter Batgirl, who gives “Brad” an appropropriate whooping and then threatens to call his mom. He tells her that he’s been giving the stuff to Riot Black, who pulls the data and then gives “Brad” and his pals the stolen tech to do with as they wish. The next drop, he tells her, is supposed to be on Friday, during Riot Black’s big party. We last see “Brad”—whose real name is Frederick Ernest Butteroil—practically crying over the thought of Batgirl calling home and ratting on what he’s been up to. Loser. (He actually says, “Don’t call my moms.” I’m not sure if it’s a reference to the fact that he has two moms or if that’s just what he calls his mom, but I’m inclined to believe the former, and I’m really happy about it.)
Open on Riot Black’s club. We see Alysia picketing and talking to a reporter about what’s going on—it seems “Black Book” had been taken down but has since made a comeback, hence the celebration at the club. We cut to inside the club, where Riot Black is behaving pretty much like you’d expect a guy who runs a gross blackmail website to behave, and then Batgirl comes crashing through the ceiling.
Riot Black’s dialogue contains hashtags, which is really cool stylistically but also makes me hate him so much more as a person. (Is he saying “hashtag”? Or has he reached that level of just implying hashtags when he speaks?) Babs tells him to dump the data, but it’s apparently in his head. Come to think of it, our friend Butteroil said something about Riot Black’s brain being like a computer. Riot Black has a glowy red eye, which he now explains is due to the cybernetic flash memory implants he’s had installed; this means the only way to destroy the data is to destroy him. Since that’s not an option, Babs offers a trade—she’ll send him a picture of herself, unmasked, to do with as he wishes in exchange for the data he’s stolen.
The photo she sends him (via Snapgab, the not-so-cleverly-named Snapchat counterpart) is actually Batgirl holding a sign with a QR code printed on it. Babs embedded malware in the QR code, so when Riot Black’s computer-brain scans it, it sets out to do what Babs intended: destroying all of the data he has stored in that implant of his.
Babs gets her computer back, but all of her work for her thesis is gone—her hard drive has been totally wiped. It also turns out that the fire at Dinah’s might have been Babs’s fault. When Riot Black was digging around in her computer, he triggered the remote activation for an incendiary she had in her van—which was, if you’ll remember, in Dinah’s storage unit.
In the last two panels, we see Babs receive a text message—from Batgirl. The text essentially informs her that Burnside isn’t big enough for the both of them and that Babs should get out of Dodge before someone gets hurt. (Basia, you ask, did you rewrite this paragraph just so you could thrown in those references to westerns? Yes, I did.) Babs looks at her phone. “Dinah,” she says. “Someone knows who I am.”
And that’s all she wrote, folks! Tune in next week for our recap of Batgirl #36.