I’m sorry it took so long for me to get to this.
The fact of the matter is that life sometimes gets in the way of blogging. The other fact of the matter is that Batgirl #37 is The Controversial Issue (or perhaps The Offensive Issue would be more appropriate), and I wanted to take time to do my research before I wrote a blog post about it. It’s already been covered extensively (all you have to do is Google “Batgirl 37 controversy” or “Batgirl 37 transmisogyny” or “Batgirl 37 transphobia”, and you have a plethora of articles to choose from), and so I won’t be expanding on it as much as they have; it would be redundant, not to mention a bit late. I am going to touch on it–explain why it’s a problem and also how the creative team gave me hope for the future (which is why I’m still reading this Batgirl run). I’ll also be sure to link you to a few articles I read both at the time the issue was published and over the past week.
Now, into the recap.
The issue opens with Batgirl–costume sporting more bling than the last time we saw her–apparently aiding and abetting a jewelry heist. One of the girls in the car almost tosses a molotov cocktail at some passersby, because “normal people are so boring.” Right after this, there’s a thunk, and something sporting the Batgirl symbol attaches itself to the car, causing the car to break down. While they’re all standing around, trying to figure out what happened to the car, the real Batgirl swoops in and carries off the imposter. She and the imposter engage in a quick hand-to-hand fight that’s cut short when the girl with the molotov cocktail tosses it into the alley where they’re fighting, giving the imposter a chance to escape.
The next scene opens on Batgirl talking with Qadir. She explains how the imposter is ruining her reputation–posing for photos while doing similar illegal activity–and Qadir encourages her to fight back in the same way: to post pictures of herself busting crime. He also gives her a new cell phone case, complete with a superflash to temporarily blind any perps she might come across. Batgirl asks if Qadir has heard any leads about the imposter; he says it could be absolutely anyone, and mentions a Dagger Type show opening over the weekend. Batgirl admits she doesn’t know what it is. “You haven’t heard?” Qadir asks, seemingly incredulous.
Open on Babs and crew rolling up to the Dagger Type event, which is apparently an art show. (On a side note, I aspire to look like Dinah Lance, always.) Babs runs into Nadimah and Jeremy, who are waiting in line to get in; Nadimah expresses awe that Babs managed to get tickets, and Babs says she’s sorry she didn’t know they were coming–because Frankie works for Hooq, they were able to get tickets. Babs runs off after apologizing again, cutting off an awkward compliment from Jeremy. (I count two hearts in his panel, just saying.) Babs enters the art show, and she’s immediately shocked.
Images of Batgirl cover the walls–photographs of Batgirl (or someone posing as Batgirl) are blown up to gargantuan proportions. “I feel so…violated,” Babs says, shocked, while Dinah laughs uncontrollably. Babs realizes that the model is the one who has been impersonating her. Frankie calls them over to look at something that just “speaks” to her and tells Babs she can probably relate. They come upon a portrait apparently called “Vulnerable,” depicting Batgirl sitting in a wheelchair. Which inevitably means, of course, that someone knows who’s really behind Batgirl’s mask. Even Dinah isn’t laughing now.
We next see Batgirl popping in to talk to the curator of the exhibit, who’s on the phone with someone discussing the sale of half of Dagger Type’s pieces from that night. Batgirl asks where Dagger Type is, but the curator tells her that she doesn’t know–he always sends his pieces through an app called Omnicab. Some quick hacking leads Batgirl to a studio space, where she discovers a message left for her within the pieces that had been hanging at the exhibition. Using American Sign Langugage, the pieces tell Batgirl: “below burn side bridge 10pm”
Well, this can’t be good.
At the bridge, Batgirl encounters and quickly disposes of some hench-women, then encounters the imposter Batgirl herself, decked out in a sparkling Batgirl suit. They fight, and the imposter Batgirl tells her that she’s done what Batgirl didn’t do for herself–made her famous. “The spotlight is completely wasted on a vintage-store hipster like you,” the imposter says. Frustrated, Babs says she doesn’t want to fight–but she does want the imposter to stop ruining her life and her street cred. The imposter threatens to unmask Batgirl, but Batgirl beats her to it–she pulls off the imposter’s mask instead.
Here’s we we run into the big problem.
It turns out that the imposter Batgirl is Dagger Type himself. (I cringe at using “himself” here, because, even though Dagger Type does use “himself” to refer to, well, himself (see page 17), it’s never made clear how Dagger Type identifies, so this does a sweep job of offending drag queens, trans women, and non-binary individuals all at once. This is just one of the ways this comic fails at proper representation.) Batgirl’s reaction is the overused and extremely offensive, “GASP! YOU’RE A MAN!” response. Furthermore, Dagger Type follows another trope that is overused in instances like these; when the mask is removed, he is wild-eyed and crazy-haired, depicting him as “the insane cross-dresser” trope. It gets worse from here.
Batgirl falls into the river and Dagger Type takes his leave, and we next join Babs at the Batgirl unmasking reveal that Dagger Type has set up for midnight that night. The Big Reveal turns out to be Dagger Type himself, announcing that he is the Batgirl. He delivers his speech–about how the artist and the subject are one in the same–and we watch the audience begin to react. First the crowd is punctuated by, “huh?” and “Is her serious?” This is followed by more forceful reactions: “Is this a joke?” “Must be filming a reality show or something.” “Where’s the real Batgirl?” Finally, the crowd does the most offensive thing: it laughs. There is palpable outrage and disbelief, and Dagger Type grows more and more hysterical. People throw things at him, call him a fraud, and tell him to get off the stage. He whips out a gun and threatens the audience with it. Here we are, back at that Crazy Trans/Cross Dresser trope again. We’re once again treated to the image of crazy hair and wild eyes, hammering this point home. You’d think that the seemingly forward-thinking people of Burnside would have been more open-minded about the possibility of a transgender or non-binary Batgirl. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Even Babs is laughing, which feels like a betrayal. When the comic was still written by Gail Simone, we learned that Babs’s then-roommate Alysia is transgender. Babs proves herself to be an ally, accepting Alysia’s statement without the offensive shock of “YOU ARE/USED TO BE A MAN?!” that we get here. (Also, I am aware that this is not a correct view of a transgender individual and that they never used to be one gender and became another.)
Dagger Type begins to shoot into the crowd, and Babs rushes the stage, using her handy new superflash to temporarily blind him. Babs pulls the curtains and detains Dagger Type backstage. (He recognizes her voice and realizes she’s Batgirl, something I’m surprised no one else has ever picked up on.) Babs asks why he’s been impersonating her; he says that he has a patron who paid him to kill the “old” Batgirl and become the “new” one. “The wheelchair was part of the plan,” he says; he’s very adamant about the fact that the wheelchair is important in the whole scheme. Unfortunately, Babs can’t extract any more information from Dagger Type; the GCPD shows up. One of the officers recognizes her and strikes up a conversation while Dagger Type is being arrested. The officer’s name is Liam Powell, apparently and Babs gets all blushy when he says he hopes to see her again. (But how does he look with his shirt sleeves rolled up? That’s the important question at play, here.)
The issue ends with Batgirl standing on the Burnside bride. Dinah is taking a photo of her. She’s scornful of whatever Babs is doing, but Babs says that this is the way it is now; Batgirl is already on every screen in Burnside, but at least this way, it can be on her terms.
And that’s all she wrote for this issue. Kind of.
This issue raises a point about a lot of things that are still problematic in comics today. Transphobia (or transmisogyny, as it is in this case) is rampant, and the fact that this made it through an entire creative team without one person raising their hand and saying, “Hey, there’s something wrong with this” speaks to the greater issue. Many other websites have delved into this in greater depth than I have. The Mary Sue article includes some links to several of those. Rachel Stevens’s article over on Women Write About Comics is absolutely worth a read regarding this topic. And Buzzfeed does a quick recap of everything surrounding the issue, including the response issued by the Batgirl creative team.
It’s this response that gives me hope and what allowed me to continue reading the series. Oftentimes, when something comes under fire in a similar manner, the first reaction of the creative team is defend, defend, defend. It’s always, “We didn’t mean it that way,” as if that automatically negates the hurt done to thousands of people. The Batgirl creative team, to their credit, didn’t do this. They didn’t try to defend their actions; they freely admitted that they were in the wrong, that they messed up. I do believe that they never intended to hurt anyone with issue #37, and I appreciate their acknowledgement of the fact that it was handled poorly. This still should have never happened in the first place, but I’m glad that the team has listened to the criticisms and sincerely apologized; and not only have they apologized, but they’ve promised to do better in the future. It’s not often that we see people willing to admit that they’re in the wrong and also promise to do better, especially in the comic book world.
I understand if this turns you off of the new Batgirl run. I will also understand if you, like me, are willing to give them a second chance and see how they grow and if they avoid mistakes like this in the future. Personally, I’m glad that the creative team is one that is willing to listen to the criticisms leveled at them and learn and grow from them, rather than simply saying, “Sorry, you’re wrong” and shutting the door on a discussion that desperately needs to happen.
In order to catch up to where we should be, be on the lookout for the Batgirl #38 recap, appearing tomorrow.