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Review: Batgirl: Futures End #1


batgirl futures endGail Simone’s Batgirl run ends with a look into the future! Will her era on Babs Gordon end on a high note, or will we be blocking out her memory in years to come?

 

THE PLOT: Two years from now, Barbara will be engaged to a policeman named Steven Harris, who will be doomed to die at the hands of James Gordon Jr. Five years after that, the League of Batgirls will have been formed by Babs, consisting of Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown and Tiffany Fox. Barbara, who goes by the name Black Beast and has spent years previous getting inside the confidence of Gotham’s criminals before taking them down, is called upon by her former mentor Bane and is challenged on top of GCPD headquarters in a battle to save Gotham from a bomb.

 

LONG STORY SHORT: Despite Bane’s attempts to psyche Babs out, she defeats him and reassures herself that life is still worth living. Bane drops the detonator, which is grabbed by Tiffany. The League of Batgirls all group hug, and Barbara asserts that while she feels that Batgirl has been gone for some time, she may have always been present after all.

 

MY THOUGHTS: After three solid years on the title, not counting for a few fill-in issues by Ray Fawkes and Maguritte Bennett, Gail Simone is now finished with her run on Batgirl. This announcement came as a byproduct after the new creative team on Batgirl was made public, bringing forth a different costume and markedly different tone for the book. While many of Simone’s faithful fans remained steadfast that if she wasn’t going to be writing the title they wouldn’t read it, many others were thrilled with the prospect that the Batgirl book would be presented as a more fun, light-hearted and breezy comic to enjoy. It’s something that DC needs in spades right now, as for a while the company has been maligned with criticisms of taking its characters and stories too seriously, resulting in dark, angst-ridden tales which weight became too heavy to bear each month.

 

I’m just happy that Simone is off of the book more than anything else. Yes, the gear-shift in tone for the Batgirl title is something I’m excited to see and am eager to check out. However with Simone’s run specifically, it was more than just torturous stories of Barbara Gordon getting beat up, having her heart broken and crying every three months, all of which was bad enough. On a very basic level however, the book was just…dumb. From the first issue, the drama and motivations of the characters were contrived and executed in the most bone-stupid ways you could ever find in a comic. Who could ever forget Det. McKenna accusing Batgirl of murder, despite watching the supervillain the Mirror throw her partner out of a window with her own eyes? Or what about the explanation for Barbara Sr.’s leaving her family, revealed to be an order from her then-10 year old son who had killed the family pet? Most egregious to my mind is the entire premise of the “Batgirl: Wanted” storyline, in which Commissioner Gordon is on the hunt for Batgirl for the supposed murder of his son, despite the fact that for him to witness the murder he would have had to have seen the situation that lead to Batgirl throwing a batarang at him, which was to save his own ex-wife. That story also has the never-mentioned-again plot point of Batgirl telling her mother of her secret identity off-panel, despite wanting nothing to do with her, and said mother leaving town and lying to Gordon about not seeing anything the night their son went missing. Any of these moments I feel would get all of fandom up in arms because of the complete lack of sense, but for whatever reason the book just trotted along with the confidence of a blind man walking in a crowded street. At what point exactly did the need for compelling storytelling lose its requirement for logic and reason?

 

But that’s all in the past. This is the final issue for Gail Simone’s Batgirl run, and not only does it tell of a possible future of Babs as Batgirl, but it should also be noted as a tie-in to the DC New 52 event “Futures End”, a story I assume where the future of the DC Universe is in jeopardy because Terry McGinnis forgot to pay a parking ticket or something…I don’t know. My snark and obvious disrespect for DC’s crossovers notwithstanding, the benefit of this tie-in is that you don’t need to know about its central events because for the most part there’s nothing that will confuse you about the future timeline. It can be read completely free of baggage, which is nice.

 

So how does Batgirl: Future’s End #1 begin? With a laugh riot for one, if we’re going by the opening scene. Simone continues to parade her lack of understanding in both storytelling and drama with this intro, with a lazy action scene and an off-panel beat-down that should show us all the information we need to know about Barbara’s mental state for the remainder of the story, but instead it’s told. It’s quick and to-the-point, but you can’t get past some of the dialogue in this scene.

 

“Experiencing sticker shock, my dearest darling dumpling?”

 

No one talks like that. Beyond it though, this scene has James Jr. tell Babs’ husband that if he loves her he should jump off the roof, which he obliges immediately. James Jr. by the way is surrounded by security guards with guns pointing at him. There’s no deliberation, no one making a move to save the groom, no sense that this is something that would happen in real life. So you can’t feel anything because the suspension of disbelief is too great to warrant the tragic event. Because it’s so ludicrous, it ends up being hilarious.

 

And quite honestly if this is the big moment that changed Babs forever, she should’ve killed James.

 

But then there’s a time skip, and we see two women and a girl in Batgirl costumes. And the book gets better.

 

The best thing about this issue is that Simone manages to say something about Barbara Gordon whilst being fairly indulgent and getting away with it. A team of different Batgirls is something that fans have proposed to DC for a while now, and something I’m sure Simone herself said she’d be willing to do. Having Steph and Cass back as Batgirl, along with writing Bane in a comic book again, gives Simone her cake and has her eat it too. It’s a potential future, but one that gives us something to look forward to. Considering Batman Inc. and the many different Robins, the League of Batgirls is an idea that was begging to have happen. There are so many benefits this issue gets, and by extension DC could receive. Having Barbara lead a team of Batgirls is akin to her leading the Birds of Prey and being put in a position similar to Batman, yet still different enough (more on that later). We get Steph and Cass again, plus a younger girl who can act as their sidekick and learn from both of them as well as Babs, and adding a new character into the Batman universe in an organic and easy-to-manage way. This issue not only gives us Steph and Cass being totes besties again, but because it’s the future it’s done in a way that’s familiar and not repeating what we’ve seen before. Finally it gives us back our Batgirls in a way which doesn’t alienate any potential new readers. You don’t have to know who these girls are to read this issue.

 

It is difficult not to fanboy all over this comic and say that it’s what made it good without being completely biased. I mean we get the Goop-A-Rangs, we get “Cass-kicking”, we get Stephanie mouthing off. It all rules, but it’s still Barbara’s story, so we have to see how Simone delivers on the justification for both this and the ridiculous opening scene.

 

It’s an interesting idea, having Barbara take down most every crook in Gotham and, at the end, Bane. I don’t know if I completely buy it because Batman, Dick, Jason and Tim are nowhere to be seen in any of this (Although she does mention Dick at the beginning, revealing that sooner or later she’ll know he’s alive), and it assumes a lot for Babs to just end crime because she’s finally suffered the tragedy of losing a loved one. For me, it goes to this idea of Barbara Gordon that Simone and the new 52 have been purporting that she can to anything and everything better than Batman and the others if she puts her mind to it. As a Batman fan, that feels both wrong and prejudicial towards the character. What exactly makes Barbara so much better than everyone at everything? It’s not because she’s different than Batman because every single character in all of fiction who isn’t Bruce Wayne is different than Batman. Is it an innate sex-bias thing I have? Would I feel different if this were Dick or Tim? Or Steph or Cass? It could be both.

 

Personally I found the idea that she sought to be trained by Bane to be very interesting. Simone is one of Bane’s best writers, being familiar with him from Secret Six, so he’s not depicted as some hulking jobber who Babs decided to train with just because of the movies (although Bane is dressed like Tom Hardy at the end). Babs nails it when she says that Bane never seeks to just crush someone physically, but crush them in their soul. She sought out someone who is known for inflicting damage physically and mentally, and as a match-up, I actually think Babs vs. Bane is rather ingenious. I’m not sure what more can be done with it, but I’d be down for seeing. Babs not having taken the Venom makes no sense however, because how did she get so bulky in what I assume would be such a short amount of time? Venom gets immediate results, and you can’t fake that.

 

Ultimately, what does this final Gail Simone issue say about Barbara Gordon? From the character’s own mouth it’s that she wants to “live every wonderful and terrible day”. Thematically it works. It explains why she became Oracle in Post-Crisis continuity, why she started the League of Batgirls, and why she continues to fight crime. You can’t feel alive if you’re not doing anything with your life, and even when things get low as long as you find within yourself a purpose, you can give meaning to your own existence.

 

Maybe that’s what this run of Batgirl has been about all along. The final lines of dialogue are “When it got dark, Batgirl went away. And she never ever came back. But in another way—a better, more loving way—Batgirl never really left at all.” To me it speaks of the incessantly dark, dank tone of the series and how a number of people claimed that it never felt right for Batgirl. Simone herself has come out and said she didn’t agree with the editor’s mandate to keep the tone as it was for the length of her run, putting it in a new perspective. As much horrible nonsense as the book put the title character through, the essence of pure will of the character was represented…most of the time. Some of the time. It’s also a trait seen in the other Batgirls, and one you can imagine Barbara would have passed down to them.

 

So in the end, I think this issue concludes Simone’s run on a high note. It’s not great, or really even that good. The logic fails and contrivances can be staggering if you let them. As with most works of fiction however, that doesn’t always matter. Did you enjoy it? Did it feel true to the characters? Would you read it again? It’s a very imperfect piece of work, but the value it contains isn’t negligible. It’s a hopeful look towards the horizon and reaffirmation on what Gail Simone loves most about the character. If nothing else, you can’t fault the writer for that.

 

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