I’m a sucker for youthful superheroics of any kind, from the Teen Titans to the Great Saiyaman. But all too often, super-powered kids get written as slightly less verbose adults, with no concern for young people’s actual tastes, tendencies, or—most importantly—problems. The new creators on DC Comics’ Batgirl, on the other hand, are doing a bang-up job portraying college student Barbara Gordon’s hectic life as an academic superstar by day and hip vigilante by night. But what’s coolest of all—besides her kickin’ new outfit—is that Batgirl is finally standing up for modern young women everywhere. And she’s doing it with science.
Before we go any further, I should note that I’m not trying to rip on the previous Batgirl team. Gail Simone in particular is a great writer with a lot of impressive comics work under her belt, and she’s done well by the character in her books for years. But since the New 52 relaunch in 2011, Batgirl has mainly been stuck fighting an array of C-list costumed villains that barely qualify as relevant when you have so many terrifying and compelling characters in the Bat-family rogues gallery already. To make Barbara Gordon go from Oracle—a role that saw her help every superhero in the DC Universe with her hacking and information-gathering skills—to just another girl in tights who punches crazy people once a month was disappointing, and would have been no matter who was writing the book.
Enter Batgirl #35, and with it the new team of Cameron Stewart (co-writer and breakdowns), Brenden Fletcher (co-writer), Babs Tarr (art), and Maris Wicks (colors). From page one, you can tell that everything has changed for Miss Gordon in an instant. Not only is she moving apartments in-story, the entire aesthetic of the book has shifted dramatically. Tarr’s art is expressive and stylized, but still realistic enough to ground the series in what reality is left in the DCU; Wicks’ colors are deep and vibrant, skillfully bringing Tarr’s chic character designs to life. By the time I hit the title page, I knew I was in for a treat.
I’ll spare you the plot summary, but some spoilers are necessary to understand what I’m getting at. Barbara uncovers a nefarious ring of computer thieves targeting people—especially young women—all around her new neighborhood of Burnside (think Williamsburg for kids that don’t want to live in downtown Gotham City. Who can blame them?). The thieves are working for Riot Black, a new character who is skeeziness personified. He runs DC’s equivalent of IsAnyoneUp, taking people’s personal information and private pictures and disseminating them for the lulz.
Batgirl, naturally, takes him down hard. But she uses her brain to do it.
That’s not to say she doesn’t get in her punches; it’s pretty satisfying to watch the scumbag get kneed right in the jaw. But since Black has a computer brain wired into his eye that stores all the stolen data, there’s no way to shut down the site. Except there is, because Batgirl offers to send him a Snapchat of her real identity if he’ll delete the rest of his stash—and instead covers her face with a QR code that wipes his brain-drive clean.
Wow. That’s not just a great modern sci-fi story, that’s solid millennial storytelling in general. Instead of pandering to younger readers with references to what’s trendy, Fletcher and Stewart are clearly committed to actually making Batgirl operate in her own space—that of young college students who exist on their devices, social networking madly all night and partying every day. The sheer brilliant irony of defeating a villain with the app he used to get so many compromising photos is worth the price of admission all by itself.
And that actually brings me back to what I was saying when I began this article: Batgirl’s use of science to mete out justice, not just for young people in general, but for women in particular. This issue’s plot couldn’t have been more timely; just a few weeks ago in Vanity Fair, Jennifer Lawrence addressed the now-infamous “Fappening” photo theft last month, saying she and many other actresses had been the target of a “sex crime.” This recent photo theft and the IsAnyoneUp ouevre of “revenge porn” is a sick byproduct of the Internet age, and one that directly affects every single woman who exists in a plugged-in part of the world.
That’s a tough story to navigate for two dudes writing a mainstream superhero book, and yet Fletcher and Stewart do so with aplomb. There’s no victim-blaming to be found between Batgirl #35’s covers; the closest you’ll find is a delightful page that combines two conversations into one narrative, in which a distraught young lady laments not deleting the “really personal” content on her phone. But the way the exchange is formatted definitively pins the blame on the thieves, and on Riot Black, and on the predatory culture he perpetuates.
That’s the true triumph of this new era of Batgirl: more than just showing that ladies can be action heroes too, it shows readers that young women have the power to take control of everything in their lives—and that when their trust is violated, when their privacy is breached, they are not to blame for the misdeeds of others.
But that being said, I’m sure we’ll see plenty of action heroics next month, when Batgirl squares off with twin ninja ladies on motorcycles. Can’t wait to see what this writing team has in store for us!
Sam Riedel is a freelance writer and editor from Brooklyn. He subsists on a balanced diet of noodles, Pokémon, and science fiction. Can be observed in his natural environment on twitter or tumblr. Prolonged contact may cause irritation.