DC’s New 52 reboot in 2011 was much needed, somewhat successful, and totally controversial. Women creators dropped from 12% to a depressing 1% (as of August 2014, that number is under 10% between the Big Two). Catwoman, Starfire, Voodoo, and Harley Quinn were way oversexualized. And then there was Batgirl. Barbara Gordon was thankfully spared the worst aspects of the New 52, by which I mean she wasn’t tarted up in a black and yellow bikini with Liefeld-esque accent pouches. Three years later, a new writer and artist have taken over the title and breathed new life into Batgirl.
A week before Batgirl dropped, Marvel launched their newest series aimed at young women: Thor. Yes, in the 2014 Marvel comics universe, Captain Marvel is a woman, Ms. Marvel is Pakistani-American, Captain America and Ultimate Spider-Man are Black, and Thor is a woman (with really unfortunate boob-plate armor). Quite a few characters have taken over the mantle of Thor over the years, but this time it’s for real. For now, anyway.
So, we have two old titles with two new personalities. How do they stack up? And, more importantly, should you buy? Oh, hell yes.
Betty Kane’s Bat-Girl made her first appearance in 1961 at the hands of Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff, but by 1967 she’d been replaced by Barbara Gordon and an unhyphenated name. Barbara, the daughter of Commissioner Jim Gordon, became an integral part of the Bat family. In 1988, she was raped, shot, tortured, and paralyzed by the Joker in Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke.” She took the name Oracle and eventually lead a team of female superheroes known as the Birds of Prey. Helena Bertinelli (Huntress), Cassandra Cain (Black Bat), and Stephanie Brown (Spoiler) took over as Batgirl during Oracle’s reign, but with the New 52 retcon in 2011, Barbara Gordon returned to the bat mask.
Today, Barbara does what a lot of twentysomethings do when they have just enough money to scrape by: get a degree, party, and have drunken make-out sessions with random hot people. Plus, she fights crime with a cool (and practical!) new outfit. In the first issues, Batgirl battles two Villains of the Week that test her patience and push her skills. But someone else is pulling their strings, someone who knows who she is and who uses her secret identity for some not very good things. Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher took over writerly duties from Gail Simone after she left over creative differences, and brought in Babs Tarr as their new artist. The new Batgirl starts with issue #35, and issue #36 went on sale November 12, 2014.
The legendary Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Larry Lieber debuted Thor a year after Betty Kane, and he has been a Marvel mainstay ever since. Thor, God of Thunder, son of Odin and Freyja (well, technically Gaea), and adoptive brother of Loki, was one of the founding members of the Avengers, and has appeared in every volume since 1963. He frequently clashes with Loki, the Jotun, and Malekith the Accursed, and the latter two are the main sources of mischief in the newest series.
After the fallout of “Original Sin,” the Odinson suddenly finds himself unworthy of wielding Mjolnir because of some mysterious secret whispered to him. After spending months sulking on the moon failing to pick up his hammer, an inexplicably shirtless Thor rides off on his trusty goat to protect Midgard from a gaggle of Jotun attacking an underwater Roxxon base. Dude Thor is taken out of action by some sadistic villainy, and an unknown woman decides to try her luck. Turns out she is worthy and she sets off to finish what her predecessor couldn’t. New Thor is written by the same guy who wrote old Thor, Jason Aaron. Joining him is artist Russell Dauterman and colorist Matthew Wilson. Thor starts afresh with issue #1, and #2 was released November 12, 2014.
To Pull or Not to Pull?
To be honest, I’ve never read any Batgirl before (Simone’s run has been in my To Read pile for ages), but I was so excited for the relaunch I preemptively bought the boots in expectation of some serious cosplay next year. That being said, I am displeased that Barbara Gordon is not paralyzed in the New 52. I understand why DC retconned it out, but no, no, no. As Oracle, she was one of the most powerful players in the Bat!verse. Her paralysis didn’t inhibit or define her. By making Barbara’s paralysis into something she recovered from, it not only makes DC even less diverse than it already is but also implies her disability was a problem to overcome. For those same reasons, I dread the day Matt Fraction stops writing Hawkeye and Marvel retcons his deafness. Disability shouldn’t be treated as a hindrance, obstacle, or cause for pity, and it’s frustrating to see such a crucial part of Barbara’s life and development simply erased.
Fortunately, New 52 Batgirl is gosh darn awesome. Stewart’s Batgirl is light, modern, and hella fun. This Batgirl is a real person who happens to be a caped crusader but isn’t all angsty or emo about it. She’s good at vigilantism, and both knows her limits and how to push herself past them; not to mention brilliant but not in a schlocky Sherlock way. Stewart and Tarr also know the difference between allowing Barbara to be a sexually active young woman and whatever the frak Scott Lobdell did to Starfire. The plot is fresh, inviting, and doesn’t waste any time kicking into high gear. Tarr’s artwork is bright and playful, a perfect mesh with Stewart’s writing style. Goodbye gritty grimness, hello fun time action hour!
Young women don’t have enough superhero comics aimed at them, and for one to be this good AND a feminist’s dream is a pleasant surprise. Stewart and Tarr’s Batgirl is a solid and consistently enjoyable NA comic. Hipster post-grad Barbara moves to Burnside (Gotham’s version of Brooklyn), and her new friends are as diverse and interesting as you’d expect. They spend as much time on cell phone apps like Snapgrab (Snapchat), Pixtagraph (Instagram), and Hooq (Tinder) as they do dealing with their messy personal lives. DC clearly intends this updated Batgirl to attract new readers. If it keeps up this level of quality and entertainment, they’ll succeed, and I cannot wait to see where they take Barbara next.
As for Thor, well, he is my least favorite Norse god and Avenger. I wanted to take Marvel up on their invitation for non-fans to jump on board, but frankly I’m still not sure I care. New Thor’s poorly handled introduction certainly didn’t help matters. It takes some guts to dedicate almost all of the first issue of new Thor to old Thor. In fact, the new Thor doesn’t even turn up until the last two pages. Think of #1 as more of a prologue. The new Thor’s non-Thor identity is still a secret in #2, but given the context clues, she’s white (of course), wears a long dress, and is definitely not who you think. Presumably clues are being dropped as to who this Thor really is, but I’ll be damned if I can figure it out.
Thor has supermodel good looks, but she’s closer to Gwendoline Christie than Kate Moss. In an age when Captain Marvel weighed 124 lbs until Marvel finally caved and made her a more realistic 165 lbs, that’s a big fucking deal. There’s a lot of plot, too much probably, but it should hopefully smooth out once Thor settles into her role. I’m disappointed Aaron didn’t give Dauterman a juicer plot to work with. Dauterman and Wilson are a talented pair who have crafted beautiful, skilled work that far surpasses the by-the-numbers story. I especially love how he spells out the sound effects and incorporates them into the scenery, and the scenes themselves are gorgeous. But the Roxxon subplot is ridiculous, and it gets sillier by the panel. I can’t decide if I was more irked or delighted when a minotaur showed up in the middle of a battle between a Norse god, evil elf, half-naked dwarf, sinister corporation, and a bunch of blue man-eating giants, but at least it wasn’t boring.
New Thor has her mettle tested right from the get go, and so far she’s held up. We have very little to go on, only whatever bits of personality can be gleaned from her sparse dialogue, but so far she’s entertaining enough. Jumping between Thor’s Midgardian thoughts and her Asgardian voice could get tiresome, but for now it works. I just with it was a little more…something. Anything. Aaron said he didn’t want to make She-Thor, Lady Thor, or Thorita, but it feels like he swung too far in the opposite direction. I plan to stick with Thor through #3. If I’m not hooked enough for a subscription by then, I can wait until the volume set. I like what’s happening so far, but not loving it yet. It’s definitely not a bad comic, and plenty of reviewers liked it more than me, but I had higher hopes for Thor than Aaron was able to meet.
Tune in next time for Saga…
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.