Thursday, October 29, 2015

Work/Life (Im)balance: Batgirl #45

The following is my review of Batgirl #45, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


When it comes to work/life balance, too many people see it as an either/or proposition. You work for 30 hours a day, toiling endlessly in the reckless pursuit of advancing a career that may or may not have room to advance. Or you can work with the same spirit as a Dilbert cartoon, seeing it only as a chore that gets in the way of whatever your true interests might be. There's a vast gray area in which most people operate, but it's also an area that is ill-suited for Batman and others like him.

In that sense, Barbara Gordon makes the most concerted effort of the Batman family to balance work and life. She doesn't dedicate three-fourths of her day to living in a cave, analyzing crime patterns, and endlessly debating with Superman. She actually tries to have a functioning personal life in addition to being Batgirl. She's a college student now, trying to live off a diet of lattes and Ramen Noodle while fighting crime. For the most part, Barbara has managed to avoid having the kind of nervous breakdown that most ordinary college students have during midterms. But like tuition hikes and overpriced textbooks, there are bound to be complications.

These complications in Barbara Gordona's life, both in and out of the mask, have been slowly developing. Batgirl #45 attempts to accelerate that development. While the pace isn't going to be hazardous to anyone with a heart condition, it at least develops the parts of her life that usually get overlooked. It might not be as exciting as a fist-fight with the Joker, but it's still refreshing and meaningful.

There's no crime to fight in this issue. This isn't a case of Peter Parker getting a pay cut because the Hobgoblin attacked him on the way to work. The most pressing concern for Barbara and Batgirl in this issue is her friend Alysia's wedding. On the surface, it's mundane by Batman standards. Unless the wedding is subject to a random attack by Clayface, it doesn't seem like an event worth exploring. But Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher make the case that there is something compelling here.


Usually, when there's a wedding involving superheroes, it's only compelling if it coincides with a disaster that makes the first two Hangover movies look tame by comparison. We've come to expect the life of a superhero to make major events like weddings a magnet for super-villains, assassins, and the occasional killer robot. None of those threats show up at Alysia's wedding, but someone disruptive does enter the picture. And his name is Dick Grayson.

This is where the tone of the Batgirl series as a whole sets itself apart. Rather than put Barbara in a situation where her superhero life gets in the way of her personal life, Stewart and Fletcher blur the line between those lives. They put Barbara in a position where she has to deal with someone who was and still is part of both lives. It's an awkward position to be in, even when it's not on a friend's wedding day. But it's that awkwardness that makes it compelling and not in the same mold as a typical Jennifer Anniston movie.

While there's no major crime for Batgirl to fight, she does don her costume. She does end up chasing Dick in a way that helps them relive their history together. It's a history where major complications have kept them from developing a serious relationship. And Dick being "dead" is hardly the biggest complication.

Throughout the course of the Batgirl series, Barbara has focused on moving forward with her life. She's established herself as both a superhero and a college student. She even managed to find time to make new friends, some of which act as de-facto allies to the Batman family. She also has a new love interest in her life in Luke Fox. These are the new facets of her life. Dick Grayson is one of those old facets. He's not one of those bitter exes that would post embarrassing pictures on Facebook, but he makes clear that he still has an impact on Barbara.


It's this impact that gives the issue meaning. It provides a unique context to the progress Barbara has made with her life at this point. She's trying to move forward, but her behavior around Dick Grayson shows that a part of her is still clinging to the past. And it's not just because Dick Grayson has a way of making women weak in the knees. He and Barbara have a much richer history than Barbara and Luke Fox. And it's not like that history became tainted by a deal with Mephisto. It still has emotional weight.

In some ways, that's the biggest shortcoming of Batgirl #45. As meaningful as the interaction is between Barbara and Dick, there's never a sense of closure. It has emotional depth, but it doesn't give the impression that anything has changed. Barbara and Dick still can't be part of each other's lives. There's still an emotional connection between them. But beyond that, there isn't much progress in terms of character development. And what little there is certainly doesn't give the impression that Barbara Gordon and Luke Wilson will be DC's next power couple.

As a part of the story in Barbara Gordon's new life, this issue acts as a meaningful connection between the past and present. It lacks action in that this is one of those rare comic book weddings where the ceremony isn't ruined by a super-villain, alien invasion, or something of the sort. It's not meant to be the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones.


As such, it's not going to generate a lot of excitement or a lot of outrage from One Million Moms. It tries to do something different. It succeeds in part, but lacks the impact to make it feel complete. It's still another step forward in this new life for Barbara Gordon. The fact that she could make it through her friend's wedding without someone being abducted puts her way ahead of Peter Parker.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

2 comments:

  1. How old IS Barbara Gordon anyway? I was under the impression she had a graduate degree in something. Or was that retconned out when Oracle was regressed to a /girl/.

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