Friday, 14 November 2014

Breaking Down Batgirl #35

Or a look at the representations of networked life in Batgirl #35
by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Maris Wicks, and Jared K Fletcher; DC Comics

Batgirl seems to be a comic that is very interested in depicting a realistic and relatable version of Barabara Gordon as a 20-something millennial living in a trendy satellite neighbourhood of Gotham. She has stylish roommates who throw rocking parties filled with diverse sexy young adults. People drink, sexy times happen, and hangovers are treated with coffee. There are undercuts, so many undercuts! Slight irony aside, the comic really does a great job portraying an authentic feeling group of young people in a setting that is only mildly TVed up. I think team Batgirl did a really great job and I had a lot of fun reading the comic.

One thing that I thought really stood out about Batgirl is the seamless way the comic integrates networked life into the narrative. More than all of the sexy times or undercuts, this is the aspect of the comic that I feel like best captured what it means to be 20-something and I'd like to unpack it.

There will be *SPOILERS* as we go on.

Technically speaking, I'm a millennial. I mean, I'm on the older end of the demographic, so I think I might be older than Babs is, but I'm still kind of a peer. And for me, more than the stylish hairdos, economic underachievement, or a progressive world view, it's the advent of portable computers that define my demographic. We've come of age at a time when the internet is EVERYWHERE and computers more powerful than the desktop towers I used in high school fit in our pockets. We are constantly networked, always carrying around gigabytes of data, and constantly using information technology in ways big and small. And this reality is constantly bleeding into our lives.

Batgirl does a really great job depicting this technological bleed through. Characters communicate constantly via text message, Babs checks her emails while running to the coffee shop, people check photo apps to keep tabs partygoers, there are dating apps, and Babs throws on her tunes while she makes her new (awesome) costume. There are a thousand little ways information technology peeks into the comic in these small momentary bursts that feels at once very organic and very true to the experience of being 20-something right now. The machine is always on, always there.

This depiction of being networked also bleeds over into Batgirls IRL adventures. One of the interesting aspects of Babs is that she has an eidetic memory: like a computer she is able to remember a lot of information and recall it nearly perfectly. Batgirl #1 depicts this aspect of Barbara by kind of invoking language and symbology similar to the information technology that is littered within the issue. We see Babs use her memory to work her way through her memory of a party room, like her mind is some sort of image database. When Barbara pursues a tablet thief, she uses her memory of the area to cut him off, and we see this represented as a mental googlemaps with periodic streetview memories of key locations. Which again plays into the familiarity and ubiquity of information technology in the world, but also makes Barbara's very abstract mental gift relatable. It's an interesting storytelling choice.

And I think this incorporation of information technology into Batgirl is significant and important to the character. I always found Barbara Gordon more compelling as Oracle than Batgirl in large part because as a computer guru Oracle offered a fairly unique skill set while Batgirl always felt like a fairly interchangeable tie-in property of Batman. Making information technology such a central facet of the issue, and maybe the series, not only helps really ground Babs as a tech-savvy millennial, but maybe moves towards synthesizing the two identities. 

Maybe? I might be reading too much into this first issue...

Regardless, I really enjoyed the comic.

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