Review: Batgirl #45

batgirl45babsThis is the big queer wedding of the year! This issue is also an enormous moment for one of comics most obsessed over couples: Dick and Barbara (and Dick wasn’t on the guest list). These pages are practically glowing with life and light. The dialogue is completely natural and charming. It’s drawn by Babs Tarr so of course the clothes are lovely. Best wedding clothes since Big Barda and Mister Miracle’s wedding in 1974. This issue is a must-read for fans of the new series and fans of Batgirl’s past incarnations as well. Go get it.

The rest of my review presumes you’ve read this issue. Here goes:

Comic book weddings adhere to Shakespeare’s line: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” In comics weddings are always full of dramatic complications like teammates getting possessed by a demon/their father, murdering the minister and impregnating the bride with a “demon seed”. Or there is interference from Doctor Doom using a High Frequency Emotion Charger to compel Super Skrull & every other baddie to lay siege.

This wedding isn’t those weddings. This is the most mature and realistic wedding in a comic and yes, it was still fun. It was even darn romantic. There was New Wave.

Because of the serialized nature of comics editorial teams tend to throw wrenches into permanent relationships (cough, Spider-Man: One More Day cough). Relationships are kept up in the air to provide the melodrama we love. The world’s best podcast, Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men explains how and why Cyclops’ marriage to Madelyn Pryor was killed by editorial demand, which is a prime example of this. Check out episodes “22- Through Death and Through Love” (aka The Jean and Scott wedding episode) and “54- Who You Gonna Call” aka “The death throes of Scott and Madelyne’s marriage”.

But that’s the dangerous fate of protagonists. Alysia, Bab’s former roommate and close friend isn’t the series protagonist, she’s a major supporting character so she can have the “spouses for life” relationship, as the characters word it in their vows.

The theme of Batgirl #45 is pretty unusual for a super hero comic: it’s acting like a damn grown up.

Dick comes in through the window (of course) right before the wedding and forces Babs to suit-up and chase him to the museum where they first met (in 1967, because timelines are for pedants). It is incredibly manipulative and juvenile of him. Dick is that ex who shows up out of nowhere expecting you to drop everything and presumes the world revolves around them. In an earlier era or in other writers’ hands this scenario would result in meltdowns for all of the couples. In other hands Barbara’s date Luke Fox would’ve punched Dick in the face. But instead Babs and Luke act like grownups. And I love it.

Babs might tussle with Dick for a moment but the issue resolves with her explaining to him, incredibly effectively, how unacceptable his actions are. He had unilaterally forced her to move on but she’s “in a good place right now” and he needs to respect that.

Batgirl 45 Luke is perfectBabs practically expects Luke to drop her because she ran off to deal with Dick and left him alone for a few hours. But instead Luke refuses to blow things out of proportion (and when was the last time someone in a comic didn’t blow something like this out of proportion?!). He explains that “our past doesn’t just disappear when we want it to. Sometimes you have to deal with it” because being a grown-up means not flipping out every time your partner’s ex shows up. Luke is seriously perfect in this book.

Some critics have been unhappy with the recent New 52 treatment of Dick and Babs. They say that while Dick has been allowed to grow-up and change Babs is still written as a young woman– in fact, at present, a younger woman then she was at the time of the relaunch. But here we see that she’s a young woman who has her shit together. Meanwhile Dick is acting like an inconsiderate man-child. This isn’t his book. That’s totally fine by me.

Someone out there is going to complain that Dick’s characterization here is too different from how he’s written in Grayson (or visaversa). It’s actually not. In both cases his actions are the same. It’s just that in Grayson we see his view of why he made the decision to play dead and join the Spyral spy agency and here we see it through Babs perspective. Everyone is the hero of their own story. This feels right and it works. Batgirl threads a fine needle: it is self-contained enough to be highly accessible to new readers, even those who don’t read other comics. Yet it clearly exists in the broader DC universe.

The increase in same-gender weddings has led many people of all genders and orientations to reconsider their assumptions about wedding ceremonies. The queer wedding ceremony here is conventional in some ways— for example, Jo and Alysia are walked down the aisle by their dads. They wear white and are married by a church officiant (I’m guessing she’s an Unitarian minister but could be Episcopalian). The officiant by the way, is butch and butch women are pretty invisible in comics so this detail is appreciated.

The wedding venue is the spitting image of many of my peers here in NYC. The couple wrote their own vows, “I pledge to be your everlasting partner in times of joy and in times of trouble. I make this commitment to be by your side.” The officiant then says “I now pronounce you spouses for life.” It’s such a lovely little ceremony and it’s not overly gendered. In my own wedding I was never comfortable with the terminology of “bride” and “groom” so we completely avoided them in our wedding ceremony. After exchanging the vows that we wrote together all of our friends and family pronounced us married. It’s so nice to see a ceremony like this presented in popular culture. It’s nice to see a wedding even a little bit like mine. A lot of queer weddings get squeezed into conventional heterosexual forms in popular culture.

A point that a friend who is trans brought up is that if a reader isn’t familiar with the current cast of Batgirl then they might not know that Alysia is trans. I think this is the first trans wedding in a DC or Marvel comic. Alysia herself was huge news when she was created. Wedding issues do attract a lot of new readers so there might have been a opportunity to note the significance of this being a transwoman getting married within the issue. It is incredibly significant to have this representation as well.

The book ends with Babs’ perfect cinnamon roll Luke texting her to make sure she got home safe and texting that he’s “looking forward to the next wedding ;)” Implication being the next wedding they go to might be theirs?!?

Batgirl, one red-headed grown-up to another, Luke is great but you my dear are far too young to get married. Regardless, the writing on this book is so good that I’m on board for whatever they have planned. I have trust. These are grownups. But grownups that still know how to have fun. Grownups that wear yellow Doc Martins to weddings. It’s a good look.

(Post script: ok actually this issue ends with a menacing shadow in a door way repeating a secret code but that’s not related. Or is it?)

Also, is this the song that Black Canary is playing at the wedding? There are no perfect matches for those lyrics and knowing the creative team’s tastes and Dinah’s promise of 80s music it could well be Siouxie and the Banshees. UPDATE: the song is confirmed!

Story: Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher Art: Babs Tarr
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy (also makes a great wedding gift)

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  • it should be noted that Alysia is transgender. That’s kind of a huge thing to miss.

    • Yes, definitely thank you for bringing this up. I took for-granted at first that everyone reading the book would know, But given how many people just read wedding issues and might not have been following along, and given how historically significant it is they should have made a bigger point of it.

  • Enjoyed volume 1 very much and am definitely going to get volume 2.

  • I found this to be rather cliched, actually. It felt like a rehash of a typical teenage love triangle drama, rather than a mature take on two former exes hashing it out. In fact, I found that this recent arc has been rather light on plot, and a bit heavy on petty drama. And the characterization of Dick is really off, too. Why would he even take a break from Spyral to woo his ex-girlfriend? He knows he’s too busy for a relationship, and he comes across as too petty here.

    • This wasn’t on break from Spyral, it was while he was doing his whole “leaving Gotham to return to Spyral” thing from the Grayson Annual. The reasons he gave in Batgirl for reaching out to her all felt totally real to me. He didn’t make a good argument for it but it was absolutely a sentiment that people have. He is too busy for a relationship. But when has any hero not been too busy. I really do think the characterization was good. None of this makes him a bad person over all. It makes him human.

  • I’m wishing I’d included something about how the Batwoman wedding got tanked just a few years back.

  • I found this to be really forced and out-of-character. It seemed less like a mature take on a relationship, and more of a cookie-cutter love triangle between the “dashing handsome jock” and the “boring nice guy”. And Dick is really out of character. Taking the wedding ring? Telling her to hush? That’s a completely different character. Their interaction in Grayson #12 was handled much better.

    I also wish that Luke and Alysia were more developed. The Luke and Barbara relationship feels rushed, and Alysia hasn’t really had much of a presence in this run until she got engaged. I don’t know, the lack of a cohesive plot has really made this arc feel bland compared to the first arc.

    • Thanks for leaving a comment, sorry it was stuck in our spam filter. Check out the response I gave upthread. I think it pertains to what you are saying here.