Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Arousing Grammar examines the Batgirl-SuperBOY* romance!

James Jean takes a sad song and makes it better. (Batgirl #41, August 2003

*Edit and apology:  I originally titled this post "Arrousing Grammar examines the Batgirl-Supergirl romance," when what I meant to type was "Superboy."  While it might have resulted in a better story (I don't see how it could have been worse), to the best of my knowledge, Batgirl and Supergirl have never been romantically linked.  So why did I type that?  Freudian slip?  According to Geoff Johns, I was drugged by Deathstroke.  Sorry, everyone.  Back to the frivolity--

Yes, at one point Batgirl felt the urgings a-surging and set out to make Superboy hers and hers alone.  It's about time someone looked into this, and fortunately, it's Jason Levine on his always entertaining Arousing Grammar blog.  Levine takes on the Dylan Horrocks storyline in issues #39-41 (June 2003-August 2003) where Barbara takes Cass on a cruise to teach her how to be a real girl.  You know-- wearing bikinis, being ogled by boys, wearing little black dresses, ogling boys, giggling, slumber parties and all that.  On this little gender stereotype reinforcing trip, Cass fends off the advances of one guy to pursue another on her own.

Okay, the latter doesn't particularly reinforce stereo-anything, but we'll get to that in a moment.

I have mixed feelings about the Dylan Horrocks run on Batgirl.  On one hand, he wrote two of my favorite Batgirl stories-- Batgirl #45 (December 2003), where she confronts Barbara Gordon's legacy in the role by wearing her old costume* and Batgirl #50 (May 2004), where she resolves her father issues by adopting Batman as substitute-dad before revealing her true loyalty is to the bat-symbol rather than the man himself.  The issues in-between are pretty decent, too.

But Horrocks also wrote the stories in question, which I consider the nadir of the entire series, with Barbara ignoring Cass's individuality and bizarrely insisting she thrust herself into situations for which she's not prepared, such as wearing skimpy swimwear at the ship's pool (Cass scores a few points by honestly admitting it makes her feel bad, for which Barbara feels appropriately chagrined for a moment or two before launching another yet another attack on Cass's self-esteem), but ultimately being rather belittled by the come-ons of Black Wind, some jerky-come-lately nobody.  And then comes the goopy, drippy, saccharine Superboy romance.

Which, on the surface, isn't such a bad idea.  After all, with Midnighter and Apollo, The Authority plays with the idea of Batman and Superman being not just friends and rivals but lovers.  So why not a World's Finest romance between their youthful proteges?  Plus, I like the idea of Batgirl being the initiator.  That seems very true to her general approach to life, where she aggressively pursues what she wants, whether it's saving someone's life or risking her own to perfect her skills under the tutelage of the very dangerous Lady Shiva.  She just seems like the kind of person to pursue romantically rather than be pursued.  I sometimes liken Cass Cain to Jen Yu in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  When Jen decides on Dark Cloud, she makes the first move and, symbolically, stays on top.  So would Cass.

Unfortunately, in execution, the story suffers from unattractive art (characters look formed from Play-Do and the fight scenes are an embarrassment) and cutesy-pie elements so sugary-sweet they'll cause you to gag then brush your teeth obsessively for days.  You'll probably still develop cavities.

These issues are so bad, they put me off Batgirl for a few months when I originally read them.  If that's the direction they're taking her, I thought, no thanks!  Only James Jean's kick-ass cover on #41 redeems any of this.  If only he'd drawn the interior art.  And anyone else had written it.  You can see for yourself on Arousing Grammar and make up your own mind.

*And even this sends wildly mixed signals about sexualizing the Cass Batgirl, a character who to that point had been all business and counter to the typical female super-person stereotypes.


  1. Ok. I've decided the only possible explanation is that both Cass and Barbara are hypnotized durring this period.

    1. Geoff Johns: "They were drugged by Deathstroke." That's the answer to everything that can't be explained by magic. And I just this morning realized the major typo I made in the title! Sorry about that!