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Gail Simone’s Exploration Of Family

batgirl19Gail Simone teased people a couple weeks ago that they would want to read her most recent Batgirl. She wasn’t joking. She’d have captured the comics Internet if the Saga kerfuffle hadn’t happened the same week. Little did anyone suspect at the time that Simone would give us a new transgender character. Not a transgender character weighed down in pseudo sci fi trappings as is true with Marvel’s Cloud who appeared in the Defenders, but an honest to goodness average person who could be your next door neighbor, coworker, or someone you see while out having coffee.

In this case, the character is Alysia Yeoh, who happens to be Barbara Gordon’s room mate. At the time of Alysia’s introduction the idea of Barbara having a room mate struck me as odd because, hello, she’s Batgirl. How do you keep something like this from your room mate? At the time of her introduction I was and still am to a fair degree accustomed to thinking of Barbara as Oracle and of her then primary friendships with Black Canary, Huntress, and Zinda. I should’ve known Simone had her reasons.

Simone artfully constructs the scene between the two estranged roomies. Here Alysiah is, curled up wearing polka dot pajama bottoms and a mismatched top when Barbara comes back to apologize for the hell brought into their apartment several issues ago. Despite Alysia’s casual appearance, she keeps a baseball bat at hand for protection; the bat serving as a visual clue of the violence targeted at transgender people on the street and in their homes. She drops her physical guard upon seeing Barbara at the front door and is confronted with the choice whether or not to allow Barbara inside. Her decision to let Barbara in is made without hesitation. Alysia is willing to take a chance even though another person who experienced the same terror might well make another say no. There is just a heartfelt embrace and Alysia’s undivided attention when Barbara speaks opens up and unburdens herself and reveals deep and dark secrets including being partially paralyzed by the Joker, while stopping short of a complete admission as to her own secret identity. It’s all plausible being Gotham, surely the most hellish city in the DC Universe. Alysiah is receptive to the underlying message that Barbara wanted to protect her. Knowing Barbara’s intentions, Alysia is comfortable enough to risk sharing the fact that she’s transgender. The writer trusts that her readers will understand the implicit message about the amount of violence committed against LGBT people and particularly transgender people for simply being who they are. Simone delivers a simple and encompassing message of unconditional love and acceptance through her beloved character by having Barbara “reintroduce” herself as “Babs” and pulls Alysia close in a hug to say: “The people I love call me Babs.” What Simone has in store for Alysia will unfold over time. We need only look to Simone’s past handling of characters for assurance that Alysia is in good hands. Thankfully Simone’s record and talent and the relationship she has with fans helped to ensure her return to the series or Alysia might likely have been discarded or revised and we’d have one less diverse character.

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Simone spends the rest of the story exploring birth family dysfunction taken to an extreme by the psychopathic James Jr whose mission is to destroy the family as fully as possible with violence and death. The emotions and actions of Barbara, James Jr, their mother, and father, Police Commissioner Gordon, are all the complete opposite of those shown in the prior scene with Barbara’s family of choice, even if it is just the two of them currently. Where the setting was enclosed and intimate, it is now in the open and slippery and dangerous from torrents or rain spilling out of a black sky illuminated by lightning strikes. Rather than love and acceptance, the highly charged emotions in evidence here are jealousy, fear, resentment, and anger. A sense of renewal is felt in the first scene while doom, desperation, and finality pervade the rest of the story set amongst the backdrop of an abandoned tourist trap on the bay front, a horse carousel the last place Mrs Gordon saw her son happy. Simone is taking family dysfunction to the extreme here. The half smiling James revealing to his mother that Batgirl is Barbara is a reminder of people who try to intimidate and threaten LGBT people by outing them against their wishes, and James’ revelation is the catalyst that drives his own mother to shoot him in the hopes of defending Barbara. Think about it, a mother choosing to maim or kill one child in order to protect another. Suspenseful storytelling dictates she isn’t successful, leading to sister and brother literally trying to beat the other into submission to prevent their mutually exclusive goals. The awful knowledge that James has to die becomes crystal clear as James holds a knife close to his mother’s throat. Without a moment’s hesitation, Barbara ends his threat with a forcefully aimed customized blade of her own driven into his skull, the force of which causes audible spinal damage as he falls backwards against railing before plummeting into the bay. One would hope this violent and desperate act would be the end of the matter as Barbara tries and fails to comfort her despairing and anguished mother. That isn’t the case as is so often in real life tragedies where consequences follow in their wake. Here it’s her police commissioner father arriving late at the scene, the very symbol of law and order, who feels duty bound to arrest the vigilante, whom he doesn’t know to be his own daughter, for the murder of his estranged and extremely psychopathic son. Simone puts them face to face in the driving rain as she reveals the tip of an existential quandary in Barbara’s interior thoughts: “Tonight I became an only child. And I may have made myself an orphan as well.”

Simone has given herself abundant opportunities for storytelling in taking up the ideas of families of choice and birth families. Her further exploration into the dynamics of each will make for very interesting reading.

March 7, 2015
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