In which the blogger, who's several times been asked about the matter, explains something of why he had Batgirl #12 in his Top 10 superhero books list for 2012;
Everytime I Fall is in part a study of the ways in which two very different individuals fulfil the responsibilities they've assumed as costumed vigilantes. In establishing the similarities and differences between Batgirl and Batwoman, Gail Simone has opted to make not a single reference to either their gender or sexuality. Anything that's not directly relevant to how these two characters attempt to fulfil their missions here as crime-fighters has been excised from the script. It makes perfect sense that this should be so. Barbara Gordon and Kate Kane are already recognisably distinct characters in terms of their personalities and everyday lives. But there is the problem of why Gotham should need two red-haired Bat-heroines when each is no more remarkable in terms of power-set and appearance than the other. Given that DC Comics obviously intends to keep both of these profitable properties in print, how are they to be differentiated one from the other, and how is their mutual presence in the same city to feel fascinating and compelling rather than repetitious and devitalising?
To focus on two super-women largely in terms of how they fight crime and little else is of course hardly unheard of, although it is comparatively rare. But it's a sign of how cliched the representation of women still tends
to be in the superhero book that I can't recall another comic which has so
completely pushed aside all the traditional markers of unblokeishness where its female leads are concerned. More so, it's notable that that's true for the whole issue where it comes to the interaction between Gordon and Kane. At the same time as Simone is emphasising how tremendously able Batgirl and Batwoman are in their campaign against Knightfall, there's simultaneously the deafening absence of anything of home and family, love and sex, fathers and partners and mentors and friends, self-consciousness and trauma, gender roles and the negotiation of them, and so on. In that, it's not that the story is suggesting that such influences are unimportant. There's no suggestion at all that female characters should for one ideological reason or another be entirely abstracted from anything that could suggest the social construction of identity, and I'd hate to suggest that's so. But Simone does seem to have narrowed her focus to the business of how these two superheroes approach the task of imposing their own particular definition of order. In doing so, the fact that super-women are rarely defined exclusively in terms of their approach to attaining justice becomes all the more obvious.
There's certainly none of the blustering of the hyper-sexualised superheroine sold as a symbol of empowerment, or even of the considered example set by the super-matriarch who expresses a sincere and laudable opposition to misogyny in thought, word and deed. (*1) Instead, the admirably able and - in their own contrasting ways - passionately committed Kane and Gordon are defined with a tight focus which, if it had involved two super-men, wouldn't have been noteworthy at all. Men are, after all, regularly characterised according to how they perform and nothing else when they pull the long-johns of justice on. And yet, to define two headlining female members of the cape'n'chest-insignia brigade exclusively in terms of the job that they do as vigilantes is still something of a surprise, and, quite frankly, a relief too.
*1:- Though if you want a brilliant example of how each type can be used to terrific effect and admirable insight without worthiness or prurience, try here.
With nothing else to distract us from the way in which Batgirl and Batwoman pursue what's effectively their vocations, Simone's plot serves as a kind of controlled experiment, in which two very different characters respond to the same situations. Though this is only part of what's to be found in Batgirl #12, it's for my money the most intriguing part of an enjoyable process. As is typical in Simone's stories, we learn about who Batgirl and Batwoman are in contrast to each other through their behaviour rather than via info-dumps, soliloquies, narration and so on, with character and action being very much inseparable. And it quickly becomes obvious that there's no question of either of them being redundant in the new DCU because of the other's existence.
Gordon, for example, is a woman who considers both means and ends as being vitally important, and the relationship between the two is constantly something that's she's concerned with. To her, everything that she does is an uncertain and yet essentially sacred expression of a desire to do as much good and as little harm as possible. Because of that constant process of self-reflection, Batgirl lacks something of the short-term, mission-centred clarity of purpose and method that Batwoman holds to when in the field. Yet Simone shows us that what Gordon lacks in absolute focus is more than compensated for by her ability to step outside her preconceptions and avoid hidebound thinking. When viciously attacked by Kane, for example, Gordon's able to immediately over-ride pain, anger and pride despite having received a fearsome, nose-threatening head-butt. In doing so, she succeeds in bringing a purposeless punch-up to a swift close. In a woman who was less fundamentally strong and principled, such a degree of doubt might led to hesitancy and an unshakeable despair. It could certainly create the impression that such a character was unlikely to be useful in a comic-book war against crime.Yet Gordon's determination to do the right thing while refusing to be defined by uncertainty and fear means that she uses rather than submits to the same qualities. In that, she brings a unique fusion of compassion and independent-mindedness to her campaigns. It's a quality that enables her empathy to stay engaged and her mind to keep processing even when circumstances might threaten to demand a thought-wiping fight-or-flight response. Even when her thoughts are almost obliterated by pain, she's able to over-ride instinct and act with restraint and purpose. This is not, in the world of the super-person, a common or negligible trait at all.
By comparison, Kane is every inch the soldier. For her, the shortest distance between two points - after whatever consideration time allows - is always the most compelling road to take. Although she's obviously a careful planner when opportunity allows, she's far more likely to aggressively pursue a pre-arranged strategy than Batgirl is. If Gordon aspires to justice decently achieved, then Kane fights to attain the most acceptable outcome she can with the maximum of efficiency. While the women's two agendas strongly overlap, as we'd expect from folks occupying the same side of the line, they've clearly different ways of getting thing done. And so, Kane's tendency to forcefully respond to the possibility of a threat is, as we've mentioned, shown in the way in which she attacks and beats Gordon in the book's first few pages. Where Batgirl would have hesitated in the absence of evidence of a threat, Kane opts to put the mere possibility of one out of action. And in most any other story, the question of Gordon's beating and Kane's violent methodology would form the spine of the plot, with the matter of apologies and forgiveness dominating the tale's conclusion. But these are in essence professionals, and the misunderstanding between them passes without any further comment when the evidence of their common cause arrives. Once again, it's the fact that they are quite distinct individuals that's the point of the exercise. More important to them than ego in the short-term is the fact that Knightfall's "going to make Gotham an abattoir". Needs must, with Gordon recognising a potential ally and Kane a imminent disaster.
These are, after all, superheroes for whom the greater good is everything, and Simone elegantly furthers the point by never having a scene in which apologies are made and accepted, nascent friendships begun and flowering respect expressed. Where it's been traditional to associate female characters with the expression of emotional truths and difficult thoughts and feelings, here we have an untypical focus on women for whom immense responsibility and a lack of intimacy almost entirely over-rides sentiment. Those in the blogosphere who've complained that Kane and Gordon don't seem to bond over their shared experiences have surely missed the point. Instead, it's the quiet touches in the book which show a developing respect if not affection. The fact that it's Gordon and not Kane who takes the lead in the operation to free the imprisoned Rickey, for example, shows that there's a measure of appreciation that's quickly developed on Batwoman's side. After all, Kane wouldn't ever let an untrustworthy amateur take the point in a mission that's as dangerous as this, and Simone trusts us to note this without her having to ladle on the schmaltz.
The clear differences between the two remain obvious even when they agree to combine forces. For example, Gordon is shown hesitating
to leave Kane behind as a trio of super-villains threaten, and that's despite the fact that their agreed strategy demands that she does exactly that. "We have this! Go!", shouts Batwoman, and we can see that these two would baffle and irritate each other if they were forced to spent too much time in the field together. Where Gordon puts compassion above nearly everything else, Kane reveres efficiency in the name of a necessary cause. To Kane, Gordon's concern is a mark of a dangerously inefficient approach, and even a moments delay to express concern might have catastrophic consequences. It's a point that Simone establishes concisely in a single panel - see above - and again, it's an example of how she can define aspects of character without slowing up the forward momentum of the plot.
Yet, since Batwoman's fierce focus comes combined with such an admirable sense of discipline and honesty, it's quite impossible to regard her as the lesser of the two. Simone's purpose, it seems, isn't to suggest that either Batgirl or Batwoman is the better person, or the more estimable superhero. Instead, each is established as a formidable prospect, and their choices reflect quite distinct points of view rather than any overall practical or ethical superiority. Though Kane does seem far more self-contained and stand-offish, she also bears no grudges, plays no games, and never thinks twice about working with the women she's so recently suspected of ill-doing. Similarly, Gordon's willingness to accept without returning Kane's blows in the name of the greater good might make her seem less formidable in a physical if not moral and practical context. But Simone undercuts any sense of Batgirl being the weaker of the two through a variety of strategies, including that of having Gordon ready at any moment to begin the fight with Kane again on her own terms if that's necessary. There's nothing starry-eyed and naive about the ceasefire she negotiates, given that she's holding a Bat-a-rang behind her back in case negotiation fails to achieves her ends. She abandoned the brawl because it placed in danger the people she longs to help, but fighting itself is a necessary evil that she'll embrace if she has to. (Of course, it's also Batgirl who stands alone against three super-villains later in the tale so as to adequately bait a trap, a fact that again establishes that discretion on her part really is the better part of valour, rather than an alternative to it.)
Time and time again, the strength and limitations of each character's approach are sketched out, and in what's actually a remarkably small number of pages for the mass of information that's delivered. Instead of offering two-dimensional caricatures from which one can be chosen as "the best" or "the nicest" or "the toughest", Simone presents us with two superheroes whose skills and mind-sets leave both seeming as capable and as interesting and as different as the other.
What was the point of the team-up, asked some reviewers and commentors, when supposedly so little happened and so little was achieved? What did Batwoman add to this comic at all? The mind - to use a phrase that's rarely entirely appropriate - boggles.
If you've a moment a kill, you can find the second part of this here;