As I pick up the last chapter in Gail Simone’s Batgirl saga my mind is not in Gotham City but in Ferguson, Missouri where it looks for all the world as if someone has decided that law and order must be maintained by any means necessary, even by guns and armor and smoke and fear. Armored vehicles carry heavily armed police officers down city streets in a scene that looks more like a war zone in some battle-torn country than a suburb of a great American city, a neighborhood where people live and work and love and pray.
In the opening scene of Simone’s closing chapter it plays out the same, fiction mirrors reality, at least in my mind, at least as I read the pages of this comic book between glances at my #Ferguson Twitter feed.
The villain Knightfall, driven by her own sense of law and order and by her own sense of victimhood and vengeance, is ready to become judge, jury and executioner. Her love for Gotham, like so much misplaced and wicked patriotism, like so much confused and malevolent morality, motivates her call to arms, her assault upon the city. Her army will take back the streets and take out the criminals. She will make Gotham safe by the strength of her guns, by sheer power and force. Knightfall is a villain in the guise of a hero, just as dangerous as any capering harlequin driven by madness to kill and then laugh about it or any ego-maniacal dictator with only self-interest in mind.
And then Batgirl arrives, Black Canary and the Huntress at her side, these birds of prey reunited in the New 52 for the first time, vigilantes driven by their own sense of justice to oppose Knightfall and her righteous evil. And the battle ensues.
Simone’s pacing is excellent, as are Pasarin’s figures in motion. Graceful bodies spin through the air, trading insults and blows. They battle aboard Knightfall’s boat, where they, true to form for puppet masters who control the conflicts in the cities, remain aloof from the dangers that their passions unleash upon the world. With their comic book superheroics, their precision kicks and thrusts, they are safe from the much more dangerous and unchoreographed violence of the streets.
And, in the streets, the soldiers roll in by the truck load. They are mercenaries for hire, perhaps, but surely all driven by their own sense of justice, a dark police force too-well armed, too-well trained for their own good and for ours. They knock down doors and shatter windows, threaten death and mutilation. It is a dark scene, this dual battle on the water and in the streets; the stakes are high. This violence is not unusual for Simone’s Batgirl, where violent amputations have become a common theme, where blood and broken teeth spray across the panels.
I find myself looking forward to the promised change in the character; Simone’s departure is to be followed by a new costume and a new direction: lighter, less violent, less serious, less bloody. I am thinking now that this is a good thing, that with violence unfolding in the streets of America I don’t need violence in my comic books, not this kind, not this bloody kind.
But then Simone surprises me, as she has often done through the years, and I am not in Ferguson anymore. There is Firestar, Raven, White Rabbit, Wonder Girl, Zatana, and a host of others. The battle on the streets is taken up by these powerful women whose togetherness and unity, whose very presence, brings the madness to a halt. And Batgirl’s victory over Knightfall does not come with fists and guns, but with kindness, with raw humanity, with memories and recollections.
Yes, the conclusion does come too easily perhaps; things are wrapped up a bit too neatly, all hugs and tears and kisses at the end. But it is Simone’s final chapter and stories do have to come to their ends, chapters do have to close. And they don’t all have to end on a cliffhanger; they don’t all have to end in the pit of despair; they don’t all have to end with bodies in city streets, gun smoke and tear-gas in the air.
Simone is leaving Batgirl, gritty and dark, and Batgirl is returning without her, in a new costume and with a lighter touch. In her final issue, Simone points the way from here to there, from dark to light. She provides the space for the character to go, to start over.
I click away from Batgirl, return to the real world, to #Ferguson. But I take a bit of Batgirl with me.
It can be done. If we all stand together, like the superheroes that we surely are. We can have law and order, not with guns and tear gas bombs, not with hatred and violence, but some other way, some heretofore unknown way, some new way. We can start over. It can be done.
“Hello, new world,” Simone’s Batgirl says. “Nice to meet you.”