When you look up the French term that literally is interpreted as “black beast”, should it be any surprise that the term refers to something that is generally disliked? It is, in fact synonymous with someone or something that is the bane of one’s life. Bane. No, there is little doubt that the name is so fitting for Gail Simone’s venture into a much darker Barbara….a Barbara who takes on the likes of Bane. This is Gail’s last tango as the writer of Batgirl, and it’s an emotionally complete journey.
Though I am a later in life comic convert (excluding visual media, I’ve always been down with the Bat and other DC comics, since childhood, in their paperless forms), I have long had a love affair with Gotham. In this Gotham, it is a darker city, which Barbara once loved, but now hates for the darkness that it has caused to surround her.
I vociferously poured through the pages of a story that goes to depths I wasn’t expecting. In the first few pages, the unanticipated twist that brings Barbara to the darkest of places kept me glued to the pages and it made me want to know so much more about what was going to happen to future Barbara. From those moments of darkness to five years later, a lot has changed in Barbara’s life and in Gotham. As we read, it seems as if our own time has passed, and there’s no going back for any of us.
I came into this, with a vague understanding that Bane was involved. I am pretty sure a friend told me it was Batgirl becomes Bane or Batgirl if she was her own daughter with Bane, or something like that! Of course, that’s a really simple, somewhat inaccurate way of explaining where this story goes. Having been to the depths of despair, the Bat helps Barbara to disguise herself, in order to take on the roughest of Gotham’s gangsters, until there is no one left, but Bane. From there, she is under his tutelage, but with her own agenda.
It was a little surprising to see Barbara looking like my body-building brother in law (her muscles might actually be slightly bigger than his), and this is further emphasized by beautifully rendered artwork by Javier Garron and Romulo Fajardo Jr. Truthfully, Bête Noire, is pumped up and ready to kick some serious ass! We want to have this idealized vision that women are tiny, petite things, but though Bête Noire looks like she’s been pumping steroids, bane juice…or something else entirely, she exudes this gorgeous goddessness about her that is also completely unnerving, at the same time!
The inclusion of the Batgirls, who I felt were emblematic of any girl (any girl/every girl can be Batgirl), added excellently to the story. The Batgirls include Cassandra Cain (Black Bat), the master assassin who shows it with her experience and prowess, and the enigmatic Stephanie Brown. Of course, the youngest, Tiffany Fox, is a 12 year old whiz kid, who Barbara declares will surpass them all, one day, and yes she is THAT Tiffany Fox (daughter of Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox). Either way, making these Batgirls do her bidding ties in nicely with the Oracle connection, and, for me, allowed the story to come full circle.
One of the things I love the most about Gail’s writing is the subtle nuances that really rip at our heartstrings when reading the stories she writes. Fans of Oracle will be happy to know that Oracle has happened, so there is the entire back story of Barbara being paralyzed. When she is confronted and reminded of this, I cannot help but appreciate her response. Those of us with disabilities ache for every little drip of acknowledgement that could be potentially positive, in various forms of media. When Barbara is confronted with the idea she might have a “death wish” or perhaps even a “paralyze me” wish because she can’t deal with her life and the tragedies within it, her response is brilliant!
“You think I’m afraid to be how I was? You never understood me, at all.”
That perfectly sums up how many of us disabled folks feel about nondisabled perceptions of disability and of how we feel about disability, as a result. With that, I felt a swell of emotion. As I read on, Barbara revealed even more gloriousness….with a big theme being self-acceptance and self-worth, both of which Barbara is teeming with, in spite of the great tragedy she has had to deal with over the past five years.
While I know the Future’s End comics are supposed to be one shot stories, the one area where I feel the story is weakest is in the relationship between Bane and Barbara. I WANT more! While there is not particularly anything wrong with their relationship, I personally believe that if the story had a bit longer to simmer, we could have seen more character depth and development and the climax of the story could be savored more than just experienced. I felt swells of build up and crests downward, but I was waiting for that one big ascent that would spill us into the climax I so relish. I feel with the limitations with it being just one story, it kept us tumbling through without building up high enough before the drop.
Bête Noire… is the bane of something. This comic is certainly the antithesis of this. In truth, it’s truly great.