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The Best Comics in December Part 1: Addressing the Transphobia in Batgirl

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Each month the staff at 8th Dimension Comics picks out the best book to review.

Batgirl #37: It's probably the most controversial issue of Batgirl since Gail Simone took Barbara Gordon out of the wheelchair. #37 finds Babs pursuing a fake Batgirl using a blinged out costume, hard partying instagram account, and petty theft to draw attention to herself. Eager to try and salvage her reputation, Batgirl tracks the impersonator after seeing images of herself in a wheelchair at a local art show.

The impersonator turns out to be a desperate male artist going by the name Dagger Type, whose mysterious patron laid out his plans and told him to kill Batgirl and take her place. Obviously in a medium where trans people of any kind are thin on the ground this raised the hackles of a fair number of trans comic readers.

As a cis-straight white male I have enough sense not to wander in here and try and defend the actions of Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, and Babs Tarr. The creators have already taken to social media to apologize and promise to listen hard to the stories being told by outraged and hurt fans. If you want a textbook example of how to compassionately respond to a controversy then this is probably the best you'll get.

I do see what they were going for, though. The book itself is a pretty interesting commentary on identity and more importantly the worth of a real one. The public of Burnside is happy to explore Batgirl as an icon through art, but when it comes time to have the big reveal Type was looking for they turn in disgust claiming "everything cool is always an ad". That's a very powerful message that is very relevant in this age of so much anonymous and misleading online personalities.

Maybe the creative team felt that having a man try to supplant Gordon was an interesting shake-up and twist. Heck, maybe it even is, but it was still a misstep in a book that has already done wonders for the positive portrayals of trans people in the form of Barbara's friend Alysia. The fact that Stewart and company could recover so magnificently from that misstep and still deliver a gripping read reaffirms my faith in a book I stopped reading when Simone left. Time to give Batgirl another chance, for all of us, I think.

Rating: 8 of 10

Superior Iron Man #3: I try not to use this column to catch up on previous cliffhangers but man oh man I couldn't leave off on Superior Iron Man without the next chapter.

Tony Stark's mind has been altered in the aftermath of the Axis event. His narcissism and megalomania have run out of control and he's turned into the technological equivalent of a drug lord with his new Extremis product. Daredevil comes to talk sense to him, only for Stark to knock him out and use Extremis to return the eyesight of the Man Without Fear.

Tom Taylor has written a really beautiful metaphor through this issue. With his sight returned and most of the book told through Murdoch's eyes it's easy to see how blind Stark has become to the disastrous flaws he now possesses. He can't see anything at all but what he wants to, a twisted mirror of Murdoch who denounces Stark for his gift with strings attached.

In the end, Daredevil uses his few precious hours of sight to see one old friend as other people do. It's juxtaposed with a scene of Tony coldly calculating the uses of another metahuman right to their face with no consideration of them as a person. What a brilliant series this is turning out to be.

Rating: 8 of 10

Daredevil #11: On the other side of Daredevil's story is another solid entry in the Man Without Fear's story from Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. One of the reason's Daredevil has remained such a solid book over the last year is that it's a street-level book. It's incredibly realistic despite being about a hyper-sensed man in a crimefighting suit.

This time Matt Murdoch is contracted by an old one-shot enemy, The Stuntmaster. Once the world's greatest motorcycle daredevil he is now old and forgotten. A new Stuntmaster is riding high (sorry) after having bought the name and beginning to perform seemingly impossible stunts. Murdoch agrees to work on behalf of his old foe to try and claim some of the millions the new Stuntmaster is raking in, but things quickly turn murky, dark, and tragic.

The appeal of Daredevil is that he is one of the last great crimefighters in comics. Sure, he gets involved in larger storylines like the Axis one mentioned earlier, but in general Murdoch keeps his feet on the ground helping ordinary people and living a largely ordinary life. He's forever an everyman just trying to do the best he can in a weird world, and it lends so much heart to the book.

Rating: 8 of 10

This story continues on the next page.

Rasputin #1: I am a huge Rasputin nerd. I own at least four books about the man and I think he remains utterly misunderstood and fascinating while at the same time being in many ways exactly what he was often accused of.

Alex Grecian has wanted to tell a Rasputin story for decades before he finally got the chance at Image comics. He does a good job bringing the Mad Monk to life in comic form. It's a highly cinematic book. You can literally feel the page moving with how it would look in film.

The book both explores the beginning of Rasputin's famous murder and his life as a young boy when his supposedly magical powers first appeared. The ability to resurrect the dead seems to be his most prominent ability in the comics, something he was said to have done occasionally with small birds.

It's a fun if bloody read, with Rasputin appearing very much an anti-hero who strives to make changes in a very harsh world. The writing is solid, even if that cinematic quality does tend to make panels drag a bit in an overly long fight scene with a bear. Overall it's a winner.

Rating: 6 of 10

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.#1: Speaking of Rasputin, Mike Mignola has finally decided to go back to the beginning of Hellboy's career as an adventurer. Set in 1952 this is Hellboy's very first assignment out in the real world, the first issue of a five-part miniseries. A second series taking place in 1953 will follow.

Most of the issue is set-up, which is always nice because man it's been a few years since I checked in on Hellboy. If you've never read a single comic or seen the movies you'll do just fine in this storyline. For longtime fans it fills in a gap in the narrative that we've always wondered about.

Hellboy is much quieter and awkward in this incarnation. He's nervous as much as he is excited to finally be allowed out of his room. There are hints of demonic forces at work, and he wastes no time getting right into the thick of a series of mysterious killings in Brazil. It's as good as Hellboy ever was!

Rating: 8 of 10

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