Batgirl #1: She who never forgets

I have something to disclose. When I picked up Batgirl #1, I had only one focus.  I was looking for a certain image. I flipped through the issue quickly, searching the pages for remnant’s of Barbara Gordon’s pivotal story arc.  Did it still happen? DID IT STILL HAPPEN TO HER? And then I saw it.  A camera. The Joker grinning. And a gun.  The details of Barbara Gordon being shot, in a single frame on the second to the last page.  Now I have something else to disclose: I was thrilled to see this gruesome but memorable image. So I started reading from the beginning of the issue.

Batgirl #1 is part of DC’s New 52 launch. I have to say, Batgirl kicks off the reboot quite nicely.  Gail Simone’s insightful lead narrative points to Barbara’s physical recovery (“For three years, I couldn’t move my legs…”), but she also adds an interesting layer of Barbara’s psychological recovery (“It took a while, after the shooting, to let strangers back in.”). And to many of her reader’s appreciation, Barbara’s violent assault by the hands of the Joker still happened.  And this is so important to us. But why? Why are we so attached to this horrific event, even in this relaunched version, when Barbara’s ability to walk is restored? Simone knew that the event was pivotal to Barbara’s resiliency, courage, and determination. It’s as if to say: “I have use of my legs for a purpose.” We need to know that this young woman can endure such a horrific act of violence and recover from it, both in body and in mind.

“She who never forgets. Never.”   Despite the passing of three years, Barbara has not forgotten the day that she was brutally attacked. And, realistically, the memories are still vivid.

“I panicked every time I hear a doorbell for months after…”

Survivors of trauma will often get emotionally triggered by the sounds, smells, and images of their traumatic event.  For instance, despite our rational mind knowing that the sound of a doorbell is non-threatening, it’s the association between sensory details and the original trauma that leads to an elevated, hyper-sensitive reaction.  For Barbara, threatening cues could be the smell of hot coffee, the sight of a palm tree, and yes– EXACTLY!–the sound of a doorbell.  What usually happens next? Panic, dread, and undeniable fear.  Additionally, feeling physically sick, dizzy, numb, choking sensations, rapid heartbeat are all physiological symptoms that might follow the initial trigger.

This is what a flashback looks like, albeit in comic book form.  When someone endures a traumatic event–something that is life-threatening–they may develop what psychologists call “re-experiencing” symptoms. This might include having upsetting thoughts or memories of the event, or even flashbacks, which is when someone acts or feels as though they are experiencing the event all over again. In this issue, Batgirl faces a new villain named Mirror (aptly named, since his violent acts reflect the Joker’s in Batgirl’s psyche).  At the apex of this issue, Batgirl faces Mirror head-on, his gun pointed at her midsection, and she finds herself frozen.  She’s instantly reminded of her assault, which triggers a fight-or-flight reaction.  When our mind recognizes a threatening situation in our environment (“OH, GOD, OH GOD, I MIGHT DIE“), it sends messages to our body which then undergoes a series of physiological symptoms.  The feeling of being completely incapacitated or numb is quite common for trauma survivors.  The last scenes of Batgirl #1 depict a realistic and heart-wrenching conceptualization of post-traumatic stress responses. Whether she’s having heightened distress due to vivid memories of her trauma, or if she’s actually having a flashback–we can’t be sure–but we certainly sense that even though she has regained use of her legs, Barbara Gordon hasn’t fully recovered from Joker’s attack.

So many questions came to mind when I finished reading this issue.  Will Batgirl’s flashbacks ever remit?  And if they don’t, are these distressing symptoms her form of kryptonite? Will villains eventually learn of this vulnerability and try to use it to defeat her?

Of course I’m wondering if Batgirl pursues professional psychological help. Simone portrays both Barbara and Batgirl as experiencing post-traumatic distress–so which one would end up on the couch? And if a therapist makes an appearance, will we finally see a doctor who is strong and sharp in her own right, as well as heroic and healthy, without the inclination to turn to villainy? Yes, perhaps for personal reasons, I’d like to see a doctor who doesn’t turn bad.

“The Joker never beat me.

                         The bullet never beat me.” 

This case is certainly far from being closed.  But presently, Barbara’s self-affirmations might be extremely powerful for both men and women who have survived traumatic events, whether those were combat, rape, beatings, or abuse.  Batgirl #1 gives us such powerful statements that represent resiliency and recovery–and these concepts deserve to be part of Batgirl’s canon.

3 Responses to “Batgirl #1: She who never forgets”

  1. I-Doll says:

    I think the reason it’s so important to so many of us that Barbara remembers is because it validates us: We/a close loved one went through something traumatic, and we had to not only survive it when it happened, but also the aftermath.
    And that’s why Batgirl represents triumph to us: she actually deals with it in full, not just a one story issue deal or one line I-can-do-it, but a full on, feeling the effects and dealing with all of it deal. That is a powerful connection from we the readers, who’ve had to deal with something, even years after, a character who does as well.

    And Gail Simone to her credit just doesn’t write these scenes to make a dramatic moment for Batgirl, but rather to be honest about Batgirl. This is all the more important in a time, where a blame/ignore what the victim went through mentality is on the rise.

    And this, in my opinion, is how Batgirl defeats Joker, more than anyone else. Batgirl takes his just-one-bad-day attack and defeats it, but yes, she has to defeat it over the long haul, just like all us survivors do. And by doing so, Batgirl defeats it for others survivors too: her father and other Joker victims too.

    All of this is what makes Batgirl one of the most important DC 52 comic stories for all of us.

  2. Lee Drake says:

    I think that it’s important to see our heroes overcome adversity, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional.
    So many of us allow our tragedies to define who we are. Personally, I look forward to the day that Barbara can answer a door without breaking out in a cold sweat. That is the true victory.

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