This post contains spoilers about Batgirl #35 – #39, plus the Batgirl segment of Secret Origins #10.
In the first issue of Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher and Babs Tarr‘s run on the title, the cover shows Batgirl in the restroom of a club taking a mirror selfie. This didn’t just signify the style the comic was to be presented in (where, for example, location changes are prompted with status updates as Barbara checks in) but foreshadowed what the first arc is about. This Batgirl run is a story about our online identities.
Each of us exists online as multiple versions of our selves; depending on how we use different networks, our profile there will vary. There may be one network where we portray our professional lives, one where we connect with family, another where we date and somewhere else where we express a deeply devoted fandom. On each of these networks the version of our selves we project is an aspect of us seen through filters and lenses, and we are the ones who shape each particular projection.
The problems Barbara Gordon faces are those of online projections of her Batgirl persona that are not in her control. It’s identity theft on a superhero scale. In their first issue writing Batgirl, she faces off Riot Black, a obnoxious party animal who runs a site that shares stolen personal photos. She uses her own secret identity as a bargaining chip and tricks Black, giving her the opportunity to erase his entire data store.
Subsequently we discover there’s someone out there who knows Barbara is Batgirl, and as the intrusions into the Batgirl identity escalate, they begin to bleed into her personal life. An art exhibit of “Batgirl” portraits includes a wheelchair-bound Batgirl hits close to home. Two cosplayers take their hobby to the extreme when they’re contacted by someone claiming to be Batgirl, hiring them to attack her. Another Batgirl appears in Burnside and tries to hijack the celebrity that comes with a cape and cowl.
The guy she’s seeing knows details of her personal life from conversations she doesn’t recall. The dating site, Hooq, is having technical problems of increasing severity and, in issue 39, is hacked to issue a bounty on Batgirl, setting the residents of Burnside against her.
At the end of issue 39 (and in the subsequent story in Secret Origins #10), we learn how the surgery that repaired Barbara’s spine required taking ‘snapshots’ of her brain. We knew that these provided the basis for Barbara’s thesis, but it seems there’s a sentient version of Barbara, created from these snapshots, that now exists online (a construct of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, if you want to use terminology from William Gibson’s Neuromancer). Just as the real, physical version Barbara feels she must protect the city, that she must be Batgirl, so does this digital version. The issue leaves us set up for a fight for the title of Batgirl between the IRL Barbara and an online representation of her.
Will this ‘digital’ Batgirl not be able to see the physical Barbara as anything other than someone who has taken her place, or will they be able to reconcile their existences and protect Burnside as allies? In essence, could Barbara find herself as both Batgirl, on the streets fighting crime, and Oracle, fighting crime through being hooked into digital networks?
The hero personalities she has adopted, Batgirl and Oracle, are both projections of Barbara Gordon we’ve seen through the history of DC Comics, and in this story we’re seeing how the collision of a persons multiple identities can be problematic, just as if the ‘me’ of your dating profile was suddenly introduced to your family or work colleagues.