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  • Margaret A. Robbins, Ph.D

Cecil Castellucci's Batgirl: Love in the Time of Corona

“The fear of love not being returned lives in the deep recesses of our imaginations and torments us until we lose all faith. In stories, hopelessness burns like a fire through a heart. And hope in love is the gentle sudden rain that soothes” (Cestellucci, Batgirl, Volume 43)

Unrequited love is like a hunger that isn’t fed, and one that can cause great pain. Most of us have experienced this feeling at least once, some of us more than once, to the point where we feel, as Bilbo Baggins said in Lord of the Rings, “like butter scraped over too much bread.” Butter scraped over too much bread is a feeling a lot of us have during the age of the Coronavirus, just for different reasons. For the person looking for a new job, a parent trying to manage schooling kids at home while still working full time, the educator learning to teach online for the first time, the restaurant owner wondering how long he/she/they can keep things afloat, the outpouring amid uncertainty is draining.

This is a hard time for all of us. We might sometimes feel like we’ve loved the universe, and she’s not loving us back, at least not the way we want her to love us. But Angel reminded Connor in the Buffyverse spinoff show Angel: “Sometimes, what you want isn’t what other people need.” Right now, many of us are putting other people’s needs before our wants, simply put, because we have to.

We are always drawn to superhero stories because we believe the good guy is going to win, and along the way, he imparts wisdom upon us, even if he is a dark Angel. But right now, I feel myself drawn to the current Batgirl comic story in part because, like many fantasy stories, it’s about love. Batgirl has to slay a dragon, and Babs aka Barbara has to slay her fear of falling in love and not being loved in return. And even if someone loves us back, is he really who he says he is? Issue 44 leaves us with that question, and I am eager to read on to discover the answer, or at least the evolving journey toward the answer.

We have not yet slayed the dragon that is the Coronavirus. We are gearing up our weapons and forging a plan, but Coronavirus is a dragon that we have not yet defeated. But for me, and perhaps for many others, stories are setting me free during this time, or at least granting me with a temporary sense of escapism. Will we slay the dragon? Hopefully so, but how will we love each other and the universe along the way, even when we are afraid? In a time of uncertainty, I believe we are drawn to fantasy stories not only because they are grounded in love, but because we believe in the hero’s ability to slay the dragon.

The behavior of the universe is much more uncertain than that of a dragon, especially during times of crisis. Unfortunately, romantic love is uncertain as well. But even though Babs sees Jason as a risk, she ultimately decides to go down the path of romantic love and slay her fears. What fears are warranted during this time, and which ones do we need to slay? What battles do we need to fight, even against the dragons that are hard to defeat? During more time inside and alone, perhaps there is a time to fight the internal dragons, the ones that are keeping us from loving again, from writing the new chapter in life, literally or metaphorically. In the process, maybe the universe will love us back in a way we did not anticipate.

In a time where we feel less hope, perhaps this is the period to embrace stories of love and fantasy in addition to the apocalyptic and dystopian stories because, honestly, those might feel too close to home. This might be the time to read the stories of love and the stories of slaying the dragons. Embracing story is a way of loving ourselves back, and also giving ourselves permission to slay the toughest of the dragons. Love in tough times, such as the Coronavirus, is often the most important love we can have.

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