Barbs is back in action on her return to Burnside in this 7th issue of Batgirl Rebirth: Son of the Penguin, Part 1. Now at first I was skeptical of even beginning this series, Birds of Prey of course I always knew would be phenomenal, but I was less inclined to think the same of Batgirl’s solo run. Which is ironic considering Barbara Gordon is my favorite DC character. It’s hard to imagine anything topping Gail Simone’s run on New 52 Batgirl (cough *bias* cough), even considering how much more successful Rebirth has been. I was pleasantly surprised with the first six issue arc of Batgirl rebirth, though for different standards than I was initially looking at specifically.
I won’t go into too much detail here since I’ll be producing a review on the first 6 issues very soon, but where I expected some sort of darkness to Batgirl, I found a very light hearted read. High in humor, witty writing, and of course an expansion of location as Barbara travels around Asia. Yet most surprising is that Batgirl’s dilemmas tend to focus on her inner demons or facing some fact that drives her to near phobia, an example being her PTSD in “Darkest Reflection”. Now she takes a social justice role similar to Green Arrow Rebirth, which at the surface hits with a very shallow, constantly repeated issue but upon further reading starts to root in real world issues, adding a medium to spread these messages.
Penguin has a…son?
Arguably the weirdest part of the issue, either because of the fact that Oswald Cobblepot can reproduce or that he actually did. But I digress, Ethan Cobblepot. At first glance he’s a far cry from his father, in more ways than just appearance. We saw him at the very end of issue 6 and then again midway through the current. Upon Barbs return to Burnside and her commentary of the growing gentrification, she’s invited by Frankie to a party. Hipsters or not, she needs to get out somewhere other than patrolling and school. As expected, Hipsters do what they do best. Annoy the crap out of people.
Ethan swoops upon her in admiration with his own brand of social justice vigilantism, clearly appealing to Batgirl. The one issue I found exhausting with this scene, however, is the constant trope of Barbara being hit on, asked out and then her juggling whether she’s lonely or needs to focus on herself. This carries on to her appearances in other comics, like Nightwing. I get that Barbs is still young and single but it hardly moves the story in any way. I mean even Dick got the hint all the way from Bludhaven.
Speaking of Dick, though, he makes a very valid point. Can we really trust Ethan? Hope Larson does a really good job at revealing just the bare minimum about him that we can’t really make an opinion on whether he’s a Good Samaritan as he’s letting off? On the other hand, the apple may not fall too far from the tree, for all we know he could be a far better at manipulation than his father. This is a scary thought indeed.
Gentrification is in the air in Burnside.
As a Brooklyn native, the theme of this issue hit home. Barbs homecoming to Burnside shows us how in so little time that gentrification was already rooted in the borough rises to the surface and changes the familiar. On her first patrol back, Batgirl hilariously stops two would be wrong doers from returning dog crap to a pet store. Even funnier is the sadness Barbs feels at the loss of her favorite coffee shop, I may have chuckled a bit too much at this panel. In keeping up with the light-hearted nature of the series there are a few jokes tossed around concerning Burnside’s transformation that we can honestly laugh about when talking about similar real neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Flatbush.
Yet the tone quickly converts to the offensive during the part scene homeless are scolded about, referred to as disease ridden hazards to normal people. Someone even makes an app to deal with them when seen on the streets. Of course, Batgirl quickly investigates this while waiting for her date with Ethan. As expected, the app’s way of dealing with these homeless is less than savory when a known Penguin associate is pulling the strings of the operation. Could this villains association with the Penguin implicate Ethan or is it merely a coincidence? Whatever the answer it is clear that the running theme will be to touch on issues of social justice and that whether Ethan is on Barbs side or not, he will be a central figure in what is going on.
This was probably my biggest positive of this issue. While Rafael Albuquerque isn’t a bad artist, I felt like his work was bland at best. His covers were very minimalist at best and only redeemed by David McCaig on colors. Chris Wildgoose and Mat Lopes replaced them for #7 and I was glad for it. Their work compliments each other and made a much-need edition from overly sketchy and cartoonish to more natural expressions, emotion, and a far more vivid and dynamic portrayal.
The covers just really didn’t do it for me in the first six issues, but because it was Batgirl I picked them up anyway. Issue #7’s cover was a nice change, like Larson’s writing it didn’t reveal too much of the story’s plot, but just enough to crave more. Clearly Batgirl zipping about with books falling out of her bag shows that she’s juggling both her life as Barbara and Batgirl but may not have time for both. The ominous one eyed figure in the background could be Ethan, one-eyed of course symbolizing The Penguin and his monocle (The title also give it away, heh).
The start of this arc was quick and to the point, yet Larson’s excellent script kept me hooked and engaged with every character that appeared. Even without a cliffhanger I’m eager to pick the next issue to see what Ethan’s deal is and how his own vigilante group handles Burnsides gentrification and the problems it brings. The issues are personal and affect many in the real world and it’s good to see this theme being explored from both sides of the fence. Though some tropes are quickly being overused in the series as a whole, they are not without significance; most of them anyway. Larson is not Gail Simone and perhaps that is a good thing. Though light hearted in her writing, she brings something completely new to the table with her themes and her very real world attitude. I’m excited to see where the story goes with Penguin’s son and what it means for Barbs in a constantly changing environment. The art, as I said, is much better than the first six issues and the covers far more engaging and have much more personality. On my scale of rating I give this issue…
DC Universe Rebirth Batgirl #7: Son of the Penguin, Part 1
Script: Hope Larson
Pencils, Ink, and Cover: Chris Wildgoose
Colors: Mat Lopes
Letters: Deron Bennett
All Images Courtesy Of DC Comics