Oh, Barbara Gordon. Could you be any more charming?
I’ll preface my review with this: I generally don’t read the Bat-books. I love Gail Simone and I plan on getting her run on Batgirl, but my perception of Batman’s titles are that he’s pretty bland and I’m not a fan of the gritty take on superheroes. I’ve read some Robin here and there, but for the most part my DC knowledge extends to the Flash.
Plus, I did at least know DC decided to take Babs out of the wheelchair and turn her back into Batgirl. That was frustrating. I mean, yeah, it means Babs gets to do the ass-kicking, but to my knowledge she’d had a fully-fledged identity crafted as Oracle, and taking away her disabled status just takes away one of the few disabled characters we get in media.
But then I heard the creative team–writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, artist Babs Tarr , and colorist Maris Wicks (female creators!)–describe the new run as mixing Veronica Mars and Girls, and I knew I couldn’t stay away (MTV). I love me some Veronica Mars, and combining that with the publicity Babs’ new costume got, I was excited.
For the most part, that excitement paid off. It begins with Barbara moving away from her old apartment and into a trendier part of Gotham, called Burnside. Her roommate Alysia bids her goodbye and reminds her she’s always welcome, so it seems like she’ll still be a figure in the comic, but after that Babs is back out on the town. The issue’s conflict is almost immediately introduced, with revenge-porn mogul/douchebag club owner Riot Black facing protests from Alysia and her group, although it’s not mentioned again for a while.
In the first three or four pages alone, we’re introduced to multiple queer characters and people of color. It’s pretty great from a representation perspective, and seeing Barbara with a love interest that may not be white made me pretty dang happy. We get a few more people throughout the issue of varying races and sexualities, and though the pace is breakneck, we get bits and pieces of the people that will now be surrounding Babs.
Even things that seem inconsequential–Barbara’s new friends talking about a Tinder-esque dating app called Hooq, for instance–come back into play later on when Barbara tracks down things stolen from her and her friends. Even during the A-plot of finding Barbara’s stuff and fighting Riot Black, Stewart and Fletcher manage to include smaller parts of Barbara’s life, including the research funding she wanted and the living funds she lacks. The creative team manages to weave in pieces of college life with the superheroics, and after a two-page spread showing Barbara’s photographic memory, I was sold. Stewart and Fletcher do a fantastic job of balancing superheroics with humanizing heroes, and it never once feels fake-trendy or unrealistic. There’s even some great commentary about wielding dating profiles as a mask while remaining one’s true self.
Tarr also nails the creation of Batgirl’s new outfit, showing Barbara using the resources she can and making a kick-ass costume from ordinary supplies. It’s cosplay and superhero-friendly.
Unfortunately, due to having to cram in Barbara’s new social circle, explaining who she is for new readers, the subplot with her new costume and Dinah Lance, and the primary plot of fighting Riot Black and his crew, the issue moves at an unnecessarily-breakneck speed. I had to read it a few times over to get exactly who each person was, and though Barbara’s way of foiling Riot Black through Snapchat Snapgab is genius, there’s some wasted potential with Riot Black’s cybernetic implants–we only see them for a panel or two.
Though I have some minor quibbles with the writing, the issue itself is gorgeous: the colors pop and contrast well, the characters all are dressed realistically, and Tarr does great work with expressions. Her action scenes flow well, too, and feel dynamic. The first part of the confrontation with Riot Black, in particular, was great, and the faces in that scene walk the line of disgusting and ridiculous really well. I’ll be looking out for more from Tarr for sure.
A side-note: Barbara interacts with a ridiculously-hipster barista at one point, and it made me legitimately laugh. Perhaps that’s the barista in me talking, though.
Just like I had a minor issue with the writing, though, I have one with the art. Specifically, Dinah; she looks much too young in this issue. It’s made clear she’s older through the dialogue, and Stewart and Fletcher keep her voice separate from Barbara’s, but looks like she’s Barbara’s age, and in a book about a younger superhero, it’s a little odd. Again, though, it’s only a minor problem, because for the most part this issue knocks it out of the park.
Stewart, Fletcher, Wicks, and Tarr not only managed to get me hooked on their run, but interested enough to check out Simone’s previous run. Batgirl feels like nothing else in DC’s current lineup, and it’s going to be something to keep your eye on.
Images courtesy DC Comics