By Molly Jane Kremer. I like my superhero comics to be fun. (I’ve said as much in a handful of reviews already.) While there is a place for the dark and moody pathos of Brian Michael Bendis’ (superlative) Daredevil, Mark Waid’s recent, more optimistic reimagining of Matt Murdock was met by both critical and reader acclaim. I love both immensely, but I would so much rather read a comic that’s going to leave me feeling exhilarated and joyous. Heroes’ flashbacks of childhood trauma have become dime-a-dozen, and even the idealistic Superman is shown far too often brooding in shadow, lit only by the dim red of his laser vision.
Enter the new Batgirl, redesigned and only ever-so-slightly-relaunched by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr and Maris Wicks. In 2011, when DC decided to give Barbara Gordon back the Batgirl cowl – and the use of her legs – in their rebooted New52 universe, it was because Barbara was considered “the most recognizable” Batgirl. Yet they strangely decided to keep her more in line with the rest of the Batverse’s brooding Gothamites – and reeling from PTSD – instead of going back to what made Babs’ Batgirl so memorable in the first place: pluck, relatability, and exuberance. This new creative team has brought her back to these roots, with a decidedly modern spin.
The issue starts abruptly with Barbara moving to the trendy Gotham neighborhood of Burnside, her now former-roommate Alysia bidding her a fond farewell. I haven’t read Batgirl since the first storyline, and the issue’s need to bridge itself with the last run left me a little cold. It would have been great to give the book a fresh start for all the new readers that will be jumping on (this book pretty much defines “massive crossover appeal”), but considering this isn’t a new issue #1 for a new series, I suppose that continuity needed to move forward somehow.
There’s more of an emphasis on Barbara’s youth now, despite the fact that she’s been age 21 ever since the reboot. Only now is there a real (and successful) attempt to make her relatable to readers around her own age, especially to the modern urban early-twenty-something. There are money problems and school troubles to deal with, but there are also housewarming parties (where Barbara hooks up with a dreamboat), and waking up with debilitating hangovers. (But beware, even hungover, Babs will still chase down – and eff up – any perp that comes her way.)
Another huge part of this transformation is the effervescent art of newcomer Babs Tarr. Like Karl Kerschl on Gotham Academy, her art is a breath of fresh air in the stale and musty basement that is DC’s house style. Tarr is working from breakdowns by co-writer (and Eisner-award-winning artist himself) Cameron Stewart, which has certainly helped this comic be so much better than a first-foray-into-sequential-storytelling has any right to be. Her sense of fashion and style is top-notch, and her inking is brushy, expressive, and gorgeous. Additionally, Maris Wick’s colors switch seamlessly from the flat backgrounds of action-filled panels to the dynamic neon colors of a nightclub, belonging to bad guy Riot Black.
Much of the plot concerns texting, dating apps, and various other modern techy trappings, and it has a very timely villain in Riot Black, who acquires illegally-obtained blackmail material from peoples’ cellphones and laptops. He also has a cybernetic implant that gives him a photographic memory (making him the literal, creeptastic personification of “the internet is forever”) along with absolutely no qualms about making every last lurid thing public. This is a person I’d actually be afraid of – and the kind of person I’m much more likely to come across in life than some manic green-haired guy with a carved-in smile. I hope they continue with these relevant baddies; I really enjoyed seeing Batgirl kick the guy’s ass, and erase every last bit of his ill-earned data. I also hope the use of hashtags in Riot Black’s word bubbles is a one-time-only thing; while I can see how it fits with his internet-saturated character, I found it distracting and a bit pandering. (Which could have been the intent.)
Barbara lives up to wearing the Bat-symbol with her detective skills in this issue, and it’s exciting to see her photographic memory in action instead of simply hearing about it. The first splash page in the issue is Babs chasing a suspect through the city, and you can see, drawn out on a zig-zagging streetmap behind her, the route she’s using to catch and find him. Later on, there’s a double-page spread of Barbara walking back through her photographic memory of the housewarming party to look for clues about a stolen laptop and cellphones. It’s a stand-out visual in an already gorgeous issue, even if it seems to owe a bit to the BBC’s Sherlock. Tarr renders every separate attendee at the party so lovingly, each with their own unique hair, tattoos, clothing, even shoes. The party itself is colored in shimmering shades of blue, and we follow Barbara (in normal color) around the crowded room, finally discovering her suspect with her, colored in glowing red.
Barbara has no need for the Batcave’s computers in this issue; it’s nice to see her independent of Batman after her years under his tutelage. It feels like a graduation of sorts, and she successfully solves this case on her own. There was one familiar face in Dinah Lance, who still remained out of costume for the issue. Dinah’s introduction itself felt a little off, only in that it felt, once again, like shoe-horning a no-longer-relevant story from the previous issues of both Batgirl and Birds of Prey. (Tarr draws her wonderfully, though.) I’m looking forward to seeing how being away from the Bat-Signal and the oh-so-long shadow it casts can help Batgirl develop further as a character.
Much to-do has been made of Cameron Stewart’s redesign of the Batgirl costume, and I’m just as in love with it as Tumblr (and most everyone else) is. It’s fashionable and functional, and while still feminine it steers well away from the male-gaze-dominated norm. The book itself tries to rise above the typical (and stereotypical) in superhero comics. We see a diverse cast, same-sex couples, and a decidedly lovely lack of slut-shaming. This is a book full of accessible and engaging escapism, and it’s a great example of how welcoming to new audiences a comic can be.
Cameron Stewart once said, in an interview with ComicsAlliance, “[Batgirl] can have a dark past, but it doesn’t have to define her present.” While he was talking about the new lighthearted and fun direction of this comic, superhero comics themselves don’t need to continue in the dark ages either. Batgirl – along with Ms. Marvel, Edge of Spider-Verse’s Spider-Gwen, Gotham Academy, and Captain Marvel – is making it look like there’s a real trend towards more inclusive, inviting comics. And I can’t think of anything more fun than comics made for everyone.
Written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher.
Art by Babs Tarr.
Breakdowns by Cameron Stewart.
Colored by Maris Wick.
9 out of 10