Comic Picks By The Glick

Batgirl vol. 1: Batgirl of Burnside

July 4, 2015

It wasn’t expected to be a mini-phenomenon which got DC Comics to broaden its scope in what titles it sold to reach a new audience, but that’s what this latest revamp of “Batgirl” by writer/breakdown artist Cameron Stewart, co-writer Brenden Fletcher, and artist Babs Tarr did.  What I really don’t know is why they decided to release the softcover edition of this volume day-and-date with the hardcover.  It’s why you’re reading this now and I hope they try this with more series going forward.  This approach also means that (for what it’s worth to them) DC has one more positive review to add to the accolades this title has received.  Even if some of the stories being told here have been done before, the execution is fresh and exciting enough to make up for that.

Barbara Gordon is making a fresh start of things.  She’s living in a new neighborhood, got a new circle of friends, and pursuing a graduate thesis based on an algorithm she created to predict crime.  Of course, with Burnside still being part of Gotham City, there are also its share of outlandish criminals to contend with.  From a douchebag with a cyberbrain who doxxes his victims on social media, to a pair of motorcycle warriors who cosplay as anime villains, and a pretentious artist with his own ideas about how Batgirl’s identity should be used, Barbara has her hands full in between contending with them and managing her blossoming social life.  It’s great fun for her, but there’s one person out there who can’t stand seeing her life like this.  Things only get worse when Barbara finds out that this person is… herself?

Tarr’s art makes an immediate impression when you start reading this volume.  There’s a vibrancy to it that’s unlike any other comic I’ve seen in the DCU in recent memory.  I love the detail Tarr puts into the characters’ expressions, as seeing Barbara wake up after a night of partying looking convincingly tired, and then flustered as she meets the guy she was making out with (while she’s still in her underwear, no less) is both amusing and endearing for the character in equal parts.  I also like how the artist visualizes Barbara’s photographic memory (with key assistance from colorist Maris Wicks) in ways that make it easy to see when she’s tapping into it.  The sequence early on when she wanders through her memory of the party the previous night and recalls the people who were there while her friends look them up on social media is expertly realized.  Tarr also whips up a number of slick action sequences throughout the volume, most of them involving the cool motorcycle the title character picks up in one issue.

The art is key to the volume’s success, but writers Stewart and Fletcher also find ways to make it feel new from a storytelling perspective.  I mentioned how Barbara’s friends use social media to investigate the people at a party, and all of the issues here are positively drenched in it.  You’ve got the evil doxxer in one arc, a social media hook-up site -- called HOOQ, of course -- that factors into nearly every storyline, rampant texting and posting to the DCU equivalent of Instagram, and more.  If you can’t stand that kind of stuff then this book will annoy you to no end.  However, Stewart and Fletcher utilize all this in a way that feels intrinsic to the book’s personality and current with the times as well.

There’s also the fact that this first volume feels like a great example of a female-driven book done right.  Barbara is presented as an immensely resourceful and capable protagonist who is more than up to the task of saving the day when the responsibility falls to her.  She’s not perfect, being a bit flighty at times and prone to enjoying the good times a bit too much, but these instances wind up being good excuses for the book to show off its supporting cast and what they have to offer.  We’ve got Frankie, who’s good with programming, Nadima, her research assistant who has the right answer for just about any situation, and her brother Qadir, who knows his tech.  Dinah “Black Canary” Lance also has a significant role in this volume as she was Barbara’s former partner in the “Birds of Prey” though their friendship is a little strained right now.  Their reconciliation is a significant part of this volume that, even if it does follow a predictable path, ultimately feels worthwhile in the end.

The predictability of that thread is typical of the volume actually.  For all the new trappings the creative team brings to it, this first volume of “Batgirl” doesn’t break the mold when it comes to the stories it’s telling.  I’ll admit that seeing Barbara dig deep into her memory to recall the anime she watched as a kid in order to defeat the evil cosplayers was cute, but they didn’t exactly represent an original threat.  Also, the over-arching mystery of this volume doesn’t really play out any differently than stories involving this kind of particular threat.  I will give the creators credit for basing the threat on Barbara’s mindset at a specific time in her life, which gives it some vitality in the sense that she’s pitting the person she was against the one she used to be.  In addition, I liked how the six issues collected here told several different stories while teasing out a longer-running one that took precedence in the end.  It reminds me of how comics used to read before “writing for the trade” became the default style.  (Just because I read almost nothing but trades doesn’t meant that everything should read like it was written for them.)

I guess that last paragraph is also telling about my feelings for this volume.  Even when I tried to address my issues with it, I wind up coming back to the things that it does right.  It’s easy to see why this series started a kind of sea change at DC as it presents traditional stories in a new way with an infectious sense of fun that makes buying into Barbara’s adventures very hard to resist.  This is miles away from what creators like Snyder and Capullo are doing in “Batman” proper, but it’s just as entertaining in its own right and with the added bonus of the paperback being released right alongside the hardcover.

Seriously DC, make that standard with ALL your releases now!

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

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