This review is based off a volume that collects Batgirl #1-6.
For me, the past five or six years of Batgirl comics have been a mixed bag. Don’t get me wrong, I love the character of Barbara Gordon and am not naysaying any creators who’ve worked on the books by any means. It’s just that the tone of each particular run has been undoubtedly polarizing.
I think we can all agree that Gail Simone is a master of her craft, but some felt her New 52 tour of Batgirl went too dark, a product of that era. Personally, I really dug the material she put out. Gotham City is a dark, rough place and I like my comics to reflect that.
But when Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr took over, they moved Ms. Gordon to Burnside, a hipster borough, and gave the book a very “young” feel, I’d say. To its credit, it made creative use of the titular character’s eidetic memory and generously charted new territory. Although, you did have to set aside some time when reading each issue because, to borrow a line from Adam Hughes’ Betty and Veronica #1, they contained “more balloons than the house from Up.”
With Hope Larson now at the wheel, it really does seem like she’s following the precedent set by Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr, but has added her own flourishes. For one, she’s taken Batgirl out of Burnside (hence the title of the book), sending her on a soul-searching trip to the Far East. As such, this arc will likely come as a breath of fresh air for some, yet satisfy folks on both sides of the fence.
As for the artwork, that’s provided by the talented Rafael Albuquerque. While not a complete departure from his recent work on American Vampire or Batman, he has tweaked his style ever so slightly so it’s more fitting for this character, with a big assist going to colorist Dave McCaig. I actually found it to be a smooth transition from the previous run, as it won’t seem at all alien to returning readers.
Funny as it is, Babs seeks out the wisdom of Fruit Bat, a Japanese costumed vigilante who emerged in 1939 (the same year Batman debuted in the pages of Detective Comics #27). Their interaction has its charm – not to mention great influence on our heroine later in the story, so pay attention – but it’s her childhood friend Kai who is possibly the most important guest star here.
If you wagered a guess that he quickly morphs into her love interest, you’d be right. With Barbara and Nightwing being so off and on, I just tend to think of them as a couple by default and they’re only broken up whenever a new love interest for either is there to service the current story to be told. Something tells me some of you will agree with that statement.
As it turns out, Kai’s up to something fishy, causing Babs to get caught up in a web of bio-encrypted formulas, MMA and college entry exams. I know, it’s all pretty crazy and I’m wondering if Larson pieced this together from an already completed Mad Libs book she found lying around an airport. On the plus side, it reads really well and makes for an exciting page turner, even if some of the dots Batgirl connects during her investigation seem like a bit of a leap.
The diabolical mind behind it all is known as the Teacher, who seemed scarier before she was revealed. Her look is pretty cool, but her backstory was a bit cliché (“my parents were drug dealers, I didn’t get into a good school, etc.”). Her defeat is also a bit weird. Long story short, Barbara shuts off her eidetic memory (can you even do that?) in order to think clearer in the midst of a fight. Beyond that, everything else in the arc is tied up with a nice bow. I guess you could say the journey was more satisfying than the destination.
This volume concludes with a standalone tale that sees Batgirl forced to team up with Poison Ivy on her flight back to Gotham City. Long story short, a prehistoric plant Ivy thought was a fossil awakens in the cargo hold and threatens to crash the plane. What follows is straightforward story that would’ve felt right at home as part of The Batman Adventures, and I mean that as a serious compliment.
Overall, Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside is a slick, addictive read even if the narrative and dialogue hit a few speed bumps along the way. Rest assured that it may be one of the friendlier collections for new readers that Rebirth has offered to this point.
Although Beyond Burnside is not without its flaws, it's a Batgirl story that pretty much anybody should be able to enjoy.