REVIEW: BATGIRL #35

It’s a brand new start for Barbara Gordon in BATGIRL #35 under the pens of Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart and art by Babs Tarr. The question is, is this fresh new start for Batgirl good or not?
First, this book has been highly publicized, not only because the new art team breaks free from the current DC “house style” but it also is something of a soft boot in general. It’s brought along a homespun costume redesign for Babs, making it more casual and bare bones, and a new tone  180% away from Gail Simone’s run since the reboot. This switch bring it back closer to Stephanie Brown’s “Buffy” like Batgirl, or more accurate, a grown-up BATGIRL: YEAR ONE. My consensus; this is all good, spectacular even, given it’s respective pieces, if only it had been an AU.
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Babs has decided to move to a burrow in Gotham called Burnside, a trendy hipster haven for artists and young people, in order to attend gradate school.  This means a whole new lifestyle and roommate, Frankie, who seems friendly enough, though it’s a bit disappointing to see Alysia go. From the get go Fletcher and Stewart have a stronger feel for what younger people actually are like than Gail Simone, who struggled to find a good balance for Babs in terms of a youthful tone. It seems Babs, who was to my knowledge was ambiguously anywhere from 21-23 is now a canon 21. Unless that’s been established and I’ve been missing out, that still feels too young for me. The main narrative mystery, which is a good one, is that someone has been stealing tech, cellphones, laptops, etc from people at house parties and there’s an underlying mystery as to why. Meanwhile all of Babs stuff has been conveniently burned in a fire (along with Dinah’s house) leaving her at square one.
POSITIVES
Babs Tarr’s art is gorgeous, coloring by Maris Wicks is sublime and punchy. It looks trendy, feels young and more independent-y than traditional comic book artwork especially at DC, perfect for the tumblr artist crowd and for fans of newer titles being released outside the Big Two. The visual breakdown and utilization of Babs photographic memory sort of Minority Report or what people may call “Sherlock” style, with her having recall of objects and people is nifty and something that’s long been missed. It’s a great usage and certainly shows off her unique abilities that set her apart from other people in the Batfamily; she’s cerebral. She’s a living computer.
The story is also really good for the most part. Black Canary makeover is also one of the coolest I’ve seen yet, with a distinct platinum blonde or rather, white, hair. I enjoyed her yelling at Babs, calling her selfish. If it’s one thing the reboot Babs has been, it has been selfish. I additionally enjoy that Babs is a bit less unburdened by her trauma, but it’s almost wiped clean too much. Therein lies a problem.
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NEGATIVES
This Babs, despite narrative ties that tell us so, and the Alysia send-off, is not the same Babs from Gail’s run. She’s made more youthful and that’s not a bad thing, as stated Gail Simone struggled writing modern young people correctly, but it’s dialed back too much. She feels more like Misfit or a younger, Year One or Two Babs. Not a girl who has been shot by the Joker and is at risk to being damaged again by I’d assume nothing more than a really well placed punch or a fall. Can you please show like a scar? Anything? DC is just forgetting this condition. She’s 100% able.
I’m not asking to dwell on this past, we saw how well that did for Gail Simone underneath editorial’s tight leash, but Babs here comes off as much more inexperienced than she needs to be. Her costume, while nice looking is not someone with said healed spinal injury should be wearing. Her kevlar armor look was not impractical. The casual homespun looks that are starting to trickle in for costumed heroes are more often than not appropriate and fine departures from previous latex and vacuum sealed boob looks, but Babs didn’t have anything wrong with her gear. It was not the problem with her book. It fit with what she went up against, she needs the armor. You could have simply cleaned up the armor’s lines (streamlined), flattened the chest plate, and given it the rad purple color and yellow accessories that this one boasts. This is too lo-tech. I hope the look stays, but her gear gets upgraded because this is just the wrong thing to be wearing. It’s Misfit as Batgirl, or Babs in Year One.
If this indeed was an AU where she was never shot and this was reboot Babs from the start, or even a rebooted origin story, it would be fine. Likewise, Babs’ apparent refusal to utilize any of Bruce Wayne’s funds to fund her heroing and life seems a bit odd.  Most people would accept his help and it not mean anything other than allowing them to hero the best to their ability. That does not make her his sidekick, it means she’s a part of the Batfamily.
This of course calls into question whether her attempting to live a normal life after all that’s happened to her  is something that she should even try to do or not by this point. How is Babs ever going to have time to hero when at grad school plus whatever job 0r two she needs to do in order to not have an overdrawn bank account as shown in the comic? It’s just not possible. Many of my friends in their mid twenties are working 8-12+ hour work days and still aren’t making enough money to do much of anything. If she let Bruce fund her in certain ways, that would Batgirl-035-(2014)-(Digital)-(Nahga-Empire)-013certainly solve many of her problems. If pride is in the way, I’d think that was pretty foolish, particularly when choosing to wear a Bat. I know, “comics”, but their stab at domestic hipster realism here already has holes the moment they try to continue the Babs is broke thing. If she chooses to live that way, that’s her being difficult, not with the resources at hand that can make her a better hero.
When she became Oracle, she did more or less swap a regular life with that of being a superhero full-time. Does it make sense for a Babs to try to be ordinary by now, having been a fugitive, the ordeal with her brother? Why aren’t the press hounding her about her father (assuming ETERNAL is already in full swing?) and why aren’t people having a particular reaction to her concerning her being the daughter of Jim Gordon? I’d imagine she (and Batgirl) wouldn’t be very popular right now. One additional nit-pick; Black Canary, while I dig her new look, suddenly seems much younger, which confused me as I’d assume she was in her mid to late 20’s at the least as she was once married and had a much more mature feel. The sudden super Gotham locality for Canary, while I knew was always there but has never really defined Dinah as a Gothamite, feels strange.
VERDICT
A tone shift was certainly needed, and while I like it, it makes her look a bit too young to truly feel appropriate and in continuity with the dark drudgery that was the first three years of her return to the Batgirl mantle and the current goings in ETERNAL.While I understand doing a “rip the band-aid” type tone shift may indeed be the correct way to sweep that era away, for me a more gradual shift or a more less domestic approach would have been more preferable. Dick Grayson is out being a super spy, and Babs is out beating up thieves in a park. It’s not a lot of growth for Babs, who I’d prefer a chance to really grow beyond this C-list neighborhood brawler who is being confused for a teenager and looking like had Misfit been given the cowl.
Give her a more global, bombastic book. Let Babs travel the world and put on disguises, infiltrate bases and use her computer smarts to hack computers. Something other than constantly knocking her back to square one. Mod super spy feel, a bit of comedy, with retro leanings bringing to mind the 60’s show. A comedic answer to Marvel’s Black Widow or even a light parody.
Gail Simone’s Babs while inept and angsty despite herself, felt like a young woman that could grow really well under the right writers hands to take her away from Gotham and work through her issues, which are a lot. This one doesn’t feel like it has that early sense of maturity and it doesn’t feel like she has gone through what’s she gone through. Likewise the return to a tone similar though not quite the same as Steph’s Batgirl makes me wonder had they given a (in some manner, healed) Babs, Steph and Cass a team Batgirl book with this creative team at the beginning of the reboot, what kind of sales it would have garnered. I think it would have done extremely well, and could of spared us the last 32 some issues of Babs suffering underneath Gail Simone’s heavily dictated by editorial (and effectively neutered) pen.
It’s good on it’s own, but it’s not good enough as a clear continuation. Babs has many traumas (or rather, should) and while I want her to heal and persevere, you can’t just sweep it underneath her like this. I want to see her getting help. I want to see people helping her more than ever. She’s suddenly way too unburdened and this feels like coping in an escapist way that ultimately is not healthy. Again, “comics” but  I really wish for more continuity here even if the tone is lighter. Additionally when both Bluebird and Spoiler are better equipped than Batgirl, you know something’s a bit off here. Babs deserves a bit more. This rates high due to its individual parts, and I think it will be fun if you think of it as an AU, but as a whole I am still ultimately disappointed and wonder how this Babs will gel with the rest of the Batfamily in crossovers. Hopefully they won’t let us down and finally let Babs grow.

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  • chortles81

    “and I think it will be fun if you think of it as an AU”

    Considering that Knightfall didn’t even make sense in the context of a Gotham where Batman holds sway, I can COMPLETELY see both Simone and Fletcher/Stewart’s Batgirl runs as an AU relative to the other Batman books… and I’m not sure I actually mind that*.

    “but as a whole I am still ultimately disappointed and wonder how this Babs will gel with the rest of the Batfamily in crossovers.”

    At this point in time the answer seems to be “studiously going out of their way to ignore one another.”

    * Who, who, WHO OK’d the Silver two-parter? WHO?!