Do you remember the first time you were dropped off at sleep-away camp? That sticky-sweet feeling of being left to your own devices, and almost caring that you know better, but doing it anyway… yeah, definitely doing it anyway. It’s freedom, it’s independence. It’s arranging your belongings on a shelf, and hoping that someone asks you about them. It’s picking your bunk and finding your tribe. It’s forgetting about the names they called you in gym class, or that your best friend started sitting at another lunch table this year, and that you definitely were not invited to join them. Somehow, your parents constant bickering becomes less important than your new camp-friends’ romantic interests or the tattoos they want to get in half a decade, when it is legal for them to do so. You start to find the borders of yourself. You get to be yourself on your terms, for the first time, ever. “Batgirl” #35 is kind of Barbara Gordon’s version of that moment.
Written by Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher
Illustrated by Babs Tarr
Barbara Gordon is no stranger to dusting herself off when disaster strikes… so when a fire destroys everything she owned, she spots the opportunity for a new lease on life — and seizes it! Following the rest of Gotham’s young adults to the hip border district of Burnside, Barbara sets about building an all-new Batgirl… and discovers all-new threats preying on her peers! It’s a re-invention of Batgirl from the boots up, by the incredible creative team of Cameron Stewart (BATMAN INC.), Brenden Fletcher (WEDNESDAY COMICS), and rising star Babs Tarr!
“Batgirl” #35 finds Barbara Gordon bidding farewell to Gotham proper, packing her things and moving to Burnside, the hip, up-and-coming area of town. She is separating herself from the Bat-family and the Gordon family alike. Striking out on her own is significant for Babs, and for her audience. This move gives Barbara her own space, and that’s promising. It is going to be much more difficult for the protagonist of this series to end up in someone’s refrigerator if she is picking up takeout in Burnside instead of preparing hot cocoa in Gotham. Taking Batgirl out of the cave may allow her to become her own hero.
Tarr’s joyful and vibrant artwork sort of steals my heart. Normally, I lean toward the dark and brooding, but there is something so right about what she has done here. Her compositions are downright enchanting. Every character emotes well, and each one has a unique style of dress that sets them apart. These characters have wardrobes, they are fashionable at times, comfortable in other instances, but always expressive in their self presentation. Tarr creates dynamic and fluid action sequences that benefit from her unique framing and willingness to break panel borders. She does a fabulous job creating a visual story that is effortlessly followed and consistently clear.
Stewart and Fletcher have created an engaging new environment in Burnside, that feels current and familiar. In this new setting a cast of believable, realistic characters come together to explore the wonky space of extended adolescence with wit and style. Have you seen Girls on HBO? It’s kind of like that… if Lena Dunham wore clothes more often, and fought crime instead of the blank page. The setting and the cast feel completely modern. Barbara’s roommates and friends are very diverse, and all of them seem to have their own story to tell. This new locale and its inhabitants create the perfect backdrop for a thoroughly interesting conflict.
Early in the issue we are introduced to discussion of “Black Book,” an information monger and blackmail aficionado. This is the perfect foe for this new incarnation of Batgirl to face. Stewart and Fletcher integrate technology as a storytelling device. Exposition and characterization take place via text message, email, and social media posts. Technology is as integral a part of the conflict as it is in the characters‘ lives. Black Book is collecting data and using it against people. This sets up a theme of ‘information is power,‘ that continues to come to the forefront throughout this story. Like Barbara, this digital dynamo retains vast amounts information, and like Barbara, that is a major source of his power. So, if his misuse and abuse of information creates the problem, it only makes sense for Barbara’s uncanny aptitude for retaining information to be the solution.Continued below
The creative team makes sure that the audience is aware of Barbara’s unique abilities. Tarr depicts the way Barbara’s memory works in a very effective and interesting way. Even when she is shown recreating a scene, moving around the room, weaving in and out of spaces between imagined characters and talking her way through it; it is always clear where we should be focusing our attention. Barbara’s extraordinary recall is only one aspect of her impressive skill set. She is shown to be agile and physically powerful. We also have the chance to see Barbara doing real detective work as she pieces clues together, chases down leads and conducts interviews. Truly though, it is her memory, her ability to gather and interpret data that establishes her as a powerful character. Information is power. Batgirl may have a good thing going here, but what about Barbara?
When Barbara is not busy being Batgirl, what is she like? Well, she is a lot like Batgirl, honestly. She takes down a thug, interviews witnesses and does a mental walkthrough of a ‘crime scene’ all while wearing her civilian clothes. Her interest in conducting an investigation remains unchanged whether she is wearing a white t-shirt or her cape and cowl. Heavily influenced by her father, Jim Gordon and Batman, of course her interest in criminal justice is one of her most obvious defining characteristics. This not a fluke, or lazy writing, it’s just who she is, or at least who she knows how to be. However, with a very social and involved group of roommates and friends, she is going to have to confront more than just bad-guys to survive in Burnside. Interpersonal conflicts are going to be bigger than footnotes here.
This is a safe place for new readers. This world and its conflicts are relatable for anyone who is involved in modern culture. My biggest criticism of the book may also be its biggest asset: you don’t need to know anything about the Batman universe or mythos to appreciate this version of Batgirl. She’s on her own here, and that is going to make for novel stories and situations. While this book definitely serves a purpose, function seems to follow form. “Batgirl” finds its own voice, and promises to embrace its characters and its audience as we move forward in this new direction.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – Pick this one up so you can say you were reading it before it was cool… that is sooo Burnside.