Batgirl #35 review

It’s the first week of Barbara Gordon’s new life as a postgrad in Gotham’s buzzing Burnside area and it’s not going too well. Her bank account is overdrawn, her research funding hasn’t come through, she’s fallen out with Black Canary and her computer has been stolen.

What’s a Batgirl to do but investigate, and the combination of Barbara’s eidetic memory and fighting skills has things sorted by page 20 of an issue that feels a lot longer.

The impression is due to the packed script by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, brought to visual life by Babs Tarr’s art, after the breakdowns of Stewart. Maris Wicks applies appealing colours while the choices of letterer Jared K Fletcher are vital in selling the story. In short order we meet new roommates Frankie and Liz, learn that Barbara is to work on an urban geography project and see her create a new Batgirl costume. The fresh look is necessitated by her old gear going up in smoke in an explosion at Canary’s building. 

The outfit is cute, and plausible, but if she’s going to be rocking on-trend earrings, she may wish to cover her ears – that mask doesn’t exactly hide her face as it is, then there’s the red hair, the narrowed area of crimefighting activity and her openness as regards her memory skills. If the new roomies haven’t figured things out by the close of this first revamp issue, well, it looks as if someone else has.

There’s a fair bit to enjoy here – the detail in the art is tremendous, taking us through the exterior and interior locales of Burnside. Tarr is adept at telling facial expressions, a huge plus. The new characters are sketched in well enough for a first look. Bad guy Riot Black is a good mixture of believable and comic book nonsense, and the way he’s taken down is ingenious. Dinah and her phone is a hoot. The pace is excellent, with Babs’ low-key questioning of witnesses presented in a smart back and forth manner that adds interest. 

But for a comic that’s meant to be a lighter take on Batgirl – just look at that fun cover by Stewart, complete with jaunty new logo – there’s a surprisingly sour vibe. Mainly, it’s Babs. OK, she’s hungover for much of the issue, but my word, she’s a grumpy mare, coming across more as a pouty teenager than a supposedly mature 21-year-old. For her, everything seems a chore.

The way she treats Dinah is appalling, Babs is incredibly selfish, moaning about her lost Batgirl gear when Dinah has lost everything she owns and could do with a little emotional support along with the couch.

She’s only around for the first page, and pops up in a message later, but Alysia from Gail Simone’s run is the only character in here I’d want to have a natter with in campus coffee shop Chiroptera (ha!). Everyone else comes across as a little too slacker, too studenty. And that could be a problem – I hope the emotionally  grounded Alysia is carried over as a regular, as implied by the final issue of Gail Simone’s run.

Batgirl’s established super-memory is brought into play well, but hopefully won’t be as front and centre in future as it is here – when you can remember everything, crimefighting can get a little too easy. Equating this opener to a TV pilot, though, it’s understandable that the creators would show us the most impressive trick in Babs’ stripped-back armoury.

While the use of social media adds a feeling of modernity, I’m already ready for a break from the constant references to apps and websites, and the in-panel messaging. Then again, Stewart and Fletcher may be suggesting that the real bad guy here is social media – it’s likely not an accident that the dating app is Hooq … everyone is hooked on their phones, like a drug.

Overall, though, I’d say this debut issue works. It sets out its store speedily and with style, putting the new tone front and centre. While the problems I have could be tweaked, they may actually be massive pluses for other readers. Maybe sighing Babs is a perfect reader identification figure for the young American woman of today. Still, next issue will hopefully give us a less ‘morning after the night before’ Batgirl and things won’t feel quite so achingly hip.

The big takeout from this issue is that DC are offering something a bit different, trying to extend the audience. I could easily see the big sisters of the kids loving last week’s excellent Gotham Academy – which also had Fletcher co-writing – embracing this book. A more diverse Batman line has to be a good thing, so I hope this new take finds its audience.

10 thoughts on “Batgirl #35 review

  1. I quite enjoyed this. Funny, full of personality, beautiful artwork, very creative and not overly grim like the previous run, and more. I hope the new team for Catwoman is just as good as this creative change.


  2. I enjoyed it, too. It's very much a different take than the Simone run and I'm not really sure how we got from there to here. But I'm not going to worry too much about it because I prefer this younger, hipper take on Babs.
    My take on the Babs/Dinah conflict this issue is that something bad went down between the two of them in Birds of Prey. I haven't read the issue but I suspect they're both to blame and neither one of them came off as particularly sympathetic this issue. Now, I would have preferred for Babs to come across as less obviously selfish in their scene together. Jumping from learning about the fire to immediately worrying about what she has lost (instead of having some sympathy for Dinah) seems out of character for Babs. Maybe a thought bubble instead of a speech balloon would have fixed the scene for me. Or perhaps Babs realized on some level she was responsible for the fire and so, started to worry about what she lost instead of thinking about others. Either way, it's a small misstep in a great new direction! Gonna reread it tonight and then wait impatiently for the next issue.


  3. I wasn't terribly impressed, to be honest, and I have been waiting for THIS EXACT BOOK for like at least 15 years.
    Ms Marvel did this reboot 8 months ago, but thankfully skipped making its central protagonist yet another example of the unlikeable attention-seeking arsehole so beloved of television and film writing of late (my theory is that this is an attempt to emulate the unfiltered nature of social media in order to create POV characters, as writers have no other point of reference for the greater bulk of humanity apart from Twitter feeds and internet comments).
    I think a mate best summed up Batgirl's reboot after I pointed her to the Ice Bucket Challenge minicomic they brought out a month or two ago, and she criticised that Babs didn't nominate anyone or donate any money, she just glommed onto something that was trending in an attempt to appear relevant and interesting, which I thought was an amusing reading of the material at the time but now think of it as a paradigm for the reboot. Rushed out as it was, I suppose there's a case that it better represents the “writing Id” of the creative team or something, but I found Hipster Babs just as insufferable as any teen character on television. Given what I know of modern comics commentary, this critique thus makes me an unrepentant misogynist, and probably a racist too, because I don't get why a comic about a skinny attractive white girl with a smartphone is groundbreaking stuff or is smashing the dominant patriarchy of comics fandom, this just seemed like an okay comic book for older teens who hadn't read a superhero comic before, or ever watched a female-centric kids' show made in the last decade.

    In the interests of full disclosure, though, I should point out that my anticipation for this was tempered by DC promising much the same things before and then failing to deliver or stick with their female-oriented titles (Sword of Sorcery, anyone?), so it'll be at least 18 months before I give this one the full benefit of the doubt and not get hung up on the fact that young hipsters haven't been quite as well-realised here as they were in books like New York Five or Plain Janes.


  4. Many thanks for the comments, Murray. Good idea about Babs getting an extra word balloon to make her seem less rotten. I'm sure the writing blips will be worked out as we go on. I wonder if Canary will be a regular player in the book. I'd rather she were hooked up with Ollie – I don't even know if they've met in this week's continuity.


  5. I'd not heard of the ice bucket Batgirl, ha, how hard can that be for someone who's probably fought Mr Freeze once or twice? I'm OK if she didn't subsequently challenge someone, I'm for people being left to choose their own ways to help the charity of their choice.

    I still miss Steph's series enormously, and did prefer Babs as Oracle. This revamp has to be DC realising they made a mistake in regressing Babs, but I'd rather they did it by having her miracle cure wear off, than make her seem even younger. Drop a settee in her or something!


  6. Good review as always Mart. As a fan of Simone's (admittedly not fantastic) recent Batgirl run I was pleased to find I quite enjoyed the new look and direction here. I'm looking forward to the new creative team on Catwoman as well.


  7. I would rather see Barbara's characterization as Oracle return – NOT her paralysis.
    This new venture feels like a potential inspiration for a new TV series and runs the risk of coming off faux-hip unless they temper it down the road – it looks like a comic published by Oni or Slave Labor Graphics around 1998-2000, only in color. For all we know, it could resemble a modern take on Frank Robbins Batgirl stories that were reprinted in the Showcase Presents Batgirl trade.


  8. Oh good grief, apologies for the delayed reply. I must have received the notification in the middle of the night and fell asleep – I'm no up-all-night kitty. Anyway, glad you enjoyed the book too,


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