Stew’s Reviews: Batgirl of Burnside
Welcome back once again to Stew’s Reviews, your weekly source of completely random comic book reviews. As always, I’m your host, Rob Stewart, bringing you my thoughts on another title you may or may not care about!
That’s pretty generic. Huh. Well whatever, I don’t really have a particularly noteworthy intro this week; they aren’t all winners, and I don’t always have big goings-on. Sometimes the roads you travel just don’t have the beautiful sunsets you were hoping for.
Woo, pulled it all out with some imagery there!
Writer and Artist: Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr
Protagonists: Batgirl, Black Canary
Antagonists: A bunch of new threats… and Batgirl herself.
I’ve long been a fan of Barbara Gordon in almost all of her incarnations. Granted, the original Batgirl was just all right as a Bat-Family sidekick, but she was still interesting enough and had a decent dynamic as being both Commissioner Gordon’s daughter and the girl who turned Dick Grayson’s head. It was with her paralysis at the hands of The Joker that she really started to shine, however ironic that may be. Not allowed to be shunted off to the background (or, worse yet, either unceremoniously killed off or used as a constant hostage), Babs took her injury in stride and became Oracle, a very prominent fixture throughout the DC universe in the 1990’s and 2000’s. She became an important member of the Justice League, starred in her own team—the Birds of Prey—and remained an integral figure in Batman’s arsenal… all while not having to throw any punches. She was empowering in how she not only refused to succumb to her handicap, but even turned it into a strength. Marvel had long had Professor Xavier as wheelchair-bound character who guided others, but he still had incredible powers. Barbara was just an incredibly smart girl who wouldn’t be told what she couldn’t do.
Then the New 52 happened, and she could just walk again. So all right. Let’s just forget all that inspirational overcoming of her disability, I guess. Back to punching!
Batgirl of Burnside was a soft reboot of Barbara’s character several dozen issues into the New 52 where Babs was moved out of Gotham proper and into a trendy, hipster neighborhood/suburb called Burnside so she could finish college. A new creative team was brought in to freshen up Batgirl’s stories, and I really do dig this book. Batgirl was never as hard and heavy into the darkness and brooding of Batman, bur Stewart and Fletcher’s work on the book is an exceptionally bright, breezy, and fun. The quasi-manga-inspired art of the appropriately named Babs Tarr (and god does my Mac hate the word “Babs”) adds to the bouncy tone of the series and fits it to perfection. That said, while the book is definitely geared for girls, younger comic fans, or just anyone who likes their funny books to be on the lighter said, anyone can get into this series and enjoy it because the writing is handled well; the stories never condescend to you based on who the target audience may have been. It’s fun, but it’s never childish.
The story eases into its surroundings for the first several issues by building the world of Burnside around Barbara Gordon and tossing her some softball bad guys to defeat while she finds her footing. Jabroney villains like Riot Black, Dagger Type, and some anime fans on motorcycles aren’t exactly the kinds of threats that strike fear into the heart of the Bat-family, but they are just set-ups to show that Gordon still has her chops. The early going is more about establishing a rift between Babs and Dinah Lance, and meeting the new supporting cast than it is about giving us a huge arch-enemy. New characters like roommate Frankie, tech genius Qadir, and police officer Liam all enter Barbara’s life for the first time while Dinah remains a fixture throughout, making the world that Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr build feel vibrant.
There is a plot that slowly builds steam through the beginning of the arc that Barbara may not be completely able to trust herself. This builds to the ultimate early confrontation for Barbara against a downloaded copy of her own mind, but it is played wonderfully early on with the writers interspersing clues to what’s going on amidst Barbara’s own screw-ups to build doubt in our protagonist. This is the first threat to really test Batgirl’s mettle as the hero of Burnside, but she is, of course, able to overcome it with the help of her fiends, both new and old. It’s not a brand new idea of a solution—they ultimately defeat the corrupted algorithm of Gordon’s mind by giving it a logic error where it realizes it can’t save people without killing people, but then it’s the bad guy and hasn’t saved anybody blah blah blah—but it’s no less original than just punching bad guys in the face until they fall down either, I guess. Hey, it’s comic books, what do you want?
Volume two of the series brings back some more classics of Barbara’s life by featuring stories with her father and Dick Grayson, but they merely pick up Black Canary’s slack in keeping Babs linked to her previous continuity. The series keeps up its steam there.
And then Rebirth happened, and I haven’t caught up with Barbara Gordon there yet. Maybe they put her back in the chair. Or gave her fire-based superpowers. Who knows? DC’s continuity is so whacky.
Talking Point: So a seemingly never-ending argument point between my podcast partners and I centers on the Bat universe and characters like Barbara Gordon, so this feels like the best place to insert it: Who do you find to be the more interesting character[s]: Batman himself or his overall supporting cast? Why? And, if it’s the latter, who are the members of his supporting cast that make you feel that way?
I mentioned that the finale to the big confrontation here wasn’t incredibly original, but honestly, this series felt like a breath of fresh air because it’s not that much like anything else put out by the Big Two except maybe Kamala Khan’s book. It’s fun, light-hearted, and stars a character I have always found enjoyable. Give it a look.