Another week, another highly hyped Bat-debut. While this isn’t a new series, it’s one of those cases where the creative team comes aboard with such a radically different direction that it might as well be. And I am all for it. God bless Gail Simone, whom I love, but her Batgirl was very often a drag; a young woman who should’ve been reveling over her new lease on life yet spent most of her time dragging her soul through Simone’s revolving door of villains, each more twisted than the last.
Stewart-Fletcher go in the complete opposite direction, gleefully taking advantage of Babs’ youth to lead her through the pleasures of drunken make-outs, college roommates, online hookups, high-end coffee, and texting— so, so much texting. And this is all in one issue, which, at $2.99, seems a bargain. Within a couple pages, you forget all about Babs’ pathetic imitation of life for the last three years. This is where Batgirl’s story truly begins, in a world bursting with energy, in a position to explore all it has to offer.
One of the floodgates of possibility that opens for Babs is the major emphasis on technology. This isn’t the social media gimmickry of Young Avengers,* but the constant phone-checking of modern life used to advance the plot: a series of emails which piece together a very familiar mosaic of Babs’ financial troubles; an investigation propelled by cell phone calls, texts, emails, and e-dating (courtesy of fictional site Hooq); the QC code which assures the villain’s defeat. For an intelligent, hip young woman with a love for computers, it’s almost criminal she didn’t rely on these kinds of tools before.
And it definitely is a crime that it took this long for her photographic memory to be put to such consistent, spectacular use. In a family of purely mortal men, it’s Babs who possesses the one superpower, which is the way it comes across as she uses it not only to find the quickest route to catching a common street punk, but to identify suspects in a home robbery by recreating the party scene from the night before from memory. It’s a cool display of power and deduction, proof that she not only owns a fantastic ability, but she knows how to use it in a smart way.
The issue demands the reader to apply a little of their own smarts to fully grasp the story’s intricacies. For example, Babs’ meeting with one Diane would be jarring if you didn’t remember the second-page mention of how Diane got a new number because her phone got stolen from her Hooq date. Or how about the mastermind turning out to be someone mentioned offhandedly by ex-roommate Alysia on the first page of the issue? The lesson here is: pay attention to everything, because it can all be a clue.
For all that, Riot Black’s not a very dimensional starter villain, although that may be the point. As the ultimate manifestation of internet trolling, he needs no other purpose for his online cruelty than simply the desire to anguish others. YouTube comments and forum posts don’t get more profound than that.
Fortunately, all the other characters in this revitalized Batgirl have loads of personality, and just enough complexity to avoid being collegiate clichés or New Girl rip-offs. Frankie may be the sassy, lesbian, black girlfriend, but she’s also legitimately tech-savvy, perceptive, and mildly attracted to men. Troy might look like your typical shirtless boy toy, but he’ll sleep on the couch after some serious lip-locking and have his feelings hurt if you can’t recall his name the morning afterward. These characters can be real on a vernacular (“If you go to Chiroptera can you get me something too? [Musically] Thank youuuu!“) and emotional level (“I was kind of embarrassed to tell you, you seemed pretty into him but, you know…things happen…I just don’t want you to think less of me.”).
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this issue is how it places Batgirl as merely an interesting extension of Barbara Gordon. It’s Babs herself and her world that’s compelling; the superheroics merely ice the cake. Her civilian problems—a deleted thesis and potential loss of grant funding—are just as compelling as the discovery of a mystery stalker who knows her secret identity and plans to push her out of the local vigilante game.
Actually, scratch that; the most impressive aspect of this issue is Tarr’s miraculous ability to fit so many panels into a page, effectively doubling (maybe tripling) the amount of story contained in the issue, without losing an inch of detail. Her lines are thin and supple, easily shaped into any object of her imagination that look credible and expressive at any size. But it’s the overall aesthetic of the issue that leaves a lasting impression. The new costume is rightfully applauded for its stylish practicality, of course, but Tarr’s characters are also shamelessly pretty; their figures are shapely, yet not the roided-out or double-D’d bodies that populate most superhero comics. The storytelling is top-notch, too, with varied, utile layouts that don’t loudly boast how clever they are. Major kudos also to Wicks, who fills the issue to the brim with the most vibrant, lovely colors as well as the softest, subtlest shades (look at Troy’s ever so faint blush when Babs can’t think of his name right away).
Everything you want from Batgirl and so much more. Actually worth the hype in almost every way.
Some Musings: * I suspect a YA influence in Babs' choice of soundtrack during her costume-making montage: "ToR (Fresh Crown" by Juniper Vega and featuring Lacey K). Unless I'm mistaken, an entirely fictional song, though the name and title tells you everything.
- Dinah and Babs as roomies? Yes, please, and thank you.