Publisher: DC Comics
Writer(s): Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart
Artist: Babs Tarr
Release Date: 17th February, 2016
While reviewing volume two of DC’s Batgirl ongoing series, I hit upon a bit of a quandary. While there’s undoubtedly a lot to like here, it’s sadly not really to my taste at all. Too light-hearted, too fluffy, too goddamn cheerful. So, being the bitter, cynical man that I apparently am, I had a choice to make – a decision I’ve struggled with on countless occasions during my four years of comic reviewing. Do I review this book from my own personal perspective, or do I review it from the perspective of someone who falls within this book’s target demographic? Naturally, I opted for the latter.
This second volume of Batgirl – well, second volume since the ‘soft reboot’ of issue #35 – has a running theme of family throughout, as you could probably surmise from the title. Unfortunately, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the collection is over almost before it has a chance to begin. Namely the complicated relationship between Babs and her father, Jim “oh, I’m Batman now” Gordon. With Jim clearly conflicted about his Bat-mission to hunt down Gotham’s vigilantes, including – unknown to him – his own daughter, the exchanges between the two costumed heroes are scintillating and filled with layers of depth and intrigue. Their exchanges out of costume are even better, with Jim almost immediately revealing his secret identity to Barbara because he “couldn’t live with himself keeping that kind of secret”, something that puts Babs in an extremely awkward situation regarding her own long-running secret from her father.
Brilliant, I thought! This is a fantastic dynamic, and something that the creative team could really sink their teeth into for the rest of the volume. Unfortunately however, it doesn’t really come to much more than that, being filed away for a later date as we return to our normally scheduled ‘teen superhero balancing her life and caped commitments’ programming. Again, it bears mentioning that the rest of the volume has a lot of great stuff going for it – Babs helping organise her friend’s wedding, wrestling tigers and having all manner of complicated relationship issues, both current (her blossoming flirtation and romance with Luke Fox) and former (the not-dead-at-all-secret-agent Dick Grayson) – but I’ll fully admit to having a bit of a sour taste in my mouth after such a mouth-watering storyline prospect was swept aside in such a frustrating manner.
One thing that definitely helped sweeten that sense of frustration throughout the volume was the fantastic artwork of Babs Tarr, whose lively, cartoonishly over exaggerated characters really give the book a sense of energy and fun throughout. While some visual flourishes are perhaps overused – the grinning, hugging ‘gal pals’ pose, for instance – there’s no doubting that Tarr’s style is perfectly suited for a book like this. Also, perhaps somewhat surprisingly – to me at least – while Tarr does a terrific job with the grinning, slightly dorky Barbara Gordon in her ‘regular’ life, it’s the fluid, fantastically choreographed action sequences that really showcase her work at its best.
So, while the collection is a little uneven in places, lacking a sense of storyline cohesiveness at times and displaying a worrying overreliance on guest cameos (the annual in particular is a jarring example of that, with Spoiler, Batwoman and Gotham Academy’s Olive and Maps all showing up over the course of a few pages without any real justification), there’s an innate sense of charm to the way Stewart and Fletcher write Barbara Gordon that makes this a difficult comic not to like – even for a cynical ol’ guy like me.
Overall then, while it isn’t without its flaws, this latest volume of Batgirl is undoubtedly going to appeal to the loyal fans who have jumped on board during the aforementioned ‘soft reboot’, and for them, there’s definitely a lot to like here. It’s also worth mentioning just how great it is that there are books like these on the shelves today – superhero comics that aren’t perpetually joyless and ultra-serious – and I firmly believe that the broadening of its scope is an essential part of the continued evolution of the comics industry. There are a lot of great ideas swirling around here, and while the delivery may be a little scattershot at times, there’s no denying that Batgirl provides a fun, light-hearted look at the world of the superhero teen, all wrapped up in a truly gorgeous artistic package.
[Click to Enlarge]