Batgirl of Burnside provided the template for the post-Convergence DC Universe. How often does Batgirl get to do something like that?
As part of the New 52 reboot, DC took the opportunity to put Barbara Gordon, the most famous Batgirl, back in the suit. That involved a controversial cure for Barbara’s paralysis and erasing her long-running role as Oracle, one of the few superheroes with a physical disability. The reboot also shaved about a decade off Barbara’s age, knocking her back to her early 20s.
While the New 52 Batgirl series was generally well regarded, it was a middling seller and seemed to generate buzz only when crossing over into a Batman story. The darker hued plots didn’t seem to take full advantage of Barbara’s de-aging.
DC raised eyebrows by handing Batgirl to the team of writers Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher and artist Babs Tarr. The team modernized the character in attention-grabbing ways that turned the title into a hit. That first arc is now available as the Batgirl of Burnside collection.
Stewart and Fletcher move Barbara to Burnside, a funky neighborhood of Gotham akin to certain enclaves in real world Brooklyn. They send her back to grad school and surround her with a diverse group of multicultural supporting characters. Technology, especially the internet and social media, are omnipresent. The tone is lighter and Barbara actually is allowed to act like a young 20something and even have fun. A couple of love interests circle Barbara (including a scruffy professor and a young cop who likes Barbara way more than he likes Batgirl). And the university setting helps Batgirl score her very own Q in an engineering grad student.
To prompt a make-over, the writers have a freak fire destroy all of Barbara’s Batgirl gear (an incident that also lands quasi-estranged friend/ally Black Canary as Barbara’s prickly houseguest). Without the resources to reconstruct her old gear, Barbara concocts a new Batgirl uniform on the fly. Now more grounded in a world recognizable to a lot of readers, Batgirl goes on to become the sensation of Burnside. Colorful foes include internet blackmailer Riot Black; the Jawbreakers, twin cyclists based on an anime series from Barbara’s youth; a sparkly, faux Batgirl; and even Barbara’s own mind gone awry. Batgirl embraces social media, but quickly discovers the downside to celebrity.
Stewart and Fletcher’s concept is very appealing. They remake Batgirl into a thoroughly contemporary tale with a lot of humor and well-placed observations. They don’t ignore Barbara’s history; indeed, the arc’s climax is steeped in Barbara’s past. Instead, the writers make use of key events in Barbara’s back story in a way that lets the series move on from it while not feeling obliged to account for every Batgirl story of the past. The climax also teases the emergence of a new version of Oracle. Seeing a lighter hearted, young adult Batgirl/Barbara Gordon, who deals with school, friends and dating while chasing crooks, is pretty great. The intelligence and wit that have always defined Barbara are there, but are viewed through a different filter. This version of Batgirl has a lot in common with the one seen in the seminal Batman: The Animated Series.
Tarr, working closely with indispensable colorist Maris Wicks, matches the writers in embracing modernity for Batgirl. The new look Batgirl, designed by Stewart and Tarr, is a canny take on what a superhero costume constructed in the real world might look like. It honors Batgirl’s classic uniform, but has lots of smart, modern details. Beyond that, Tarr and Wicks craft a strong visual identity for the new Batgirl. There’s an energetic, anime influence to the work that pops quite nicely. The artists glam things up when appropriate and can get grimy when that’s called for, too. It’s miles from gritty realism and that’s a good thing. It’s warm, appealing work that matches the tone of the writing pretty perfectly. A clever two-page sequence using Barbara’s eidetic memory to reconstruct the scene of a party is especially memorable.
For the record, the collected edition of Batgirl of Burnside alters a controversial panel that some fans found to be transphobic. The edited panel softens what originally was played as Batgirl’s surprise that a character she believed to be female was really male. Opinions differ on the original panel, but hopefully fans who reacted negatively to it will appreciate DC’s attempt to address their concerns.
The new direction for the series may not be to everyone’s taste. But Batgirl of Burnside proved how effective a fresh approach not obsessively tethered to continuity can be. It’s the spirit that’s guiding DC’s new era and makes for a thoroughly enjoyable Batgirl story.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on June 16, 2015.