The long wait is finally over, and Batgirl #35 is here. This issue marks the beginning of an all-new creative team, with Cameron Stewart (Batman Inc., The Invisibles) and Brenden Fletcher (Gotham Academy, Assassin’s Creed) co-writing the series, and already celebrated newcomer Babs Tarr on art. This is a jumping on point for the ongoing Batgirl series, as the team takes Babs in an entirely new direction. Barbara has decided to finish grad school and moved her entire life to Burnside, one of Gotham’s trendier neighbourhoods. It’s not exactly Crime Alley, but even the hip suburbs have their problems. After a wild housewarming party, Barbara and her roommates wake up the next morning to hangovers and things mysteriously missing from the apartment. An unexpected visit from Black Canary also reveals that a fire last night sent all of Dinah’s stuff up in flames, and Barbara’s van with all of her Batgirl gear had gone with it. A convenient set up for designing a brand new, fashionable yet sensible suit with no weird boob plates.
The story telling is strong, and there was no confusion regarding what this issue was about— Barbara turning over a new leaf. I felt completely immersed in her world, and it was nice as a long-time Batgirl reader to see some nods to the previous story lines that I wasn’t immediately ready to let go of. The presence of Alysia Yeoh and Black Canary was like a warm comfort blanket to those like me who are initially resistant to change, while easing the reader into this new, fast paced life that Barbara Gordon is so readily embracing, and me with her. Babs has been twenty-one years old since the reboot in 2011, but this is the first time since that I’ve actually seen her act like it. Money problems, school troubles, local coffee shop haunts, morning after regrets of drinking a little too much and almost-hook-ups with no apologies attached. It’s refreshing to see that echoed in the lack of slut-shaming going on in those panels. This woman survived getting shot in the spine, she’s walked the same path as Batman, she’s a Gotham vigilante with an eidetic memory. Barbara Gordon is a force to be reckoned with, and she will not be shamed. She does what she wants.
Things I really liked about this issue was how relatable it felt, from the opening scenario to the modern apps. Barbara wakes up with a killer hangover, some dude is in her living room, and all she’s thinking about is coffee. Other points of interest? Black Canary’s sonic scream into her phone. It’s also nice to see Barbara surrounded by a support system other than the ones wearing masks, and the villain Riot Black is a recognizable entity in this day and age. Stewart and Fletcher’s chosen narrative is engaging, and the dialogue itself is fun, witty, and consistently upbeat. I liked how much of an emphasis was put on Barbara’s photographic memory, and the way it’s illustrated on the page to help her solve the case. Barbara’s intelligence is arguably as dangerous as her ability to throw a batarang, and it was great seeing her detective work out from under the shadow of the Bat. Barbara is striking out on her own and taking control of her destiny. This team also tells a story in one go, the mystery is solved by the end of the issue and it feels complete. Maris Wick’s colors are gorgeous and eye catching, with Tarr’s art both fantastic and diverse. Her use of body dimensions and facial expressions alone makes all the difference in each panel.
The things I didn’t like were few and far between, and much of those initial opinions changed after a second re-read. The idea of mixing the near-suffocating darkness of Gotham with some lighthearted Veronica Mars action is neat, though sometimes the whole Sherlock thing feels a little tired. Still, there was something charming about the panels of e-mails and text messages, and they fit in well with the tone of the book, so I won’t say it didn’t work. I didn’t particularly care for the hashtags in Riot Black’s word bubbles, but considering he seemed to be the embodiment of all that’s evil on the internet, it wasn’t particularly inappropriate. One thing that has always unsettled me about the New 52 is how much further we’re moving away from Barbara’s past, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Eventually you have to rise above your past and put it behind you once and for all, and that’s what I see her doing here. It’s not sweeping anything under the rug, it’s finally leaving the darkness behind you. With all that she’s been through as a character and the dark and gritty tone of most of DC’s other heroes, this is a nice change. I loved Barbara as Oracle, and I loved Gail Simone’s Batgirl, but at some point the real healing had to begin.
This is a Barbara that doesn’t stay hidden away in the shadows. This feels more like the Barbara I fell in love with when I read Batgirl: Year One for the first time: the young and intense daughter of the commissioner who didn’t ask for permission to become Batgirl, she just did it. That Barbara is still very much here, and every part of her is valued. This is a comic that actually feels like it’s written for everyone, a comic girls’ my age and younger can hopefully read and actually see themselves reflected in it somewhere. Barbara Gordon is an accessible hero people can look up to as they find their own way, which is so important. There aren’t enough female heroines for all ages these days, and we need them fighting with us. The fact that she’s fighting something we can actually recognize makes it more real. Some creepy douche on the internet exploiting people with blackmail and huge data dumps? Think I’ve heard that one before. She’s championing something familiar to me in a very empowering, wish fulfillment sort of way, and as a reader, I appreciate that. If I’ve taken anything away from this team’s debut it’s that no matter her form, Barbara Gordon was always meant to be Batgirl, and these guys really get that. Welcome home, Babs.