Kate’s Review: “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside”

23164970Book: “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside” by Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, May 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Barbara Gordon is no stranger to dusting herself off when disaster strikes, so when a fire destroys everything she owns, she spots the opportunity for a new lease on life – and seizes it! Following the rest of Gotham City’s young adults to the hip border district of Burnside, Barbara sets about building an all-new Batgirl…and discovers new threats preying on her peers! As the new hero of Burnside, Batgirl gets started by facing twin sister assassins on motorcycles!

Review: As the world of comics tries to keep up with the changing times and tries to keep rebooting itself, it can, admittedly, get a little confusing. I think that a really good example of this is that of DC’s Batgirl. When DC launched their “New 52” reboot series, giving many of their characters brand new origin stories, one of the new iterations was Batgirl. Gail Simone took the helm, and while there was criticism about erasing Batgirl’s disability (she’s no longer wheelchair bound, and therefore no longer Oracle), it’s pretty agreed that she did justice to Barbara Gordon. Her time with Batgirl ended, showing Barbara’s future years and years down the line. It was pretty dark stuff (no spoilers here though). But then….. Batgirl was rebooted again, even if DC claims that it wasn’t really a reboot. Now the “Batgirl” title is DC’s answer to Marvel’s “Ms. Marvel”: a bit more aimed towards teen girls, with a quirky and flawed, but endearing protagonist who has very real life problems along with the Superhero ones. I mean, just look at the cover of this book: Batgirl is taking a selfie in a hipster club bathroom.

Admittedly, when I first saw this I was like

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BUT, I decided to give it a chance because I love Barbara Gordon, and I do recognize that comics appeal to a wide array of audiences now. And I’m glad that I did decide to give it a try, because while I find “Ms. Marvel” fine and important but a but a tad precious, I think that this new Batgirl is just the right balance of aware and action-y.

Barbara has been updated to fit the modern sensibilities of a brainy girl who likes to code and do STEM things. While I’m still a bit bitter that she hasn’t quite taken on the librarian mantle (though I think she eventually does go to get her MLIS!), I love seeing her tackle computer science and code writing, and I LOVE seeing it treated as just something that she does because why wouldn’t she? Not only is Barbara a badass lady coder, so is her roommate Frankie. I really liked the introduction of Frankie (though I wish that Alysia Yeoh could have been another roommate, because I love her to death), as she added a new voice of reason along with adding some much needed diversity to the DC Universe. In fact, a lot of the new faces in “Batgirl” add quite a bit of diversity, not unlike that which you WOULD see in Brooklyn these says (as Burnside is the Brooklyn to Gotham’s Manhattan). So not only do we have an empowered and positive role model of a young woman who is adept at science, she surrounds herself with people from all different backgrounds and experiences. Every character feels real and grounded and not just thrown in for the sake of having a token Muslim, or trans woman, or African American, or etcetera.

Even the villains and the danger scenarios feel like they fit a modern aesthetic without seeming overwrought. One of the first people Batgirl goes up against is an Internet wizard who has been giving out his digital blackmail services to people, willing to ruin lives for a price and a profit. Given how revenge porn is certainly a problem that society hasn’t quite figured out how to wrap it’s head around in many ways, this felt like a pretty relevant threat. Sure, Babs may not be fighting crazed supervillains like the Joker, but villains based in real life awfulness are a-okay with me. And it’s done in such a way that it never feels like it’s being spoon fed to the reader. You don’t need a known and super big bad guy like Joker or Penguin to be behind these realistic maladies, because that just doesn’t feel genuine. Along with the villains, one of the biggest obstacles Barbara has to face is the trauma she is still feeling from when Joker attacked her. You see flashbacks of when she was in recovery, and how dark and damaged her mind went, focused on the past and revenge instead of healing and the future. While I am a staunch defender of the original story of her becoming wheelchair bound, as Oracle became arguably the MOST powerful member within the Bat Family and her wheelchair provided representation to a group that is overlooked, I think that this series has done a good job of addressing the long term mental affects of it all. It’s a shame that they’ve erased that side of Barbara, but now they are tackling the story of a woman who is living with PTSD. I won’t say tit for tat, but I will say that it’s not nothing.

And there are familiar faces as well! My girl Dinah Lance is involved in this first arc, there to provide a needed level of snark, but also to remind Batgirl of her duties and not to let things get out of her control. I am pretty sure this was the predecessor to the “Black Canary” comic that I liked so much (note to self…. get your hands on the next one), and her angst and rough edges are on display in their full glory. She is also there to make sure that Babs, while the selfie and social media culture is fine and part of our lives now, doesn’t lose her endgame all because she loves the likes and tweets. The old school mentality of comics and superheroes in the context of Batgirl still has relevancy, and her reboot is blending well with her origins.

And the art is really fun in this one. It’s very colorful, not as dark and dour as the Gail Simone story that preceded it.

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I am very pleased with the new life that Batgirl has been given with “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside”. Barbara has been given a new lease on life and I am very happy with where she’s going with it!

Rating 8: A fun reboot of the Batgirl series, with a strong and varied cast of characters and a good hold on how to write Barbara Gordon for today’s world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ladies of DC”, and “Ladies in Capes”.

Find “Batgirl (Vol.1): The Batgirl of Burnside” at your library using WorldCat!

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