Gail Simone ended her incredible run on the New 52 version of Batgirl last month with Batgirl: Future’s End #1. Her run on the title made it one of my favourite titles in DC’s current stable, and right from the start I loved almost everything that she did, paired up with a variety of different artists over the last three years. But then came news a few months back that she was moving off the title, as were the artists currently working with her, and that we were getting a brand-new creative team that would transition Batgirl and Barbara Gordon to a soft reboot of sorts.
Batgirl #35 is the first issue by writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, with art by Babs Tarr. The new issue sees Barbara move to a different locality within Gotham, Burnside, and encountering all the dangers of living near a university campus. The issue also introduces a campy-but-kind-of-modern villain in the form of Riot Black who invades people’s privacy and exposes their secrets to the world for nothing more than a laugh, and it was kind of interesting, but ultimately not to my liking. The story in general didn’t work so well for me and while Babs’ art was pretty decent, it was also very overcrowded and dense and far too cartoony for me.
When the news about the completely new creative team, and the artistic changes was announced, I was pretty upset. I loved Gail’s run, and her team-up with Fernando Pasarin, Jonanthan Glapion, Alex Garner and the others really made the book special for me. I loved everything they did, and some of the title’s best moments in the New 52 have come thanks to these creators. And the new look, well, it smacked to me of trying too hard, to break with the preceding far too much. I mean, the cover composition gives it all away, with Barbara dressed as Batgirl in her new costume standing in a public restroom and taking a selfie while no one else cares what she is doing. Sigh.
Anyway, I wanted to give this new team a chance because I think they deserve it regardless of my feelings of how the initial looks have been, and because I’m curious as well. The new team moves Barbara off to a shared housing near Gotham U’s campus, moving in with some friends that have (obviously) never been mentioned before. One of the great things about Gail’s run was that Barbara and her roommate Alysia Yeoh were great friends with some great chemistry. And all of that is discarded here for no apparent reason. Cameron and Brenden switch out transgendered Alysia for a new friend who is bisexual. And because we know this from the get-go of the new team, it doesn’t have as much an impact as Alysia coming out did under Gail.
The story itself comes across as pretty basic and petty stuff. And also includes some rather weird characterization of Barbara. The first night in her new house Barbara whiles it all away in a housewarming party where she ends up getting super-drunk and making out with a random stranger. Someone at the party steals several electronics like phones and laptops. The villain-of-the-issue is Riot Black, a man who collects incriminating data about people’s lives and puts it out on the internet for everyone to see. Barbara can’t remember the name of his site, something she has come across before, but she can recall in detail several details about the party where the theft of her items and her friends’ items took place.a
Sure, Barbara is shown as smart and capable in this issue, but some things here just didn’t jive with how she has been portrayed before. Plot conveniences mean that she acts weirdly several times, and it is as if the writers aren’t so sure of who she and what she is.
Then there’s the fact that we have a semi-permanent guest star already in the form of Dinah Lance aka Black Canary, who is apparently going to be living in with Barbara and her “new” friends since someone apparently flattened the entire block where her dojo used to be. There’s some references here as to the end of Birds of Prey, a series now cancelled, and the resultant characterization of Barbara stuck me as rather hypocritical of her. This isn’t the Barbara I’ve seen under Gail Simone, whether we talk about her Batgirl run or her Birds of Preyr run.
I don’t know. I kind of wanted to like it, but the writers have gone for an over-trendy and too-hip a vibe with all the changes they’ve made and I’m not on board with a lot of it. They’ve completely uprooted Barbara from her previous life, as evidence by the fact that after an initial brief scene with Alysia, Barbara never makes an effort to contact her, even when Alysia does.
Babs Tarr is the artist here, as mentioned above, with breakdowns by Cameron. Maris Wicks is the colourist, Jared K. Fletcher the letterer and Cameron the cover artist. The art here was okay in some places, but more often than not it was too cartoony for me. And there’s this particular cartoon or anime that Babs’ art reminds me of, though for the life of me I can’t remember which one it is. Mostly in terms of how Barbara is drawn and the art really is quite inconsistent and that in itself is the result of crammed page layouts, often with up to 9 or 10 panels in a single page, or more. Some bits are good, such as when Barbara puts together her new costume, but for the most part, I dislike the new art style.
At times, it is as if the artists are trying too hard to be hip and modern and relevant. I can kind of appreciate that, but my thinking is that if you are going to introduce so many changes, then better do it slowly. I mean, the team doesn’t even wait for Barbara to change her costume as their run continues, they do that around the mid-point of the issue and then just roll with it.
To sum up the new issue, too many changes too fast.