Graphic Novel Review: Batgirl Volume 1 – Batgirl of Burnside

Review CGP - DC - Jun - Batgirl V1 Batgirl of Burnside Creators: Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr and Maris Wicks
Review by Scott Ellis
DC’s latest shakeup into the New 52 format has yielded varying results for the brand’s dedicated readership. With characters experiencing manifold changes, from minor costume alterations to massive ability reductions, they have been given that which many real world individuals desire; youthful rejuvenation and a fresh injection of cultural relevance. Out of the hands of veteran Batgirl writer Gail Simone, the character has undergone a soft-reboot. In Batgirl of Burnside we see the titular character beginning to redefine herself as a cultural icon, physically rehabilitated trauma victim, and more importantly, as an independent woman living in the 21st century.

Stewart and Fletcher’s Barbara Gordon is a young PhD student making a fresh start in the hip Gotham borough of Burnside. As she negotiates the John Hughes-esque college landscape of cliques and parties, she is dealt a handful of real-world problems including an overdrawn bank account, social infighting, and an over-intrusive dating app. As Batgirl, our hero is thrown into combat with laptop thieves, violent manga enthusiasts and maniacal hipster artists. It sounds like a Scott Pilgrim side-plot, and Tarr’s artwork draws from many of the same sources, with its pop-art sensibilities to movement and action, and those shamelessly old school visual sound effects. The resulting effect falls somewhere between Brian Lee O’Malley and Disney.

At points the creative team seamlessly intertwine the accessibly fast paced narrative with a wealth of cultural references. The panels are littered with emails, text messages and app displays, while characters play fast and loose with SMS language. I did find myself groaning at some of the social allusions – words like ‘fixie’ and ‘hood’ find their way into the opening pages – however seeing characters lament the gentrification of their favorite bars into ‘artisanal micro breweries’ definitely made me ‘lol’. Aside from the hip terminology, the authors open up a wide range of social issues I was surprised to see explored in an ongoing DC title; with Batgirl opening discussions into the effects of social media on our day-to-day existence, the dangers of drone warfare, and the life destroying implications of revenge porn.

With an all male writing team it is refreshing to see a female hero defined on her own terms. It has always been a temptation to outline female characters using the male figures in their life, especially when they’re long-standing figures of masculine power such as Batman and Commissioner Gordon. Though they inevitably haunt the margins of the title, neither character makes an appearance in the flesh, and the only persons seemingly impressed with Barbara Gordon’s lineage are young white men.

Batgirl of Burnside is certainly a refreshing move forward for DC’s female heroes. A comic that effortlessly passes the Bechdel test while never shying away from getting down and dirty with boy-talk; where hormones and fists fly in equal measure, and the love-interest is never as interesting as the friendships forged. It’s fast, fun, and very charming; a balance DC has struggled with for a while now. Let’s hope this is the beginning of something good.

 

Batgirl Volume 1 – Batgirl of Burnside published June 2015 from DC Comics – PB * £10.99 * 9781401257989

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