Batgirl, Vol. 1: Burnside
by Cameron Stewart, Art by Babs Tarr (June 2015)
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.
Graphic Novel Review
Batgirl of Burnside is aimed squarely at the “social media generation,” and boy does it show. Every page features someone tweeting, texting, or checking matches on the trendy dating app. She even takes down a villain with a QR code.
Unfortunately, Batgirl of Burnside fails on pretty much every level. The viewpoint feels forced and fake, with none of the natural integration into everyday life that matches how people actually use social media. The entire volume feels like a failed marketing ploy, or worse, an insult.
It’s flat out insulting:
* We meet Barbara after a night of drinking. She can’t remember the boy she made out with. She uses her computer-like Batgirl brain to try to reconstruct the events of her drunk blackout. Despite her hangover, she chases down a purse snatcher and vomits into a dumpster afterward.
* Villains include a blackmailer who mines social apps for dirt, cosplayers who take their anime way too seriously, and an artist so obsessed he wants to become Batgirl. Really?
Batgirl of Burnside makes an attempt at diversity too, with almost as much FAIL. Nadimah is Bab’s Muslim research assistant, but mostly just listens sympathetically to Barbara’s whining and has no personality beyond that. A one dimensional villain turns out to be a cross-dressing, cringe-worthy cliche.
So why isn’t this a one star review?
Meet Frankie, Barbara’s new roommate. Frankie is a tech genius who still knows how to relax and have fun. She has muscular dystrophy, which is present in the illustrations, but not commented on until the end. And she’s also African American. None of those traits individually define her. She’s a layered, dynamic character. For all the diversity and youth generation FAILS in this version of Batgirl, they did well with at least one character.
Also, the bright, colorful artwork does make Batgirl feel updated and modern. I do like her new outfit. And while the fight scene illustrations feel a bit stilted and dull, overall the art style does work for me.
Lastly, many superhero comics have attempted a moment of self aware criticism, but few have done it so effectively. On a date, a character tells Barbara that vigilantes are part of the problem, not the solution. Then Batgirl goes out on a mission and basically proves them right. As a result, all of Burnside turns against her. And really, this time I’m 100% with them. Gotham/Burnside would be better off if this particular Batgirl just stayed home. I’m not sure if it’s actually good writing or just a side effect of overall failure, but it’s a powerful moment which no other superhero comic has achieved.
I don’t recommend Batgirl of Burnside. Instead, try:
* Gail Simone’s Batgirl for a Batgirl you actually should read.
* Ms. Marvel for a young, modern and diverse reimagining of a classic superhero.
* Stay tuned for Gotham Academy or Grayson to give DC a chance to do better next time.