By Hope Larson, Rafael Albuquerque, Dave McCaig, and Deron Bennett.
Batgirl #1 is the first issue in a new arc from the creative team of Larson, Albuquerque, McCaig, and Bennett titled, “Beyond Burnside.” This issue introduces a new identity for Barbra Gordon, one that could allow her to step out of the Batshadows. This issue follows her as she is travels to Japan to seek out a superhero myth, the great new character of Fruit Bat, to interview about her 100+ year life of fighting crime in Japan. She runs into an old childhood friend from Chicago, Kai, which should set up an interesting dynamic of a travel buddy/possible enemy for the upcoming arc.
Larson has quite a task to do with creating an interesting story with Babs in Japan while avoiding the clichés and tropes that come with sending a white hero to an Asian country to learn wisdom. The white hero complex is an easy pitfall for many, but Larson does a good job to introduce Barbra as a more mature, humble, and introspective woman, compared to some past versions. This first issue is a good start to really set this character apart from other Batgirl titles and other Batgirl incarnations we may be familiar with, but has to really prove that this is a mature attempt to set this character as a serious hero within DC. Larson has done a great job in the first issue giving hope to any Batgirl fans who may be worried. She has the character speaking Japanese to the locals, a show of respect and cultural sensitivity not usually afforded to some characters.
We get some interesting introductions in Batgirl #1 like Kai, Fruit Bat, but also a new bad guy lovingly referred to as Sailor Clown who is looking for a formula of some kind. The book is centered on Sailor Clown looking for this formula, Barbra looking for insight from Fruit Bat, and Barbra looking for answers. The clever set up leaves a lot of questions to be answered like is Kai involved with this formula, and can Barbra trust Kai, and should Barbra take the advice Fruit Bat leaves her? Larson sets this up to show Babs becoming more introspective and reflective, someone who is thinking before doing and not trusting everyone that comes along. This book feels like a mature attempt at Barbra Gordon Batgirl, a move toward her becoming a self-assured, confident, independent woman. All of this seems good and hopefully it will pan out over the arc to show some character growth of Barbra and not succumb to any obvious pratfalls past Batgirl comics have.
Batgirl #1 features Albuquerque on art, with McCaig on color, and Bennett on letters. There are some great page layouts from the creative team that keep the pacing of this story fast and furious, while still allowing for character depth to be found in little moments like when Kai and Barbra eat some local food in a few panels. The line work is really tight and purposeful throughout this book which allows the colors from McCaig to really shine. The background colors and the shadowing throughout this first issue are really strong and communicate tone for every page with just a glance. The flashback panels get dark and gloomy colors, and the action panels have bright and vibrant colors that demand your attention each page. The standout art from this book is the action panels between Sailor Clown, Fruit Bat, and Batgirl. They have great background colors, use of movement across then page, and this is all set off with great facial close up reaction shots in between all the action.
Batgirl #1 is a great start to a potential new approach to Batgirl with a more mature take on an often neglected character. To be honest, this week has not been great for Barbra Gordon, with her receiving a lot of heat with the depiction of her relationship with Batman in the animated movie of The Killing Joke, this book feels like a win for Babs. DC can greatly benefit from introducing more woman solo titles that are appealing to the young adult female demographic that are not of the Harley Quinn variety, and this book is a great depiction of a relatable female book. The art alone really gives this book a sleek, modern feel that can inspire confidence for future issues. It’s the storytelling and character growth which could be the savior or demise of this series. We can only hope we can continue to see a relatable, competent, and mature take on Batgirl that will give this character longevity and respect amongst hardened Batfans.