Last month I promised I would review this book from the perspective of its new intended audience. Just one problem: I’m not sure I quite have a solid grasp of who exactly that audience might be. Judging from certain plot points in issue no. 35, it seemed to be geared toward a 14+ female hipster demographic. This month, however, it’s skewing (dare I say?) more tween and much more geek. It’s a mixed bag, folks. Let’s take a look.
In case you couldn’t guess it from the semi-nonsensical title “Tomorrow Cries Danger” there’s an anime influence in this month’s issue. The main action of the book centers around Babs trying to recover lost data from her wiped out hard drive, and some stolen prototype robotic bikes driven by two anime-obsessed fans who fancy themselves the Jawbreakers, villain characters of an obscure Japanese children’s show called Atomina.
I’m flipping the traditional Good/Bad/Ugly for this go-round since I want to try to leave this review on a positive note.
It’s still too early to call it, but my confidence in the new writing team of Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher is not particularly boosted this go-round. The Jawbreakers attack in broad daylight right outside the very lab they robbed? I get they are doing this for the money and one can assume they were told where to strike, but unless this villain knows Batgirl’s secret identity, this is a bit convenient (and dumb). It seriously reminds me of old Spiderman comics where villains always seemed to start stuff at Peter Parker’s college campus (also true of Dick Grayson’s adventures as Robin at Hudson University–for those of you questioning my Batman cred for making a Marvel reference). So maybe this won’t bother others as much as it did me, but it just felt a little facile.
- Enough with the Hooq references. We get it. It’s clever. Online dating is awesome. Move on. Worse still, the developer for the Hooq site needs Babs to explain to her a simple daisy-chain data transfer. Maybe the audience needs to understand it (maybe), but that was painful.
- Babs needs a robotics student to build her a instant grappling gun Spoilerwhich then becomes the means by which she defeats the Jawbreakers. Said robotics student just met Barbara earlier than day and she inquired about the break-in. Have I mentioned lately how rare redheads are? It’s less than 2% of the entire human population. But Captain Obvious must be taking a holiday on some other planet of the multiverse and therefore everyone in Burnside is wearing wool over their eyes.
- BRRRRNNN is really not the sound a motorcycle makes in my head. But then I grew reading up Ghost Rider comic books, so I could be biased (and that’s a second Marvel reference in a single review. I might need to go check my temperature).
- I like Cameron Stewart’s cover overall, but the big empty environment is a bit much. Maybe even some speed lines could have helped to compositionally break up that huge red wash.
I worked in the anime industry for some years and spent a lot of time watching a lot of anime (some of it was great, some of it was the variety for which no amount of eye bleach will ever remove). I have nothing against the art form and I get that it’s a popular thing with a very devoted fanbase. That said, I have only read one manga (Vagabond by the inimitable Takehiko Inoue), and admit I am not really interested in the form beyond that experience (not that it was remotely bad, I’m just not crazy about many common Japanese themes and I really dislike chibis).
So I have to say it was weird to see this kind of anime/manga mash-up in a mainstream American comic book. Once again, to Babs Tarr’s credit, she really pulls it off with a flair: the juxtaposition of Batgirl’s memories of Atomina with the threat of the Jawbreakers scans very well–following the action is clear and easy and there’s a nice sequence in which child-Barbara and adult-Barbara are intercut (just with an inset of Batgirl’s eyes) that is exceptional.
The colors are a bit much, but there’s good action here!
And yet the whole thing makes me nervous. Once again, there’s a heavy reliance on popular media to which the audience may or may not feel any connection. While it works for me from a storytelling perspective, there’s really only one thing that makes it emotionally satisfying:
That spoiler above is a great transition into more of the good stuff. There is good stuff here!
Tarr’s work overall is very nice–and especially because her action scenes have more space to breathe (Cameron Stewart did the breakdowns again, but they’re not nearly as packed tight as before, which is great). We get some larger panels of good dynamic sequences that show off some of Batgirl’s acrobatic skills. I worry that the new costume is a little “busy”, but so far it’s working okay. Tarr’s dialogue scenes are visually interesting enough to keep the pace lively, though I am kinda not feeling the whole Jeremy Degroot thing. Also, seeing as her comfort with drawing in an anime/manga style is so evident in this book, Tarr does slip a manga expression now and then (check out that last reaction shot on the final page, second to the last panel). Not crazy about that at all, but the woman clearly has versatility in her wheelhouse.
For those of you freaking out (as I was) last go-round, there’s a huge de-emphasis on the hipster references, which is fabulous, but also puzzling. Even at the beginning, Dinah takes a throwaway pot-shot about looking for a bar that isn’t an “artisanal brewery”. I feel like this issue overall takes some interesting temper turns from the last one. I am grateful, but it does contribute a bit to the “not sure what you’re going for here” tone of the book overall. Nevertheless I’m glad Dinah is still on board (for now) and was even strangely gratified at the friction between her and Babs’ new roommate. Why can’t Babs just be roomies with Black Canary? That would make more sense in so many ways. And be awesome.
There’s also a huge emphasis on Babs’ smarts. Batgirl should not only be book-smart, but street-smart and here they give her a puzzle to solve and she pursues it in fine detective style. It’s not a great mystery, and seems like not a lot of particularly special skills were needed to break the case, but it was fun to follow along and I feel like we may be finally getting the best of Batgirl and Oracle here.
She just used spit to wipe a whiteboard. Yech.
I would also like to see Batgirl get her hands on one of those robotic engines for herself. She needs wheels!
- Unlike the last issue, you might be looking for some all-ages-appropriate Batgirl fun.
- You like a slice of manga with your regular comic book fare.
- You’re still fence-sitting about buying into Batgirl of Burnside (this is the start of what looks to be a potentially interesting story arc and it’s mercifully free of overblown hipsterama).
I can’t make up my mind whether this book is up my alley, but that’s partly because it doesn’t feel very firmly entrenched yet for any specific audience. It’s definitely not going for the former (Gail Simone’s) Batgirl crowd. It’s also not catering to stodgy old-timers like me. The important thing is that it’s still entertaining to read, despite some weak plotting, and this issue might be setting up a cool new Batgirl villain. Sorry if the score feels waffly, but while I liked this book better than the last one, I still don’t feel like I’m on terra firma yet.