The title of this issue is “Likeable” and that’s the crossroads we’re at with this series: is this new Barbara Gordon the least bit likeable? When I read the preview and hit Babs’ self-pitying diatribe to Liam on page 3, it was looking to be a rough read and I was ready to unleash the hounds of hell, but it appears Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher are going somewhere with all this “me me me”, so I’ve reigned in the doggies. I have to admit, though, it’s taken me a lot longer to acclimate to this new direction for Barbara than I would have expected and without Babs Tarr’s amazing work to keep my eyeballs happy, I might have been inclined to ditch this series (you know, if I weren’t reviewing it).

This month finds Babs and Dinah on the outs over Barbara’s increasingly risky and narcissistic behavior. She’s also floundering at school, falling for that Liam cop with whom she doesn’t see eye-to-eye on vigilantism, and guess what?

Spoiler
We haven’t seen the end of that creep who is stalking her and knows her true identity. Is it James Jr.? It’s James Junior, isn’t it?

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And here I am: siding with Dinah yet again

The Good

So let’s talk about why this book is worth hanging onto for now. Last month I had begun to actively dislike Batgirl as a character and this issue finally removes all doubt as to the fact that we should be disliking her. Her behavior has gone from bad to outright appalling, but it’s clear that Stewart and Fletcher are deliberately sinking Babs into these depths as a point of her growth. While it doesn’t make it any more organic given where the character has come from, and putting up with her in this phase is about as much fun as baby-sitting a surly fifteen year-old, I’m seeing a light at the far end of the tunnel–and am much encouraged that for the first time everything about the tone in the writing here feels balanced and focused. The characters are allowed to be characters instead of card-carrying representatives Diversity Inc., social media is exposed as the fickle fingered internet diarrhea that it is most of the time, and Babs not only makes spectacularly stupid decisions, but she is soundly (and in some cases silently) judged for every one of them.

With her life in an out-of-control nosedive, it’s really fun to speculate what the crash is going to look like. Thoughts anyone?

I’ve mentioned Babs Tarr’s work (based on Stewart’s layouts) with glowing praise in every one of these reviews and I’m going to do it again: while generally I feel like making comparisons is odious, I’ve got to do it here to strike home a point. If you picked up Batman Eternal no. 41 this week, go ahead and flip to that scene with Spoiler (no spoilers). Now open up to any page of Batgirl.  Don’t look at the characters, look at the environment.

Typically our eyes are scanning the dialogue and registering the characters so quickly, we don’t always spend much time on what’s going on in the rest of the panel. Tarr’s attention to the detail of what’s going on raises the bar for all comics, in my opinion. While an empty, minimalist, or starkly blank background can be an effective choice for an artist, it more often feels like a rushed one. Throw some speed lines on there and it’s all good, right? Maybe it gets the job done in other books, but Tarr shows what a real collaboration between a writer and artist can produce: a detailed world teeming with life and personality; panels that enrich and help tell (and sell) the story. Batgirl’s Burnside isn’t just full of bland generic architecture, it’s a neighborhood you might have seen somewhere. The college doesn’t have just a generic office, it’s a campus workroom with actual old-fashioned banker’s chairs. And I live in the Twin Cities, so Cuppa Joe’s evoked Mickey’s Diner for me personally.

Other highlights:

  • Dinah chewing out Babs for being a brat. Amen, sister!
  • Jordan Barberi being an appropriately obnoxious analog for that wretched Canadian we all love to hate.
  • Nadimah reading the riot act about narcissistic monsters.
  • For the first time the team opens the throttle on the action. It’s still a little densely composed, but the street chase/race is genuinely thrilling and you can almost swear you see actual movement.

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BRRNNN is a much better sound effect for a motorcycle: bravo!

The Bad

There are some black beans scattered throughout the otherwise tasty soup:

  • Why hasn’t Qadir punched Batgirl in the nose? Now she’s sneaking into his house at all hours and asking him to do illegal stuff that could get him into serious trouble? He does it because obviously he’s a guy who can’t say no, but that scene in the kitchen was a low point that I hope will be part of what gets ultimately rectified by the end of this arc.
  • Dinah Lance is in a band. Singing. Yeah.
  • The problem with Liam:
    Spoiler
    Liam didn’t fire on her even though she reached into her pocket and flung an explosive device at him. I suspect there’s more to Liam than meets the eye (clearly he knows more about Babs than he lets on), but in this moment he’s Burnside’s worst cop ever.
  • Sometimes Babs pulls a pouty-face that’s just a bit too much.

The Ugly

Barbara as a character is like no Batgirl you have ever known before. The woman (and yes, frankly, she’s over eighteen, she’s a woman), who just this past year liberated a sweatshop full of tortured impoverished children has “had it worse than most”.

The saving grace is Black Canary’s wrath (I would have stormed off on this whiner myself) and the writers’ clear recognition of Babs’ descent into this bizarre adolescent regression is uncharacteristic and unappealing. I’ve yet to feel completely satisfied by this team’s minor arcs within this major one, so I am wary about them pulling it all off and I’m just praying that it won’t take long for that to happen. Because I don’t know about you, but while I don’t mind if characters have major flaws and even welcome the occasional dark night of the soul, I like my superheros to be a little more super.

Lastly, the cover. It’s pretty boring and misleading. Come on, Batgirl, keep it juicy like 36 and 37. In the meantime, maybe pick up the variant by Aaron Lopresti which does homage to Murphy Anderson and Carmine Infantino instead.

Recommended If…

  • You just love Babs Tarr’s work as much as I do. Did I mention that I do?
  • You want to get aboard this train wreck-in-progress so you can see it to the end of the line.
  • Seeing this team finally gel is what you’ve been waiting for!

Overall

Grow up, Babs Gordon. And do it quick. After reading this issue, I have a much better appreciation for Stewart and Fletcher as writers: they’ve delivered solid book full of very clear (though occasionally wordy) storytelling. Maybe with all the exposition and set up out of the way, they can relax and get this series kicking some serious Bat-butt. If you’ve been hesitant about whether to get on board with this, this might be a good issue to give it a try.

SCORE: 7.5/10