Hope Larson looks to be doing some slow-burn setup with this continuation of last month’s “Beyond Burnside”. After making big changes in Batgirl’s rebirth, it feels like she might be playing it a bit safe, but I’m okay with that and here’s 3+1 reasons why you should be too:

  1. Larson is a good writer, she’s got a solid handle on Batgirl’s personality overall, and is working to balance out her strengths (physical, intellectual) with her weaknesses (emotional). Babs does some dithering in this comic and some may find that a tad bit off-putting, but I’ll tell you what she’s not doing: whining and then making stupid choices (more on this in a moment).
  2. Babs is traveling through Asia and the change of scenery continues to bolster this title’s determination to demonstrate a new direction; culturally we’re in a new place devoid of coffee shops and suburban ennui. It’s a great opportunity to introduce new kinds of characters that lack predictable American attitudes and affectations. While I think Larson could go even farther with this, I think she’s doing a great job with what she’s managed so far.
  3. I’m actually savoring the lack of goofy costumed villains for the moment. Of course the schoolgirl assassins will be back soon enough, and hopefully we’ll get to see more of the mysterious Fruit Bat, but Babs doing the detective work is just as interesting and we’re getting lots of strong character development for both her and her in-trouble friend Kai.
  4. Lots of tie-backs to both the Simone-era and old Burnside, which helps with the continuity; Larson is honoring it all as she edges away from the previous creative teams to craft something wholly her own. So while even though the look and feel and tone of the book is radically different (and welcome at that), it doesn’t feel like total sticker shock if you’ve been reading the series up until now.

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All that and scary schoolgirls!

The main action of this issue surrounds Babs delving deeper into the mystery she’s found herself a part of due to having a run-in with her old friend Kai (about whom she has more than just merely friendly feelings). She wants to hunt down the source of these schoolgirl assassins and has decided to find their master by getting involved with the MMA fighting competition.

She immediately hits a roadblock when she discovers that women are not allowed to fight and have therefore been shrugging off to other countries where they can get sponsorship. She’s convinced to stay and train in exchange for access or information to what’s going on underground. We’re just skirting the surface of what seems to be a complex plan on Babs’ part, but it’s pretty exciting to see her actually doing the work to unravel the mystery.

This was something lacking in the previous incarnation. While it was fun for her to flit from one crazy costumed scheme to another each issue, the book lacked gravitas and it was hard to feel like there were any real stakes. Larson is starting to create stakes for Babs, and the story feels like it might develop the kind of complexity more befitting our becowled hero.

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And the fights are real–and that feels good too

Rafael Albuquerque’s artwork is going to divide the audience on this one, I think. Me personally, I like what he’s doing. The characters still have strange noses, but I like that he draws Babs with a solid shape and gives her natural stances that suggest she’s confident (for the most part) and has a sense of her own power. Occasionally he makes an expression that’s a little bizarre, but his action is clean and his style of focusing on the figures in the fight sequences and sometimes dropping the backgrounds (and the panels) out entirely works well.

Dave McCaig is on colors for this book and I’m still debating whether it’s working for me. I loved his muted palette in the limited series Arkham Manor, where the sallow colors lent to the tone of decay in what was basically a horror comic about Wayne Manor being converted into an insane asylum. For this book, I’d like to see a little more color, though. Some of the scenes work wonderfully: Babs and Kai in the pool cast in golden tones was lovely. But other scenes, like in the gym and when Batgirl is pursuing the drone seem to call for something darker or having more contrast to distinguish them from the more mundane stuff. In the first issue it didn’t stand out to me as much, but now I am noticing it and thinking the shifts in scene could use more demarcation in this regard.

Recommended If…

  • You want to take Babs Gordon seriously as a superhero again; she’s still a work-in-progress, but Larson’s story shows much promise!
  • Batgirl handling her relationship issues in a much better way than we’ve seen in a number of mediums recently is something you’d like to experience for yourself. I don’t love it that there’s a slightly awkward romance under the surface here, but Babs isn’t stupid about it, and Larson writes her behaving like a rational woman and not a befuddled child.

Overall

What this book may lack in flash at the moment, it makes up for with excellent character development and a Barbara Gordon who really is starting to look like her old self now that she’s as far away from Burnside as one could hope. The mystery of the killer schoolgirl clan is simmering on Hope Larson’s burner as she navigates our Batgirl deeper into what is starting to look like a fringe fight club. This issue is rather low key, but here’s to hoping it’s building toward some explosive revelations and big Bat-action!

SCORE: 7/10