Barbara Gordon does something in this month’s issue of Batgirl that I’m pretty sure we never saw her do during her Burnside run (and possibly even before Burnside, when she was still under the helm of Gail Simone): she got fed up with someone’s shenanigans (Kai’s, of course), and utterly left him in the lurch.

To be fair, she gave him a chance to explain himself (more than a fair shake if you ask me), and his refusal to come clean had me thinking in the back of my mind: Babs, ol’ girl, if you’re going to tolerate his nonsense, you and I are going to have words.

Fortunately she did not tolerate his nonsense and therefore the words I have for Babs are all praise.

I like what Hope Larson’s doing with this character. She’s still got a big heart. She still wants to help a friend in need, but she’s also not a pushover and she doesn’t apologize for looking out for herself or staying focused on the job.

Because she’s Batgirl. She’s got more important things to do than hold other people’s hands. Especially when doing so puts her and her operation at risk, which was exactly what Kai was doing. And yes, it’s likely Kai is going to be in big trouble as a result, but that’s what happens when you tangle with the wrong people and then refuse to accept others’ help. He’s looking at a hard lesson coming–let’s just see what it’s going to cost.

Meanwhile, Babs’ MMA fight training is off to a bad start, but even though she gets walloped, it’s clear that is only happens because she was unprepared to face an assassin for an opponent and she was distracted by the tattoo that identified her as such. Later, when they have a second encounter, they are so clearly more evenly matched as Batgirl is at the top of her form and not underestimating what she is dealing with. While I know some people think she got punked and were critical last issue, I think one of the things Larson is doing with the character that really makes her stand out for me is that she is addressing the fact of Batgirl’s youth without making her naive (or just plain stupid–as she has been in some previous storylines).

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She means business!

Another part of this book that is going really well in terms of development is that there is a heady spotlight on Batgirl’s detective skills. Batgirl being a tech savant was kind of interesting during her time in Burnside, but being a tech savant doesn’t really equal genius in my book. Here we see the full range of Barbara Gordon’s prowess on display. She’s culturally astute, she’s keenly observant, and, of course, there’s that famous photographic memory of hers, which always comes in useful.

And the complement of her abilities as Batgirl juxtaposed against her competency as a young woman in the world aren’t a contradiction. She’s not a social misfit who bites her lower lip with embarrassment every time she encounters some new situation as if she were still a teenager.

They mystery she is chasing down is also starting to show some clarity. I mentioned last month that Larson seems to be slow-burning this one, and I think that’s still the case; if you’re the sort of person who insists on bright shiny (and loud) action for most of your comic book pages, you might be befuddled by the lack of screaming neon colors and high kicks. There’s some solid action here (and artist Rafael Albuquerque does a nice job again with a variety of lean shots, silhouettes, and broken panels to convey it, but the bulk of this issue is about moving the plot forward: getting Babs to South Korea, showing her making the connection between Kai’s troubles and her occluded schoolgirl assassins, and even tacitly deepening her relationship with the mysterious Fruit Bat, whose counsel she recalls like a wise voice from beyond.

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On the prowl in the cowl!

And speaking of Albuquerque, we just got news that yes, he’ll be departing Batgirl after issue No. 6. This is a disappointingly short run for such a great artist, but it’s also good to keep the talent feeling fresh.  This issue I found some of Albuquerque’s portraiture to be a little hatchy-looking–Babs doesn’t need to be drop dead gorgeous, but she shouldn’t be unattractive. Yet occasionally her expressions look a little painful: the crimped up nose, the limp-looking hair, the schlubby clothes.

Again, not asking her to be a fashionista (we’ve had quite enough of that), but a little more care with her face and expressions would have been nice here. I likely wouldn’t have even really noticed it to such a degree as to make it worthy of mentioning except that there are moments (particularly when she is in her Batgirl togs) that she looks amazing, so I just sort of which there had been a little more consistency.

Still, I am going to enjoy the time we have left with Albuquerque. He was a brilliant choice to get this book back on track for the Rebirth event and I hope we get to see some stellar work from him throughout the rest of this opening arc. And I look forward to seeing what Christian Wildgoose will be bringing to the table in the future.

Recommended If…

  • You like a good international potboiler. Babs is awesome as a globetrotting crime-fighter/detective!
  • You’re into MMA fighting (definitely continues to be part of what’s driving this story).

Overall

I shouldn’t be so impressed that Batgirl strikes me as an actual mature crime-fighter in Hope Larson’s takeover of this series, but I can’t help it. I’m enjoying Batgirl again in a way I haven’t for too long. I never thought I would find myself intrigued by a story like this with Babs so far from “home” and largely on her own, but it’s just the break we’ve needed from what had become a weirdly overpopulated series full of deranged cartoon villains and too many BFFs for our Bat-hero. Larson and Albuquerque have made this book a true stand out–for all the right reasons.

SCORE: 8/10