We’re in Part 4 of the “Beyond Burnside” arc and all the elements of the story that Hope Larson has been setting up are coming together. We’ve met Schoolgirl early on, but now it’s time to meet Teacher–and Teacher has some very curious surprises!

First off, though I want to draw some attention to the beautiful cover for this issue by Rafael Albuquerque (who also does the interiors–more on that later). Love the stylish floating dragon and the sinister look of Teacher enough to forgive the fact that the first encounter between the two doesn’t come to anything nearly as proximate as this. It’s unfortunate that a major detail: Teacher’s full-sleeve red tattoos didn’t make it to print, though!  They’re very cool-looking against her (possibly literally?) undead white skin.

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Teacher’s golden rule involves a painful san jie gun beatdown

We’ve only just barely get to meet Teacher in this issue, but she looks genuinely formidable: she beats Kai to a pulp (which is maybe not that big of a deal–Kai is kind of a loser), but we know if she taught Schoolgirl, then she must be a force to reckon with–and Batgirl is likely going to find out just how much very soon!

This issue has a great balance of plot and action. Babs has to get back to Kai now, knowing he’s at the center of this mystery she’s trying to solve, and that his life is in danger.  In a rare bit of “Real Life isn’t as Convenient as Most Comic Books Make it Out to Be”, Babs struggles with mundane things like booking a flight and internet café wireless speeds. I love this kind of stuff because the kind of stuff we all struggle with in our day-to-day lives, and I love that Batgirl continues to be rather down-to-earth compared to Batman, whose resources and fancy tech would just blow through these problems without a hitch.

It also shows Babs being clever to either put her time to good use, or figure out ways to make the situation work out for her (though I do feel sorry for the guy who’s trying to upload his term paper–c’mon Babs, that’s kind of not cool! Would have been funnier, less invasive if she had just interrupted his Pokemon game or something frivolous).

Frivolity is not a word to be thrown about lightly with Larson’s complex plot and hard-hitting characterization. Even though Babs spends a little time on the phone with Frankie, it’s mostly business and not a lot of girl talk (only the most necessary). Batgirl also isn’t just flashing herself all over Asia: she slinks into Kai’s hospital room in a great scene worthy of her mentor predecessor.

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Batgirl is all-business dealing with Kai–even if there’s 50 shades of Clark Kent’s glasses going on in this scene.

Yes, it’s a bit ridiculous that Kai can’t figure out that Babs and Batgirl are one and the same, but you know what? I’m just going to give it a pass. Larson at least addresses the fact that they are in proximity by suggesting that Batgirl is protecting Gordon (wouldn’t fool me, but then Kai strikes me as sort of stupid).

Kai does a lot of apologizing and blubbering (he really is an unlikable coward), and Batgirl brooks no quarter with him. I was surprised that she suggested Kai try to patch things up with Babs once the smoke clears after he blurts that he’s in love with her, but I expect she only wants to smooth things over and let the guy down more kindly than he deserves.

We find out more about this weird bio-tech that Batgirl is chasing on the market–how it’s tied to brain-boosting, but also very dangerous (and likely fatal).  Teacher is using it for her “Cram School”, but it must have more sinister applications because, well, something’s not right with Teacher.

The final moments of this issue definitely surprised me–Larson has a gift for taking unexpected turns and this is a big one. It’s probably the biggest cliffhanger since Larson started writing (I’ve mentioned before, this arc has been a bit of a slow burn), but I can’t wait to see what’s up–and more important–what Batgirl is going to do about it!

Albuquerque delivers a really solid issue through-and-through. I kvetched a little last time that some of the portraiture felt rushed and unlovely, but this go-round all the expressions are spot-on. Batgirl looks heroic, Babs looks travel-worn, but ready for action, and Teacher is menacing.  Heavy use of manga-like screen tones work well for contrast throughout, and Dave McCraig deserves big kudos for finding a great balance here between his usual ochres and greens with some well-placed golds and purples that complement Batgirl’s costume (which looks fabulous here despite the usual objections to those Doc Martins).

After an issue like this, I feel all the more sorry to see Albuquerque go, but either way he’s going out with a bang!

Recommended If…

  • You want to see Kai get a well-deserved butt-kicking.
  • Batgirl takes on Teacher’s pets and it’s all martial arts artistry (even if she ultimately punks out a bit).

Overall

Some silliness involving Batgirl’s identity notwithstanding, this is best of Hope Larson’s “Beyond Burnside” opening arc yet. As the story unravels, we get to see how this mystery is perfectly suited for the specific talents of Barbara Gordon: her tech savvy, her eidetic memory, her big heart, and all her fighting skill have come into play along this journey. Now she’s about to take on an unexpected antagonist: not merely a deadly martial artist, but perhaps an undead one?

SCORE: 8.5/10