The “Beyond Burnside Finale” brings Hope Larson’s first Batgirl story to its conclusion. Right up front there’s a lot of cool action in this comic as Batgirl has to work out how to take down Teacher with her enhanced mental/physical abilities. Right up front I’ll say that I liked her solution. Right up front I’ll also say I’m not sure it works entirely.
Teacher is an interesting problem for Batgirl to solve. She’s a savvy fighter who’s hopped up on an experimental enhancement (not unlike Venom in some ways). Her power is exploding even as her body is breaking down, which is delightfully creepy as, at one point, Batgirl follows a trail of her shedding hair to track her. Unfortunately it feels somewhat simplistic in this: that Batgirl must ultimately just track her down and take her out–the problem ultimately seems to lack further complexity. Even the manner in which Batgirl manages to handle the students (who seemed rather murderously inclined prior to the events here) reeks a little of convenient epiphanic consensus.
It’s a comic book, I tell myself. Let it go.
But I guess I kind of wish I didn’t have to.
Look alive there, Babs!
Larson spent a lot of time in the beginning of this arc setting up some interesting dynamics: Batgirl traveling through Asia, Babs Gordon flirting with the idea of getting involved in MMA fighting, Kai being caught up in more trouble than he could handle, the mysterious ancient superhero Fruit Bat. Cool stuff!
Which ultimately doesn’t really see its full potential here, alas.
Everything does get wrapped up. Tidily, but not too tidily. Larson did a great job of motivating events in a way that conclusions were logical even if a bit predictable. But perhaps particularly with regard to Fruit Bat I’m disappointed we didn’t get more: what is this old woman’s story? Is there more to her supernatural mystique? Will we see her again? She conveniently steps in at the end to help Teacher’s wayward students, but it begs the question: where was she to begin with? And does this really solve the problem of failing students looking for alternatives because of the desperate nature of the educational system.
I feel like Larson set the whole story up as a great social justice vehicle, but then failed to address the injustice except where it concerns punishing the people who were exploiting the system. I grew up with Babs through the 70s when she was a politician and one of those rabble-rousing do-gooders on the steps of Congress. Of course she doesn’t have a voice like that in Asia, but I kind of wished she had at least addressed the larger problem in some way.
I’m not saying she should be able to solve it. I just think it could have been addressed more deeply. Catching the bad guys and fixing Kai’s problem feels almost superficial to the system that is creating this criminal element.
That said, I did enjoy this issue–in particular the sort of dreamlike sequence in which Batgirl puzzles through her problem-solving. I kind of resent it being Kai who helps her with the revelation, but in one’s dream state, as they say, everyone is a projection of the dreamer, so it’s fine. I especially liked the regression moment when they find themselves children again. This is the kind of nuance and character development at which Larson seems to excel.
Babs has too many brains for her own good
Not only is this the finale to Larson’s first Batgirl arc, but it’s also artist Rafael Albuquerque’s final issue for the time being. Still sad to see him go, but I can well appreciate that they are making this transition as Batgirl heads back to Burnside (rather than in the middle of an arc). It almost feels like we’ll be getting a whole new series all over again come December: new artist (Christian Wildgoose), new location for Babs, and a brand new storyline from Larson that’s liable to be very different from this one.
Albuquerque’s final issue is full of really agile fight sequences–the energy of which has really carried this arc well. I really love Albuquerque’s focus on the images–how Larson allows the fights to remain free from being junked up with dialogue so that the art can tell the story. This kind of symbiosis is highly underrated in comics where the standard has been (and continues to be in some fashion) battles full of quips and exposition. We just don’t need it and Albuquerque does a brilliant job of carrying the action without it. I hope to see that continue in the future.
Overall I give the arc an 8 for effort: it brought us new stuff, challenged our assumptions about the audience DC is trying to hit with this, and it feels like it’s put Babs back on the right path. Does it dazzle? Not quite. But hopefully Larson’s got the feel for the medium now (seems like she does!), and the stories will get bigger and bolder from here on out.
- You want to see how Larson wraps it all up!
- Albuquerque’s swan song to the girl with the grapple gun: it’s been a great adventure!
- The all-too brief return of Fruit Bat!
This conclusion of the “Beyond Burnside” Rebirth falls a mite short of my own expectations, even though it’s a solid read and I appreciate that all the loose ends were tied off. I was really hoping to end with some whiz-bang revelations and an epic climactic battle of strength and will. We got both, but in smaller doses that I think we could have. Still, I’m calling it overall a success and looking forward to the Gordon girl’s next adventure!