There are some crazy quick things that happen in this book–and the sweeping hand of cleaning up a neighborhood junked full of trendy fare and obnoxious aesthetics may make your head spin a little, but I have to give major props to Hope Larson for just getting the job done so we can move on to a Batgirl world that makes so much more sense and pits her against real challenges that balance out what’s been an overwhelmingly cartoony experience for Babs this past year. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but reconciling Barbara Gordon to the rest of the Bat-Universe has been pretty difficult and it finally seems like Larson is bringing a much-needed balance to her character.
“Son of Penguin (Part 1)” also bring us a new and much-anticipated artist as well–Christopher Wildgoose, whose aesthetic is a nice middle point between the zanier animated freeform of Babs Tarr, and the grittier aggression of Rafael Albuquerque. Wildgoose may just have the steady mix of superhero and superfun to strike the right balance for this book’s audience.
I really like how he draws Babs as a real young woman who isn’t obsessed with her image, but has a specific style of her own without drawing attention to it. I also think he finds a nice contrast between the physical presence/behavior of Batgirl and that of Barbara Gordon. She occasionally feels a little long in the nose, but I like the specificity of her face (it’s not just a generic pretty-girl, which was a quality of Albuquerque’s art that I also very much appreciated).
I could quibble a little about some of the framing–in one action sequence in which Babs leaps from a van, her arm vanishes down the gutter of two panels and so seems to stretch on forever, but overall this is a great premiere effort for Wildgoose and well worth highlighting!
What about the story, though? How does Hope Larson handle Batgirl’s return to Burnside?
Fan-freakin’-tastically, that’s how.
Of course I’m biased. I very much disliked the hipster aesthetic that the previous team brought to the book, and Larson is doing everything in her power to deconstruct that as quickly as possible. It’s a little clunky because the deconstruction is so overt: Burnside has been taken over through gentrification in Barbara’s absence and she’s part of the problem. Her problem-solving Energy Company has created more trouble than it’s worth, it seems, driving out the younger crowd and making way for upscale snobbery. Where the previous team was perhaps trying to show how cool the millennial generation could be, this new effort is revealing the ugly side of that fence, and frankly it’s refreshing for a book to call out its own privilege.
Kudos for Babs getting back on track, too, with going back to school to become a librarian. Speaking strictly from a narrative perspective, this makes no sense whatsoever, but I don’t care: getting her back on this track is really exciting. As a professional access librarian myself, I could nitpick everything about her choice and those scenes in the classroom, but I’m not going to because I’m most interested in putting Batgirl back in the library than I am with an elegant solution to justify getting her there.
Did you get that off a promotional poster, Babs?
Which is all me way of saying that Larson putting Babs back on the train doesn’t necessarily feel organic at the moment, but I’m confident she will smooth over these difficulties. In one fell sweep, she’s dealt with Bab’s career, her random company that probably should never have been built, her environs, and, yes, even her love life.
A couple notes about Dick Grayson and Ethan Cobblepot.
- Dick Grayson! In a Batgirl book! And they’re chatting it up like good ol’ friends! Could be my favorite thing in a Batgirl comic in the last two years. And okay, they’re more brother-sister here than anything else, but hey, I’ll take it.
- Ethan Cobblepot: rich, privileged, and maybe corrupt. Babs isn’t fooled by his smooth exterior. There could an interesting dynamic between these two as she begins to investigate his involvement in potential Burnside human trafficking shenanigans. She won’t fall for this guy. He looks like John Constantine as a willowy teenager.
Who doesn’t love Dick?
Lastly, I will admit I like Francis Manapul’s variant cover better than Wildgoose’s original, but maybe I’m just tired of that cheeky sort of winking nod to the reader we’ve seen so much of from this title in the past.
- You’re ready for Batgirl to embark on her new crime-fighting career!
- You like to be on the ground floor of major changes in a character’s comic book continuity. I mean, come on: Babs is going back to school to become a librarian and Oswald Cobblepot has a kid?
- Dick and Babs! Sorta! Close enough!
This isn’t exactly elegant, but it’s getting the job done without apologies. I love that Larson has gone in with a surgical knife and is cutting away anything that won’t contribute to a healthy Batgirl title going forward. She’s also making her own mark by introducing Ethan Cobblepot to the world (can’t wait to see what he’s all about), and she’s brought Dick back into Babs’ life in a way that better than just peripheral “ex” nonsense. Wildgoose keeps the energy high in the art and this book has a solid combination of action and character building with a real emphasis on pushing the story forward. This is a very exciting time for Batgirl and I’m very optimistic about this new team!