Saturday, May 27, 2017
Batgirl: Beyond Burnside (comics)
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Collects: Batgirl (2016) #1-6
So, with Rebirth, I've decided I'm going to try whatever I can find of it, even if they're books I don't normally pay attention to. Batgirl falls under that category. It's not that I don't care about the character or anything, it's more that any time I was interested, I didn't get the chance for one reason or another. Cassandra Cain was from before I got heavy into comics. Stephanie Browns time looked super fun, but the trades went out of print stupid quick. I think I read the first trade of the New 52 book, but forgot to review it, which probably doesn't say a lot of good things. I have a digital copy of the first trade of the Burnside era on Comixology, but haven't read it yet for one reason or another. So here we are.
Off the bat, the first arc tics a few boxes on the list of things I like. Bright colors and international adventures. I'm not sure what happened at the end of the New 52 era, but apparently Babs decided she needed to get away for a bit, so she travels Asia. In the process, she meets an old friend from her childhood who is apparently in a lot of trouble, which naturally leads Batgirl into some karate fights. I like it when heroes get out of their natural habitat, so I'm predisposed to enjoy this.
Some story issues held it back though. She re-connects with this friend, Kai, in the most coincidental, once in a lifetime way possible; she drops into Japan, only to find Kai is her room-mate at a hostel. This is four pages into the first issue, mind. Four pages for me to raise an eyebrow. Granted, this kind of stuff happens in stories sometimes and this isn't the first comic to do it, but it feels more and more like a narrative cheat these days. With all the technology we have today, there are more avenues than ever to get from A to B inside a page or two.
More than that, I feel like the "friend, possible boyfriend in trouble" thing really held it back. Sometimes, writers can pull this kind of thing off, but it's very hard to sell, because we don't know this new character from Adam. Kai has an advantage that, say, Dawn Golden does not in that he's actually present for most of the volume, so we actually get to know him a bit, but it's obvious fairly early that he's involved in something shady, which immediately leaves you wanting the heroine to distance herself from him, not lock lips. Her contemplating relationships this soon into reconnecting with the guy, when she has suspicions, also felt sort of off too, because again, we don't know this guy much at all, so it's hard to have investment in anything related to him.
Credit where it's due, though, at least Batgirl didn't think about marriage, sharing her identity and giving up the cowl five minutes into dating the guy. How many times have we seen that one pulled with Batman? The third volume of Batman: The Dark Knight feels like the most recent. So Batgirl definitely has one up on her mentor/friend/inspiration/whatever-they-decided-on-this-time.
I guess I feel like the emotional core of the story might have landed better if we'd met Kai before and this story had been a little deeper into the run. I'm also surprised at how quickly we're dropping "international adventuring" to head back to Burnside. I felt like that was a selling point, as part of the new direction in the wake of the Burnside era, to be mined for a years worth of issues, maybe. Instead, it's over inside of five. So much for that.
But all that aside, the writing is perfectly fine for the book and maybe even as far as good. Batgirl comes off as intelligent and compassionate. We see visualizations of her thought process and the times she searches through her memory. I particularly liked seeing her work through possible plans of attack through the art itself. She even brings back thought balloons. It's old school as hell - I mean, who think to themselves that much? - but it's distinctly "comic book" and there's a slight bit of joy to seeing them again. I mean, no one uses friggin' thought balloons these days. Thoughts are all in captions now. So it breaks the mold just enough to be interesting.
Top shelf artwork helps pull you past the issues, too. Rafael Albuquerque has been a favorite of mine since American Vampire - god, that's never coming back, is it? - and while his style works better for horror, it does just fine with superheroics. As usual, it's distinct in that it's almost sketchy at times, maybe under-inked, as though raw pencils were colored. His faces are very expressive and the action dynamic. He was a good choice, because I'd likely have tried this book just for his art alone.
I'd go so far as to say the art bumps this book up enough to be worth recommending. At least for a read. We'll see how it goes in the future, though.
My Opinion: Read It