Saturday, May 27, 2017

Batgirl: Beyond Burnside (comics)

Writer: Hope Larson
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


  1. Ah, "Golden Dawn"...the trashy Batman comic that will likely forever be our benchmark for trashy Batman comics. It's so frustrating when writers decide to leave their mark on a character by creating a brand-new long-lost love interest only to either fridge them or make them a villain. The first volume of the New 52 Nightwing did something similar, but Kyle Higgins and Hope Larson sound somewhat similar in that they're both able to *kind of* pull it off insofar as they're able to write three-dimensional characters. Still, it's a convention that should probably be retired except in the event of a long creative run where the writer is bringing back a character from an earlier story. Like, Dan Slott could get away with that sort of thing on ASM. But the first volume of a relaunched Batgirl title? I dunno...

  2. Yeah, Golden Dawn is pretty much my go-to. Man, that whole thing amounted to NOTHING. Whenever I see a "long lost love interest we've never heard of before" situation, the hero being comedically ineffective and the story just sort of ending without any real victory, input or agency from the hero, I'm probably gonna bring it up. "Trashy" is a great way to describe it.

    I'd love for it to be completely retired, yeah. You just can't really get away with it anymore. Comic storytelling and what is accepted anymore has come so far you can't take a narrative shortcut like that and expect it to fly. If you're going to do a story like that, we need two to three arcs MINIMUM with the character beforehand, otherwise, why should we give a crap? You need to be an EXCEPTIONAL writer to sell us on a character and make us care about them in the midst of their death or refuge in shady business arc.

    So yeah, like, Scott Snyder or Dan Slott could get away with it if they wanted. But the first arc of a book by an incoming creative team with an all new character? Get outta here. Fugeddaboutit.

  3. On the other hand, I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to a writer trying this concept in reverse. Like, if Hope Larson happens to still be writing Batgirl in thirty issues and decides to add a reformed Kai to the permanent supporting cast? And *then* to have him become a love interest, having mended his ways? That would be cool.

  4. I would be perfectly fine with that, actually. I still wouldn't have led off with this story, but at least there we're going somewhere with the character and he's not a one off. We'll see how it goes, I guess. I'd hope that Hope Larson has an idea of what she wants to do with the character and some kind of plan for him, otherwise he's kind of pointless.