“You can’t see the future when the past is standing in your way,” Barbara Gordon muses from a rooftop in the latest issue of Hope Larson’s “Beyond Burnside.” Barbara “Babs” Gordon — Batgirl — may not have the biggest fanbase or the greatest backstory that DCEU has to offer (as Batman’s apprentice and Commissioner Gordon’s daughter). In the new series “Batgirl ” Eisner Award winning writer, Hope Larson continues to revitalize Batgirl as a character. In the limited scope of past iterations like the unspeakable Joel Schumacher movies, Batgirl can easily come off as an ill-conceived attempt to unabashedly — and unsuccessfully — capture a wider female audience. Even her recent, better-developed-if-controversial role in Brian Azzarello’s animated adaptation of Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” leaves something to be desired. But Larson’s Batgirl is different. By allowing Batgirl to step out of Gotham, Larson and artist Rafael Albequerque let the audience look past previous versions of the character and actually care about this Batgirl’s future.
In “Beyond Burnside” Barbara embarks on a quest to meet an old, wheelchair-bound martial arts master Known as “The Fruit Bat.” When the Fruit Bat is assaulted by an assassin in a school girl uniform Babs wastes no time coming to the rescue. When the assassin escapes Batgirl is left with more questions than answers. She also serendipitously meets up with a childhood friend, Kai, who is mutually interested in being more than friends.
Externally, Larson’s Batgirl is a badass. She’s ditched the skin-tight latex suit and high heels for a leather jacket and a pair of bright yellow logger boots. She knows karate and Ju Jitsu, she’s a detective, she fearlessly eats eyebals and octopus, and she speaks Japanese. While that cool skill set and updated costume might be standard issue for any modern disciple of the Batman, those traits are only the Batgirl side of Batgirl. Larson’s version of Barbara Gordon may be a badass, but she’s also deeply, dynamically human. We watch her wonder if her attraction to Kai stems from the possibility that she will need to save him. The doubts she displays in her heartthrob’s ability to handle her — cape and all — strikes a chord with anyone who has ever wondered “am I too much for this person?” And there is so much to Larson’s Barbara Gordon. She’s funny, she’s smart, and even in her semi-constant state of self-doubt, she is more than competent. She’s fun to read about.
We would be sorely remiss not to mention Rafael Albequerque’s contribution to “Batgirl: Rebirth.” Albequerque absolutely nails the pencils in each panel, which is by no means simply to say he can draw. Throughout the story whether Barbara is deep in thought, awkwardly flirting, or conflicted about lying to protect her identity, every one of her facial expressions is spot-on. And it doesn’t stop there; his depiction of combat sequences are spectacular. Some of the fights are so well-plotted that the reader is just as taken aback by the outcome as the fighters on the page. Through his fabulously readable paneling, Albuquerque’s work enriches Larson’s story with a whole separate dimension.
Although it’s early to call Batgirl a full-fledged epic just yet, with such a loveable protagonist and such a excellent artwork, enthusiasts should definitely keep an eye on Batgirl, and on her creative team, for many issues to come. Barbara’s adventures in Asia are just starting.
The third installation of “Batgirl: Rebirth” hits newsstands on September 28th, 2016. Don’t miss it.