While the new creative team on “Batgirl” have pledged to lighten the tone of the series, which has been undeniably dark and violent since the launch of the New 52, co-writer Brenden Fletcher says his collaborators Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr have given Barbara Gordon’s batsuit a killer redesign.
Fans have responded in an overwhelmingly positive manner since DC Comics unveiled the new look for the young hero, which includes a leather jacket as opposed to the traditional superhero spandex and Doc Martens-inspired boots — a far smarter and more sensible choice than knee-high stilettos.
Stewart, who is co-writing the series as well as providing layouts for interior artist Tarr, provided the cover for “Batgirl” #36, the second issue of the new creative team’s run, and CBR has the exclusive first look. The cover features two new villains — twin sister motorcycle-riding assassins — and Stewart told CBR News that they’re just the start as the series will be introducing an army of new felons and friends to Barbara’s supporting cast.
Tarr, a newcomer to comics, tells CBR she is is thrilled by the entire experience, explaining that her approach to Batgirl’s look is sexy but not sexual and expressing her interest in revealing details about Barbara’s fashion sense when she’s not crimefighting.
The creative team also discussed the impact Gail Simone’s recently-concluded run with the character will have on the series moving forward and how “Batgirl” ties into “Gotham Academy,” another news Bat-series coming later this year from Fletcher, Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl.
CBR News: You no doubt had high hopes about the announcement of the new direction and new look you were bringing to “Batgirl” as the new creative team, but honestly, you must be blown away with the level of excitement the reveal has generated
Cameron Stewart: Absolutely. We’ve always been confident that what we were doing was good and was going to be received well, but we didn’t know it was going to catch on quite so hugely. It’s great. More than anything, it’s just really vindicating and a really strong confirmation that what we’re doing is good and the right choice.
Babs Tarr: Having no comic experience and have never launched a title, I was really not sure what was going to happen, and all of my friends in the comic book industry told me this is a really crazy response. This is not how it’s supposed to happen. This is not how it usually goes down. It’s been pretty cool.
Do you think the positive response is directly related to the, I don’t want to say lightness, but fun and freshness that it looks like you are going to bring to the title?
Brenden Fletcher: I think it’s definitely the fun, but I think another part of it is a response to the truth of the iconography of the character and how Batgirl has been represented in popular media through the years. There are millions of people that know who Batgirl is. I think we are just trying to find a way to represent the character that speaks to the larger fanbase.
Stewart: There’s also been a lot of discussion in comic circles over the past little while about the representation of women in comics and the industry, and I think we are addressing some of those issues, as well. I think it’s kind of a confluence of many things, where we tapped into something that was bubbling under the surface. We just struck a vein.
Tarr: We struck oil. [Laughs]
Fletcher: The design really helped. Cameron and Babs delivered a killer redesign for the costume, and I think that went a long way to help the enthusiasm.
Tarr: That was in the same vein of what we were trying to do, too. The costume is still sexy, but not sexual. It’s modern and cute for girls. It’s something they’d like to wear and cosplay and connect with. You could tell right away it wasn’t the usual stuff.
The Doc Martens have definitely been the accessory that has received the most play. How did you land on the classic leather boots?
Stewart: I did the first pass on the costume, and I was going through a lot of street fashion blogs and looking for shapes and styles that I thought were appealing and could be adapted into a superhero aesthetic. One of things that we are trying to do with the series is portray Batgirl honestly, as a 21-year old girl.
Fletcher: She’s always been a 21-year old girl in the New 52.
Stewart: I wanted something that looked like something that a 21-year old, if given the option, would put together for herself. I wanted something contemporary and fashionable, and one of things that I kept on seeing was leggings and Doc Martens. I already knew that Doc Martens made a yellow patent leather boot because I’ve see it before. And it just fit in. Yellow is part of Batgirl’s color scheme, and it just felt like a natural fit. As soon as the idea came into my head, I thought it was better than giving her the typical knee-high superhero boots. I definitely didn’t want to use knee-high stiletto boots, because I think those always look vaguely ridiculous as a superhero costume. I knew that I wanted to do a practical boot, which is something that dates back to Darwyn Cooke’s redesign of Catwoman. Darwyn took away the stiletto heels and gave her engineer boots or motorcycle boots. It was such a great idea, I wanted to steal it.
When I saw that the Doc Martens actually already existed as a yellow boot, it seemed like a no-brainer. It’s something in the real world, and it’s already a fashion item.
Tarr: Girls are buying them and wearing them to work. And now they get to say, “I’m a superhero. I feel like Batgirl. I feel strong today.” You’re representing but you still get to feel fashionable. It’s the best of both worlds.
Stewart: It’s not just for cosplay. It’s like they’re wearing a little signifier. I don’t think we’re ever allowed to mention Doc Martens by name in the comic. But it would be pretty cool if they could acknowledge it somehow.
This may constitute a spoiler, but does Barbara ever wear her boots to school?
Stewart: At least not yet. It’s still part of her superhero outfit so, at least at this stage, she’s not willing to be that bold.
Tarr: I just gave her some yellow Converse in a sketch, though. [Laughs]
When Barbara’s not Batgirl, what’s her style?
Tarr: She’s in school and she’s battling crime so she doesn’t have the flashiest wardrobe. She’s not the girl that is always going shopping or has a ton of stuff, but she’s still going to have cute clothes — just not the flashiest. She’ll have more practical stuff, like boyfriend jeans and fitted T-shirts. More relaxed and comfortable but still cute.
Is it exciting to be working on a character that may become a fashion icon, especially for girls and women reading comics?
Tarr: I am so excited. It feels like the boys are writing it for me. They brought me on, and I think it’s because I have this fashion sense and girls kind of respond to my art really well. Combined with a character like Batgirl, I think it’s just going to be out of control. I can’t wait to bring what I have to the table and translate what the boys have written and Cameron’s layouts to reality. It’s really exciting. I can’t wait.
Fletcher: Everything we do is because of Babs.
Fletcher: The villains are not exactly what we had intended from the outset. Babs’ influence has absolutely found its way to the story level. And it’s so much better for it. Cameron’s layouts are mind-blowing.
Tarr: They’re so good.
Fletcher: I’ve been gushing to him all morning about them. And I’m sorry, but now I’m doing it in public.
Brenden, you just mentioned Batgirl’s villains, and CBR has the cover for “Batgirl” #36, which we are sharing today, and it features twin assassins on motorcycles. Can you tell us about them and what else we can expect in terms of villains?
Stewart: It’s going to be all new villains. Part of the fun of this book was taking Batgirl out of Gotham and leaving everything behind — and everything negative that comes with [Gotham], including the typical Batgirl villains. We wanted to have villains that erupted as a result of her new environment.
Fletcher: We wanted Batgirl to have her own set of villains. She is always just going to be a shadow of Batman if all she can ever do is fight Batman’s villains. We really feel strongly about providing her with her own supporting cast and her own villains.
Stewart: As for the twins, I don’t want to say too much about them other than that they are tied to Barbara’s past in an unusual way. If we give too much more than that, we’ll spoil the story. But they are twin sisters on motorcycles that are influenced and inspired by anime. Their costume design was another jam between Babs and I. It was another interesting hybrid by the two of us.
Tarr: That was fun.
With Gail Simone’s last issue coming out this week, I’m wondering, how much of what she introduced during her run will feature into your run on “Batgirl”?
Fletcher: It’s the same character. We just have the character taking the logical next step in her life. It should feel like it’s a continuation of Gail’s run in a way, but it’s a new day for [Barbara]. It’s like when Cameron moved to Berlin, or when I moved to Montreal. I moved to a new city, and I had some of my same friends here, but my circumstances were a little bit different and the way I lived my life was a little bit different — but I didn’t change.
Stewart: Part of the point of moving away, when I did it, twice in fact, was to find new friends and new experiences in a new environment and to see how I would develop in a new way. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you leave all of those people in the past and never talk to them again. It just means you’re taking a bit of a different direction.
Like Brenden says, we’re continuing on. We’re not ignoring what Gail has done, but we’re building on top of it. Creatively, I think Brenden, Babs and I want to do our own thing. That’s one of the interesting things in comics — with these long-running characters, different creative teams are able to do their own things with their version of the character and not necessarily just repeat what’s come before. I don’t think anyone, least of all me, has any real interest in singing a cover song. We want to play our own instruments and play something new. We hope it’s consistent with what people love about Batgirl but is something different and new and our own thing.
When your run begins, all of Barbara’s material belongings have been lost in a fire and she moves to Burnside for a new start in college. Will we be seeing a lot of Barbara at school and engaging with her fellow students and the faculty, or will the series remain a superhero comic and most of the action will follow Batgirl fighting crime?
Tarr: I don’t even know that one yet. [Laughs]
Fletcher: We won’t see Barbara at school in every issue, but the type of research that she’s doing for her thesis figures into the plot. We can’t give too much away, but there’s a reason we chose a borough like Burnside. This will all figure into the plot. None of these choices have been made lightly. It’s also going to make for really new and fresh Batgirl stories. Not just Barbara Gordon being studious.
I read you wanted to bring a “Veronica Mars” by way of “Sherlock” vibe to the series, with Batgirl being a detective, doing investigative work and solving mysteries. Is that right?
Stewart: Yes. One of things that Brenden and I talked about when we were putting together our approach to the series was that we wanted to deal with criminals that can’t just be defeated by a punch to the face.
Tarr: She’s not hunting murderers anymore. It’s much more in the Sherlock Holmes vein. She’s analyzing, she’s investigating, she’s solving crimes.
Stewart: One of the things that we’ve noticed is that we haven’t seen a lot of her detective skills portrayed visually. There’s been a lot of talk of her intelligence and her detective skills, but surprisingly enough, it really hasn’t been done a whole lot in a visual manner. It’s either other characters describing it or her narrating it. We really wanted to put an emphasis on showing it to the reader, so there are a lot of sequences of her figuring out puzzles or investigating crime scenes and we are seeing her piece these things together.
Are these going to be done-in-one adventures or longer story arcs?
Fletcher: How about both? [Laughs]
Stewart: Our first story arc lasts a bunch of issues, but we’re trying to tell smaller, self-contained stories along the way. They are done-in-ones with a bigger arc running through them.
Who will be featured in her supporting cast?
Fletcher: There are some familiar faces popping up. Alysia, her soon-to-be former roommate, is still around. She has a new roommate in Frankie, who is a girl that she’s known for several years and met in physiotherapy. Frankie is one of her best friends she hasn’t had enough time to spend with over the years, and now, because Frankie lives in Burnside working for a start-up company, it makes sense for Barbara to room with her. Barbara will also meet a bunch of new characters at school that figure into different parts of her life. Again, we don’t want to give too much away but there is a lot of fun stuff going on with a lot of crossovers between Barbara’s academic and social world and Batgirl’s need to have allies.
Since you mentioned crossovers, what’s the relationship between “Batgirl” and “Gotham Academy?” I know you have called them sister books.
Stewart: At the moment, it’s mostly about shared world-building. There are going to be a lot of common references. If we mention a band in “Batgirl,” maybe one of the characters in “Gotham Academy” is also a fan of that band. There will be lots of little visual echoes that make the two books feel like they are part of the same world, but down the line, who is to say? There are a lot of opportunities for the two to cross over, but for the moment, we’re just trying to stick with the world-building between the two.
More importantly, they are spiritually sister books. The goals that we have for them are the same. Brenden is the common element in both of these books, and we wanted to do something fun and catered to a different audience than is usually served.
Fletcher: We wanted to build a cast of diverse, fun characters. It’s one of the reasons we’re expanding the cast of “Batgirl.” It’s what we’ll see in “Gotham Academy,” too. The real difference between the two books, other than that one is more of a Harry Potter-like mystery and the other one is more of modern urban series, is really just the ages of the characters. You can almost imagine characters attending Gotham Academy graduating to Burnside College, where their life take on a different tone just as the books takes on a different tone. But it’s all Gotham, and they both have that Gotham grit. The darker elements that fuel the fires of Gotham are there.
Is “Batgirl” an all-ages book?
Stewart: We’re not doing anything explicit. There is no explicit violence. There is no explicit sexuality. That stuff is definitely suggested at some times though. In our heads, we’re kind of writing it for an age group between 16 and 25. I am cautioning because I have seen a lot of people say online, “I can’t wait to read this with my eight-year old.” I would say, maybe you should read it first and determine if it’s appropriate.
Again, we’re not doing anything that’s explicit or gratuitous, but we do touch on some more mature themes.
Fletcher: And that’s because of where she is and the lifestyle of the people around her. It’s only suitable for that age. We want to be honest about it. As Cameron said, there is nothing explicit, but it is there. And it’s part of the reason that “Gotham Academy” is considered a sister book, because it’s great for all ages. It’s very suitable for a younger demographic.
“Batgirl” #35 by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr, will debut October 8.