In the wake of her brutal depiction in the “Batman: The Killing Joke” film adaptation and a humdrum “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth” issue, Barbara Gordon needed a break. As a character who has been broken and battered over the years, she deserves to be more than a plot device or part of a one-shot that weakly sets up a dynamic group series. She deserves hope.
Enter Hope Larson.
The writer teams up with artist Rafael Albuquerque and colorist Dave McCaig to give fans the ambitious Barbara Gordon we know and love. In “Batgirl” #1, Larson’s first ever DC property, Babs hits the ground running; Larson’s script is smart and bold and — above all — adventurous, as our favorite redhead sets off on a pilgrimage through East Asia. It’s a fresh start for both readers and Batgirl herself. Where she is woefully unprepared in “The Killing Joke,” she is capable and flush with a skill set that proves her to be adept at handling whatever life throws her way here.
Larson’s keen sense for storytelling extends to the book’s supporting cast and gives us a slew of details about Barbara’s childhood friend Kai, who has a penchant for getting into trouble. The dialogue between the two is lighthearted and funny, providing a warmth which is sure to expand as they journey across the continent. Deron Bennett also deserves one heck of a shout out for the scenes that find the two friends out on the town; his talent for transitioning between the speech bubbles and caption boxes while Barbara switches languages is supremely helpful at guiding readers through the panels.
Every bit of character exploration here is pure fun, and it’s thanks to the synergy between Albuquerque’s art and Larson’s script that the issue works as well as it does. For those who felt Babs Tarr’s Burnside arcs were a bit too cutesy, Albuquerque provides stunning details and grins as far as the eye can see as this agile and energetic iteration of Barbara leaps her way across East Asia. His swift lines convey an adept fighter, both in Babs and the elderly Fruit Bat, a caped crusader from the 1940s. Thankfully, Batgirl is safe from tired, close-up butt shots during fast-paced fight scenes; instead, Albuquerque provides a distinct depiction of her eidetic memory in action. Dave McCaig lends his vibrant halos and warm palettes to the issue, easing us into the shifts in mood as the narrative progresses. This solid art team eases us into the new age of Batgirl.
Additionally, there aren’t any tired beats about a white girl wanting to find an old ronin to be her senpai here. Instead, Larson and Albuquerque make Babs a smart girl appreciating the culture around her as she takes in this particular life experience.
Let’s kill “The Killing Joke” and focus on Barbara. If you’re looking to wash away the sour taste of a woman defeated, celebrate this strong protagonist with “Batgirl” #1, a story that doesn’t require her to be on the receiving end of needless violence. Babs is back!