When DC Comics rebooted its entire line three years ago, part of the idea as pitched to the readership was that the comics would be more new-reader friendly, updated for the present day. For better or for worse, most of the books were business-as-usual, often indistinguishable in tone from what had come before. So it’s nothing against writer Gail Simone’s three-year run on “Batgirl” — which was well-written but could have just as easily been before the reboot — but the new creative team of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr feels like a breath of fresh air. The character is still recognizably Batgirl, but the approach and the overall attitude feels like the book has finally realigned itself to finding a broader audience.
“Batgirl” #35 is still recognizably a superhero book at its core. Barbara Gordon is still Batgirl, she still fights crime in an outfit that hides her identity, and she’s up against people with similarly fake names who are doing bad things. Those who want to see Batgirl stop supervillains don’t have to worry, that aspect of the book hasn’t been lost. And in that, Stewart and Fletcher’s story is good; it sets up a villain, then has Batgirl defeat him in a way that taps in to her particular specialties.
But more importantly, Stewart and Fletcher’s story feels like a comic that’s set among college students in the year 2014. There are parties, swirling interactions among crowds of people, and a usage of social and mobile technologies that play critical roles in the story. To put it another way, this story couldn’t have been told in 2004, because it wouldn’t have been in tune with what was happening on in the present day. “Batgirl” #35 is current. Barbara’s solution to stop Riot Black is innovative because it is not only specific to working on him, but it uses things that today’s audience would be familiar with as being in the now. Stewart and Fletcher’s stand-ins for apps like Tinder and Snapchat are all instantly recognizable, and give their story an extra layer of credibility.
Stewart and Fletcher are also building up Barbara Gordon’s new social circle. Their issue has her starting over entirely in a new neighborhood and apartment, new roommates, new costume… and despite being just one issue in, it feels like it’s working. Barbara makes some mistakes in this first issue, but those ones also have consequences that she’s trying to fix. We’re just learning about Frankie and Liz, but there’s potential in the duo, and hopefully some of the other faces that we meet (Troy, Sevin, Diane) will be back for more. Her life is feeling like that of an actual college student, but at the same time with a familiar face from her superhero side also bumping up against her, it’s a nice reminder of Barbara’s increasingly crowded social life.
A lot of credit for the strength of “Batgirl” #35 also needs to go to Tarr, whose art is fantastic. It’s hard to look away from her depictions of Batgirl, be she cringing or defiant. The emotional energy on her characters is powerful; she’s able to really show what characters are thinking, bringing the script to life in a way that lets the comic show rather than tell. The redesigned Batgirl outfit looks great under her pencils and inks; the big yellow boots are fun, and little details like the snaps on her cape both make it look realistic and also fashion-forward. Tarr also has action down pat; when Batgirl smashes through the roof into the club, the positioning of Batgirl’s body feels energetic and easy to follow.
I also am really pleased to see “Batgirl” #35 taking full advantage of the visual language of comics to tell the story. It’s hard to tell who’s responsible; co-writer Fletcher’s shown aptitude for this sort of thing in “Gotham Academy” and “Wednesday Comics,” co-writer Stewart is providing the breakdowns, and Tarr of course is responsible for the actual art. Regardless of which creator(s) one can praise, the end result is great. We get a glimpse of it when Batgirl’s running after the tablet thief as she dashes through the maze of streets in her head with little pop-ups of the hazards to avoid, but it’s even better when she’s replaying what happened at the party the previous night. Watching her move through the mental replay is a joy; Tarr has Batgirl not just observing what happened but actually reacting to it, pointing and wincing as appropriate. This wouldn’t really work in any other storytelling medium, and it’s this craft that makes it all the more impressive.
“Batgirl” #35 is a great new beginning for the series, so much that I actually found myself wishing that DC had taken a nod from Marvel and renumbered the series as to get additional attention paid to this debut. I love everything new that Fletcher, Stewart, and Tarr bring to the series, and the two faces from beforehand that appear to be sticking around are also a good nod to those who enjoyed the last three years’ worth of comics. Expectations were high for “Batgirl” #35, and I feel like this creative team has actually managed to exceed them. Nicely done, all involved.