Though off to a shaky start, things are looking up for Barbara Gordon as she settles into her new life in Burnside — that is, until the Jawbreakers show up. Just off its transitory debut, Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr’s “Batgirl” #36 gives Barbara the chance to really fly, fulfilling all of the series’ promise and more with a spunky, compact issue.
Babs Tarr is undoubtedly the star of the issue. Her kinetic, electric art style rolls with every punch that Stewart and Fletcher work into the script. She offers an eclectic array of costume design that not only greets the reader with a bevy of fascinating images but also anchors the pacing of the story, which sees Barbara’s wardrobe change as the days stretch on. Though the clothing choices skew to the “hipster” side of the spectrum, each character expresses their own unique sense of style, aiding Tarr’s spectacular and often hilarious body language. Her borrowings from pop culture — like Atomina’s Astroboy-inspired design and Qadir’s similarity to Ben Wishaw’s Q in looks as well as name — add nuance to Batgirl’s world, filling it chock-full of Easter eggs for those who take a closer look. Further, she executes the main action of the issue in a fluid, easy-to-follow way with dynamic, unconventional layouts.
As stunning as Tarr’s touch is throughout, her work reaches new heights at the climax of the issue. Down and running out of ideas, Barbara takes a look inside herself for the solution to her problem — and Cameron Stewart’s layout, as executed by Tarr, is impeccable. As Barbara reaches for different memories that culminate in her final decision, the artists overlay memories on top of each other; Barbaras from throughout her timeline trade places, converse, and contribute to the breathtaking conclusion to the action. Stewart and Tarr concisely delineate Barbara’s thought process with grace and astounding ingenuity.
With Maris Wicks helming colors, the issue swings between the green and yellow warmth of campus, the neon alarm of the action sequences, and the filmy blue of childhood memories bathed in the soft glow of a television screen; while keeping the issue bright and light-hearted, Wicks tweaks the color scheme to set the tone and she does so flawlessly. Likewise, letterer Jared K. Fletcher has a lot of dialogue to work with in this issue. However, he manages to fit each hefty speech into the compact panels with every ounce of dexterity and subtlety.
Beyond Tarr’s phenomenal work, Stewart and Fletcher bring their A-game to the story. Their choice of setting displays an unlimited potential that they barely tap here; as they go on to show, the university proves to be a fertile breeding ground for crazy inventions and a diverse cast of characters. What’s more, it removes Barbara from the dour, dangerous atmosphere that Gotham is renowned for and allows her to relax a little and act her age — which means it holds more of a draw for the burgeoning younger audience and becomes more fun overall. The way Barbara fits into the university, and the people she encounters there makes for a bombastic, energetic story that gives her the breathing room to develop her own identity away from the Bat-family.
Additionally, Stewart and Fletcher bring a real, contemporary feel to the issue. The story’s focus on the Jawbreakers — an anime-obsessed set of twins — reads like a tongue-in-cheek, meta wink at fans who take their medium far too seriously. Further, the ubiquitous presence of social media easily converses with the way technology takes residence in our lives today. With tech so prevalent in Barbara’s life and always in the readers’ peripherals, it grounds the story and makes it more relatable. Stewart and Fletcher even throw in a fascinating nod to the way that superhero celebrity interacts with social media, all the while building suspensefully towards Barbara’s ongoing cyber mystery with the dangerous foe that signs all e-mails “Batgirl.”
Having just completed my own Masters degree, “Batgirl” #36 hit home in all the right ways — and I’m sure it will for anyone who has had or looks forward to their own college experience. Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr show a lot of potential even in just their second issue. While their debut laid fantastic groundwork, this issue sets the bar even higher for the series and any book that aspires to be like it. Watch out, world — Batgirl is here to rock you.