"Batgirl" #37 is as witty, lively and modern as the creative team's previous two issues - but with its villain, it makes a real misstep. As a whole, this issue still has plenty to keep me excited about the series, with a clear viewpoint, a whole lot of excitement and killer art. Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart are building nicely to their mysterious, manipulative villain with a vendetta, and the joy and love behind this direction is clear in every panel. My struggle with "Batgirl" #37 hasn't dampened my hopes for it going forward.
Babs Tarr and Cameron Stewart are still a superstar artistic team, and Maris Wicks' gorgeous colors add to the energy and vibrancy of Barbara's world. Their style is relentlessly youthful and expressive. The characters are always kinetic -- cocking their hips to the side, wryly wriggling their glasses, talking with their hands -- and even mid-conversation they feel ready to spring up out of the chair. The figurework is effortless and energetic, and the fashion is always brazenly trendy. (To be honest, I'd love a little more variety in gender expression -- not every female character needs to wear crop tops and short dresses -- but it's still so fun and confident.)
Maris Wick fills Tarr and Stewart's hipster-lite universe with a wonderfully of-the-minute palette. Instead of Kelly green, she'll use neon; instead of giving Babs a red dress, she'll make it maroon. These are subtle differences, but they help the book to read as more contemporary. With solid-color backgrounds that read like pop art and gorgeous use of the purple from Batgirl's costume, Wick knows how to set a mood.
"Batgirl" #37 is also youthful in its use of social media, that dreaded buzzword. Mobile technology, Internet news and viral photos are all over the book, integrated into everything from plot points to Batgirl's weapons. As a 20-something woman, I find that ubiquity realistic, but I'm aware it might send some readers running. Still, even if you don't like social media in your comics, you'd have to appreciate letterer Jared K. Fletcher's work on the "Pixtagraph" fonts. It's a nearly perfect imitation that doesn't feel smug.
Plot-wise, there is initially a lot to like in this script. Batgirl has had many personas over the years, and she's struggled to claim and fully own her identity. So a story based around someone not only appropriating her identity, but exploiting her personal tragedies for his career, provides a moving, motivating conflict.
However, Dagger Type's unveiling is...uncomfortable. Not only does Barbara precede it with some very out-of-character transmisogynist disgust, but when the crowd laughs, it's unclear why the reader is supposed to think they're doing so. It seems like Fletcher and Stewart were aiming for a critique of over-the-top auteurs, but it doesn't read that way. Dagger Type is all glitter and running mascara, hysterical and extravagantly coiffed, and it's set up like that's the punchline -- look at how silly he is for dressing this way! He dressed as a woman! That's not something that should be a punchline, and it's all just very poorly executed. If the dialogue had hit a little harder on the performance art, rather than the performance of gender, it might have read.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr have since apologized for their handling of the storyline.]
"Batgirl" #37 is a misstep, but the team's commitment to their viewpoint still leaves me optimistic about this direction for the series. They'll just need to keep the modern politics to go with the modern aesthetic, and "Batgirl" can continue to delight.