There are a handful of plots in superhero comics that circle back into the genre on a regular basis: the team-up with other heroes that starts with a misunderstanding and a fight, the juggling of personal and heroic lives, those sorts of threads. “Batgirl” #38 has Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr take another one of those plots — where the hero’s intentions are misunderstood by the public — and update it for the year 2015. Once again, it’s their attention to detail and ability to tell truly contemporary stories that makes “Batgirl” #38 work so well.
“Batgirl” #38 juggles multiple plots this month: a spoiled rich kid/reality star that’s a danger to those nearby; Batgirl and Black Canary’s disintegrating friendship; the Burnside neighborhood’s opinion of Batgirl; Barbara’s lost thesis project and Barbara’s burgeoning relationship with Officer Liam Powell. Stewart and Fletcher keep this issue from feeling like a cluttered mess of different plots by having all of them connect. Some of the threads are side-by-side and others are more tangential but, if you look closely, it’s all part of a unified whole.
Center stage, though, is the perception of Batigrl by Burnside’s residents. We’re used to seeing a hero having the adoring public turn on them, but Stewart and Fletcher’s modern take on such a moment feels a little more real. We’ve seen people get turned on quickly via social media, and Stewart and Fletcher bring that to life in “Batgirl” #38. Watching Barberi’s position among the public shift depending on their needs (is it more convenient to mock him or to be on his side?) is telling and effective; Batgirl’s learning the hard way that the hordes on social media can be your enemy in the blink of an eye, even as moments earlier they were lifting you up.
Tarr’s art gets more expressive with each new issue. I love how she draws Barbara out of costume with a face that lights up and crumbles depending on her mood. Tarr’s able to draw a character who looks immensely attractive without being over-sexualized. Look at the page set in Quincy Park with Nadimah and Barbara: neither one has a lot of skin showing or provocative posturing, but both are still quite good looking. Nadimah has soft features and beautiful eyelashes, for instance, and the posing in that final panel of Barbara reminds of Terry Moore’s work. She seems real, the sort of person you’d stop to give a double-take even though she’s ultimately an ordinary woman.
Don’t take all of that as a hidden memo on the superhero scenes, though, because Tarr’s doing great there as well. Batgirl has an almost lanky look in her outfit, like when she climbs in through Qadir’s window. I still adore her bright yellow boots, and no one can purse lips quite like Batgirl when she’s angry. When Batgirl and Powell finally have their confrontation, their body language escalates on both sides through their expressions and the way Batgirl carries herself. When Batgirl hurls her weapon, there’s almost a tenseness in her shoulders that radiates off the page.
It’s nice to see some of the plot threads (the destruction of Dinah’s possessions as well as the loss of Barbara’s thesis project) starting to weave back in, especially when it comes to the cliffhanger at the end of the issue. Stewart and Fletcher have laid enough hints at this point to give us a good idea of what’s happening even as I’m eager to see how their first multi-part story plays out next month. “Batgirl” #38 is, once again, a winner.