Taking over the life of Barbara Gordon late last year, co-writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher and artist Babs Tarr injected a youthful energy into the monthly comic. Relocating the hero to Gotham's tech-saavy hipster enclave of Burnside, the team shook up Barbara's life with new cast, new villains and (eventually) a new life free of the burdens of past continuity. The move drew attention from across comics, and this past week saw the release of the first arc as "Batgirl: Volume 1 - The Batgirl of Burnside" in hardcover and trade form.
But on June 24, the title returns with a fresh focus in "Batgirl" #41. As CBR News spoke to the creators about where they've been and where they're going, the trio revealed that the issues ahead represent the purest form of their vision for Batgirl. Below, Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr explain why their sense of inventive fun can take over now that Barbara is settled in Burnside, share how her father's acceptance of the Batman cowl complicates her life and tease the new and old villains coming to the book in the months ahead.
CBR News: Guys, there was so much attention on your "Batgirl" before there was even an issue on the stands, and you've become a standard bearer for what DC is trying to do with their line this month with the relaunches. But now that you've actually got a full collection's worth of stories under your belt, what kinds of lessons have you learned about making this the comic you wanted to see?
Brenden Fletcher: I think the thing I've taken away from it personally is that while the longer form, "arc" style of storytelling is really rewarding in a lot of ways, it doesn't always make for the sort of jauntiest and most fun serial reading. I think one of the things we tried to do off the top is give you these one-and-done stories that are very hard to pack into single issues. So moving forward, we decided to spread those out over a couple of issues in the coming arc. It means that the story is a bit looser, and it means we can have a lot more fun with it -- not that we didn't have fun before. We're just going to have more more fun with it now.
Another defining aspect to the series so far is that you have maybe more panels per page than any book I've seen in years...
Babs Tarr: That is all Cameron Stewart! [Laughs]
Fletcher: It's a staple of Cameron Stewart visual storytelling -- a minimum of 500 panels on a page.
Tarr: What's funny is that this is my first comic, and I remember showing those pages to other artists and having them say, "Babs, this is a lot of drawing." But I had no idea until I started showing it around. They said it's an insane amount of work.
Cameron Stewart: It's something that dates back to my work on "Catwoman" back in the day. It was just that when it comes to doing action, I have a lot of stuff that I want to do, but the action sequences are limited by the page count. We only have 20 pages. So the only way to be able to do what I want with the story and also have a satisfying action sequence is to cram in 20 panels on a page. It's kind of a nightmare. I won't say that it's easy at all. But I think it creates an unusual feel to it.
And I'll say, we had a lot of ground to cover narratively, too. We had a lot of stuff we wanted to do and a very short amount of space to do it. We didn't have the luxury of spreading some dialogue scene over three pages. We had to put it all on one page. But it's gotten to the point where I think it makes for a real meaty read. There are a lot of comics you can burn through in a couple of minutes, and a lot of people say that they appreciate how there's a density to this story.
And it also helped you guys in that you really hit the ground running. You used old cast from the previous team's run, introduced new cast, added Black Canary into the mix and more. I've heard a lot of people at DC saying that even if they don't get an opportunity to have a brand-new #1 with their series, they're taking the relaunch as a place to say, "We're treating this like a new pilot episode." Are you doing the same on "Batgirl"?
Stewart: It's not so much that we're starting over, but certainly we had a lot of things we had to do in the early issues to reconcile the tonal shift. That was something we had to address. We couldn't just come in and change the look and change the clothes and everything and never address this. So we had a plan for how we could narratively address that shift in tone, and that was our first storyline. Now that that's out of the way, we're free of that burden, and we can forge on ahead and tell fun stories.
Fletcher: Exactly. It's not a retooling. It's not a reboot. It's our opportunity to tell the kind of fun Batgirl stories we wanted to tell anyways, unencumbered by finding a narrative reason to introduce our take on the character.
What do you all think of Barbara as a character? We know facts about her -- that she's great with computers or gymnastics or what have you -- but what do you talk about when trying to define what kind of person she is and what she wants in this series?
Fletcher: I think one of the things we wanted to address was the classic superhero tale of "How do I balance my need to foil crime and be normal?" She comes from two different worlds. She's almost got two fathers in a way, and they both go out to find justice for the weak and innocent in completely different ways. Barbara is, in a way, torn between the two of them. So her academic studies may lead her down the path that her father has shown her, and her nighttime adventures are born of a fascination with how Batman has gotten the job done in Gotham City and how important he's become to keeping Gotham safe. She is exploring these paths and trying to find out what's best for her.
Moving forward into issue #41 and #42, this all comes to a head in that her father [Jim Gordon], who was alway a policeman, is now also Batman. It's kind of confusing time for her.
The solicitations seem to show that this first issue story focuses on that tension between Barbara and Jim Gordon -- but then it also throws in the semi-obscure "Superman: The Animated Series" villain Livewire into the mix. How does she work to complicate this already complicated relationship?
Fletcher: We love insane characters!
Stewart: Well, we needed a way to have the Gordons partner together to fight a common enemy. We sort of give part of this away on the cover, but the story of issue #41 is that Batgirl and the new Batman are antagonists. They're at odds with one another. But eventually, they have a common goal in eliminating Livewire.
Fletcher: And Livewire is definitely in there for a reason. And we could tell you, but then it would completely ruin the issues. [Laughter] But she was a totally natural villain for us to include given the narrative we had.
Though it is the first step in introducing a lot of villains to be unique to Batgirl in the months ahead. How often are you working to come up with brand new characters like you did through the first arc versus pulling out someone like Velvet Tiger, who will certainly draw different looks from older fans as opposed to new ones?
Fletcher: We love to invent villains to give Babs the coolest stuff possible to draw. But sometimes you've got a classic Batgirl villain out there like Velvet Tiger who's just waiting in the wings for a Babs Tarr redesign, and it's only a matter of time before Cameron and I cave and see what Babs can do with it.
Tarr: She was super cool! Also, she's a great fit because she has this technology background, and a lot of Batgirl storylines deal with technology. Velvet Tiger had a tech company in her old background, and so we were able to pull that in with a twist.
Recently at a convention panel, Babs said she was chomping at the bit to get a luchador fight in there. [Tarr Laughs] Is this part of the process now? Just ask who wants to draw what and throw it into the book?
Stewart: We actually do that. We ask Babs all the time what she wants to draw and then find a way to facilitate that in the story. When she's excited about stuff, it gets the best work out of her. The whole Jawbreakers story in the collected edition came from her desire to draw biker villains.
Fletcher: Issue #36 in particular was something where Cameron and I had pitched that story to the editors before we had an artist, and we had a different story altogether. It still served the overall purpose to the arc, but once Babs was on board, it was, "Okay, let's revisit the villains for each issue and see what we can do that Babs will just draw the heck out of." And of course, crazy assassin ladies on bikes had her written all over it.
Tarr: Evil cosplayers on motorbikes! [Laughter]
Overall, there's been a lot of changes to the book. We have Frankie in on Barbara's secret. We have multiple love interests in play. There's a pseudo crossover with "Grayson" coming in the Annual. If you had to sum up what the next phase of "Batgirl" is really all about, what would you say?
Fletcher: Reintegration and growth -- and fun! [Laughs] Maybe "Fun" would be the easiest way to say it.
Tarr: Yeah, because we had to deal with so much -- her transition to Burnside and her new work and give a proper shift from her old stories to our new one. I think now that we've got hat stuff out of the way, we can really dig into the fun. That's the big deal of the new direction.
Fletcher: And we're really looking forward in the future to giving the spotlight over to more of the supporting players. Through the next bunch of issues, we're going to be unveiling a great new Alysia Yeoh storyline, which will culminate in October's issue and take everyone by surprise.
"Batgirl" #41 is on sale June 24 from DC Comics.