Review: Batgirl #1

DC’s Rebirth relaunch is still a thing, and this time, Batgirl is back with a new #1, ditching Gotham and her last creative team for a backpacking adventure across Asia. Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque are the new leads on this book, and, while they’re keeping the light and adventurous tone of the previous Batgirl of Burnside series, they’ve undeniably brought new energy to the title.

Barbara Gordon is taking a break from Burnside and her new tech start-up for a vacation trekking across Asia, and she starts her journey in Japan. She’s staying at hostels, trying the cuisine, visiting friends, and finding the Japanese bat-themed heroine, Fruit Bat, from the 1940s.

This first issue is less interested in grounding us into a story as it is introducing a tone and establishing characters. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’re spending time with Barbara Gordon as she hangs out with her friend, Kai, trying the local cuisine, drinking craft beer, and learning the local history. Given DC and especially the Bat-Family’s history of stereotyping and BG_Cv1_open_order_varexploitation when it comes to portraying a “mythical orientalism,” this Batgirl feels refreshing. This isn’t a story about a mystical Asia filled with wizened grandmasters. Instead, this is about a more real and genuine tourist experience.

In a lesser Batman story, Chiyo Yamashiro, the now elderly Fruit Bat, would have been set-up as a wise sensei to Barbara Gordon to teach her some secret technique. Here, though, the relationship is much more personal. Yamashiro isn’t just a super hero who managed to live to old age but is someone with a life paralleling Batgirl’s own life.

I understand I’ve written an article describing a fifty-plus year old character working for a tech start-up and drinking craft beer, but it’ll be okay. This is just the world we live in now.

When the characters aren’t getting sick from food poisoning or staring at giant crabs, Larson and Albuquerque prove that they’re willing to bring some serious action chops as Batgirl shows down with a new rival: a mysterious kabuki-sailor-scout hunting for a secret a formula.

Nothing in their fight ever looks like action posing. The artwork always feels kinetic, and it even balances between showing character’s visual thought processes and uses some really inventive ways of displaying movement. There’s even an added benefit of getting to see an hundred year old Fruit Bat kick some serious ass.

There are a few stumbles, of course. The issue opens with what felt like some clunky phone conversations that scream, “Hey we have to establish the current status quo and what’s going on,” and some jokes don’t land. Other than that though, I found myself getting caught up in these small details that convey a genuinely invested creative team. They use a neat method for conveying the different languages being spoken that isn’t simply the typical, “<This is us speaking a different language>”. Where most comics might leave a blank background for a close-up, the colorist here will add eye-catching halftone dots or a paint stroke effect.

If I can say anything at the end of this review to encourage you to pick up Batgirl #1 and get onto the ground floor of this new series, it’s this: Batgirl #1 ends with Batgirl going to join a mixed martial arts group.

Until this, I never knew just how badly I wanted to read a comic about Batgirl fighting her way through  MMA matches.

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Batgirl #1
Writer: Hope Larson
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99
Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital