By Levi Remington
In the penultimate issue of Batgirl's 'Son of Penguin' arc, the Penguin plays ping-pong, Babs is bombarded with incriminating Dick pics (I'm referring to Nightwing, you perverted bastards), and Ethan, the overly-attached son of Penguin, completely freaks. Meanwhile, corrupt minds behind powerful technologies are putting privacy at risk for the citizens of Burnside, and Batgirl learns what happens when you give in to the allure of the mysterious bad boy. Read ahead for my thoughts on this week's issue, and the series as a whole, while I cry and double-fist some ice cream and vodka.
Oh Batgirl. While my favorite rendition will always belong to Stephanie Brown as written by Bryan Q. Miller, I've grown fond of Barbara Gordon's stint on the character since Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr "youthenized" her for Burnside. She was redesigned and reinvigorated to appear younger, more stylish, and refreshingly optimistic – not to mention her kickass new costume. No longer were Batgirl's stories grim and dour, but rather they buzzed with a newfound excitement and joy. After DC Rebirth came the end to a defining run, but Hope Larson has done a wonderful job maintaining this fan-favorite status quo, telling fun stories of mystery and adventure with a light tone and tech-savvy undercurrent.
The first arc, which saw Babs take a vacation to Asia, was a briskly-paced and beautifully-illustrated diversion with plenty of fun moments, but I was underwhelmed with the supporting characters in Kai and May. The second arc has brought Batgirl back to Burnside and teamed Larson with a new artist, and the series has gotten even better. It feels right back at home.
What I really enjoy about this book is the small-stakes storytelling, which is at once both more personal and more meaningful because these are the types of stories that the Batgirl character works best in. Larson effectively utilizes the close supporting cast, Frankie, Alysia, Jo, and Dick Grayson, to play off of Babs' personality and develop relationships in a satisfying way. While the wide cast of characters at Gotham's disposal is put to good use too, with Magpie, Poison Ivy, the Penguin, and Commissioner Gordon making welcome appearances. The antagonist for this arc, the son of Penguin, has been compelling as well because he doesn't intimidate people into submission, he uses his wits and grasp on technology to mask his corrupt agenda with popular and progressive innovations in social media and related tech.
An aspect of Hope Larson's writing that helps distinguish itself from previous runs is the emphasis on sociopolitical issues. Throughout this arc: Babs loses her favorite coffee shop to a pet supply store, she struggles financially against escalating rent, she defends the homeless as more than just a "safety hazard," she fights against big tech companies that unethically sell its user's private data, she fights for the rights of the 99%, and she retains a subtle feminism that constructs a healthy moral backbone for the series. Thanks to the Two-Face escape rooms, self-driving cars, comp-sci lingo, Laundromat-themed bars, and "Doggo" apps, Batgirl has never felt more confidently topical. In case that worries you, every hint of modernity was implemented cleverly and in strong relation to the plot, so none of this comes off as poor attempts to be "hip."
Chris Wildgoose is on pencils, with Mat Lopes on colors, and the results are clean and lively. The lines are pointed and crisp. Backgrounds are minimal in design. Characters look great and their peppy movements and facial expressions are remarkably emotive. Wildgoose has an excellent feel for anatomy, conveying personality through very expressive and realistic body language. The colors provide a lovely, cartoon aesthetic that highlights subjects and streamlines the action. The entire aesthetic is very appealing, save for the once-in-a-blue-moon panel in which Babs' nose looks a bit strange.
Batgirl #10 proves once again that Hope Larson is a wonderful fit for Barbara Gordon. This light-hearted story is entertaining, adventurous, and rich with positive morals; the mystery is intriguing and well-paced, and the characters are well-defined and dynamically illustrated. A no-brainer for lovers of fun.
Writer: Hope Larson
Penciler: Chris Wildgoose
Inker: Jon Lam
Colorist: Mat Lopes
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Publisher: DC Comics