By Patrick Larose
There is so much I really like about this new Batgirl series. Rafael Albuquerque’s art is a must-see with his dynamic action scenes or the interesting and weird page layouts that demonstrate Barbara’s thought processes and movements. Dave McCaig’s colors have made these moments even more visually engaging with his attentive background color work.
Most of all I’m still as into the premise of Batgirl getting into MMA as I was in issue one. Yet despite all these really great parts, there’s still something that’s keeping this from being a really great story—a wrench thrown in the machinations of the narrative.
Issue three drops us into a new low point for Barbara Gordon in the current arc. She’s just been laid out flat in her first real match and by the end of the issue things aren’t looking any better. Her relationship and trust in Kai are imploding while the more clues she finds, the further away she seems from an answer to this growing conspiracy.
Narratively there was so much I liked about this issue especially with how active Batgirl is in the issue. This isn’t a series where she’s being taken through a string of events and fight scenes. When she loses a fight she doesn't sulk, she picks herself back up. When the evidence of Kai being shady starts to build, she calls him out on it.
Yet it’s the process of when this story moves from beat-to-beat that ends up being a problem. The initial premise of this new Batgirl run is essentially: what if this Batgirl story was a transnational adventure across Asia?
Sure, that idea is packed with potential pitfalls and walks a tightrope over the edges of orientalism and risk of becoming a privileged story about colonialism. But neither of those has been the problem. Instead, Barbara’s flying between countries at a moment’s notice, chasing this criminal school from Japan to Shanghai to South Korea. In turn Batgirl created a story that’s made these countries’s feel small.
These places separated by literal seas have started feeling blocks away and where their locations fail to make a difference for their scenes that happen there. Towards the end of this issue, Barbara’s gone to South Korea but the construction site she ends up at doesn’t narratively feel like it couldn’t be in the same place as before. The characters and actions here don’tcorrespond and respond to the scale of this international setting the story wants to purport.
This might seem borderline nitpicking but it’s impacting the pacing of the narrative. Each issue has to spend time jet-setting our protagonist and suddenly we have to be bogged down by exposition for why she’s going wherever she’s going.
The story wants to be a mystery, it wants to be a conspiracy leaning towards a greater thing but all the little clues, all the reasons we’re moving from one scene to the next has to be explained through thought bubbles or recapped in captions. Instead of exploring a place, carrying out an investigation, many of these clues and information get doled out through coincidence.
That isn’t a good foundation to build a mystery and while there’s still plenty of great set-up and exciting set-pieces to go around I can’t help but wonder if there was a more engaging way to go about doing this.
I still like this Batgirl. I still like this premise but if superhero stories have taught us anything over their long convoluted history it’s that a larger scale is an invitation for narrative incoherence. And that’s putting it lightly.
Writer: Hope Larson
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Colorist: Dave McCaig
Publisher: DC Comics
Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital