By Patrick Larose
I initially intended this review to be a follow-up, post-mortem of my review for issue #4. I wanted to summarize in a type of I-Told-You-So style about how the series failed to utilize its own new concepts and rushed its story to the end.
Then I read Dustin’s write up of the issue in his article here. He didn’t really like the book either but he acknowledged it as something that was light, dense with cheesiness and the perfect type of comic adventure book for young kids.
Until that moment I had never really approached this book like that. I imagined that by throwing Barbara in college and transforming her into a more modern and recognizable characterization of a woman in her 20s that it was the editorial way of showing us who these stories were for.
I thought these would be stories that were more humanistic, more socially aware and maybe more adult. Definitely young adult but still not cynical comic book adult.
Instead, I think these comics really have more in common with Stan Lee’s old Spider-man comics from the 1960s than a traditional and modern Batfamily comic.
Those were as superhero as they come—they take a relatable but intelligent hero, throw in a side romance character while bright and colorful villains commit crimes in the background. The villains have a backstory, purpose and a slight theme but those aspects aren’t the story.
What mattered instead is they fulfill an archetype: bad people commit crimes so a hero can stop them through physical and moral superiority. Batgirl has been fulfilling this archetype.
There were so many interesting concepts sprinkled around the story. Biochemical super-intelligence-enhancing drugs, the impact of a foreign education system, and a criminal organization composed of colorful teenage students. They’re all parts of the story but they were never the story.
The story was this: Batgirl’s traveling across different Asian countries and she has to fight criminals.
There were all these moments on the sidelines I loved—Batgirl joining an MMA club, Schoolgirl balancing a life of crime with studying—but they were never what the narrative was interested in. I wanted to pull the brakes on the narrative engine, reorient the course and drive us elsewhere and these were the exact same feelings I experienced when I tried to read the original Spider-man stories.
Stan Lee wrote those for children. Their aim wasn’t to investigate how power corrupts or the dangers of intelligence driven by egotism—they were adventure stories. The hero came in, a crime was happening, they chased after it and they won. The thematic side dishes were there to intrigue and to fill in the plot details but they weren’t the real aim of the story. It’s a thematic simplicity that works well for children’s stories—ones that engage that thrill our child imaginations made when working with open archetypes.
I’m not that interested in archetypes though—I prefer the explicit to the vague and I come to narratives to find a pin-point precision to their story’s purpose. I come wanting to experience something I haven’t before and while this Batgirl run has definitely been different from other Batgirl runs, it failed to differentiate itself from other superhero comics.
In the final issue of the current story arc, Batgirl finds the Teacher, the villainess behind the student-run crime gang, right as she exposes herself to an intelligence boosting drug. Batgirl’s being outmaneuvered, out-punched and it takes a moment in introspection to finally put a stop to her.
There are some cool moments here, in large to Rafael Albuquerque’s artwork and the beautiful color work. The art illustrates Batgirl’s thought-to-thought processes, displaying them almost like graphs, to give a visual insight into her head and her constant state of overthinking. They present a visual reinvention to thought bubbles that stills fits within the books tone.
When taken on its own terms, Batgirl is a good book but while I’ve been a dedicated reader, there’s an inescapable sense that we’re two different travelers on opposite roads. The comic wants to do something that I’m not interested in and I want something the comic isn’t delivering. Even though there are narrative aspects that catch my eye and draws my gaze to their side of the road—we could never really connect.
I hope you get where you want to go, Batgirl, and I hope it works out for you.
Writer: Hope Larson
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Publisher: DC Comics