Review: Batgirl Vol. 1 – The Batgirl of Burnside

We’re in that bubble of stupid that every decade seems to suffer through. Depending on how old you are you’ll understand this, but culturally we go through a stupid phase about half way through the current decade. Sometimes its boy bands, other times its celebrity reality TV stars, but it’s always something. Currently we’re stupidly hooked on selfies and really some people are just hooked on saying the damn word. Selfies have even invaded our comic books as some kind of cute semblance of mixing the real world with fantasy. Somehow that makes the story “realer” or more “relatable”, but really it’s more of a statement of what the writer (or writers) want to write about. Batgirl’s most recent reboot suffers from every bit of annoying technology and trend stamped right there on the cover. It also forever stamps the term “Dated” on the cover because is two years max this comic will be dated by the fact that culturally we no longer have our heads up our asses followed by a selfie stick to “get the pic.”

The story follows Babs as she’s relocated to a subdivision of Gotham that has been completely made up for this story and really doesn’t come across as being a part of Gotham or even being close to Gotham. It’s like a gentrified version of Brooklyn or a twist on San Francisco… or both of those rammed together. Burnside as a whole is more of an annoying college town that has one large tech startup company keeping it afloat (wait is that Parks and Rec?). The city doesn’t have any personality which is the polar opposite of Gotham and really feels disconnected from the world of Batman and his supporting characters.

Babs is here to be a professional student and get some higher, higher education taken care of; we all know those people the ones that never actually leave college they just start teaching there eventually. After a really pointless first page of seeing Babs moving in and saying goodbye to her former supporting characters (that actually happens) we meet the new Babs that goes out drinking all night and wakes up hungover. Her new roomie texts her to get out of bed and she comes out in broad day with windows open in her underwear… did I mention there’s random people that she doesn’t know there as well? That’s all you need to know that this is not the same old Batgirl that you’ve been reading.

Batgirl-Vol-1Eventually Dinah shows up and asks to crash there after all her stuff was burnt down. There’s hostility between the two and we’re never really told why Babs was mad at Dinah, but we learn why Dinah is mad at Babs eventually… she’s the reason her life was lit on fire which actually ties into another story element, but at first it feels completely convenient and forced.

The first part of this story arc is about Babs having her laptop stolen. There’s a douche bag with a computer in his brain that can look at a cellphone, computer or tablet and scan all the data into his mind and uses it to blackmail people with their inappropriate pics and info. I have a hard time calling him a villain or even understanding how the authorities would allow him to continue operating since he’s a huge security threat, but in terms of this story he’s a villain. Babs thinks of a computer way to defeat him even if she just randomly programed code on a cellphone that had no root access, but whatever right. We only want the inclusion of tech in comics, not to accurately portray them so people can learn.

We’re also introduced to a Batgirl imposture that begins sending info out to other would-be villains and one of those is a cross-dresser/famous photographer. Babs is tolerable during the first three chapters of this story, but after the imposture is captured she begins to embrace fame and actually posing with people and taking her own selfies. It all builds towards her facing her greatest fear and enemy… herself. Yeah you thought I was going to say something else there, but no, it’s herself.

This story is written backwards. It’s pretty clear because you have to read it all for there to be any kind of payoff. The conclusion is Babs versus a corrupted computer copy of her brain that’s angry and feels like Babs has betrayed the ideals of Batgirl by partying and liking fame, the latter is something it actually introduced to her though so… yeah. The computer is housed at Hooq headquarters which is an app that wraps Tinder, Twitter and Instagram all into one really fucking annoying package.

Going back to the backwards writing, it’s clear that the writers had their end point and that was “here’s your new Batgirl.” Before you disagree that really is the only point of this story, to say this Batgirl is different than before. To do so they compare the brain scan Babs to the real Babs and say look how different they are. In the process though they have to make Babs different and they do just that. But they do it in such a way that makes her completely unrecognizable as a character and ultimately unlikeable. I never once thought this version of Babs was cool, interesting or even cute. She was kind of annoying. She’s crappy to her friends, co-workers, co-vigilantes and really it gets old. And she uses everyone that offers her an ounce of help over and over again. It’s like offering someone water once and the next time they’re over they eat all your food.

While each issue has a storyline and a conclusion around the third issue I realized that nothing had a payoff. Threads were just being left dangling because they were all tied to the end. While the writers were decent at interweaving so much together again it’s all just done for that conclusion and in the process the story becomes inflated with useless substance.

The supporting cast is ridiculously large and you know what? I didn’t give a shit about any of them. The reason being is that in a superhero book the supporting cast is the worst part of the story. Now I know some disagree with that and maybe they like all the chat, but I have to wonder if you’re reading the right genre of comics then. If you want side chat and supporting characters that can actually help the story then why not read anything other than a superhero book. The point I’m making is that the supporting characters did nothing for this story. They all had this tiny role to play in the overall plot and none of it paid off. Black Canary especially became annoying and pointless. Her and Babs never have a conversation that feels real or holds any meaning to the plot. They just talk and come across more like strangers than friends going through a rough patch.

In fact there’s a lot of just talk in this book. Characters constantly say things that no one responds to and you have to wonder why the fuck you’re reading it if no one is going to actually interact with each other. There’s an obscene amount of talk about Hooq to the point that you’ll think that there’s a real app called Hooq that is paying for the production of the comic. It’s like an ad for Hooq and that’s more annoying than talking about Twitter in your comic.

If you don’t start seeing the threads that the writers leave for you ie, the virus that Bab’s roommate annoyingly mentions and struggles with for three or four issues, or Officer dreamy hairs mention of the Hooq app pinging him about Babs over and over, well it’s okay. It’s okay because technology like this doesn’t work in a comic book. It’s like that movie Blackhat, you know the computer movie that’s already dated as fuck. Well that’s exactly how all this feels and most of it you write off as being exaggerations instead of clues.

I have no complaints about the art other than the fact that artist Babs Tarr was given very little to illustrate other than people talking and clothing that wasn’t trapped in the 90s. Seriously Tarr is the only thing that made this story even remotely tolerable. If there was a different artist I probably would have quit after the first issue. Maris Wicks’ coloring is also a shining gem as it gives Tarr’s artwork a cohesive look and tone. A tone that is absent from the writing, but present in the artwork so that was another plus. I wish there was more to say about the art, but then there would need to be more of the story to talk about.

At the end of the day I didn’t like this and it wasn’t the tired and lame argument of “this isn’t my Batgirl”, because I don’t have a Batgirl. In order for me to “have” a Batgirl that I define my expectations to, DC would need to be consistent with this character and they’re not. This Batgirl is written and created based on public opinion and that’s terrible because public opinion shifts all the time. What’s even worse is that that doesn’t make her a character either. That makes her marketing is action and that’s exactly what I was left with by the end of this comic… that the marketing worked, but that the comic didn’t.

If this is the new face of superhero comics then it goes to show that we should be making different comics and giving the tired superhero genre a break.

Score: 2/5 (Because of the art)

Batgirl Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside Writers: Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher Artist: Babs Tarr Colorist: Maris Wicks Publisher: DC Comics Price: $28.99 Release Date: 6/16/15 Format: Trade Paperback, Print/Digital