After the series much hyped makeover, Batgirl is back in a new number one with a new creative team. The debut manages to take a lot of what worked about the comics last iteration while shedding much of it’s failures.
When the creative team was announced along with the design of her new costume, Batgirl became a hit before anybody had a chance to read the comic. DC was already three years into the New 52 reboot and readers were long past disappointed with the publishers weak attempts at modernizing it’s line of superhero comics. The implication of the new Batgirl; decked out in a sleek yet practical new costume, living in the gentrified Burnside and working for a technology startup; was that DC Comics had finally started listening to readers and were giving them a superhero, and perhaps more importantly a superhero that was female, they could relate and aspire to. Yet while the new look Batgirl would go on to have some bright spots in it’s fantastic visual storytelling from regular series new comer Babs Tarr and veteran Cameron Stewart along with an amazing annual from Bengal, the actual contents felt as if the books was shamelessly pandering to whatever old people and middle american’s might classify as “hipster” creating a comic that was more a madlib’s of modern cultural signifier’s then an actual story worth reading. While plenty of readers seemed to enjoy the end product, the book eventually faded from the spotlight after it received controversy over perceived transphobia in what was truly a terribly tone deaf single issue comic whose entire premise rested on the punchline “I know Kanye” It was the most embarrassed I’d felt for a comic in quite some time
In spite of it’s problem, the strength of the rebooted Batgirl concept was undeniable based on the reaction to it’s announcement and had enough there for the changes to stick with the character going forward provided it found the right voice. Enter Batgirl #1 and the DC Comics debut of Hope Larson. Larson is similar to New Superman’s Gene Lueng Yang, a comics creator that’s found great success in the medium by circumventing the traditional publishers and doing beloved all ages series with small press comics and traditional book publishers. Her’s is a voice that is fully realized and it’s to a great benefit in Batgirl #1. This is the same Babs Gordon that readers fell in love with last series but it’s being written with a much needed degree of subtlety. While the character’s modus operandi is still readily apparent from the comics opening page, there’s an easy naturalism in this issue that gives the writing an effortless flow. The moments where Larson does touch on youth culture feel much closer to reality and conscious of it’s inclusion; perhaps best exemplified in Bab’s response to her old friends love of craft beer with “I get it Kal, you’re from the midwest” it’s the type of dialogue that’s authentic while still being entertaining and vibrant. Larson’s writing on Batgirl feels like all the potential for the superhero being fully realized and it makes for an endearing first issue.
While Larson shows that she can hang in the DC superhero verse her first time out, for Rafael Albuquerque, Batgirl #1 is a definitive statement of ability with some of the artists best and most dynamic visual story telling in years. When Albuquerque was illustrating American Vampire, he had some of the most visceral movement in comics that was singular in it’s rough line and sharp angles. Batgirl is his first comic in a long time that really captures the former in a special way. Part of that is precedent; the art team on the series prior iteration had special talent for panel structure and expression that’s carried over into Albuquerque’s work here. With that, he’s able to construct some truly exciting action sequence’s that are specifically active in the books narration in really interesting ways. The page where you see the blade get thrown across each panel is especially impressive for the way it utilizes the page and panel construct’s dimensions while embedding itself directly into the plot. It’s an overall outstanding effort on the whole and quite easily some of Albuquerque’s best work in years. Dave McGaig colors feel strikingly consistent with the previous creative team but his work has always made Albuquerque’s art pop out more like when they’ve collaborated on American Vampire or Animal Man. Together, he and Albuquerque have an innate yet adaptable visual story telling style that brings a unique life to Batgirl #1.
Batgirl #1 is a exceptional example of internalizing the aesthetic of a character or comic and refashioning it into something idiosyncratic to the voices of it’s creators. It’s perhaps one of the best debut’s from DC Rebirth precisely for how it incorporates the past into it’s own vision.