One of the biggest problems with a character like Batgirl is that she can’t grow up. Since DC Comics already has a Batwoman, it’s not like Batgirl can graduate and mature. Due to the nature of the name, she will always perpetually be a girl.
Before the launch of the New 52, DC worked around this by having Barbara Gordon evolve into Oracle in the wake of The Killing Joke, where she was crippled and assaulted by the Joker. Other, younger women became Batgirl and the persona was able to keep the focus on the “girl” part of the name. But now that, in the New 52, Barbara Gordon is Batgirl again, along with all the tragedy, history and story that entails, the girl part of the name was a bit of a misnomer.
So in a effort to fix this, DC, with much hype, brought in an entirely new creative team with the mission statement to make Batgirl younger, hipper, less dark and brooding and try to bring young women into the readership.
Yeah, no pressure.
The result by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr is on full display in Batgirl #35, which gives the book a total overhaul. New place to live, new job, new supporting cast and even a new costume are all introduced in a whirlwind of 20 or so pages. Barbara Gordon is is given a new attitude as well and the tone of the book is noticeably lighter than the rest of the Batman family of titles.
But the question is: does it work? Is this a book still worth reading?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Batgirl has moved to the hipster enclave of Gotham, a neighborhood called Burnside, where she has a new career and new friends. A character that at one time was the ultimate hacker and the information source for the entire superhuman community is now living in a dump with two college-age stereotypes and partying. In the meantime, she has lost all her Batgirl gear in a fire (hate when that happens) and is busy burning bridges with Black Canary.
The “new” Barbara Gordon is so much a 180 degree shift from where the she was that the character is virtually unrecognizable to anyone who has read Batgirl since issue #1 or, worse yet, still has fond memories of her time as Oracle. She has gone from being one of the most capable and smartest heroes in the DC Universe to, well, kind of a ditz.
And it’s not just Batgirl. Black Canary makes an appearance and her characterization is way off as well. It’s as if Stewart and Fletcher didn’t make any effort to keep any of the nuances that made Batgirl who she is. This could have been the entire point, as the target audience for the book is young females, not middle-aged males. But if that’s the case, this would have been better off as an Elseworlds or All-Star type of book, not a title that is part of the larger DC Universe, much less the Batman family of titles.
I will say the art by Tarr is a nice departure and works very well with the style of story being told. The visual representation of how Batgirl’s photographic memory works is incredibly well done and the character designs are fresh and dynamic. Overall it gives Batgirl an almost indie/small press feeling that is nice to see, even if the story being told is less than stellar.
If, like me, you were a fan of Barbara Gordon when she was Oracle in Birds of Prey or the early issues of her New 52 Batgirl title, you are going to come away disappointed and maybe a bit angry as this seems like a huge step backward from where the character had been. Batgirl had been one of the most tragic yet resilient characters in comics and it just seems like a shame to see her reduced to this.
But like I said, it would appear I’m no longer the target demographic for this book so my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. If you have a young daughter and are looking for a superhero book they may like, Batgirl could be the answer. I just don’t think it’s for me anymore.