The Batgirl of Burnside is a new take on Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl that retains its core character. This change is symbolized by the series’ numbering: this trade is volume one, but it’s comprised of issues 35–40 of the New 52 series. Confused readers may wonder which rules apply: did Barbara go through the events of The Killing Joke and work as Oracle? Yes to Killing Joke, no to Oracle. Has Batgirl’s origin story completely changed? No, but there’s a new wrinkle in a brief “Secret Origins” story, so keep reading. This comic represents a soft reboot, placing Barbara in the Gotham borough of Burnside in her early twenties as she studies for her computer science doctorate. Circumstances have rendered Batgirl’s equipment destroyed, her bank account empty, and her doctoral research useless. Time to start over from square one—both in terms of the narrative and as an introduction for new readers.
The first impression made by this work is stylistic: DC’s print series have historically been illustrated according to a house style, meaning that everyone is drawn in the same style across all the company’s titles. Here, Babs Tarr’s fluid illustrations are as much of a statement as the story, giving Barbara new life that should appeal to younger, more feminine, indie and webcomics-friendly audiences. Colorist Maris Wicks further enlivens Tarr’s art, assigning each scene a uniform palette from the yellow light of day to the flashing neon of nightclubs. An effective example of Wick’s work is a flashback played through Barbara’s eidetic memory, featuring a two-page spread of an apartment party bathed in blue and a curious lead outlined in red.
Tarr and Wick bring a fair amount of fashion to the forefront, not the least of which is the design of Batgirl’s outfit. It looks functional, comfortable, and invites cosplayers to imitate it as soon as possible with its snap-on cape and Doc Martens. Barbara’s roommates wear short shorts and dresses, but they are not posed in an objectifying manner; instead, they look like a bunch of millennials hanging out. Even when Barbara walks through a doorway in a shirt and panties, her hangover is more noticeable than her exposed skin. Diverse hairstyles abound in the surrounding cast, from asymmetrical swoops to loud, large waves—somehow, an artistic style that is less realistic has opened things up to look more like reality than ever. When Batgirl battles misogyny and copycats, she is not simply reacting as a midnight crusader, but as a young woman who stands in the light.
Writers Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher write stories as attractive and up-to-date as the artwork, as Barbara tracks down the mastermind behind a malicious social media platform, deals with villainous impostors, struggles against public perception, and ultimately fights to retain her identity. One of these stories features a villainous artist who capitalizes on the imagery and history of Batgirl by day, then poses as a glittery version of her at night. When his identity is revealed, Batgirl exclaims, “You’re a–” before she is interrupted. This story offended some readers when it was originally published in issue 37, as it plays on the harmful trope of evil men who dress as or identify as women. However, Stewart and Fletcher tweaked the dialog in the trade paperback edition to better convey the story as intended and remove elements that were regarded as transphobic.
By the end of the book, Barbara’s closest villain turns out to be a virtual simulation of her mind, originally created during her spinal recovery but having since gained sentience and a chip on its shoulder as “the real Batgirl.” In light of Batgirl’s transformation from previous incarnations, reader reactions to transphobic story elements in one of the original issues, and controversy surrounding an homage to The Killing Joke on the variant cover to issue 41, a lot of people have expressed their opinions regarding Batgirl: who she is, what she stands for, and what she means to them. The finale to this story arc is almost too perfect for Barbara and the creative team to assert themselves: this is Batgirl of Burnside. Though she is not exactly the same as readers remember, her adaptations, mistakes, and victories only give her more character and more stories for fans to enjoy.
Editor’s note: This review was updated July 8, 2015, at the request of the reviewer to reflect changes made to the trade paperback printing from the original single issues.
Batgirl: The Batgirl of Burnside, vol. 1
by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher
Art by Babs Tarr
Publisher Age Rating: N/A