Batgirl has won the hearts and minds of Burnside—the trendy Gotham City neighborhood that houses most of the city’s best night clubs and tech start-ups. Despite feeling more at home in Burnside than she’s ever felt anywhere else, Barbara Gordon still feels the need to spread her wings and seek new adventures. This leads her to take a trip to Japan to seek out Chiyo Yamashiro, a masked martial artist who fought crime in the 1940s as the vigilante Fruit Bat.
Barbara’s vacation takes an interesting turn when she runs into Kai, an old friend from her childhood in Chicago with whom she lost touch after he was sent to reform school. Things become even more interesting when Kai is attacked in the street by a clown-faced Japanese schoolgirl with a tattoo of the Chinese character for “student.”
It’s clear to Barbara that, despite Kai’s assurances that he’s straightened up, he’s still involved with something shady. When more warriors turn up hunting Kai, all bearing the same “student” tattoo, Barbara Gordon must take Batgirl on a quest across Asia to find the “teacher” responsible for Kai’s troubles.
The intent behind the DC Rebirth initiative was to take certain series back to basics and restore classic elements that most felt had been removed from the DC Comics Universe after The New 52 reboot in 2011. Given that, many Batgirl fans became fearful when it was announced that Hope Larson’s first story arc would take Barbara Gordon to Asia and that the art would be handled by Rafael Albuquerque—a fine artist, beloved for his work on American Vampire, but not someone known for a traditional superhero art-style. Thankfully, their fears proved unfounded and Batgirl: Beyond Burnside more than earned its 2017 Eisner nomination for Best Publication For Teens (Ages 13-17).
Hope Larson has a handle on Barbara Gordon as a character that has not been since since Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl. Rather than the selfie-taking tech-goddess of the earlier Batgirl of Burnside books, Larson writes Barbara as an analytical thinker who examines things and takes them apart, step-by-step. This is a minor but important point, as it makes Barbara seem like the detective and librarian she is meant to be. The internal monologue informs the process by which Barbara tackles a mystery and Larson is one of the few writers to truly capture how Barbara’s photographic memory works.
Albuquerque’s artwork matches Larson’s script perfectly. While not the sort of artwork one typically sees in a superhero book, there is a dynamic sense of purpose to Albuquerque’s style that makes even the static scenes of Barbara sitting down and looking at a computer screen seem suspenseful. The color art by Dave McCaig also bears mentioning; one of the more novel touches of the artwork is the sudden absence of backgrounds as the action starts to unfold. This allows McCaig to punctuate the fight scenes with a vivid single-color background that inspires comparison to the “BAM” and “POW” sound effects of the old 1966 Batman TV show.
This volume is rated for readers 12 and up. I feel that to be a fair assessment of the book’s content. There is a fair amount of martial arts combat, but no bloodshed or excessive violence. There are some romantic moments between Kai and Barbara, but nothing more intense than a kiss occurs between the two. There are some scenes of Barbara Gordon in a bikini and form-fitting work-out gear, but no nudity or anything in the artwork that might be called fan-service even under the most liberal definitions.
Batgirl, vol. 1: Beyond Burnside
Written by Hope Larson
Art by Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig
DC Comics, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 12+