Monday, November 2, 2015

Rebooting Into "Relevance:" Batgirl: Batgirl Of Burnside Disappoints.

The Good: Moments of realism, Resolution
The Bad: Reinvented character pretty much sucks, Mediocre (and erratic) artwork, Villains, Narrative voice
The Basics: The new reboot of Batgirl that begins with Batgirl: Batgirl Of Burnside is terrible, outside a few pages.

Once upon a time, I had a bit of time on my hands and I was looking for new things to read. At that point, I decided it was worth it to violate my longstanding "no Batman" reading rule. During my Wonder Woman Year, I had been turned on by the writing of Gail Simone and after reading as much of her run on Birds Of Prey, I opened myself up to the Batgirl run Simone wrote because Simone had managed to interest me enough in Barbara Gordon, at least in her role as the Oracle. When The New 52 came along and rebooted Barbara Gordon as the Batgirl, I gave it a shot and was generally pleased thanks in no small part to the writing of Gail Simone.

With the de facto failure of the New 52 concept, DC Comics titles are once again rebooting, though they claim to have the same continuity. The first of the post-Convergence titles that I've picked up is Batgirl: Batgirl Of Burnside. Batgirl: Batgirl Of Burnside represents a pretty solid reboot of the Barbara Gordon character - despite what the marketing team at DC would have us believe and it is most distinctly not a title written by Gail Simone. Written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, Batgirl: Batgirl Of Burnside has a much younger feel to it and that becomes especially problematic for those who have followed the character of Barbara Gordon for a long time.

Opening with Barbara Gordon moving into Burnside, a suburb of Gotham City, just across the river, Barbara Gordon tries her hand at having a normal life as a PhD student. So, as she wrestles with parties, drinking, and depleted bank accounts, she meets with a faculty adviser who is working with her. But, her socially-active, tech gadget-filled life with her friends Frankie and Alysia Yeoh is soon interrupted by the rise of a new villain. Barbara's laptop computer goes missing, as does the cell phone of Troy, a young man with whom Barbara drunkenly hooks up with at a house party, and soon Barbara discovers her adversary is Riot Black, the owner of an extortion website called the Black Book. After cleverly destroying Riot Black's database, Barbara remakes herself as Batgirl, protector of Burnside.

Her new outfit comes as a result of all her old gear getting destroyed in a fire that burned down Dinah (Black Canary's) apartment. Newly minted as Batgirl once again, Barbara strikes out into Burnside helping solve minor crimes, like stolen laptops and mopeds. But as she tries to balance online dating, PhD work, and crime fighting, copycat Batgirls rise up throughout Burnside and Barbara struggles to define herself and stop the latest adversary who seems to know everything about her.

My temptation is to start by writing "What is so bad about Batgirl: Batgirl Of Burnside?" Rather than degenerate into an entirely geeky rant, I'll start with what works. After trudging through the inane youthspeak and constant references to texting, dating websites, and social media, the book's ultimate villain is clever enough to make one feel like they were not cheated. Batgirl's final adversary of the book is, smartly, a match for her in a compelling way.

Some of the artwork is all right, too. Actually, the coloring throughout the book is decent, even when the rest of the artwork is not.

So, what the hell is so bad about Batgirl: Batgirl Of Burnside?! First off, the book has been revamped to appeal to a Manga audience more than loyal fans of the DC Comics characters. Barbara Gordon speaks, is depicted, and acts incredibly young through most of Batgirl: Batgirl Of Burnside. The Manga reference is especially apt when, very early in the book, Barbara wakes up, comes out of her bedroom in a t-shirt and panties, sees Troy and reacts. The whole knees together, big-eyed embarrassment look is pretty Manga-like and it's hard to buy it from Barbara Gordon.

The only reason one has to buy it at all is that the character suddenly seems young. In one of her first conflicts, Barbara's quarry asks if she is fourteen and she responds only that she's legal. When she looks and acts fourteen, but is supposed to be older, it's frustrating for readers who recall her as an erudite strategist who could hold her own against adversaries and heroes with whom she had a disagreement. This new, revised, version of Barbara Gordon is a milquetoast and much of her character seems mired in trying to be hip without making much sense (I get that her Hooq profile was to draw out a criminal to get to Riot Black, but it's hard to buy a character who is both working on a PhD. and feeling dirt poor from overdrafting her account feeling like she wants to be out and social . . . in this way). Barbara Gordon makes the leap from being a fairly introverted, gamer-geek type chick to a get blackout drunk and party girl. The abrupt transition isn't even remotely interesting.

Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher accurately recreate the world of young people today, writing with hashtags and smartphone text blocks. They squeeze Barbara Gordon and her photographic memory into that inane world and have her celebrate acting and speaking stupidly, as opposed to developing a character who seems like a credible PhD candidate.

To write more is kicking the dead horse after it has fallen on the track; there's no point. And there's no real point in reading Batgirl: Batgirl Of Burnside.

For other books with Barbara Gordon, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Of Like Minds
Between Dark And Dawn
Perfect Pitch
Blood And Circuits
Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection
Batgirl: Knightfall Descends


For other graphic novel reviews, please be sure to visit my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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