Writer: Hope Larson
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Colorist: Dave McCaig
Letterer: Deron Bennett
A review by John Dubrawa
Whenever there is a switch in creative teams on a high-profile comic book title, it’s inevitable that the change will come with comparison and scrutiny. This is doubly true when it comes to a title like Batgirl, which gained a massive resurgence during the later half of DC’s New 52 under creators Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr, and their resounding successful relaunch of Barbara Gordon with a new wardrobe, supporting cast, and even city of operation. All that is to say that new Batgirl writer, Hope Larson, has some pretty big Doc Martens to fill post-DC Rebirth, and if this first arc is any indication, she’s just as equipped to handle that monumental challenge as Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr before her in following up on Gail Simone’s legendary run.
What Larson brings to these first five issues is in many ways an extension of all those aforementioned peers, but through the lens of a writer looking to establish her own mark on the character as well. Barbara is still the uber-intelligent, spunky go-getter of Burnside we know her to be. Larson, however, adds a new adjective to that personality stew: well-travelled. China, Singapore, and Thailand serve as the culturally-diverse backdrops of Batgirl’s new globe-trotting adventures-which involves being embroiled with a new foe known only as Teacher-that serves as a humbling experience for our heroine. By the end of the fifth issue, Batgirl is heading back to Burnside (a fact already spoiled by Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, a book that takes place after this one despite being released alongside it) but what she’s learned-including some killer MMA moves-should add a few new interesting wrinkles to the character moving forward.
Not all of the additions to Barbara’s life throughout this arc work unfortunately, and the character of Kai is that outlier. That Barbara could possibly run into a childhood friend in a city of millions is not the problem (though it’s hard to swallow certainly), it’s more the fact that we just saw the whole “Barbara’s-old-friend-returns-and-things-aren’t-what-they-seem” scenario play out in the closing issues of the previous run on the title. Even a secondary character points this out to Barbara, and it’s odd that Barbara herself, with her eidetic memory, isn’t the one to realize it. Ultimately Kai becomes a background player during the later half of the arc so his involvement doesn’t derail Larson’s well-crafted narrative, but he is still a new part of Barbara’s life better left behind as she returns to Burnside to move forward.
But let’s get back to something wonderful, shall we? How about Rafael Albuquerque’s artwork? It’s incredible here. Unlike a few other titles in the Rebirth line with a rotating stable of artists, Albuquerque is here for all five issues, giving this arc an altogether cohesive look and feel, despite all the various country-hopping going on between the pages. When the action ramps up, like when Barbara has her first MMA bout or is fighting off the various followers of Teacher, it is absolutely kinetic under Albuquerque’s frantic line work. Although I typically associate Albuquerque’s work with the horror genre, here he manages to keep the book light and fun, just as it should be. This is also due in large part to colorist Dave McCaig, who puts out a bombastically bright book that is very reminiscent of how the title looked back when Babs Tarr was drawing it every month. Letterer Deron Bennett rounds out this phenomenal art team by putting in a stylistic flourish to denote characters speaking the native language, which adds a nice little touch to an already visually-arresting book.
Buy it! For such a beloved character as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, it’s hard not to want to scrutinize this brand-new creative team, but based on these five opening issues, there isn’t a heck of a lot of criticism to give. New writer Hope Larson may be taking Batgirl out of Burnside for the moment, but that Batgirl of Burnside is still very much in these issues. There’s still a great energy to the character that’s reflected expertly in the artwork of Rafael Albuquerque as well. If you enjoyed the character in her New 52 iteration, there’s no reason you wouldn’t enjoy her Rebirth version as well.