Review: Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside

Quick Summary

Pros: This volume takes Batgirl in a very positive new direction. Batgirl is depicted very accurately in a story that emphasizes her intellect and physicality in unison.

Cons: The Poison Ivy story here is not nearly as enjoyable as the rest of the book. The art does not look that great.

Overall: This is a very good comic book and a very good Batgirl book as well. It takes what made the last few incarnations of Batgirl great and combines them into one solid entity. On top of this the story is exciting and different enough to make it stand out from many other comics out there. If you are a fan of Barbra Gordon as Batgirl, or just strong female characters in general, than this is the book for you.

Story

Not everyone has enjoyed Batgirl’s latest appearances as the “Batgirl of Burnside”, yet it cannot be denied that the it brings a bright color and plenty of new readers to the series. Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside takes this energy and melds it with the progressive attitude that earlier Batgirl runs had. It delivers a smart and successful Batgirl who is determined to do her best while still managing to take some time to have some fun. It also brings an enjoyable story along with it, one that entertains readers while also giving them a fun trip around several Asian countries.

(spoilers start here)

Much of the criticism of the “Batgirl of Burnside” is due to it taking the strong and well developed character of Barbra Gordon and turning her into a social media obsessed, bumbling teenager. Hope Larson seems to recognize this and thus begins to correct this problem as soon as the volume begins. Here Batgirl is smart, resourceful, independent, and physically formidable. It makes her an interesting and strong character once again, thus driving the story forward and pulling in readers all along the way.

Despite all of this, I will admit that, at the start of the collection, I was very worried about Batgirl’s character. Within the book’s first few pages, Barbra immediately falls for a boy and begins acting like a more “stereotypical” teenage girl. This made it seem like this collection was doomed to repeat the same mistakes as the last few. However, rather than submitting to the love-struck teenager trope, this book subverts it. Barbra realizes that Kai is no good for her and, intelligently, breaks things off. A move like this is somewhat atypical for comic books so it was enjoyable to see a changeup like this occur. This is just another example of this collection taking the “youth” aspect and incorporating it into the story while not allowing it to overtake it completely.

An additional small, but enjoyable, aspect of the book is how it manages its portrayal of Asia. Typically, in comic books, Asia is shown as a magical land where heroes go in order to learn martial arts from the masters. However, this book takes some time to show the modern day highlights of this fascinating land. It showcases the high technology and social pressures that now dominate the land rather than focusing on overused stereotypes. It is simply a refreshing take that helps give the book a unique edge.

The worst part of this collection is near the end, in which the final issue focuses on Poison Ivy. All around, this issue falls noticeably short of the quality that the rest of the book manages. It is a little too silly, rushed, and appears to mis-characterize Poison Ivy herself. I, personally, find it hard to believe that Poison Ivy would attack a near-extinct plant in order to save people; especially when every other portrayal of her shows that she is more than willing to sacrifice human life in order to save plants.

(spoilers end here)

Art

The art in this volume sees at attempt to meld the darker style used at the beginning of Batgirl’s New 52 series with the more cartoonish style used in the “Batgirl of Burnside” era. Overall this particular style is nice in that it allows things to look serious without becoming too dark.

However, the quality of the art in general ends up not looking nearly as nice as either previous series. In particular, characters lose their detail and end up looking weird in some panels. It seems unfortunate that a series with such a great story suffers in terms of art but it is simply the reality that presents itself. Usually I like Rafael Albuquerque’s art so it was surprising that I did not like the material in this volume more.

Continuity

This is the first volume of the Batgirl Rebirth series. Rebirth is not a continuity reset at all; it is more of just a good jumping on point for readers. This means that, although there are stories that come before this, an in depth knowledge of Batgirls’s past is not really required to enjoy this series. However, the story does still reference previous stories so we will still be listing them below.

  • The conclusion of Batgirl Vol. 3: Mindfields is referenced a few times. This is because it is the volume immediately preceding this one and thus is what sets Batgirl up for where she is at this volume’s beginning.
    • Barbara leaving her company comes from this volume.
  • In addition, later in this collection, someone mentions Batgirl’s previous enemy, Fugue. This is also from Batgirl Vol. 3: Mindfields.

 

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