Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr’s run on Batgirl won’t just be remembered for the iconic redesign of Batgirl’s costume, which has found its way into other mediums, like the DC Comics Superhero Girls toy line or the Batman Bad Blood animated film, or the cyberpunk-meets-Williamsburg aesthetic of Burnside. It will be remembered as a comic that showed that not all DC superhero books had to have art that looked like Jim Lee’s, kicked ass while still being stylish as hell, and most of all for having a diverse, multifaceted cast of characters that fans of all genders, races, sexual orientations, body types, and disability status could see themselves in.
Throughout Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr’s run, Batgirl has proven that it is the visual crown jewel of DC Comics, and issue 49 is a victory lap, especially thanks to the powerful work of Ming Doyle and James Harvey along with the sunny, suburban Stepford horror of Roger Robinson. It is also a tour de force into the beautiful and damaged psyche of Barbara Gordon and a real turning point in her arc in the New 52. Issue 50 can’t come soon enough.
With clever dialogue and rapid plotting of Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, the fierceness, cuteness, and sadness of Babs Tarr’s art, and the battle of genres and tones created by colorists Lee Loughridge and Serge Lapointe, Batgirl #48 is an excellent outing for the title, and there are more cool reveals to come. There is definitely a lot of darkness to endure before the colorful fun returns. If it ever does.
Like Barbara Gordon’s agile mind, writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher tend to balance several plot threads in each Batgirl issue, and this one is no exception. The three main ones are real estate developers using teenagers in various street gangs to drive out tenants so they can gentrify Burnside, Stephanie Brown aka Spoiler getting a bounty put on her because she witnessed Eiko Hasigawa (Catwoman’s lover during Genevieve Valentine’s run on the book) executing mob leaders, and also her continued lapses of memory, which might have led to a scientific breakthrough. Although, Stewart and Fletcher’s plot has a lot of moving parts, it comes organically out of character relationships and the dark, lovely world they have crafted through thirteen issues with artist Babs Tarr, colorist Serge Lapointe, and other collaborators.
First of all, I’d like to give a round of applause to the cleverness of putting an artist named Bengal on a comic book featuring a tiger themed villain and extended fight sequences of Batgirl against tigers. Batgirl #44 begins immediately after last issue when the new villain Velvet Tiger kidnapped Jo, the fiancee of Barbara Gordon’s friend Alysia and also framed her friend/gadget provider Qadir for murder. The plot of this issue involving the rescue of Jo, several showdowns with Velvet Tiger, and almost a half dozen supporting characters is packed to the brim by writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher. However, the sheer expressiveness of Bengal’s art and Serge Lapointe’s colors along with a nice dose of adorable in the several romantic scenes keep the issue afloat and entertaining.
Even if the final page villain reveal might not be the most exciting (for now), Batgirl #43 is another opportunity for Babs Tarr to strut her character and clothing design sense, try out some new types of fight scenes, and for Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher to put Batgirl’s well-developed supporting cast to work in another wacky, tech/supervillain/political caper/thriller. It’s hard to fit this comic’s plot in a neat genre box, and that’s a good thing.
One of the things that writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher and artist Babs Tarr have shown in their run in Batgirl is that Gotham can be home to other stories and genres other than dark conspiracy, horror, or detective tales. Batgirl #42 could be classified as a techno thriller comedy, or just a straight up superheroes defeat supervillains with an added personal layer because Barbara is teaming up with her dad even if they don’t know it. The art continues to be the biggest highlight, and Tarr’s lines continue to be sweeping and pretty, and her character models are quite adorable. Jake Wyatt and Michel Lacombe handle the layouts and showcase Batgirl’s speed and tenacity with swooping, diagonal panels even if a sequence in the big climactic fight sequence against Lightspeed is a little muddled. Colorist Serge Lapointe brings a bold, bright palette to the issue, but switches up his style for softer, happier scenes with Batgirl in her civilian life as well as going a little Post-Impressionist for the bits featuring Batman and the Gotham skyline.
After a break for Convergence, Batgirl is back with a new villain, a new colorist, and most of all, the first real look about how Jim Gordon’s Batman affects the relationship around him. But Batgirl #41 is still both Babs’ show as readers get to see fight crime as well as interact with her roommate Frankie (who is taking on an Oracle type role) and her dad. Artist Babs Tarr also takes over both layouts and pencils and gives the comic the rush of a Saturday morning cartoon using slanted panels and slightly larger gutters to give her acrobatic style an additional “oomph”. Joel Gomez (most likely) helps out in some of the interior scenes adding details to the arcade where Babs and Frankie hang out, and the haunted house-type environment that makes up the first page of the comic, and Gotham Academy colorist Serge Lapointe give Tarr’s art a Studio Ghibli-esque palette like that series.
With an opening page laid out like a page from one of those free newspapers, writer Brenden Fletcher and artist Annie Wu make the dynamic between Dinah (or D.D. as she is called by the press and her bandmates) and her band the Black Canary the focus in Black Canary #1. Touring and trying to make it as a indie punk band with an eclectic sound courtesy of silent guitarist Ditto and a charismatic lead vocalist comes first before the superheroics, but the kicking and action is always present. And instead of being something, like Scott Pilgrim, where characters accept the musical martial arts matchups without batting an eye, Dinah’s predilection for violence leads to tension between her and her bandmates creating the main conflict for the series along with some mysterious beings drawn in a looser style by Wu with pitch black coloring from Lee Loughridge.
It’s a shame that Gotham Academy #7 seems to be a one-off because there is so much potential for Damian as a regular member of the cast. If you’re looking to get into Gotham Academy, this probably isn’t the place. The impetus for the story and the emotional beats rely on a familiarity with the characters that isn’t established here. You should go pick up the first six issues (and the excellent Endgame tie-in), and then race your way back. Because it’s well worth it.
Over the years, a variety of comics creators (Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins most recently) have developed the setting and history of Gotham to make it a place where stories not involving the Caped Crusader can be told. One of these stories is Gotham Academy, a mix between a high school slice of life story and an old fashioned Gothic mystery. (One of the main characters is even called Heathcliff.) Gotham Academy #4 involves the series’ leads, the enigmatic second-year Olive and the nerdy first-year Maps, trying to decipher an esoteric symbol while trying to find out who the school’s ghostly intruder is.