Batgirl #45 is a shining example of when a superhero comic takes a break from the punching, kicking (Even though there is some slick acrobatics featuring Batgirl and Dick Grayson in the middle part of this comic.), and bad guy fighting to focus on the hero and the important relationships in his or her life. In Barbara Gordon’s life, she gets to celebrate the marriage between her friend, old roommate, and the longest tenured member of her civilian supporting cast Alysia and her girlfriend Jo, start to develop a relationship with her wedding date Luke Fox (formerly Batwing) through bowtie flirting and little kisses, and in the main development of this issue, come to terms with her feelings for Dick Grayson. Writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher also craft a sterling love triangle between Babs, Dick, and Luke complete with jealous eyes and close body movement from Babs Tarr. Batgirl #45 ends up being a real turning point in Dick and Babs’ relationship as she confronts him about his deception when he pretended to be dead and firmly tells him that she’s moved on.
Even though Batgirl #45 digs into some deep-set feelings (The unexpected return of your first love kind of feelings.), Stewart, Fletcher, Tarr, and especially colorist Serge Lapointe keep the overall mood light and fun. Lapointe soaks the page in pink pastels when Alysia is on the page, like the second page reveal of her immaculate wedding dress. (Another style win for Babs Tarr.) He really ramps up the soft pinks when Alysia and Jo say their vows, and Tarr lays out the page with rose borders like a wedding scrapbook. This palette evokes the tenderest of romances and a huge moment for LGBTQ people in mainstream comics as Alysia is the first trans woman to be part of a marriage in a DC or Marvel comic, and Alysia and Jo are the first same gender couple to be married on panel. Tarr’s reaction shots of Barbara and Frankie to Alysia and Jo’s big kiss are some of her most emotional work with tears, smiles, and little hearts above Frankie’s head. In fact, there are little hearts everywhere in the comic, and it contributes to fairy tale feel of Batgirl #45, mostly in the wedding sequences.
Unfortunately for many long term fans, who had their hopes and dreams rewarded with Gail Simone’s Nightwing/Oracle miniseries during Convergence and got to see Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon as a married couple, Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher elect to not tell this kind of story. And it’s for the best. Because of his missions for Spyral, Dick has been absent from the Batgirl title since Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr took over. His full splash page featuring a million dollar smile and some choice beefcake art from Tarr purposefully interrupts the flow of Batgirl #45’s plot, which is centered around pre-wedding jitters and little mishaps and turns it into a starcrossed lovers’ team up with a twist. Pardon the baseball reference, but he’s like a dove getting in the way of a fly ball.
Through facial expressions that go along with Stewart and Fletcher’s sharp and a tiny bit sassy dialogue, Babs Tarr shows that Barbara doesn’t have time to “patrol” or go along with Dick’s other jokes and games. For example, she puts on a rage pout when Dick flips over a water tower with Alysia’s wedding band, and her eyes get angry when Dick has the audacity to “shush” her so he can start randomly sparring with her. In the early going, he treats Barbara like they’re still Robin and Batgirl from their good ol’ rookie crime fighting days, which readers may remember from “The Shadow of the Bat” episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon, and Marcos Martin’s Batgirl: Year One or even the 1960s Batman TV show and those Silver Age issues of Detective Comics where she used to frequently guest star.
Tarr draws on this multigenerational sense of nostalgia (Most people who compliment my Batgirl shirt aren’t Batgirl of Burnside fans, but people in their 40s and 50s, who grew up watching Yvonne Craig in Batman.) in a flashback scene done in faded colors from Serge Lapointe, which contrasts the sharp reds of their rooftop meeting where Barbara tells Dick about how sad she was when he “died”. Tarr’s art gets cuter than usual in this small sequence of panels while Stewart and Fletcher cleverly insert dialogue from Dick and Babs in the present day that happens to be fun, flirty, and full of romantic chemistry. Babs has been dating Luke Fox for barely an issue so it seems like the creative team is setting up for a beautiful reunion with an almost kiss that mirrors Babs and Luke’s half-kiss before Dick barged in earlier.
But then Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr throw a curve ball in the form of an emotion filled monologue that could be used as a scene exercise in a romantic drama writing class as Babs physically and verbally pushes Dick away and tells him off for ruining an important day for her and her friends. An ex (even one as attractive as Grayson) showing up before a big event when you’re trying to move on with another person is a world of awkward, and Tarr definitely shows this through her art with a big time blush from Babs. It is completely normal that she responded in an angry way, and this actually represents a big moment of maturity for Barbara as she decides to cast away the possibility of a romance with someone who she is attracted to, but who continually leaves with her for a relationship with someone, who is more stable. (And still happens to be a superhero with a badass tech-suit, but is taking a break because the new Batman isn’t a fan of vigilantes.) It is a big step in Barbara Gordon’s march to adulthood, which has been the underlying theme in Batgirl and relatable to anyone who was ever a twenty-something. She can possibly find some semblance of a normal life as she dances and laughs with her friends while Dick broods in the dark shadows still burdened by his work for Spyral and the insanity of his life since the traumatic events of Forever Evil.
Batgirl #45 represents the series’ emotional peak so far. Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, and Serge Lapointe make Alysia and Jo’s wedding an incredibly lovely affair with candy colored romance and even some light rocking from special guest star Black Canary. They also delve into the love triangle between Dick, Barbara, and Luke with acrobatic panel layouts from Tarr and blunt dialogue from Stewart and Fletcher as Barbara and Dick’s relationship transitions from star-crossed to good friends. (Even if Dick still carries a torch for Babs as evidenced by his wink after she takes off, and the fact that he spies on the wedding reception.)
In a subversion of usual superhero tropes where the two women in the love triangle further a male hero’s arc (Spider-Man, Gwen Stacy, and Mary-Jane Watson is the classic example, especially when romance artist John Romita Sr. was drawing them.), Luke Fox and Dick Grayson end up furthering Barbara Gordon’s emotional arc while still being full-fledged characters in their own right. (In one sparring move, you can see the long history that Babs and Dick have had together.) The scenes with Dick represent Babs’ carefree, adventurous past before The Killing Joke and the dark Gail Simone run while the conversations with Luke represent Babs’ bright future where she has overcome (and continues to overcome) her physical and mental demons and strives to be happy. (See her flirty banter with Luke and their sick moves on the dance floor.) But the final, cryptic page could signify darker days for the Batgirl of Burnside with pure black colors from Lapointe.
All in all, Batgirl #45 has romance, some light humor, beautiful art and fashion design, well-selected colors, and is a big turning point for Batgirl/Barbara Gordon’s character in Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr’s run. Plus there’s smooching.