Review: Batgirl Vol. 2: Family Business trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, April 03, 2017

From the first pages of Batgirl Vol. 2: Family Business, one can clearly see a comic coming into its own. The very origins of DC Comics' DC You era begin and end with Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr's Batgirl series, and it's only right that this title's first DC You volume should up the ante in "Batgirl-ness." This is most apparent in Tarr's use of the super deformed style and other manga tropes to express the characters' emotions, not nearly so pronounced in the previous volume, as well as letterer Steve Wands's word balloons sans black borders. Batgirl Vol. 1: Batgirl of Burnside looked like nothing else in DC Comics's line the first time around, and that's even more true now.

Stewart and Fletcher's stories range from the thrilling to the mundane to the silly, and at times this title finds itself more in the realm of the Harley Quinn-esque situational comedy than the straight superheroics of the rest of the Bat-titles, not that there's anything wrong with that. On the other hand, Family Business is rife, almost overflowing, with Bat-guest stars, an uneasy mix that works when it works and is sure to be controversial when it doesn't.

Visually and conceptionally, Batgirl entertains. I'm glad this book continues in the same vein into Rebirth, but it's more than a little shocking that the next volume is this creative team's last.

[Review contains spoilers]

Family Business begins with a two-issue team-up with Batman: Superheavy's new robot Batman Jim Gordon, and then goes straight into an annual that teams Batgirl Barbara Gordon with Grayson's Helena Bertinelli and Dick Grayson himself, Spoiler, Batwoman, and the kids from Gotham Academy; then the final three issues have former Batwing Luke Fox and still more Dick Grayson. That's a whole lot of the larger world crashing down on the tonally-different Batgirl, and it's a credit to the writers that it's all made to feel a natural part of the Batgirl universe.

That's not without its challenges, however; it's no surprise that Batgirl fits right in with Gotham Academy given that Fletcher writes both titles, but the "Batgirl-ed" Spoiler comes off sillier than in the Batman (and Robin) Eternal books, and it's hard to reconcile the love-struck Dick here with his more stoic Grayson portrayals. Indeed this book's last issue is arguably where Batgirl either jumps the shark or fully finds itself, an entire issue without supervillains where Dick coaxes Barbara away from a friend's wedding (and a date with Luke) to profess his love. The emphasis on character over superheroics (leaving behind such lackluster villains as Velvet Tiger) seems like where this title is most comfortable; I'm not sure it quite works from Grayson's perspective, but it does from Batgirl's.

The Velvet Tiger story is itself hard to reconcile because it starts strongly, with a murder mystery that implicates some of Barbara's friends. That's gripping, and it only goes off the rails in the revelation of the mastermind dressing up in furs and controlling tigers for no reason apparent in the story. The issue's action is good and guest-artist Bengal is a fine fill in for Tarr, but the extent to which the conflict doesn't track suggests where Batgirl's heart is. The same is true of Batgirl's fight with Livewire being mainly just a vehicle for Barbara's conflict with her newly robo-suited father.

This volume's finale suggests Batgirl battling some element of mind control in the next volume, which I hope means a return to the first volume's cyber-mind conflicts, which remains among this run's high points. One must ultimately root for Batgirl and Dick Grayson to be an item, but I'd be happy to see Tarr's take on Luke Fox's Batwing armor before this series closes, too. I was surprised that the writers are teasing Batgirl's assistant Frankie's ultimate role still through to the next volume instead of addressing it here; there won't be that many issues left to see it once Batgirl and Frankie finally work out the terms of their partnership. And it's been so long that Jim Gordon hasn't known his daughter's secret identity (at least, not explicitly) that I wouldn't mind if they made that canon in the New 52/Rebirth universe, just for some difference.

If not wholly in story, in Babs Tarr's art Batgirl Vol. 2: Family Business builds and improves on what came before, marking the upward trajectory of this title. Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher, again, do integrate the Bat-family into the Batgirl-verse well, and if you're a fan of team-ups (and who isn't?), there's plenty of that to enjoy in this book, too. But the third book ought give Barbara Gordon the spotlight without making her share, as would befit the final volume of the inaugural "Burnside" era.

[Includes original covers, Babs Tarr sketches and posters]
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4 comments:

  1. Having read the next volume, I thought this was the best one of the Burnside Batgirl run. Having said that, I really wasn't a fan of the entire new direction. I suppose it was just too "cartoony" and "hip" for this old man. Although I didn't mind the costume change, it seemed as if the other changes were forced and heavy-handed. I'm hoping the Rebirth Batgirl rights the ship somewhat.

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    1. I came down on the next one being the best, after the first. For reasons of being too "hip," as you said, I'd think this one would appeal to you less than the third, given that the third is more traditionally villain-driven and this one had the "no villain but chase Dick Grayson across the rooftops" issue. Irrespective, I'm also curious to see in what ways the Hope Larson run upholds or rejects the Burnside aesthetic; it frankly seems to me "Beyond Burnside" is meant in some respects to be code, though equally I'm intuiting that the new book brings Barbara back to Gotham rather quickly.

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  2. I thought the first volume was a fun take showed that some potential, but this second volume just seemed to lose sight of itself. I've heard the third volume gets better, though it does have a rather controversial moment.

    Overall, though, this run just reminds me of how DC blundered when handling the Batgirl line. This direction could have easily fit Stephanie Brown, who's in that right age bracket, while still leaving room on the table to tell stories about an older Barbara as Oracle. DC had multiple Batgirls to tell different stories with, and they took two of them off the table while losing an inspired disable hero in the process.

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    1. Yes, I do think the third volume improves on this one. As for the controversial moment, I hope you'll bring that up after the Vol. 3 review (or now, whichever), I actually don't mention it in the review (if we're talking about the same thing) because I found it something of a tempest in a teapot -- interpretable however one wanted, without any bearing on the story, and almost immediately reversed anyway. Maybe that's the benefit of hindsight, but I was sooner just focused on enjoying James Harvey's art.

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