Review: Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

August 15, 2018

 ·  3 comments

Given that the "Batgirl of Burnside" era seems about to end, I can appreciate that writer Hope Larson keeps much of the previous run's tone in the Rebirth Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside even as she moves Barbara Gordon out of the Gotham neighborhood. The story is entertaining, with a better international flair even than DC books set specifically overseas. Larson's portrayal of Barbara is sound, despite that the writer relies slightly too much on coincidence in the plot; there are a couple story decisions that seem controversial to me, but I'd rather a book that takes chances than one that doesn't. It's great to see so much serial work by Rafael Albuquerque here, even if for just this one volume.

[Review contains spoilers]

Beyond Burnside lacks the quirky cartoony-ness of Babs Tarr's art, but the first pages have Batgirl sparring her enemies against a polka-dotted background. Albuquerque captures a 1960s-inspired zaniness that fits with what came before, and his civilian Barbara looks young and fresh, certainly more Stewart than Ardian Syaf and the others. Larson writes a Barbara who's young but capable, believably both twenty-something and also owner of her own company.

I thought tying the villains' plot into the Korean Suneung was a nice touch; it gave the proceedings a realism that this is a story that might only have taken place in Asia. Among my annoyances with New Super-Man, set in China, is that the actual Chinese government and politics don't play much of a role. Here, Larson picks up on the real-life angst in South Korea surrounding the CSAT, and that's a far better villains' motivation over many titles than trying to rob a bank or whatnot.

There is, however, a lot of suspension of disbelief that Larson's story requires. A couple of times Larson has Barbara get sudden, right-on-time epiphanies from things she sees and hears around her that, while a common-enough storytelling technique, seemed written a bit too obviously. From the top, it seems Barbara just happens to become hostel roommates with her long-lost childhood friend who's on the run from various baddies. There's a suggestion that Kai perhaps arranged the meeting so as to be protected by the Bat-family by proxy, but it requires even more mental gymnastics to figure how Kai would know where Barbara would be, how he'd arrange for them to be roommates, etc.

Equally the evil Teacher's plan is wildly complex. The Teacher recruits kids who have trouble with the CSAT, teaches them to fight, and then sends them to steal an intelligence formula instead of just stealing it herself or hiring trained fighters to do it or simply running some sort of remedial school. It works, of course, if Larson needs a bunch of henchmen for Batgirl to fight before she meets the woman in charge, but the plan involves far more steps and variables than you'd think anyone would actually undertake.

The turning point of Batgirl's fight against the Teacher is when she's compelled to "turn off" her eidetic memory to increase her brain power. Larson suggests Barbara is wasting her brain remembering things like the third ingredient from Kai's childhood lunch, which does seem unnecessary. However, in the same way that I don't think we'd begrudge Superman his heat vision, it seems to me that suggesting Batgirl is overusing one of her "powers" seems unfair. One implication is that Barbara is "overthinking" things, which seems a problematic assertion against a female hero; another is that Batgirl basically needs to "dumb herself down" to be effective. I am sure Larson means it in a "get out of your own head, take life by the horns" kind of way, but this struck me as a development that maybe needed more consideration.

Unfortunately Beyond Burnside ends on a real soft note, with a one-off story that has little to do with Batgirl or the forward plot of the story. Larson puts Barbara on a plane that -- coincidence again -- Poison Ivy also just so happens to be riding on, and Barbara has to help Ivy tame one of her plants gone wild. There's no explanation for what Ivy's doing there because it doesn't matter to the story, and that Ivy should have such little control of one of her plants seems out-of-character (even for how inconsistently Ivy's written) solely for the needs of the story. It doesn't seem Ivy appears again in the Batgirl title, further marking this story as, for whatever reason, something to take up space. I'd as soon this collection have just been five issues than have a sixth that doesn't comport the title well.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside

In all I was pleased with Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside, a book that feels faithful but not beholden to what came before. If anything, the notch upward in seriousness and mystery-detective aesthetic in Hope Larson's take perhaps suits me a little better than the original Burnside era. We'll see how that holds up once Larson has Barbara Gordon back in Gotham.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketches and promotional materials]

Summary

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 3 )

  1. I thought this was okay, and agree with your take on it mostly. I'll be curious to see what you think about vol. 2; that was where I jumped off, having been buying in floppies since the Burnside era began.

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  2. Word of warning, the series gets worse as it progresses.

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