Review: Batgirl Vol. 2: Son of Penguin (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)


If Hope Larson's first Rebirth Batgirl volume was a slight deviation from the established "Burnside" aesthetic, Batgirl Vol. 2: Son of Penguin is a distinct return to form. Larson gets points not only for furthering "Burnside" in tone (and artist Chris Wildgoose, for following Babs Tarr and others on visuals) but also for integrating tech into the story in modern, believable ways, just like the previous team. Unfortunately, a lot of what I didn't like about "Burnside" is back here: a lack of suspenseful, concerning threats, and a story weighted so heavily toward character as to plod at times. I also felt Larson really lost the ending, between some big plot leaps and a truly eye-rolling villain. I was more enthused for this run last time around; now I'm more ready for the next team to come on.

[Review contains spoilers]

This second Rebirth volume of Batgirl looks more like the previous run -- more full-on character shots than Rafael Albuquerque's tendency for (well-drawn) close-ups in the last book, more cartoon-expressive faces. Larson gets the Burnside story concerns right from the start, too -- the personal lives of Barbara Gordon's friends Frankie and Alysia, a pool party, Barbara in a new school program. There's nary a punch thrown until page 17 or 20, and even then it's minor villain Fright, whom Batgirl takes out relatively easily. The book goes on that way for a while -- points to Larson for using totally '80s baddie Magpie (sans mohawk, unfortunately), but there's never really a sense that Barbara and her friends are in any danger; even a car crashing into a restaurant is dispatched in about a page.

I don't mind interpersonal drama, and Larson offers a lot of good representation for LGBTQ characters, but the plights of the characters are in many ways disconnected from the superheroic plot of the story, with superheroism being the lesser for it. Again, I actually think Larson is doing exactly what Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart did, and in that respect the book is perhaps a success in terms of what some readers want from it, but I'd have preferred more life and death stakes. I did like that the plot involved at least in part a villain's use of data mining from apps -- that the apps were not unrealistic or supernaturally powered (until they were), but rather very real kinds of social media, location-based services, and etc. used to nefarious ends formed part of what Batgirl had to fight against (and this too seemed in line with "Burnside" past).

But Larson's story comes apart in the end in very significant ways. I thought the development of Barbara needing to turn off her eidetic memory in Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside was controversial but interesting. Here, however, when Larson has Barbara do it, for some reason it enables Barbara to visualize events she would really have no knowledge of, a story leap that makes suspension of disbelief very difficult.

When Penguin's illegitimate son finally makes his bad intentions known, he reveals himself in an avian-style costume as "Blacksun"; no aspect of Ethan Cobblepot has to do with the sun, so essentially "sun" is just meant as an empty play on the word "son," plus "black" being used generically for "bad," and nothing about birds -- it doesn't feel like a lot of intention went into this. Additionally, Blacksun suddenly exhibits the power of mind control because, having finished his "vector suit," he can now "connect the points of data [he's] mined and make anyone do anything" he wants -- a statement completely nonsensical, and that unfortunately undermines the real information technology aspects that made the beginning of the book more compelling.

The book ends with the first Rebirth Batgirl annual, with a story by Larson and one by Vita Ayala. Larson's is a Batgirl/Supergirl team-up that, as I understand it, leads to events in Steve Orlando's Supergirl title. Solicitations for this particular annual suggested Supergirl and Batgirl would be breaking in to Arkham Asylum, leading to a "much, much bigger story," so of course I thought Saturn Girl would be involved; instead, clearly reflecting a change in DC's plans, they break into Cadmus on behalf of a totally new character. Larson's story is fine but that change is a disappointment. Ayala's story sees Alysia increasingly mad at Barbara for not having time to hang out, reflecting worse on Alysia than I think Ayala necessarily intended.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batgirl Vol. 2: Son of Penguin

It's a cute moment in Batgirl Vol. 2: Son of Penguin when Hope Larson has Barbara Gordon enroll in a library science program, returning Barbara to her "librarian" roots with a modern twist. But Larson was coy with Barbara's decision to go back to school last time (leaving aside, apparently, the company she founded) and offers no cogent explanation for that after five more issues here. After two volumes I'm satisfied this Batgirl run is tonally appropriate but seems rather loose many times in the details.

[Includes original and variant covers, character and cover sketches]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batgirl Vol. 2: Son of Penguin
Author Rating
2.5 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 2 )

  1. This is like Barbara's third life trajectory in the past two years of comics-- she was in grad school for urban mapping at the beginning of her Burnside run, then she made that startup about clean energy, then she went to find itself, now she's in library science. It feels improbably inconsistent. (Also you can't "change majors" in grad school as Barbara ostensibly does here.) I ended up dropping Batgirl from my pull list after this storyline, after having been a devoted fan of the Burnside run.

  2. I did appreciate the library science bit as a nod to Barbara’s pre-Crisis job as a librarian. I believe that annual ends up paying off in Orlando’s Supergirl, where the Emerald Empress appeared, but any ties to Saturn Girl were nixed, presumably by Doomsday Clock. It does, however, follow up on JL vs. SS.


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