Review: Batgirls Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

I’ve said before and I’ll say again that for a few reasons, the Infinite Frontier era of DC Comics feels auspicious to me, a period of worrying less about confusion here and implications there and simply returning to what’s loved best about these characters. We see it in a Booster Gold/Blue Beetle team-up, we see it in Wally West as Flash and Tim Drake as Robin, and most of all, we see it in DC finally, finally recognizing the sky won’t fall if, instead of one, only one true Batgirl, they finally put all three Batgirls together in one raucous title, as they ought have a least a decade ago.

Batgirls Vol. 1 (aka Batgirls Vol. 1: One Way or Another) is a fun, fluorescent-colored buddy comedy, full of good vibes, cool cars, and kicky banter. Indeed it is devoutly light, eschewing heavier topics even when the opportunity obviously presents itself. And why not? There’s perhaps no other three characters in the DC Universe whom the zeitgeist has let down further, collectively shot, traumatized, killed off, turned evil, or relegated to limbo; that their first series all together should be unceasingly joyful seems the better thing to do.

I did, as you might surmise, want for a bit more depth. Given especially the uncertain provenances of Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain between the New 52, DC Rebirth, and Infinite Frontier, even I wouldn’t have minded a pause to establish who these characters are and where they came from, letting alone if they have any plans or life goals beside squatting in an apartment with Barbara Gordon. Writers Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad hint at such things without exploring them outright, and I’m unsure if that’s storytelling with intention or with shallowness.

I’m willing to wait and see, to be sure. This is a book we’ve wanted for a long time, and I hope it sticks around for a while to come.

[Review contains spoilers for Batgirls and I Am Batman]

It’s a vote of confidence for Batgirls that it rather seems to be the site of “Fear State”’s continuing action, since Batman proper seems to have let it go with the new creative team. I was shocked that DC killed off “Fear State”’s key villain, Simon Saint, in I Am Batman Vol. 1 rather than Batman proper, and now Batgirls is the home of the fallout from that. Too, insofar that the “anti-Oracle” Seer threat in “Fear State” really came to nothing in Batman, it was a direct line from “Fear State” to Batgirls if anyone wants to find out what was going on there.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Cloonan and Conrad seem to be setting up a fun supporting cast for the Batgirls, not just the three stars but also a cadre of neighbors, each presumably with stories of their own. That reminds, of course, of Cloonan’s Gotham Academy, not to mention the Only Murders in the Building-esque home-place comedy of it all, which gives the book a lot of potential.

I also appreciated that the writers didn’t go for the easy swings of populating this book with an obvious Jim Gordon-type character (see “Shotgun” Smith, Nick Gage, etc.), and instead rounded things out with TV reporter Grace O’Halloran. The running gag of O’Halloran always going on camera tipsy reminds of other good ensemble books like the characters of Christopher Priest’s Steel run.

But it was shortly into the book’s first full issue, when Stephanie was praising the Batgirls' new neighborhood’s art gallery, even that the gallery is looking for “local models,” I began to feel we don’t know these characters all that well. Is art something she's interested in? Stephanie was, in her last major plot line, on the outs with Batman’s methods? Then preparing to go off to college? I’m not so clear what’s brought her back to the Batgirls necessarily. And late in the book, Stephanie seems all too eager to sacrifice her life to dispose of a bomb (the aftermath of which the writers treat hilariously deadpan but perhaps a bit too blithely).

We know in the past Spoiler as a pregnant teen struggling with placing her child for adoption, Spoiler as the fired Robin whose machinations started a deadly Gotham gang war, and Spoiler-Batgirl who describes herself to the book’s villain Tutor as “broken.” But the writers make any explanations for “broken” implicit, leaving the audience to guess what’s underlying or what’s even still in continuity. Similarly in the last chapter there seems a reference by Barbara to Killing Joke that the writers too leave very general. On one hand, probably we don’t need to relitigate the problematic histories of these characters again; on the other hand, the writers would be mistaken to think Stephanie and Cassandra’s histories are as clear these days as Barbara’s is, and such confusion only hurts our ability to emotionally attach to the characters.

I appreciated a line of meta-narration in the third full chapter that’s changed from the original single issue to the trade (“if you didn’t read issue two” vs. “if you didn’t read that part”); that’s nice attention to detail and deference to the trade readers. But without seeming no fun, I did feel the fourth-wall-breaking eventually came on a little thick, as when editor Jessica Chen (or her in-book character) interjects three times in the span of five pages of the fourth chapter. Too, I’m surprised no one in editorial paused before appropriating Gotham's originally predominantly Black neighborhood of the Hill (created by Priest) into the “Jewel of Gotham,” where evidence of the hip-to-be-poor Batgirls' pseudo-destitution seems to be that they have to slurp instant ramen even though they otherwise want for nothing.

Artist Jorge Corona’s weird, bendy figures are perfect throughout, and it’s only logical on the DC side that Corona should travel from We Are Robin to here. There’s an increased sketchiness in some of the later chapters where Corona’s work offers welcome reminders of Keith Giffen on the recent Inferior Five. Credit too to colorist Sarah Stern for most of the book, accentuating Stephanie’s fearsomeness alongside Cassandra by completely blacking out the blacks in Stephanie’s costume and making her an equally imposing Bat-figure.



Batgirls Vol. 1 is a light skip and jump across gloomy Gotham, using up DC’s entire budget of hot pink in the process. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, and again, these characters deserve it. But I’d like to see this book have staying power, and I’m not so sure it can lest things get a little less light, a little more serious. Maybe that would ruin the essence of this book, however, and if so, I defer.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches]


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