Batgirl of Burnside: A New Take on an Old Favorite

Batgirl #35Batgirl is my favorite superhero. Not just any Batgirl, though: Barbara Gordon is my hero. She is smart, strong, and an information professional! She has been portrayed as a librarian, an information broker for other heroes, and, in younger versions, as a tech-savvy student.

Barbara “Babs” Gordon first appeared as Batgirl in 1967, six years after the first ever appearance of a Batgirl. Most often, Babs is the daughter of Commissioner Gordon and works as part of the Bat-family alongside Batman and Dick Grayson’s Robin; however, there are variations to this in the many portrayals of her.

Batgirl has always presented as a strong female character, fighting with male heroes as an equal. She served as an important figure in conversations regarding female representation in comics after she was sexually assaulted and paralyzed during a violent attack in Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke. As this event became part of the canon, the now wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon once again gave voice to an under-represented population in comics when she left behind her Batgirl cowl and became Oracle, an information broker who supports superheros fighting on the streets.

In 2011, the DC Universe went through a reboot of sorts with the New 52. Under Gail Simone, who had been writing Barbara Gordon as Oracle, this relaunch saw Babs going through rehabilitation, regaining the use of her legs, and heading back out to kick some baddies’ behinds as Batgirl, once again.

Over the summer it was announced that there would be a new run of Batgirl comics by the creative team of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr. The basic breakdown is that Barbara Gordon would be moving to Burnside, the hipster neighborhood of Gotham, where she would experience the life of a young woman trying to balance school, a social life, and a gig as a crime-fighting superhero. In an interview with MTV, Fletcher described their efforts as “the best elements of Veronica Mars and Girls, with a dash of Sherlock thrown in for good measure.” My immediate thoughts? This. Sounds. Awesome.

The first issue of this run was released on October 8th (Batgirl #35). This issue sets the stage for exactly what Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr said it would be and it does it in the best possible way. Babs is having fun while partying with friends, struggling to pay for her education, and fighting jerks who violate the privacy of others.

There have been many critics of the new take, including many who were turned off by the cover art alone which portrays Batgirl taking a mirror-selfie in a club bathroom (see above). But why shouldn’t there be a comic that appeals to a generation growing up with selfies, hashtags, and online hookup sites? Babs is still using her brain and her fighting skills to solve mysteries and catch the baddie. The comic also portrays characters of color and LGBTQ characters as part of Barbara’s social circle beginning on the first page of the first issue, once again bringing under-represented populations to the pages of a mainstream comic.

This comic is an excellent recommendation for fans of YA, in particular fans of contemporary YA. Overall, it’s a light-hearted, fun, superhero story with a strong female lead. It may not be for everyone, but it may just be the thing for someone who has not found a comic that has spoken to them before.

– Jessica Lind, currently re-reading Paper Towns by John Green

2 thoughts on “Batgirl of Burnside: A New Take on an Old Favorite”

  1. I admit that I have been conflicted about the decision to have Barbara Gordon transition away from being Oracle and back to being Batgirl. I loved the fact that Oracle was a powerful and important character who had a disability and used a wheelchair and I think it is a shame that the DC Universe lost that (for a much more eloquent take on the situation, I recommend Jill Pantozzi’s piece entitled OP/ED: ORACLE Is Stronger Than BATGIRL Will Ever Be). But, I admit to being intrigued by the latest issue of Batgirl and I do plan to read it. I just wish that they had opted to have the Batgirl persona taken on by another character rather than having Barbara Gordon start walking again.

    1. Thank you for bringing this up, Carli! I definitely think that the implications of the decision to “fix” Barbara Gordon are worth considering. Given how many times characters have died, only to be brought back to life, I was not surprised that they chose to do this. I think it’s always important to see what happens after and, unfortunately, it’s now three years later and I don’t think that DC will fill the void left behind.

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