The Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr version of Batgirl has carved out a niche best described as bubblegum cyberpunk, with all manner of sci-fi information technology being used to commit crimes in a day-glo Gotham. But issue 41 – which has already gained degree of immortality due to that variant cover – starts off with an abrupt shift into a rather different genre…
At the beginning of the story, Batgirl is exploring a crumbling, cobwebbed old mansion when she comes across a circle of hooded cultists. Its leader wearing a piece of PC fascia as a mask and its acolytes staring solemnly into their laptop screens, the cult worships the remains of the evil computer program vanquished by Barbara in the previous story arc.
This fetching Devil Rides Out-meets-Tron situation quickly gives way to another change of tone, as Barbara bonds with her father – who, it should be noted for those who have opted out of current DC continuity, has donned a robot suit to become the new Batman following Bruce Wayne’s apparent death.
In contrast to the gothic trappings of the previous sequence, artist Babs Tarr and colourist Serge Lapointe bathe this scene in airy pastels. The two Gordons meet on an old merry-go-round, a favourite hangout from Barbara’s childhood days. James Gordon drops the bombshell by revealing that he is now Batman, and Barbara very nearly comes out of the closet herself… until Jim tells her about his new orders to arrest all of Gotham’s vigilantes, Batgirl included.
The issue prepares the table for some meaty conflict, but suffers from a weak antagonist. Throughout the series Stewart and Fletcher have shown a genuine talent for crafting entertaining villains-of-the-month, but this issue’s foe Livewire – while visually fetching in Tarr’s hands – is not one of them.
Originally created for the animated Superman series of the nineties, Livewire makes her first major post-Flashpoint appearance here, but is never given her own voice. Although she is implied to have been part of the cult’s attempts to revive the malicious AI, this part of the story is left largely unexplored.
More surprisingly, there is no mention of her established backstory as a radio shock-jock. This would have fit perfectly into Batgirl’s media-studies-in-spandex ethos, the series having previously touched upon revenge porn, social networking, performance art, anime cosplay, video games and more. A supervillainous Howard Stern would have fit right into the current rogues’ gallery, so this is a definite missed opportunity.
So, Batgirl #41 is not the most satisfying instalment in the current run, being more concerned with setting up a forthcoming conflict between Batgirl and robo-Batman than with telling a story that stands on its own legs.
Still, the dialogue is as punchy and the art as sweet as ever. It’s good to be back in Burnside after a two-month break, and the Bat-titles’ current status quo has given the Batgirl crew plenty to play with.
- Writers: Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
- Artist: Babs Tarr
- Background assists: Joel Gomez
- Colour: Serge Lapointe
- Cover: Cameron Stewart
- Series: Batgirl (2015)
- Issue: 41
- Price: $2.99
- On Sale Date: June 24 2015
- Color/B&W: Color
- Page Count: 32