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Review: Batgirl #1

BatgirlCoverRafaBatgirl’s recent tradition of striking visuals continues in this new volume and its new creative team of writer Hope Larson (A Wrinkle in Time), artist Rafael Albuquerque (Huck), and colorist Dave McCaig (American Vampire). They take Barbara Gordon out of her home, company, and friends in Burnside and take her on a road trip through Asia. Her first stop is Japan where she runs into a good friend, meets a superhero from the past, and gets into a hand to hand fight with a woman, who looks like the adopted daughter of Sailor Moon and DC’s Katana. It’s a fun story filled with lively dialogue, fluid combat sequences, and a clever use and exploration into Babs’ eidetic memory. Unfortunately, Larson doesn’t give us much time to explore or enjoy Japan before immediately moving to another location, which is my only major issue with this comic.

From the action-packed cold open, Albuquerque’s art and McCaig’s colors excite the senses with brisk speed lines, a sharp orange palette, fierce action poses Like Frank Miller and John Romita Jr before him, Albuquerque chooses storytelling over photorealism, and it pays off and immerses you into the story even if the Batgirl and her Chinese-American friend Kai’s attacker isn’t developed as an antagonist just yet. Later, in the story, Albuquerque uses grids to show the precision of Fruit Bat’s movements as she goes from asleep 104 year old woman in  a wheelchair to complete and utter badass. On the other hand, he uses wider panels for the quick lunges and reckless abandon of Batgirl’s antagonist, who is out of control.

During the quieter scenes, Albuquerque returns to the grids to focus on more intimate, character focused scenes like when Kai is talking about returning to his ancestors’ homeland to find himself while the bigger panels work better with the more comedic moments like Kai puking his guts out after having octopus. McCaig’s colors enhance Babs’ emotions like a deep purple background when she is astonished by Fruit Bat’s combat skill or a harsh pink when she’ locked in mortal combat with her attacker. He also lets Albuquerque’s art breathe and doesn’t cover all of BatgirlInteriorRafahis lines and black space.

The plot of Batgirl #1 has some cliches, like American tourists not being able to handle other countries’ food and the mysterious, almost silent female Asian assassin, found in dozens of action movies. But Larson shines in the characterization department by having Batgirl worried about her life and company back home in Burnside while appreciating having a break and getting to enjoy Japanese culture. She doesn’t force a romance between Kai and Babs and has them slowly reconnect through memories of their childhood in Chicago with police officer fathers as well as fun quips about the Midwest. (Kai doesn’t like sea food even though Lake Michigan and Superior are basically oceans.) Larson also makes Kai essential to the key mystery as seen in the cold open, but focuses on who he is as a person instead of immediately turning him into a plot device.

Batgirl #1 has fantastic artwork from Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig, who excel at depicting the detailed backgrounds of a to using diagram type panels to simulate Babs’ eidetic memory. Hope Larson writes some charming character interactions between Babs and Kai as well as showing Batgirl’s admiration for Fruit Bat and empathy for her because they both used to be or are currently disabled. But unfortunately their time together is cut short as Babs moves onto the next country in search of some amorphous “teacher”. However, unlike some other people at DC Entertainment, Larson, Albuquerque, and McCaig respect Batgirl and depict her in a thrilling, yet nuanced way. Hopefully, the book doesn’t slide into “white person is trained in martial arts by Asian person” cliches as Babs’ road trip continues.

Story: Hope Larson Art: Rafael Albuquerque Colors: Dave McCaig
Story: 7 Art: 9 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review