Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Batgirl #1 Review and **SPOILERS**

Big in Japan

Written By: Hope Larson
Art By: Rafael Albuquerque, Dave McCaig
Lettered By: Deron Bennett
Cover Price: $2.99
On Sale Date: July 27, 2016


Hey, did anyone hear any news about Batgirl in the last week or so? Maybe something coming out of San Diego Comic Con? No? Something about her depiction in a cartoon movie? Didn’t hear anything about that? Good, neither did I. All I know is Batgirl made an abrupt bow out of DC Continuity about two months ago, and she’s barely been seen since. I know she’s bopping around in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, but who knows when that is happening in the timeline? I really enjoyed the last run on Batgirl with Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr, and I dare say they’re a hard act to follow—not only because of their book’s quality, but because they rewrote so much about the character and created someone almost totally new. So now Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque have taken up the task, do you think they’ll maintain the same Burnside flavor or is there going to be a stark tonal shift? Well Babs is off to Japan, what do you think?! Read on!

Explain It!

Although last time we saw Barbara Gordon she was enrolled at university for computer science, her natural librarian’s curiosity must be worked into her DNA, for now we find Babs in Naha, on the island of Okinawa just off the coast of Japan (thank you, Karate Kid Part 2), looking for the world’s oldest living superhero: Chiyo Yamashiro aka Fruit Bat, who fought crime in the 1940s, unmaked in the 1980s, and lives in Naha with her son at the ripe age of 104. Barbara stumbled onto her existence, in fact, developing an app that digitizes microfiche files—the librarian rides again! So now she’s dropped her life in Burnside, along with the drama and an “ex” that I can only assume is Luke Fox, and come to Okinawa to get Yamashiro’s autograph. This is all pretty well laid out in the first few pages, via a couple of captions, a phone call back to Frankie in the United States of DC Continuity, and a chance run-in with her childhood friend Kai, who happens to be staying at the same hostel she is. Small world, huh? Almost like a literary device is being employed here, don’t you think? Seems like this chance meeting will develop into an important plot point, or my name ain’t Reggie Humperdumper. And it ain’t.

Babs and Kai catch up, informing the reader by way of reminiscence that they used to goof off together as kids in Chicago, until Barbara moved away to Gotham to a live of perpetual peril and emotional turmoil. When asked, Kai admits he did not make the force as planned—someone has to be the black sheep of the family, he says—but his sister did. In the meantime, Kai’s been drifting around, now in Okinawa and en route to China to reconnect with some relatives and practice his photography. No that’s not suspicious at all, bro! You’re basically the first person Babs sees in Japan and all you’ve got is a camera and loads of free time. He might as well have asked her to wear his special locket with a GPS chip in it. The two go get lunch, some tentacles in snot sauce that thrills Barbara but makes Kai sick (he is from the Midwest, he points out.) After lunch, Kai insists they go to…an Irish Pub? I must confess, it’s not something I’d expect to see in Okinawa, but it makes perfect sense. There are “Irish Pubs” everywhere I’ve been in the world (not Japan), all with varying degrees of cozy nooks and decorative clover. It stands to reason that Japanese people would want the same kind of kitschy crap. And so the veil of bigotry was lifted from my eyes, and I gained further insight and appreciation for another culture. The Japanese one, I mean. Irish people are horrible.

After an evening of Kai yakking craft beer and squid pieces into their hostel’s shared bathroom, the two are at Saion Square to see the 10,000 Eisa Dance Parade, probably because the island isn’t wired for cable. Barbara has arranged to meet Chiro Yamashiro, who sits solemnly in a wheelchair while her elderly son cracks wise at her expense. Or maybe she’s sleeping, it’s hard to tell. The woman is 104 years old, after all. When the parade starts, the old dude runs off to look at chicks or something, leaving Babs and Chiro largely alone (Kai is sort of standing off to the side.) That’s when Barbara reveals that she, too, had been in a wheelchair, and that they have lots of other things in common, but before she can talk about their shared love of scrapbooking there’s a cry for help, and we’re taken to the action! Some of which we saw as a cold opener! Batgirl is fighting a Sailor Moon-looking lady in clown makeup, who she believes assaulted a tourist. For those wondering: yes, the purple and yellow costume has remained intact. Batgirl tries to use her skill at billiards to bounce a dodge ball off of several parade drummers, and ultimately trip up Clown Girl, but before she can even pull off that hankey pankey ol’ Fruit Bat herself leaps up and takes her out handily! Clown Girl chucks a couple of knives that—seriously, now—Fruit Bat whaps away with her hands, even causing one to ricochet and slice through Clown Girl’s bowtie! It was pretty sweet, I thought.

Batgirl asks Fruit Bat how she did that trick with the knives, and Fruit says she simply reacted before Clown Girl threw them. Gee, thanks sensei! That’s totally not one of those cryptic pieces of mystic Asian wisdom that’s been a staple of its stereotypical depiction since before Charlie Chan! Just then, Fruit Bat has some kind of an attack, and tells Babs that she must go find the Teacher to see the future, which is just more mumbo jumbo. Do they not have street addresses in Asia? Can no one say, “go see the guy on Primrose Avenue?” As people rush to Fruit Bat’s aid, she tells Barbara to scram before “they” get back, so she grapple guns her way to a rooftop, leaving a 104 year-old woman to die, I suppose. On the roof, Babs puzzles over Fruit Bat’s message, then sees a billboard advertising the future of mixed martial arts, taking place at an event in Singapore. Now that’s just Bill Dozier’s Batman levels of convenient. Back at the hostel, Barbara is chilling on a very uncomfortable-looking bed when Kai busts in basically says he knows she’s Batgirl. She replies by asking if he’d like to go to Singapore!

I love Rafael Albuquerque’s art, and it is absolutely masterful here. On the first read-through, I thought the lack of backgrounds looked a little sparse, but on the second go I got the impression that I was looking at something more manga-inspired, with ben day dot patterns and color shifts to create a mood. Speaking of color, Dave McCaig is just as much part of this package as Albuquerque, and takes some bold risks (and uses some bold colors) that really pay off, particularly during the fight scene. The story…I liked it. Quite a bit. Some people might bristle at Barbara’s relocation, but I was okay with it and appreciated the little travelogue that took us to an Irish Pub. The scope of this mystery has yet to fully develop, obviously, but it looks like it might end with Batgirl being able to whap away throwing knives! My one complaint was that the pacing was a little off in this, and there seemed to be more information divulged in the last three pages than in the previous seventeen. But the tale itself is definitely interesting enough, and I look forward to the next installment.

Bits and Pieces:

Barbara Gordon has traded in her ironic t-shirt collection for fine silk kimonos and relocated to Japan, and it looks like this might be the first leg of an East Asian tour that is going to make me super hungry for dumplings. There's a lot more story to develop here, but so far it has the feeling of a Shaw Bros. kung-fu epic that will hopefully end with a super brawl at some remote monastery and the destruction of an evil despot's castle. Albuquerque and McCaig execute a specific mood and style perfectly, one that may not resonate with every reader. But then, nothing about Batgirl ever seems to, anyway.

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  1. This is by far my least favorite of all of the first rebirth issues. Not sure why but Babs annoyed me for most of the time I was reading it.

  2. Eh, it was fun.


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