Pre-Rebirth Batgirl is a tough act to follow. Written by Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart, that series found Barbara Gordon literally back on her feet and fighting crime. With Babs Tarr’s penchant for big eyes and generous curves and the bright, warm colors, it was a light, fun book that was more about friendship than crime fighting. Post-Rebirth Batgirl leaves that all behind and while that may feel like an insult to what came before, it’s actually just the logical next step in the story.
Barbara spent so many years wishing she could go back to being Batgirl that when she finally found a way to walk again, she didn’t take enough time to ask herself if that was what she really needed. We last left Barbara on the cusp of leaving Burnside, desperately in need of time away from her successful tech company, friends and boyfriend to gain perspective. She begins that journey in Japan, where she just happens to be roomed with her old friend, Kai, another child of a cop who became his family’s self-proclaimed black sheep. There is no such thing as coincidence in fiction and Barbara soon becomes suspicious that her old friend’s trip through Southeast Asia isn’t entirely innocent. It’s an intriguing set up, but not the issue’s most compelling plot thread.
That would be Barbara’s apparent search for a superhero mentor. Though she has no shortage of masked vigilantes back home to look up to, she’s clearly looking for a new way of doing things. Batman was always kind of destined to die for his cause—something that came true when Scott Snyder apparently killed Bruce Wayne off a few years ago. But Barbara was always been more hopeful, even after the events of The Killing Joke. It quickly becomes apparent here that Barbara wants to find a different path, that she wants to find a way live with the cape and cowl. So, she seeks out Fruit Bat, a vigilante active decades before who’s now a wheelchair-bound 94-year-old who isn’t as fragile as she looks. And while it becomes clear that Fruit Bat won’t be her new mentor by issue’s end, it does set her on a journey to find something more.
As for the art, it’s hard to find fault with Rafael Albuquerque. While his rougher lines are a distinct break from Tarr’s well-defined edges, his figures are equally expressive. One could point out that Barbara’s friend Kai looks an awful lot like a black-haired version of the titular hero of Albuquerque’s ongoing collaboration with Mark Millar, Huck, but there are far worse comics to emulate. In fact, Huck and Barbara actually have a lot in common. Neither is really driven by past trauma. They’re in it because they want to help people. Barbara wasn’t defined by what the Joker did to her, it was an obstacle she overcame because of who she inherently is. Now, she gets to do that again, but not because some psycho shot her, but because she wants to.