Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside

I was so excited for this! Hope Larson (she of Goldie Vance)! Rafael Albuquerque (he of American Vampire)! Batgirl!

While all three of those things may be quite good individually, together, they are underwhelming. And that's being polite. When I finished reading my ARC of the trade paperback (sorry, the only comic I read single issues of is The Unstoppable Wasp), I literally (and I am not misusing this word: I mean literally) made this face:

It was a grimace. A cringe. A horrified sense of loss at what could have been.

So what went wrong?

A lot of things. In Beyond Burnside, Babs Gordon leaves Burnside, the thinly-disguised Brooklyn hipster section of Gotham, to travel throughout Asia and get away from saving the world. As we all know, this never happens for superheroes. In her hostel in Japan, Babs meets her friend Kai. Evidently, when they were kids, Babs and Kai were tight, but after he went to reform school (gasp!) they lost touch. But things are better now, right?

Oh noes! A villain dressed like a Japanese schoolgirl-meets-clown attacks Kai during a parade and demands "the formula." Gee, could Kai have some shady dealings? Is his new job not as legit as he makes it out to be? Let me see...

But Babs is too starry-eyed over dating a "normie" (holy cats, who says that???) to realize what's going on right away. And even when she makes the gargantuan mental leap to realize that Kai is smuggling bio-enhanced bacteria in his gut (wait, what?), she still sees him as someone to be saved, not someone who has committed a crime. I mean, didn't she see Brokedown Palace? Doesn't she know what happens to people who smuggle stuff in Southeast Asia? I'm sure it's applicable to biologics!

Anyhoo, in order to save Kai--which the turd doesn't really deserve, but I guess Babs is a much better person than me--Batgirl has to track down the "Students"--martial arts villians--and their "Teacher."  To do so, she trains with an MMA school in Singapore, as one does when traveling in Singapore.

There, she has a cage fight with The Moth, a highly-skilled fighter who just happens to have the same tattoo as Clown Schoolgirl. The Moth is also deaf in some weird nod to "diversity": Babs reasons that since Moth can't hear, she has advanced reflexes. That's really ableist. Finally, she fights a construction worker called Hardhat (I am not making this up) in Seoul, where the villains explain that they're only doing this because they didn't pass their college entrance exams and therefore have crappy lives. Teacher has promised them a serum that will make their brains function at full power (but also maybe make their hair fall out and cause cancer, but who reads the fine print?) so that they can retake their exams, pass, and go to college. Well. That's certainly ... not a villainous motivation I've seen before. I'll give Larson that.

In the end, Batgirl has to "turn off" her eidetic memory in order to beat Teacher. First of all, that's not how that works. Second of all ... yeah, that's still not how that works. Throughout the comic, Batgirl's eidetic memory allows her to replay the past "from all different angles." The way I understand it, having an eidetic memory (which actually hasn't been scientifically proven, but carry on) means you have vivid and specific recall of memories, but it doesn't mean you remember things you didn't actually experience. For example, Batgirl shouldn't be able to see the fight from all angles because she only observed it from one. This is not The Matrix. Plus, I honestly didn't understand why she had to "forget" everything she knew in order to beat Teacher. Because she was thinking too hard? If she caused herself to forget everything, how did she know how to fight? How did she know she was Batgirl? If this had been presented more as a memory palace-type construction, I would have been more forgiving of it.

I don't think I need to go back over the plot in order to point out its weaknesses. Here are some extra problems with the comic, just for fun!

All of the women in the book, with the exception of Babs, are very stereotypical "dragon lady," which is super racist. Don't do this. They are all amazing martial arts fighters with lacquered lips and Evil Plans. 

Babs' costume is ridiculous. You can practically see her whole face, and all of her hair spills out. Yet somehow Kai the genius doesn't figure out that the redheaded, white Batgirl and his redheaded, white girlfriend are the same person. Also, I'm not sure how she changes in the middle of a parade without anyone noticing.

There is a huge disconnect between the perky, twee new Batgirl as Larson writes her (which is really a continuation of the last Batgirl reboot, which I hated) and Albuquerque as an artist. His art for Batgirl is not awful, but it's not the right art. He does dark and twisted very well. If he had done artwork for Gail Simone's Batgirl, that would have been perfect. For this Batgirl? It's too ... clean. Too nice. And because you don't see all the rough edges that make Albuquerque a great horror artist, it just looks dull. And yes, he is the one who did the infamously-pulled Batgirl-and-Joker variant cover, so why DC picked him for this happy-happy Batgirl is just beyond me. Then again, pretty much any decision DC makes is beyond me. Except for Jason Momoa. I like that decision.

Skip this and just reread Simone's Batgirl instead. Or check out Albuquerque's work on American Vampire

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley for review.

**Note** This review is a warning to not write reviews while exhausted. I mixed up Albuquerque and Gabriel Rodriquez, who actually illustrated Locke & Key. You should read that one too. 


Popular Posts