Today I’m given the task of reviewing the new Batgirls ongoing from DC Comics, written by Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad, and a series whose creation is long overdue. I think it’s important (for me at least) to start this off by saying I’ve been a massive fan of these characters for a very, very long time. When I was a teenager, ’90s DC (Batman books in particular) was a huge part of my free time, and no characters really managed to grab me quite like Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown did. Why that is is quite frankly a deeply personal story for another day, and also not why I’m here. I am here to tell you if this latest outing of these fan favorites hits the mark. Let’s get into it.
To start, the plot of the book so far is standard fare. It’s very sitcom-y, for lack of a better term, and I think it works, mostly. At the very least, it’s fun, it’s got a good energy to it that makes it obvious the people involved wanted to do something lighthearted and upbeat, and I think that’s the right tone for this. There’s plenty in here to set up some ongoing and future story beats, mostly just establishing the new setting and a couple things that’ll no doubt become reoccurring. As an introductory issue, it does everything right in making sure you know what’s happening in the world around them and who the characters will be. On that note…
Characterization is a part of this book I have some conflicting feelings on. I’ll be the first to admit that writing a character like Cassandra can be challenging; there are a lot of subtleties and nuances to her speech patterns and body language that have evolved over the years, and it’s arguably her most defining trait. It’s important to get it right, and while I think there needs to be some fine tuning here, I was able to tell right away that the writers were putting in a honest effort to stay true as they could to how Cass sounds, and that goes a long way for me. I think a little bit more time to get in the groove and it’ll get more and more natural. The obvious care put into her body language is also something I noticed right away, and I’m glad that part of her was given so much subtlety.
While the part of me that’s a Cass fan was pretty satisfied (a massive win, believe you me), Stephanie I’m far more mixed on. I’ve never really been a fan of the New 52/Rebirth reboot of Steph, I’ve always found her to lack a bit of the spitfire and earnestness that made the previous version of the character so relatable and fun for me to read when I was younger. She’s far more peppy and excitable here, and it’s just not a characterization I can say I enjoy from her nearly as much. Sometimes she reads more “Stargirl” than “Batgirl”, and while I respect that that may not be an issue at all for some, for me, it’s just not really what I look for from this particular character.
As for Barbara, I do like that she’s still Oracle in this, and not a Batgirl herself. In my view, Babs was always at her best in the Oracle identity, and it’s nice that she’s still around to mentor the young duo like she’d often do in the original ongoing Batgirl volume. It’s a dynamic that’s sorely missed, and I hope that it leans a bit more in that book’s direction for its character writing as things move forward.
The art is by far my favorite part of this book. It’s so stylish and poppy and that’s always worked wonders for these characters. Jorge Corona and Sarah Stern absolute kill it with the stylish pencils and color choices. Cassandra in particular was known for having a solo series with very freeform, dynamic, and expressive art, and she’s always thrived with that sort of style. For a character where body language is a vital component to who they are, you need art that’s willing to get really loose and also strike some good poses. The colors are fantastic, too; bright and very pleasing to look at. I think one of my only complaints is that Stephanie is not also in a Batgirl costume, and is still stuck in her New 52 suit with a single Bat symbol pasted over it. I won’t harp on that too hard though, since I doubt it was within the creative team’s power to change that.
The key word here is “potential.” This book has a lot of it. I think despite some misgivings from me in the characterization department, it’s still very FUN to read, and really that’s what matters more than anything. I had a good time with it, and It’s really nice to see these characters all together in one book again. It’s been ages since that was a normal occurrence, and the importance of reinstating the Batgirl legacy cannot be understated. This is a book that has some growing pains, but is ultimately a fun experience that promises a lot, and I think it’s gonna deliver. I look forward to see how this team irons things out as months go by, and I can’t wait to see this come into it’s own. As a longstanding fan of these characters, it gets a pass from me. Good work.
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