You can take the Batgirl out of the Burnside, but not the Burnside out of the Batgirl. That's the message fans of Babs Gordon should be embracing five issues into Hope Larson's post-Rebirth run on the DC Comics' title Batgirl.
In October 2014, the creative team of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr, and Maris Wicks launched a soft reboot that sent Barbara Gordon to the Brooklyn-esque 'hood of Burnside in a series of largely fun, hip, and refreshing stories. This Babs was still a hero with demons, but the book shed some of the Bat-family darkness to make her a social media savvy PhD. student.
So you can imagine the pressure of inheriting a title after DC announced it publisher-wide Rebirth-ization of all its titles. What was new writer Hope Larson to do to bring Babs in line with Rebirth (which the energetic title already largely was), while also maintaining the vibe of the Burnside character, and yet still make the book her own? Send the hero backpacking through Japan.
Over the course of five issues (with #5 dropping tomorrow, Nov. 23), Larson has had Babs experience the frustrations of a non-vigilante tourist -- let's face it, wi-fi cafe speed just sucks -- face off against new villains, and get caught up with a doofus of a boy who is wrapped up in a complex storyline.
Thus far, the book has been action-packed, with Babs learning new skills and becoming a better hero. It has also been a fresh injection in an already-refreshing title. Now, with tomorrow's issue, Larson wraps up Barbara's story in Japan -- and her first arc on a superhero book -- before setting her off on a new adventure.
I spoke to Larson about her inaugural journey with Babs in the first five issues of Batgirl. She also teases what's ahead for her next arc, which involves a love interest connected to an iconic villan.
Check out what she has to say, then take a look at the exclusive preview below of Batgirl #5 -- published by DC Comics, with art and cover by Rafael Albuquerque, and a variant cover by Francis Manapul.
What was your goal heading into the opening arc, and do you feel you've accomplished what you set out to do?
Hope Larson: My goal was to tell a fun, cohesive story while also getting my sea legs in the world of superhero comics, so I do feel like I've accomplished the goals I set for myself. I've been writing comics professionally for over a decade, but this is a little different than my usual fare, so this whole first arc was tinged with the uneasiness of starting a new job. That said, I'm nothing but proud of what I accomplished and am so glad DC took a chance on me.
How has this journey "Beyond Burnside" changed both Babs and her role as Batgirl?
Larson: She's gained a new ability, which she'll continue to explore and grapple with as we move forward. As for how it's changed Babs, the person, her experiences in Asia have reoriented her career goals. She'll be changing her focus in school, and we'll be taking her back to her roots. Wink wink.
Is Kai kind of a loser? He's a different kind of love interest for Babs, but why is he such an important character for this story? And how do you think he netted out in the end?
Larson: Kai is kind of a loser, but I have a lot of affection for him, and losers in general. I also think it's a bit harsh to look at anyone in their 20s, as Kai and Babs are, as a loser; they're barely even adults.
Kai's the type of person who's been thrashing around in life a bit and hasn't settled on a particular path. He's still largely defined by parental expectations and societal expectations, and he's been trying to live up to an unrealistic idea of who he should be -- which has prevented him from getting onto the right path. He's made some bad, selfish and even criminal decisions in this arc, but I'm optimistic that if we bump into him again, he'll be doing something cool with his life instead of looking for shortcuts.
Why was it important to show the mundane, frustrating aspects of Babs' travel, such as dealing with slow wi-fi speeds? How does that separate her from her super hero counterparts, in your opinion?
Larson: Oh, that was inspired by the struggle of working on the road, which all comics people are familiar with, and it ties into the other themes of the arc -- processing speed, connection, communication. I'm always looking for a real-life detail to bring the fantastical elements of a story down to earth.
Teacher, Schoolgirl, Fruit Bat, etc -- Which villain or supporting character was the most satisfying to flesh out, and why?
Larson: Fruit Bat is my favorite, and I'd love to see more of her.
Talk about Rafael's art on this arc, and how it contributed to your storytelling? Can you talk about some favorite scenes/pages he brought to life?
Larson: Working with Rafael has been a dream, and his artwork elevated the story. A particular favorite of mine is still the splash page at the drum festival in Japan. But in general, he brought a toughness and grittiness to the story that definitely appealed to fans who weren't as into the more cartoonish style of the previous creative team.
Personally, I love Babs Tarr's work, and Rafael's work, and upcoming artist Christian Wildgoose's art in equal measure. It's apples and oranges and bananas.
Where will the action pick up next? Can you tease the next issue and adventure for her, and how it is different?
Larson: We're heading back to Burnside! But things have changed while she was away, both in the city and in her friends' lives. Babs is going back in school, and she'll be dating/investigating the new guy in town: Ethan Cobblepot, the Penguin's son. I'm writing that arc now, and it's delightful to play with so many existing characters instead of building everything from scratch, or spending hours and hours researching.
Like I mentioned before, Christian Wildgoose will be taking over the art. He's incredibly talented and enthusiastic, and he's absolutely wonderful at drawing environments so I've been writing increasingly fantastical locations for him to draw.
Is Babs a good traveler in 2016, and would you want to take her out on the road again? To where, and why?
Larson: I'm not sure if I would send her globetrotting again or not. It was fun, but a ton of work for me and Rafael. I'm pretty excited for her to stay put for a minute and explore her own neighborhood.
After your opening arc on your first super hero book, do you have an interest in taking on other super characters, or is Batgirl uniquely suited to your tastes?
Larson: I'd love to write another superhero book. I don't have a particular favorite, but I love Gotham's female villains and would enjoy getting to write an antihero lead.
Don't miss our exclusive preview of Batgirl #5 below, and let us know in the comments below what you think about Babs in Japan (and heading back to Burnside).