This last week of June sees the next wave of DC Comics titles, re-branded without The New 52 stamp. The DCU (DC You) series has gotten off to a great start and I’ve found myself enjoying an alternative set of comics such as Constantine The Hellblazer and last week’s Black Canary. This Wednesday (6/24) sees the release of issue 41 of Batgirl. While I haven’t read any of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, or Babs Tarr’s previous work on Batgirl, issue 41 had to be the exception as it featured one of my favorite characters and my all time favorite villain – Livewire.
Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr’s take on Batgirl is far different from any Batgirl I know. She works in the sense that she’s more relevant and appealing in an alternative/indie way. The Barabara Gordon a.k.a. Batgirl of Burnside is more punk pop than the straightforward DC heroics she embodied the last time I followed her on one of her adventures. See my review of Futures End here. In many ways, the Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr version of Batgirl is just the kind of comic we need a mainstream publisher like DC to create. Tonally, stylistically, and creatively it’s an approach that works. Think Mark Millar’s Hit-Girl, just without all the cussin’.
Issue 41 features the post-Convergence debut of the Superman: The Animated Series villain, Livewire. Other than a cameo appearance in a post-Forever Evil issue of Justice League, she has not yet appeared in full. The “horror movie” opening and tone Stewart and Fletcher set for issue 41 is nearly perfect and a welcome surprise. As Batgirl defiantly, proudly, and heroically creeps inside the Szavpost Estate (think something out of the current line of Archie Comics’ Sabrina), she stumbles upon a techno cult. Hooded in long robes, they reverently circle around this power container (think the vessel from which Steve Rogers emerges as Captain America from). They sing praise onto their “transcendent mother electric” and speak of her “preaching her digital gospel.” Oddly enough, my fandom, love, and devotion to Leslie Willis a.k.a. Livewire over the past year would probably place me more along with her cult than with Batgirl.
But before she could be raised, given her “new life, so that she may execute her holy program”, Batgirl interferes only to then be stopped by Batman, who defeats the remaining cult members. His appearance also leads to possibly the best line in the issue – “I’m Batman.” Let’s not forget that Commissioner Jim Gordon is now the new Batman as seen in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman issue 41. You could read our review here. For the heart of Batgirl issue 41, we get several pages and panels of father-daughter material, in which we get to see Jim and Barbara bond while eating ice cream and taking a walk. We learn that Barbara doesn’t know her father is Batman nor does it seem that Gordon knows his daughter is Batgirl. Correct me if I’m wrong in the comments below. Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr bring a real emotion to the panels and create an authentic sense of relationship between two of the most well established of comic characters.
Later on in the issue, Livewire finally makes her first appearance. She’s disoriented, but quickly begins to use her powers of electricity. She also creates a new suit for herself, which we covered earlier this week. Batgirl’s first encounter with Livewire plays out like an episode from the short-lived MTV animated Spider-Man series. Between the art of Babs Tarr, the background assists by Joel Gomez, and the coloring by Serge LaPointe, the shock-jock turned high-powered and most electrifying of Superman villains turns into that of a female version of Electro (the Spider-Man villain). She terrorizes Burnside and is left as a glorified cameo as we know she’ll be appearing in July’s issue of Batgirl. On a sidenote, reading Batgirl issue 41 feels like the kind of title that, depending on the new success for Livewire, could very well one day be one of those rare first appearances that a majority of comic collectors and flippers will be looking for.
Overall, Batgirl issue 41 is not a bad issue. The story telling is clear (for those that have read the series) along with art that is joyful to look at. However, there are certain plot elements to Batgirl issue 41, that I must mention. In setting up Livewire’s debut, we get a cult and a flashback. As a fan of Livewire, I felt it difficult to initially follow along with her reintroduction. Instead of just giving her a completely new introduction, she’s introduced as already being in existence in the DCU. That’s fine, but as there aren’t many fans as closely devoted to Livewire as for, let’s say, Harley Quinn, I feel that she could have been handled in a cleaner way. We get one page with two panels containing a flashback scene. We learn that Superman was having trouble capturing her so he turned to Batman to help him make an energy containment trap. When Batgirl confronts Livewire she refers to her being “put in Stryker’s months ago.” While it’s a vague enough reference that doesn’t necessarily tie back to a particular issue, it’s enough of a distraction that creates an issue that disconnects a new reader invested in the mythology. The merit of any given comic book should be found within its ability to be picked up and enjoyed by just about anyone, free of what tethers it to a grander story and/or universe. That is one of the particular reasons I enjoyed Black Canary and Constantine: The Hellblazer so much. They were both solidly written stories; they’re both set within the same world that they’ve previously existed in, but told in a way that doesn’t discriminate against any type of reader. It’s highly possible that I’ve read too much into Batgirl issue 41, especially as it’s an issue I’ve long awaited since first learning that Livewire would be making her grand appearance nine weeks ago. As a true fan of Livewire, and someone who loves the books DC Comics releases, I found Batgirl to be an otherwise fun story with Livewire being its weakest element in issue 41. It is a build up story, so here’s hoping that July’s issue 42 will be the issue that I was hoping for in this one.
Batgirl issue 41 is in stores now and gets three stars.
Batgirl (2011-) #41
Writer: Stewart, Cameron
Artist: Tarr, Babs
Cover Artist: Stewart, Cameron
Format: FC, 32pg., COMIC
On Sale June 24, 2015
Publisher DC Comics
Diamond Id: APR150256
*Interestingly, Batgirl issue 41 also happens to be the issue regarded with such controversy some time ago as it featured a highly debated variant cover. I won’t get into that here, but this is the link to a prior article that covered that debate. Batgirl #41 – #dontchangethecover