After nearly 3 months (two for the CONVERGENCE break and nearly a month of other New DC titles) BATGIRL returns with issue 41. The primary conflict, spelled out on the comic’s cover, is between Barbara and the new Batman, who just happens to be her father, Jim Gordon.

BATGIRL #41 by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr

Batgirl 41 Cover

BATGIRL #41 kicks off with Batgirl exploring a dilapidated mansion that outwardly bears a striking resemblance to the Phantom Manor attraction at Disneyland Paris. Apparently Frankie, Barbara’s roommate who learned Barbara’s secret ID and has since taken on everything about the Oracle identity but the name, has detected massive amounts of power flowing from the house. Sure enough, Batgirl discovers a small cult that have dedicated themselves to reincarnating the algorithm version of Barbara from the last arc and carrying out its goal of violently purifying Gotham City. Batgirl is in the process of fighting them when the new, mech-inspired Batman busts in. For those unfamiliar with things in the current Bat-Verse, Batman seemingly died at the end of the “Endgame” crossover and has been replaced by a GCPD-approved Jim Gordon in a robotic Bat-suit. Unaware of the new Batman’s existence or identity, Batgirl is flabbergasted by his appearance, even more so when he attempts to arrest her. She’s able to escape, thanks to a minor distraction from one of the cult members, but the encounter leaves her confused.

Batgirl Mecha Bat

The next morning, Barbara is describing the encounter to Frankie, when they’re interrupted by a newly clean-shaven Jim Gordon paying a surprise visit to Burnside. He takes his daughter out to places they frequented when she was a kid, tipping Barbara off that something was amiss. Jim comes clean to her, outing himself as the new Batman. He explains that he wasn’t supposed to tell her, but felt that he had to. First and foremost, he could’t lead a double life lying to his daughter; secondly  he’s been given the dangerous mission of rounding up Gotham’s vigilantes, and he wants her to know just in case anything happens to him. These statements shake Barbara to her very core, for obvious reasons.

Next, we return to the house from earlier, where the blue tube with energy cackles with light, and releases an unknown female form. The scene then shifts to a bar/arcade (think the Barcade chain) where Barbara is trying to explain the situation with her father to Frankie without compromising his new identity. Suddenly the power cuts out across the neighborhood, and the electrical being begins blowing up cars. After a quick change into her Batgirl uniform, Barbara confronts the being who can’t remember what she is, but Batgirl realizes that it’s someone she’s familiar with; Leslie Willis AKA Livewire.

Batgirl 41 mecha bat attack

One of the series’ trademark photographic memory flashbacks reveals that months earlier Batgirl has discovered that Batman has a containment chamber for Livewire as a favor for Superman. Back in the present, Batgirl coaxes this out of Livewire’s memory. However, the knowledge just angers her more. Batgirl and Livewire have a small battle that’s not going well for the former, even with some ill-advised help from Frankie. Batman arrives, and Livewire takes off, leaving Batgirl alone with her father. An unknowing Jim Gordon tells his daughter that she’s under arrest, leaving the issue on a cliffhanger.

I was lucky enough to interview and attend two panels hosted by Brenden Fletcher at the NYC Special Edition Comic-Con earlier this month, and it was obvious that he and series co-writer Cameron Stewart relished the opportunity to play with the Barbara Gordon/Jim Gordon dynamic in the wake of the latter’s adoption of the Batman mantle. The father/daughter dynamic between the two makes up the core of the issue, and it works quite well. The conversation between the two at the carousel is particularly heart-wrenching, especially Jim’s speech about not being able to lie to Barbara about living a double life, completely unaware that she does just that. It’s effectively heart-wrenching dialogue that’s aided by Babs Tarr’s pencils (discussed more below).

The focus on the Gordons doesn’t allow much room for any of the book’s other supporting characters. Frankie is the only only one to appear, and her part is limited to a few lines in her Oracle-in-everything-but-name-only guise and the revelation that she’s now out of a job. Everyone else is MIA, which is alright for now as the father/daughter dynamic was important enough to take the focus, but I do hope the characters aren’t just dropped completely. Plot-wise, BATGIRL 41 also stands out as a good jumping-on point for the series. The last arc is only referenced with with quick-expository dialogue, and the status quo of Barbara and Frankie is quickly established in the first two pages.    

Gordon Batgirl 41

The issue marks a new era for the series’ art. While Babs Tarr remains the penciller, she’s no longer working over layouts by Cameron Stewart and there are some noticeable differences. The characters retain Tarr’s sunny, bordering-on-cartoon style and her penchant for in-jokes, such as the Sailor Moon arcade game Barbara and Frankie are playing. The backgrounds, however are another story, with a much starker/less detailed look. They’re not bad, just different than the art that readers of the series have become accustomed to. Hopefully Tarr continues to improve, as her style and visual story-telling skills will make her an absolute superstar in comics within the next few years. The moody first page is a definite highlight of the issue.

bg_41_1

There’s one possibly problematic panel in the issue that I feel a need to bring up. During Barbara’s mid-issue quick change to her Batgirl costume there’s a 6-panel spread of her putting on various pieces of her costume. One of them features a shot of her behind and a brief glimpse of her underwear. Personally, I don’t take issue with it. It’s not a typical cheesecake/comic book shot, but rather a small panel that’s clearly a cheeky (bad pun fully intended) reference to the film BATMAN & ROBIN. However, I can see how some readers may find it offensive.

BATGIRL #41 is a slight a reset issue for the series, though it retains the snappy dialogue and fun feel of the previous six issues. Returning from a long break, it establishes a status quo of Batgirl and Frankie being a team, meanwhile dealing with the idea of her father being Batman. Babs Tarr continues to dazzle with her art, though her solo work isn’t quite as refined as the previous work on the series.

BATGIRL #41: A-

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