Burnside Never Fade Away – a “Batgirl” #50 (Review)
Writers: Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
Artists: Babs Tarr, Roger Robinson, John Timms, Eleonora Carlini, and James Harvey
Colors: James Harvey
Some comic books are written and drawn in a way that transcends my typical concerns over continuity, or the use of any macguffins. Batgirl #50 is just such a book. Add that it is a feast of female empowerment with strong but compassionate characters, and you have a book that makes me ashamed for not staying on this ongoing.
I’ve heard so many different things about what DC is doing with the New 52. My current belief is that many, or most, if not all, of the New 52 titles are going to go away and be replaced by books in the Rebirth pipeline. I’d heard various stories that some books would end at #50, while some would go all the way to #52. I have also heard that not necessarily all of them are going away. If they are not, then I am not clear why I have been swallowing huge double-sized issue #50’s for the past two months. I was prepared for more of the same when I decided to check out Batgirl (of Burnside) #50. Many of these #50 issues have been long, tedious, and just not that great.
Batgirl #50 pits Team BG against her arch enemy (in this series) The Fugue. Each member of the team gets their own time in the spotlight as they take on various BG enemies solo and in tandem. The finale culminates in a mano-y-mano fight that is brutal and ingenious and ends with a new status quo. Whether that will be extended to Batgirl Rebirth, I have no idea. For this issue, because it was so great, I was compelled, in a very rare occurrence, to not worry about the greater DCU and just enjoy this read.
The main reason that this issue was so amazingly well-written is that I am not sure that it mattered whether or not I was a full-series fan of this Batgirl iteration, or if I was just a casual reader flitting by. I’ve read a few issues of BG here and there at random. I knew she had moved, been de-aged, entered a social media-centric circle of friends, and changed up her costume. But that’s about it. I love how each chapter was split up to focus on a single member or a duo of Team BG characters. That allowed for enough focus, and intensely choreographed combat, that I did not feel any notion of irrelevance because I was not familiar with a given character or not. The pudding on the cake is the finale. Number one, we get to see just why the Robins all hold Barbara Gordon in such high regard. The lengths she goes to to defeat the Fugue…straight up Batmanesque. And even if some of that was a dupe, then you still have to give her the creds for outwitting and outlasting her adversary. The really nice thing is in how it ties in so nicely to provide analogs to what we have seen on Arrow this season in other characters that in many ways mirror Barbara Gordon from the comics. Add that this is an especially nice callback, given some of the negative feedback 5 years ago when the New 52 launched and Oracle was just…gone.
The artwork on this Batgirl I’ve always thought of as requiring a bit of an acquired taste. I think Babs Tarr has been the primary artis on the book mostly. Regardless, I’ve never thought the art was bad per se, and it certainly fit the book’s tone, I was just never certain I would want to see it anywhere else. And in general, it did not meet my personal preferences. Here, though, it sings. Especially with the huge splash-pages with “Team BG Rep X” vs. “Villain Y”. The art represents the story and the overall theme of Batgirl of Burnside wonderfully. It was nice seeing some characters that I had not seen since 2015’s Batman Eternal, as well as a momentary reveal that left me uncertain whether I was seeing truth or mirage. The panel work was a bit of a template from fight to fight, as the opener of each Versus chapter had the same angles-on-squares and rectangles overlapping motif. But that’s ok; it helped develop a certain amount of comfort and familiarity as you went from one versus chapter to the next. The in-flight scene between Batgirl and her transport was as nice as anything rendered in Declan Shalvey’s run on Moon Knight, much of which was also done in silent panels.
If this is the last issue (it seems that I’m writing that opener in a LOT of DC and Marvel reviews these days) of Batgirl, then this is one hell of a send-off. [It’s not BTW, we’ve got two more to go]. Art and story here blend in a masterful intermix that fuels the highest level of adventure burn. Say whatever you want about Stewart, Fletcher, and Babs’ entirely fresh take on this character since the younger Gordon exited stage left from Batman Eternal and wound up in Burnside. But they are most definitely on-point as they prepare to wind this story up and leave behind a legacy that is likely not to be revisited for some years. And that’s ok. I believe that this creative team has this variant of Batgirl on lock, and I’m not sure that I would want anyone else to try and capture the lightning in a bottle that has been the new normal since Batgirl #35. Well done, team. Feel free to wow us with your double-encore.