Batgirl #7 sees the titular character return to Burnside, the new region of Gotham that was more hip, young and modern, and was the site of the incredibly well-received re-imagining of Batgirl by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr.
When the DC Rebirth rolled around, it did seem like a nice break that Hope Larson would be giving us as Barbara Gordon left Burnside to travel Asia. However, during that arc, it did feel that something was missing from the character and her rejuvenated outlook, style and characterisation. I think that Burnside itself had become a key component of the character, just as Gotham is a key component of Batman. You may see Batman elsewhere in Justice League, but he only ever feels truly like the Dark Knight when he is in Gotham.
So it is a welcome return to see Batgirl once again in Burnside, albeit one going through some changes. That the gentrification of Burnside is certainly reminiscent of things that people in their real lives can see in some areas and can relate to is a major part of why I think the area works, and why it is so important to the character. That Burnside was already a hipster paradise before, and is now becoming full-blown tech yuppie heaven raises again modern concerns of soaring rents, escalating living costs and a widening gap between the classes.
That this can happen in a superhero comic and work is a testament to how the good and complete the reconstruction of Batgirl was, but also to the skill of the current writer, Larson. Never once do the issues raised feel yelled at you from a soapbox, but rather they feel natural, pervasive and part of the scenery.
The book feels like another Rebirth, and I think the refocus is very welcome indeed.
In fact, Larson generally does a great deal of good with exposition in the issue too, as a large amount of info is given to us to set up the new ongoing concerns for Batgirl. This could have been in an info-dump, or long exposition scene but instead info is given to the reader in manageable chunks that make it natural and keep the story running.
The one time it doesn't quite work is in a scene with a villain called Fright. Batgirl calls her by name immediately as if she knows her and the briefest of exposition is then given to explain that Fright does experiments. Now, I'll admit, I am completely unfamiliar with this character, and am still really none the wiser. It was the one time where the lightness of exposition and info didn't quite work, but it is a pretty small instance. However, the issue is so good overall, that it's really down to the point of picking out really nit-picky elements.
The art on the series is also taking an overhaul, with new incoming artist Chris Wildgoose. In the interests of full disclosure, Wildgoose is an artist I have followed for some time from the UK Indie press scene and his titles such as Briar and Porcelain. And, I will admit, my admiration of his art made me seek him out myself to be part of my own comic, The Pride. So it is fair to say I've seen a good chunk of Wildgoose's work and I am both a fan and colleague.
Wildgoose's art on Batgirl is really some fantastic stuff. His lines are clean and sharp, and he has a wonderful eye for expressions. Personally, I also think that the style in which Wildgoose portrays characters actually lends itself perfectly for this particular title too, and it looks like a perfect fit. One of the things Wildgoose is most known for is his incredible scene designs and landscapes (check out his gothic fantasy work in Porcelain in particular), and whilst these are not as clearly utilised here, rendering rendering realistic city streets and warehouses instead of sprawling fantasy landscapes, they are still pretty damn incredible in how detailed they are. Each place looks real.
The one time it does feel he gets to cut loose in terms of scenery design is the nightclub scene, and it is a wonderfully designed set piece. Similarly, his action sequences work really well here, particularly when the backgrounds give way to simple, stylised four-colour dot effect backgrounds, provided by Mat Lopes. They feel retro, in a fun and nostalgic way, and again are in perfect fitting with the character and the book. In fact, throughout, Lopes' colours serve Wildgoose's art really well, and again feel like a great fit.
Finally, Dernon Bennett does a lovely job with the lettering in this issue. It's of particular worth mentioning that Bennett does a great job by making the lettering as unobtrusive as possible so the full scale and depth and detail of the art can be taken in, and yet he keeps it easy to follow and ads fun flourishes in things like the text messages in the issues. Also, it's just nice to see thought balloons still as well. They've been gone too long.
Overall, Batgirl #7 is a return to form for the title, not that it had fallen into bad form in the interim. But with a refocus, and a recenter, this return to Burnside feels as interesting and fresh as it did the first time.