Editor’s Note: This interview contains major spoilers for Batgirl and Batman comics.
It’s the same good old Batgirl, but not really. For a sidekick, although you could hardly call her that anymore, Barbara Gordon has seriously taken a beating during her years in Gotham. And even though the DC Universe went through a relaunch a few years back that rebooted a bit of her story, Barbara hasn’t had it any easier. She’s been crippled, gone through rehabilitation, and hit the ground running. Her work is never done. This year has been especially rough for Babs, who’s seen her father, Jim Gordon, incarcerated in Blackgate for a crime he didn’t commit.
After Gail Simone’s excellent run on the book and the events of Batman Eternal, Barbara is looking to unwind a bit in a new place. Enter Burnside, Gotham’s most hipster neighborhood, full of social media and start-up obsessed young people. Barbara wants to hit the books, finish her Master’s, and have a bit of a normal life. You know, like a normal twenty-something.
But as we discover in the excellent Batgirl #35, things aren’t that easy…
I talked to the new creative team behind Batgirl — Babs Tarr (art), Cameron Stewart (writer), and Brenden Fletcher (writer) — about Barbara Gordon’s new home, style, and social media concerns at NYCC last week:
I read the new issue and loved it. It’s very different. How did you guys approach modernizing Batgirl while staying true to her character?
CS: Barbara Gordon had always been associated with computers and technology. We thought that since social media has been this massive explosion in the last eight years…This enormous explosion, with the use of cellphones and so on, that it seemed like a natural extension of what she’s known for.
Also, we are trying to steep this a lot. She’s a 21-year-old girl and we are trying to steep it a lot in youth internet culture because that’s a very relevant and present thing. Everybody uses cellphones. Everyone I know is on Tinder and dating sites, so it is very much a part of the culture.
One of the things we wanted to do was to try and have an honest portrayal of what a 21-year-old girl living in a big metropolitan city would be like. So [social media is] a natural thing to put in. It was an unusual angle for it. I don’t think that a superhero comic has really used that as one of the central conceits of the story.
You don’t really see social media in comics. It’s very interesting to see. And refreshing.
CS: Exactly. Every so often, they will pay lip service to it or something, but we’ve actually baked it into the story itself. Social media actually becomes a fairly significant part of the story. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it is a thing that has been built into the story since our very first outline.
Barbara has had a dark past. She has recovered from being crippled. In Batman Eternal, she’s dealing with her dad’s incarceration. What are her concerns in your run of Batgirl? They seem very different.
BT: She’s trying to get away from all that with her move to Burnside. She’s in college. She hits a point in the last Batgirl issue and in Batman Eternal where she’s like, “I need to get away from this,” and she moves to Burnisde. She’s just trying to figure herself out because she’s been fighting crime since she was sixteen. [Now] she’s in grad school and trying to take a step back from being a superhero and just be a 21-year-old, figure herself out, and kind of own herself for the first time.
CS: In the New 52 continuity, she’s been Batgirl since she was a young teenager. Then she was injured and had her time in the wheelchair, and then went back to being Batgirl. So she’s never really had a “normal” life. When she is pushed to this absolute breaking point, in terms of trauma, tragedy, and horror, and realizes that she’s going down this dark path that’s basically going to turn her into Batman, which she doesn’t want, she takes a step back from that. Now, she’s just trying to find the correct path for herself. That means trying to have a normal life. That’s something, though, that she is inexperienced with.
She’s a kickass crime fighter, she’s a computer genius, she knows every martial art, and she can handle herself in a fight…But maybe she doesn’t know how to act at a party. This is something that we are going to explore in these new things, which again involve the social media aspect, that she’s completely unprepared for. That are separate from crime fighting. That are a new set of challenges that she has got to deal with and absorb into her life.
Our ultimate goal is to move her past all the darkness and the trauma. She can have a dark past, but it doesn’t have to define her present or her future. We want to bring her to a place that is ultimately healthy and optimistic.
It seems that DC doesn’t often let young characters in the Batman family be young people. With Gotham Academy and the new Batgirl, do you feel there is an ushering in of youth in the new Batman books?
BF: I don’t think that is a directive for us. I don’t think we sat down and talked about it at all. It’s just about having characters of a certain age and trying to be honest about who people are at that point in their lives and trying to represent that within Gotham City.
I don’t think it’s that the New 52 didn’t allow this before, I think it was just that everything was trying to fit a singular tone. Now, we are experimenting with tone and playing with style a little bit and that allows us to be a little more honest about who people are when they’re thirteen or twenty-one.
CS: It is something that we just felt was appropriate for the characters. There’s also a tendency in comics in general to draw characters looking older than they are meant to be. Something I always found funny is Robin is a teenage kid and is usually drawn to have a more muscular body than I do. I think when we’re drawing characters or portraying characters in a more honest representation of what someone of that age actually is, it can be perceived as this huge change, or difference, or “why are you suddenly changing them to look so young?” But it’s all about trying to portray them in a more accurate and honest way.
What was the thought process behind the design of the new costume?
CS: When I was first approached to take over the book, my very first question was “Can I redesign the costume?” Mainly because I knew that, if I was going to be working on the book, I didn’t want it to be something that was dark and heavy. I wanted to turn it into something that was more light and upbeat. The costume had to reflect that.
The armored-up super high-tech costume I didn’t think really accurately reflected that and it just wasn’t for my personal taste. I wanted to do something that was very fashionable and contemporary and felt like something that would be actually worn by a young girl. So I just went through a bunch of street fashion blogs and found stuff I thought could be adapted into a superhero costume. After a lot of experimentation, I came up with a look that was satisfying to me. By that point, Babs was in talks to work on the book, so I gave it to her and said “What do you think of this?”
BT: I thought it was really great. I just noticed some things in the jacket and some details. The belt was kind of old-school, you’ve seen that belt before, so I tried to update it, make it look a little hipper. He had this great leather jacket. I love leather jackets, and I thought it would be so cool if it had more details on it. I added some stream lines on it, some zippers, and the collar went up. [The collar] has a little snap to match the snaps he already had on the cape. I was just riffing off what Cameron did and adding my own flavor on top of it.
CS: Every single one of her suggestions was on point.
BT: He kept them all.
CS: Every single one was like wow! I was happy with it before but now it’s perfect.
BT: Cameron is brilliant and the fact that [he] even wanted to collaborate on that with me was amazing.
CS: We do it with all of the character design, actually. It seems like every character that we’ve worked on so far, I’ll do an initial sketch and then give it to her. She revises it and we jam on it. So every character in the book is a mash-up of the both of us working together.
Thank you very much, Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart, and Brenden Fletcher!
Batgirl #36 is out on Nov. 12.