As a part of DC Comics’ Rebirth relaunch, Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist Hope Larson is taking Batgirl on a brand-new adventure: backpacking through Asia.
Larson, best known for her graphic novels for and about young women (among them Salamander Dream, Chiggers and Gray Horses) and a bestselling comic adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, is stepping into a new arena with Batgirl: her first superhero book.
She told Polygon that she’s a big fan of the character’s most recent stories — what could be informally known as the Batgirl of Burnside era — and since she’s been leaning toward more action-packed stories lately, the chance to do Rebirth Batgirl came along at just the right time. She’s calling her arc "Beyond Burnside."
"I’m picking up the story and the character where they left off and running with them," she told Polygon. "It’s maybe a little darker than the previous run, but not so much that fans of (for example) Babs Tarr’s artwork will be put off. My approach is pretty much, ‘If it ain’t broke...’"
Larson couldn’t share much about the upcoming plot, but for the Burnside fans reading this, she promises we’ll see "a tiny bit" of Frankie, Barbara’s former roommate and close confidant, who’s running her successful tech startup back in Gotham.
"a story about Batgirl ... mastering the strengths and weaknesses she already carries with her
Largely, however, the book will focus on a new cast of characters, including a mysterious female assassin, Barbara’s childhood friend Kai — who’s on a tour of Asia, hoping to visit his Chinese grandparents and get in touch with his roots — and the retired vigilante Chiyo Yamashiro — who once protected Japan as her alter ego, Fruit Bat.
Larson’s Batgirl run concerns a white character traveling to Asian countries in search of a new start, new insight and new skills, a story structure that’s come under a certain amount of fire in public discussion lately, as casting announcements for Marvel’s Iron Fist and Doctor Strange have rolled out. (The chatter about Doctor Strange actually grew to the point where the film’s screenwriter publicly addressed the casting controversy.) The white hero’s journey into Asia has long been used to exoticize and stereotype East Asian cultures — while emphasizing and contrasting the heroic abilities of white main characters against Asian secondary characters or villains.
Larson told Polygon that the possibility that "Beyond Burnside" would stray into such territory hadn’t crossed her mind when she pitched it — but she wishes that it had.
"I completely understand the concerns that have been raised on this front," she said, "and I’ve done my utmost to keep this from being a story about a white character learning some mystical Asian technique. There are no magical Asians or gurus on mountaintops, and from the beginning this has been planned as a story about Batgirl learning that the key to becoming a superior fighter isn’t learning some ultimate technique, but mastering the strengths and weaknesses she already carries with her. That’s the thing about travel — you can go to the ends of the earth, but you can’t get away from yourself.
"Writing about travel and about being a tourist is inevitably a surface-level endeavor," she continued, "especially in a medium as abbreviated as comics. But hopefully the time I’ve spent researching and crafting characters (especially villains) with their own wants, needs, and struggles will shine through."
Larson, who usually pulls double duty writing and drawing her own graphic novel work, is collaborating with artist Rafael Albuquerque (American Vampire, Blue Beetle) for Batgirl.
"Rafael is a brilliant artist and collaborator," the writer said, "and I’ve mostly tried to get out of the way and let him do his thing. It’s going to be a beautiful book."
Batgirl #1 hits shelves on July 27, and you can check out a five-page preview of it below (sans dialogue), and then a three-page preview of Batgirl #2 (on shelves August 24, and also sans dialogue) below.