“We’re very sincere about this book,” Stewart told The Post’s Comic Riffs. “It’s not something that was conceived in a boardroom [or] put together by mandates and trying to check off a list of ‘Things that are going to appeal to the kids.’
“I think it’s something that we all feel very honestly and sincerely about doing.”
Regardless of the team’s proclaimed attempts at “not trying to be cool,” Issue #35 hits readers with Batgirl’s 20-something youthful naïveté right away, as she tries to handle something even a utility belt can’t prevent: moving day.
She is relocating to Burnside, a younger, hip part of the city where texting is the first option for communication; hook-ups are random and frequent; major crime includes tablet theft in coffee shops (there’s lots of coffee in these panels); and there’s a website that’s making some residents uncomfortable over its handling of private information.
One page in and Batgirl has a new tone and a new mystery — which is solved before the last page. After all, Barbara has always given Bruce Wayne a run for his money as the Bat-brain of the clan, and she was Oracle once, before New 52.
So for this creative team, was Batgirl’s hipster makeover difficult at all? Not really, it turns out. Fletcher notes that he lives in Montreal, Stewart is in Berlin (and has spent time in Portland) — and both have frequently been to Brooklyn (which has a clear influence within this arc).
“We live in the kind of places that are on the edge of culture and style, and that’s a relevant part of our lives, so we are, in a way, writing what we know,” Fletcher said.
Combined with the writers’ worldly reference points is Tarr’s energetic art style, which brings a new twist on classic designs.
“My portfolio before Batgirl was really just a bunch of stuff that I loved and I was passionate about drawing,” Tarr told Comic Riffs. “It was a lot of tough chicks and leather jackets and motorcycles, and re-designs of old characters and making them modern.”
Tarr says that Batgirl’s new look (which was met with high approval online when the first image of Batgirl #35 was released) was a collaborative effort with Stewart, who was the first person brought on to the new Batgirl team. Stewart gave Tarr his initial sketches on new looks, and she took it from there.
“I added some streamlines to the jacket and hardware on it to make it look more like a modern jacket,” said Tarr.
“The utility belt was pretty old-school, and I thought we could switch that up into something a little more trendy and new, so I tried to redesign it and make it a little cooler.
“I passed it back to Cameron and I wasn’t sure how he was going to react, and he ended up loving everything I added to it. It turned out to be a really big smash hit. It turned out really good.”
Stewart says that though so many superheroes have followed the template of keeping their super selves distinctly separate from their civilian guise, Batgirl will see that the same problems can have an impact on her whether she’s wearing a mask or not.
“Generally speaking in superhero comics, they’ve got a grand history, decades of this type of storytelling,” Stewart said. “You have your costumed life and your non-costumed life. [Barbara] in Burnside is dealing with the same problems in and out of her costume. It’s just that some things will need a firmer hand, and a sort of different approach, and that’s where her costume will come in.”
“The same sort of difficulties in the city, be they criminal or otherwise, affect her whether she’s wearing the costume or not,” Stewart continued. “I think this is going to be, hopefully, a really compelling illustration of what Gotham is, and how this girl who is linked to [the city] through her father, (Commissioner Gordon) and her experiences with Batman, can have the ability to see things in a way that other people don’t.
“She’s going to affect change whether she’s in the costume or not. It’s going to be fun.”
Stewart saw the balance of Barbara’s two lives as a key aspect to her storytelling.
“When we were looking at the history of the character, particularly in the current continuity of the last few years, [we were] seeing that she’s been a costumed crimefighter since she was a young teenager,” Fletcher said. “We felt that area of her life in her youth and growing into a young adult has been very abnormal for her, and one of the things that we want to show is her trying to reclaim that.
It is, Fletcher said, “an attempt to maybe try and step away from the crimefighting and have more of a normal life, but she’s less experienced with that, so she ends up making mistakes in her personal life that create drama outside of wearing a costume.”
And for those who like their Gotham dark, with long shadows that blanket the city known for a gritty, deep-voiced vigilante, Fletcher is quick to remind that it wasn’t always a Denny O’Neal, Frank Miller-esque, Tim Burton-type of Bat-universe — that the brightness, laughs and actual smiles on Batgirl’s pages in some ways are connected to Batman’s past versions.
“Batman gained its iconic popularity with the bubblegum-flavored [Adam West] ‘Batman ’66’ show,” Fletcher noted. “In addition, most of the popular versions outside of the [Michael] Keaton films — which arguably you can look back upon now and say it’s kind of poppy and fun — were also kind of animated versions of the Batman universe.
“We’re ultimately going to be walking that line. We really want to capture the sort of iconic feel of who Barbara Gordon is to most people, and that’s Yvonne Craig — that’s the ‘Batman the Animated Series’ version of Batgirl — and [we’re] sort of bringing that to life within the New 52, and within a world that we feel is real and tangible and modern.”
Stewart agrees, saying that Batgirl works best as a contrast to Batman, rather than as the same kind of character.
“The darkness and the rain and the gritted teeth and the blood — it works for Batman but, we feel, not so much for Batgirl,” Stewart said. “Even though she’s a part of the Bat-family and she’s wearing the costume and the cape and the ears, it’s nice to have something that’s not quite so dark that stands as a nice contrast to the Batman character.”
“We’re trying to do things that are fun and exciting and surprising for us to do,” Stewart continued. “So that hopefully, the readers have the same experience.”
You can follow freelance contributor David Betancourt on Twitter at @adcfanboy.