Barbara Gordon’s world is about to be flipped upside down as a new era dawns for Burnside’s favorite daughter. Complete with a brand new look and an all new creative team made up of writer Mairghread Scott and artists Paul Pelletier and Elena Casagrande, Batgirl is leaving her neighborhood and heading back to Gotham City proper to face down a new — and deeply personal — threat, starting with Batgirl #26 on August 22nd.
With a design concept by Sean Gordon Murphy, Babs’ new look is a pretty far cry from the pastel purple moto jacket she’s been wearing since the Batgirl of Burnside soft reboot back in 2015.
“This is supposed to be a version of the costume that she was working on when she still lived with her dad,” Scott explained in reference to her new, more classic look. “That’s why it looks so much like her original Batgirl: Year One outfit — like, she’s with her dad. She can’t get out back to Burnside, and this is like the emergency. So the version that she was working on [back in the day] that she had stashed here just in case. It helps us with the story a little bit too, because it’s a little less bright — we wanted her to be more stealthy, and we want her to be able to integrate some more tech with the belt.”
And by the sound of things, that emphasis on stealth is going to come in handy. Barbara is headed home to face off against a villain named Grotesque, who harkens back to Batgirl’s original New 52 era run. Created by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf, Grotesque was “originally, this sort of adrenaline junkie who liked to steal the finer things in life,” according to Scott, “but he got sent away to Blackgate. Now he’s back and we learn that his time in prison has really changed him.”
“Changed” might be a bit of an understatement here. Grotesque’s new M.O. is no longer just trying to steal fine art — he wants to make it. Brutally. Batgirl uncovers a string of grizzly “art pieces” constructed out of human body parts at the scenes of various crimes.
“Things like Perseus with the Head of Medusa, but maybe it’s got a real person’s head. Or a still life, but made up of human hands,” Scott clarified with a grin, “He’s still stealing things, of course, but it’s different now — he’s escalating. And Batgirl has to stop him.”
But it’s not going to be easy — on top Grotesque’s grisly reappearance, Babs suffers what Scott calls a “really traumatic injury” at the start of the arc. “The implant that allows her to walk is shorting out,” she explained, and that’s not all. “But when that happens, [Babs’] is just like, ‘Oh, okay, my legs aren’t working, I can deal with that. It’s fine.’ Because she was Oracle for a long time, you know? She knows how to operate without the chip.”
Scott later said that she studied and spoke with wheelchair users about forms of self-defense and martial arts to get an idea of exactly how effective Barbara could be without the use of her legs. That’s not what worries Batgirl at all. The real fear is much more insidious.
“We decided that this implant is in her spine, it’s got to hook into her brain somehow. So that’s the risk — she’s a girl who can survive anything as long as she has her brain, but what happens if her brain is suddenly becoming an unreliable place?” Scott continued, “My mom had a brain tumor, so I pulled a lot of what Babs is going through here from her — it was a lot of awkward conversations like ‘Hey, so, you know how it felt when you were brain damaged?’”
Scott laughed as she related the anecdote, but then leaned forward, straight faced, “because that’s scary, you know? My mom was a professional grammarian for years and suddenly it was a struggle. She had to think about things like ‘what if the language centers of my brain stop working? How will I feed myself, how will I feed my family?’ So that’s what Babs is going through, she’s worried that her eidetic memory might not be perfect and her investigative skills might be failing.”
Then, on a lighter note, Scott grinned, “That’s kind of what being a writer is, I guess — being mean to fictional people. I subscribe to the Rian Johnson school of thought where [I like to find stories] by doing the worst possible thing to a character and going from there.”
But Babs’ new status quo isn’t all darkness and struggle — the Burnside era isn’t being tossed out the window and Babs won’t be returned to her position as Oracle full time, “That’s kind of a spoiler, I guess, but I want to get ahead of that. We don’t want to tease people with that.”
“We’re absolutely not looking to go grimdark,” Scott continued, “I love hopeful Babs, but I think, to me, leaving that hope untested is worth less than putting that hope through the fire. Batgirl learned some amazing lessons in Burnside, and now we want to continue that arc in a natural progression like a real person would.” This mission is supported by the art team of Pelletier and Casagrande who, Scott explained, in conjunction with DC editorial, “are really focused on keeping Babs true to character. It was important to us that the art communicates her as a hero rather than a pin up or a victim.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of action. Scott was quick to clarify that Babs’ will take some real hits in some brutal fights, but “we don’t want her to feel delicate or like she can’t bounce back [...] we gave the Gordon family a mantra for this story and it’s ‘Gordons never give up.’” And this story, Scott emphasized, is all about Barbara never giving up.
Batgirl’s new creative team kicks off in the back-to-back Batgirl #26 and Batgirl Annual #2 on Aug. 22 and 29, and then continues with the debut of her all new look in Batgirl #27, on shelves Sept. 26.
Meg Downey is a freelance pop culture journalist based out of Los Angeles, California who specializes in comics history and superheroes. You can find her on twitter @rustypolished, where’s she’s probably having a very public meltdown about something extremely embarrassing.