This week's release of Batgirl #35 represented quite a shake-up for the title — and for the Batman universe. Not only did the entire creative team change on Batgirl, but the character has gone through a youthful and stylish revamp, both visually and thematically.
Written by writer/artist Cameron Stewart with Brenden Fletcher, and featuring art by Babs Tarr, the new, less "dark and gritty" direction in Batgirl — including the character's fun, new costume — was met with a lot of online enthusiasm when it was first announced, including praise from female comic readers and a slew of fan art on social media sites like Tumblr.
The story that kicked off in issue #35 had Barbara Gordon moving to the hipster side of Gotham City, a neighborhood called Burnside. And although her friend Dinah (known to DC fans as Black Canary) showed up briefly in the first issue, the book has a new batch of supporting cast members as Barbara starts a new life as a grad student, somewhat removed from the world of the Bat-family.
Newsarama talked with Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr about the series kick-off this week and what they think of all the attention the series has been getting.
Newsarama: Cameron, I think a lot of us have been huge fans of your art for so long that it feels like a surprising (but not unwelcome) switch to have you co-writing Batgirl. How did this come about, and why does it feel like the sort of project you wanted next on your writing resume?
Cameron Stewart: First of all thank you! I was originally contacted back in February by then-Batgirl editor Katie Kubert and current Batman Group Editor Mark Doyle, who saw my work on the Stephanie Brown issue of Batman Incorporated and thought that I may be interested in both writing and drawing Batgirl, as part of a return to having stories driven by single creators.
Their initial pitch to me was that they wanted to explore a more realistic depiction of Barbara Gordon as a young, 21-year-old woman living in a big city. At the time I was also in negotiations to draw Fight Club 2, and I didn't think that I would be able to handle both.
But I found myself unable to shake the idea of working on Batgirl, and had a lot of ideas about the tone and approach that I felt would be best for the title. I sensed a significant opportunity to open the book up to a new audience, and I had the classic worry that if I didn’t do it, I'd be bitterly disappointed with how it would turn out.
I decided to seek compromise and ask if it would be possible for me to handpick some collaborators, so that I would still be heavily involved and be able to execute my vision for the comic, without having to do all of it on my own. Fortunately, they allowed me to do so and so I brought on Babs and Brenden to be my partners on the book.
Nrama: Brenden, the two of us talked recently about your work co-writing Gotham Academy, which also kicked off this month with a new #1. How did you get involved in a couple fresh-feeling Bat-books?
Brenden Fletcher: Pure luck!! All credit goes to my partners in crime, my co-writers Cameron and Becky. The projects were theirs to begin with and they both independently decided within a few short weeks of one another that I would be able to bring something unique to the flavor of these new Bat-books-in-the-making.
Nrama: Any chance the two Brenden-books will meet?
Fletcher: You're definitely going to see some crossover but not in any traditional way, for the time being. Aspects of the worlds we're building in both books are already crossing over out of the gate. Look closely at Gotham Academy #1 and Batgirl #35 and you'll see it happening.
Nrama: With most of the other Bat-books taking place after Batman Eternal, does Batgirl #35 also take place after the final events of Eternal?
Stewart: We knew a little about how Eternal would go, and the Eternal team directed the events of their book to set us up for our new direction, but generally we are trying to avoid leaning too heavily on other books' continuity. One of the things we are hearing a lot is that many people are making this their first DC book, or returning to superhero comics after a long lapse, and we want to ensure that they can understand and enjoy Batgirl without having to be familiar with the intricacies of the other titles.
Fletcher: The challenge was to provide a perfect jumping-on point while spinning the story organically out of the narratives that lead up to our arc. We're so incredibly thankful that the creative teams of the other Bat-titles were able to work with our ideas and assist in guiding Barbara Gordon to a place in their titles that supports the story we want to tell.
Nrama: This first issue had Batgirl beating a foe, but she's also obviously wanting to move away from her past. How would you describe Barbara's mindset as your run begins?
Fletcher: Barbara has been put through the wringer over the last few years. She's been attacked, crippled, her family has disintegrated, her brother was a serial murderer, she's been exposed to tragedy and horrific violence on a huge scale — and she's had enough of it. She decides that she needs distance from the nightmares and darkness of Gotham before they consume her for good.
She's been in the cape and cowl since she was a young teenager and now at age 21 she feels like there's a significant part of her youth that she's missed, so she decides to return to school - during her time injured and in the wheelchair, she had been designing a computer algorithm to model and predict social patterns and decides to use it as basis for a thesis project in the Urban Geography graduate course at Burnside College. She's trying to live as much of a "normal" life as she can.
Nrama: So much of the early response to the announcement about you guys taking over the series was influenced by the first cover — it really seems to set the tone for the series. How much does the artistic approach to the title influences how you're writing it?
Stewart: Since teaming up with Babs, Brenden and I have really been trying to write things that she's going to enjoy drawing. We're really trying to play to her strengths and so the storyline has progressed in a direction that manages to exploit her drawing style to its fullest.
Fletcher: We've added and altered characters and narrative to really show off what Babs does best and she's delivering in spades. Her illustrations are simply stunning! The DCU has never been so well dressed.
In addition, from my standpoint, I'm writing in a very different style than I traditionally would to make the best use of Cameron's ability to compose dense, action-packed pages. I would never try to pack this much information onto a page without being partnered with an illustrator and visual storyteller of Cameron's skill.
Nrama: We've seen quite a response on social media to your art, Cameron and Babs, including some of your own fun, visual responses. What have all of you seen, as far as the fan reaction and enthusiasm, and how has it fed into your work?
Babs Tarr: I try to not to think about the hype too much because if I do the fear and pressure would make me freeze like a deer in headlights [laughs]. So, though I am do thankful for the hype!! I have been mostly keeping my head down and just work hard on to draw a great comic!
Stewart: I think what's very interesting is how much of the story over the coming months is going to appear as though we wrote it in response to the fan reaction, when in fact we've had most of it planned out for ages. It's very satisfying that this kind of social media fan response completely justifies some of our major story elements, which has just vindicated and energized us.
Fletcher: I still can't get over the amount of love and enthusiasm fans have for what they've seen of our new run on Batgirl. I'm so excited to see the response to the actual issues when they're released.
Nrama: Cameron and Babs, how do the two of you work together artistically on the book? And why does that approach work on this project?
Stewart: After Brenden and I work out the story beats, page by page, I go and draw the whole issue in rough layout form, which is how I work out the smaller scene beats and pacing. Once all the layouts are complete, Babs redraws all of it in her own style, adding in detail and all of the style and flair she does so well. All of the character's hairstyles and clothing is completely determined by her.
Tarr: When I was confirmed as the artist on Batgirl , Cameron shared his costume design with me and asked if I had any suggestions. The costume was already so great, I really just some detailing to really punch it up! Gave it back to Cameron, he loved the additional details, and that’s how we got the costume that’s out today!
Nrama: Babs, how would you describe your style and why do you think it fits Batgirl?
Tarr: My style is very fun, youthful, badass lady, fashion-driven! I think for the story that Cameron and Brenden were writing it just fit the new tone and direction were taking the story.
Nrama: What techniques do you use? For example, do you draw digitally?
Tarr: I do draw digitally! Although I can work traditionally its pretty rare that I do. I use Photoshop, manga studio, and depending on my mood and if I’m traveling, I have like 3 different Wacom tablets. My favorite being my 22hd!
Nrama: Let's talk about how this issue established that Barbara's in graduate school. Why the choice to get her learning again? And beyond this snafu with her laptop, what other kinds of things might we see her doing related to school?
Fletcher: Barbara's exploring potential paths in her life. Continuing her education in this manner is a not only a responsible choice that might secure her real-world/non-crimefighter future, but also one that might ultimately assist in uncovering secrets hidden in the underbelly of Gotham.
Nrama: Any love interests on Batgirl's horizon?
Stewart: Let's say that being young and single in a hot part of the city opens up many new opportunities for romance, especially when enabled by technology.
Nrama: Cameron, you've mentioned that Barbara begins to embrace the spotlight, which sounds different from most Bat-characters. Why do you think this change fits Barbara Gordon?
Stewart: Over the past number of years, Barbara has faced a profound darkness that's pushed her toward a change in herself that she's not entirely comfortable with. Our first arc represents her response to said change and sees her exploring ways to buoy her spirit. She doesn't always make the right decisions in her quest but the unusual path she takes will ultimately help her find her true north again.
Nrama: Did her feelings about the "spotlight" have something to do with that bedazzled costume on the cover of December's issue? Or is that not her?
Fletcher: Issue #37 — the one with the bedazzled cover — will most certainly deal with Barbara's feelings about Batgirl being in the spotlight. If I say anything more, our editor, Chris Conroy, will have my head.