Over the past six years of “Batgirl” comics, Barbara Gordon has undergone a surprising number of transformations. During the New 52 launch, she left her wheelchair from her post-“Killing Joke” days behind and went back to being a street-level superhero; then when a new set of writers and artists took over, she got a new uniform, a hipper neighborhood and a fresher perspective unlike anything else DC Comics was publishing at the time.
Now in the upcoming issue #2 of her new Rebirth series, Barbara’s finding herself in an all-new predicament: learning MMA fighting in Singapore. And she’s looking buff as heck while doing it.
“Without spoiling anything, I can say that a lot of my inspiration for this arc has to do with the idea of flow or being ‘in the zone,’ which is a state that crosses all kinds of artistic and athletic endeavors,” current “Batgirl” writer Hope Larson (“A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel”) told Revelist in an email. “I probably read an article about it and latched onto it."
"I also have a close friend, Diego McCafferty, who is a huge MMA fan, and he taught me everything he could about the sport in a short time period. I got really into it. You can see Diego in the gym [in Issue #2]; he’s the tattooed, glasses-wearing guy hitting the punching bag.“
As for how wonderfully swole Barbara’s looking these days, credit goes to “American Vampire” artist Rafael Albuquerque. “We didn’t have any conversations about how she’d look physically,” Larson admitted. “We weren’t changing anything about her appearance, so that’s all Rafael. Points to him!”
A two-time Eisner Award winner, this is Larson’s first foray into mainstream superhero comics — a territory that comes with a lot more public scrutiny. “The advice I got from most other creators has been pitched toward protecting myself from the increased attention that comes with writing a mainstream book about a popular character,” she said. “I came up against this before while adapting ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’ but you can’t make everyone happy, so it’s best to write the story you want to write.”
For example, when it was announced at DC’s Rebirth press conference in March that Barbara would be backpacking across Asia in her latest story arc, the news was received with some hesitation from fans. After all, the white foreigner exploring Asian countries — and mastering those cultures’ martial arts techniques in the process — is a common trope that still garners criticism within the Asian-American community, as evidenced by the backlash against Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” and “Iron Fist.”
But Larson maintains that she and Albuquerque are working hard to make their depiction of these countries as authentic and respectful as possible. “This isn’t a story about Batgirl learning martial arts. She does some MMA in issue 2, but MMA combines techniques from cultures all over the world and isn’t an Asian sport. That’s one of the reasons I was excited to write about MMA in this issue: It incorporates some Asian techniques that have been mixed with other techniques, and Singapore is a city which is itself a cultural melting-pot.”
“The book is set in real places, and both Rafael and I have done a ton of research to make it as accurate as we can,” she added. “I interviewed friends who have lived and worked in many of these places before I even started crafting the arc. I hope the care we’ve taken with this story shines through.
Luckily, fans who read the comic’s premiere issue two weeks ago have already latched onto several of the arc’s new characters — including Fruit Bat, a 104-year old masked vigilante who originally fought crime in 1940s-era Japan.
“She’s completely inspired by Sophie from ‘Howl’s Moving Castle,’” Larson said. “Plus, we don’t get to see enough old people kicking ass. I would love to write more elderly superheroes.”
But will we see more of her before the arc is over? Guess we’ll have to wait to find out.