Saturday, August 17, 2013

Issue Review: Batgirl 23

In this first part of a 3-part story, Barbara Gordon has given up her life as Batgirl, because she believes she killed her brother, James, Jr.  Comissioner Gordon, who witnessed that killing, has put out an APB for Batgirl, and is trying to hunt her down and punish her for the death of his son.  Gordon begins by approaching Charise Carnes, whom he suspects is the vigilante Knightfall.  After verbally fencing with Carnes and her attorneys, Gordon convinces her to let him review security tapes of the night Batgirl saved Ricky from the bear trap in the parking garage (way back in issue 10).  After he leaves, however, Carnes tells her team to keep their guard up, because this might all be a pretext for Gordon trying to collar her instead.

Meanwhile, Barbara tries to enjoy a normal life with her room mate Aleysia. The two of them go shopping, but end up being harassed by some low-lives, and Barbara threatens them.  She manages to pull back, but Aleysia takes her home to talk about it.  Before they can do so, however, she gets a call from Ricky, who has been threatened by his former gang members.  Ricky's brother has been kidnapped, and Ricky is going to save him. He calls Barbara to say good-bye.  Against her better judgement, Barbara puts on a black outfit (but not the Batgirl suit) and goes out to help him.

Gordon and Detective Mckenna have gotten onto Ricky's whereabouts by now, and just as he leaves, they try to arrest him.  He shoves McKenna, causing her to hit her head and lose consciousness. Gordon then puts out an APB for Ricky as well, for assaulting an officer.  As the book reaches its climax, the police, Barbara, and Ricky all converge on the gang's hide-out.  Barbara takes down most of the gang members, but when the cops get there, they shout for everyone to freeze. Ricky doesn't freeze fast enough, and although Babs tries to save him, Comissioner Gordon shoots him.  As the story ends, Ricky appears to be dead (though we will have to wait for next issue to know for certain).

This is another gut-wrenching story from Gail Simone, who seems to delight in putting Barbara through the wringer.  Poor Babs has given up the Batgirl ID so she can stay out of trouble, but she gets into it anyway.  Ricky is a great kid, a former criminal who has reformed, lost his leg, and maybe, possibly, could find happiness with Barbara... except that, like Batgirl, his past keeps coming back to haunt him.  Gail almost has a Romeo and Juliet story going here, between Babs and Ricky, who are both trying to just live in peace in a world that won't let them.  One can't help but feel for both characters as their attempts at normal lives come crashing down around them.

Comissioner Godon's behavior continues to baffle me, however.  He was there. He saw that James was going to kill his ex-wife, and that Batgirl had no choice. McKenna even postulates that this must be so, given that Batgirl has never been known to kill anyone before, and has generally even not broken the law.  Again, Gordon saw this -- McKenna describes exactly what really happened. Yet he says that she is a killer. I'm not sure exactly what is going on with Gordon, or why he is denying reality.  Surely he knows what his son is, and how dangerous James, Jr. can be.  And he saw James threatening his ex-wife. So why is he being so dense?  I'm hoping Gail will explain it as this story arc goes on.

Otherwise, the story was quite good, and the dialogue, as usual for Gail Simone, flows extremely well.  Gail has very wisely developed a good, if small, supporting cast for the new Batgirl -- in addition to Jim Gordon, we have Aleysia the room-mate and Ricky the boyfriend, both of whom are extremely likable.  If Ricky is dead, Gail will need to add someone else.  Aleysia alone is not enough to be a friend for Barbara -- she needs more colleagues.  And I keep wondering where her therapist went -- after they dated a few times before the Death of the Family arc, he just disappeared.

The art is good, but not up to the standards of the first year, when Adrian Syaf did a masterful job with this character.  It's also inferior to Ed Benes' work in the early teens.  Pasarin's art gets the job done, but it's nothing special.  His layouts are extremely common, and bear none of the uniqueness of Syaf's.  DC really needs to get Adrian Syaf back on this book. It looked so much better under his guidance.  On the other hand, the cover by Alex Garner is fantastic, with Batgirl tied up by police tape and Gordon glaring at her from the background.  Batgirl's suit looks excellent -- very shiny and rubbery, just like the sort of leather armor it should appear to be.

Overall, this was a top-notch issue and another great example of Gail Simone's masterful skill at plotting, characterization, and dialogue.  She's layered a great deal of complexity into this story, so much so that it's hard to believe the whole thing will only last 2 more issues.  It's significant that the 3rd issue will be #25. We don't yet know what DC will do for "25 month" for the 50% or so of their line that has made it through without cancellation so far, but traditionally 25th issues are double-sized. If so, that might explain why this is only a 3-parter.

My score: 9/10

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