I’m not sure precisely how Batgirl #25 is an anniversary issue. Barbara Gordon’s first appearance in the comics was 50 years ago last year. 2018 does mark the 30th anniversary of The Killing Joke, but I’d hardly consider that something worth celebrating as a Batgirl fan. I suppose it does mark the two year anniversary of this series’ return as a Rebirth title, but that’s not much of a milestone.
It hardly matters in the end, as Batgirl #25 is well worth reading regardless of what anniversary it is meant to celebrate. There are a wide variety of stories here and something bound to please most audiences. The biggest takeaway from this issue is that Mairghread Scott is a good writer and this book promises to be interesting when she starts her run in earnest next month.
I must confess I was nervous when I first heard of Scott’s intentions to create a darker Batgirl book more in-line with the rest of the Bat-family line. While I was one of the few critics who was critical of the early Batgirl of Burnside books, I truly loved Hope Larson’s light-hearted take on Barbara Gordon’s life. Larson also presented the most realistic portrayal of library life of any Batgirl writer ever.
Then again, my fears may be born of my own natural cynicism that when a comics writer starts talking about making things “dark”, what they really mean is “I’m going to have a lot more people die, things will be bloody and angsty and the only hope to be found shall come in the sweet release of death.”
Thankfully, based on most of the stories in this collection, Scott’s writing of Batgirl is dark in the same sense that Neil Gaiman’s work is dark. Yes, there is horror and disturbing imagery, but there is also complexity and a heart behind it all. The shadows are there to enhance the light.
This is most apparent in Scott’s first story, The Reason, in which Batgirl attends the funeral of a teacher who helped her maintain order during a Scarecrow gas attack and is reminded of a very important lesson regarding tragedy. Tom Derenick and Sean Parsons illustrate this section with an amazing sense of balance between the flashback action sequences and the more emotional moments in the present. There’s also a vivid selection of colors by the ironically named Stephen Downer.
The next story, Hopeless Romantic, is easily my favorite of the four. Partly because I love the star-crossed romance of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon and partly because I love Dan Panosian’s artwork and he’s in fine form here. Scott has a great handle on the Dick/Babs romance and perfectly captures both characters as they discuss romance while enjoying a night in the Honeymoon Suite left abandoned in the wake of Batman and Catwoman’s failed wedding. Naturally, Dick is the one with visions of a dream wedding whereas Barbara’s definition of romance involves waking up next to someone you can depend on.
The third story, Value, is the weakest in my opinion. This has nothing to do with the creative team and everything to do with the fact that it brings back Grotesque – one of the villains from Gail Simone’s run who I didn’t find all that interesting the first time he showed up. What’s worse, the villain’s new design by Paul Pellletier ruins the one thing Grotesque had going for him – a unique look. This story is also pure action and horror, with Barbara fighting Grotesque at the scene of a grisly murder. This is the sort of story I was afraid we were going to see when I heard Mairghread Scott talking about a dark Batgirl book. Unfortunately, this is also the story that’s going to continue into Batgirl #26.
The final story, March Madness, is a solid palate cleanser by Paul Dini. Dark and funny in equal measure (as is typical of Dini), the story sees Barbara pit against March Harriet – an Alice In Wonderland themed villain and former partner of The Mad Hatter – in a battle of wits, as Harriet reveals her own twisted origins and what drove her to her latest crime. This story is beautifully illustrated by the highly underrated Emanuela Lupacchino and in a better world we’d see her and Dini on a monthly Batgirl book.
As it is, I did enjoy this issue, but I find myself dreading Batgirl #26 more and more. This issue shows that Paul Pelletier is a competent artist and that Scott can write stories I enjoy. I’m just not certain that I want to buy what they are selling if all we have to look forward to is more stories like Value.