Batgirl, Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends review

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Batgirl Volume 1 dealt pretty heavily with Barbara’s lack of confidence and struggle to re-adapt to the cape and cowl again while pitting her against villains that reflected her own inner demons.¬†Volume 2¬†continues that pattern but it goes bigger. Much bigger. Not only do we dig deep into The Killing Joke, but we take a look back at Batgirl’s origin, Jim Junior’s childhood is brought up again, and we meet a new villain who could prove to be quite formidable in the future. It’s darker and it actually contains quite a few more pages than the previous installment to boot.

Content

Batgirl Volume 2 is a pretty dense book that delivers a surprising amount of content. We’re talking eight issues here! With #0, and #7-13 bundled together not only do you get the entire Batgirl vs. Knightfall storyline but there’s the confrontation with Grotesque, the Court of Owls tie-in, and last September’s prequel that took us back to Batgirl’s origin. And if you look at my review of volume 1 you’ll see that the earlier volume really wasn’t put together that well (my pages split from the binding). I didn’t have any of those problems here.

As for the stories collected within Batgirl Volume 2’s hardcovers, we actually start off with issue #0 rather than reading them how they were originally released. This is actually a really great way to kick off the book. Why’s that? Because it’s hopeful. Despite Barbara Gordon’s book being the “girly” bat title, there’s really nothing dainty about her stories. In fact, they might just be the most dark and depressing of all the bat-titles. She’s always flashing back to memories of the time Joker assaulted her or something creepy her little brother did and the villains she fights are really brutal. The only thing lifting us up from the darkness is Barbara’s incessant inner monologue which can be overly cutesy. It’s one of the book’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. Yes, it lightens things up a bit, but it can get annoying at times. This is especially true for those of us who still pine for a Barbara who is more mature and calls back to the Oracle days but that’s just not what the New 52 Barbara is all about. She seems to be much younger, less sure of herself, and slightly naive. As I was saying though, some seriously dark stuff has happened in the Batgirl series and it only gets more dire in Volume 2. Issue #0, although it has its gaps in logic here and there, gets the reader in a fun mindset so you’re ready to follow Babs along as she confronts some nasty characters, the first of which is even named Grotesque.

The two Grotesque chapters are the weakest of the bunch. In fact, these are easily the worst two issues of Batgirl that I’ve read. He’s this odd “Meta-Human” who uses electrical powers and has peculiar motivations. I never found myself that invested in that side of the story whatsoever. But beside that we have some mother/daughter moments that are either confusing or downright idiotic. Both women are named Barbara and they are drawn to look almost exactly alike. When I saw a flashback of a mother being shaken up by threats from a kid in elementary school I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s just ridiculous. So you see, I’m also thankful that #0 kicked things off in Volume 2 because starting off with #7 and #8 would’ve been painful.

Following that is the Night of the Owls tie-in, which I must say I found myself enjoying more here because it had so much more energy and sense of purpose that #7 and #8. Ignoring the fact that the Owl’s plan is really terrible what you have here is actually a pretty cool fight scene with Batgirl being a total bad ass and it’s a must read for Birds of Prey fans because this is the first appearance of the Talon that’s recently joined that crew. However, when the Night of Owls issue is over it’s…well, it’s kind of jarring. The way Batgirl’s contribution to that storyline ends doesn’t lend itself very well to the overall story being told in this book. We’ve just finished the Grotesque plot, then we see a city essentially being conquered by zombie ninjas and just as things are going from bad to worse you turn the page and we’re back to business as usual in Gotham without any update as to what’s happened. There’s a major gap there and I almost feel like the overall reading would’ve been better had that comic not been included. Sure, it would’ve sucked for the completionists out there but simply judging this book as a reading experience I found the Night of Owls tie-in to be out of place.

And then there’s Knightfall, which finishes the book off strong. Knightfall isn’t a very good name for a villain, but the character herself works. Well… what I said about the character’s name isn’t entirely true. “Knightfall” is a solid villain name, just not a solid bat-villain name. It would be like having the villain of Casino Royale go by the name Thunderball. It just seems kind of dumb to give a new villain the same name as an already famous bat-saga. It just breeds confusion.

Gail Simone also uses this story as an opportunity to bring in Batwoman. It’s a nice surprise and she writes her well. The voice and overall characterization of Batgirl and Batwoman are very distinct. The only things about this story that I found offputting is a problem that’s cropped up in Batgirl’s stories quite a bit: Meta Humans. I’m a pretty steak and potatoes Batman fan who likes to see as few super powered foes as possible so when the winged henchwoman shows up in this story just a few pages after the zombie Owl and the electric demon guy I was getting a bit tired of it all. However, the story itself is pretty entertaining and seeing Batgirl fight all these fantastical enemies was highly entertaining, leaves you with a nice teaser for what’s to come, and the whole thing is very well illustrated. I think that Syaf and Benes did an amazing job on their respective issues and the only moments I ever felt that the art could’ve been better is when Barbara shared a scene with her identical mother.

Supplemental Material

  • Greg Capullo’s tie-in cover for issue #13
  • Young Batgirl sketches and designs by Ed benes
  • 1940s Talon sketch by Greg Capullo
  • Layout for Batgirl #9 page 13 by Ardian Syaf
  • Cover sketches by Ardian Syaf
  • Cover roughs by Ed Benes
  • Penciled art for Batgirl #13 second printing cover by Ed Benes

As you can see by that list they actually put some effort into the supplemental material this go-round. Still not commentary by the artists or Simone, but it’s still some of the best bonus material you’ll find in a New 52 hardback.

Value

I would say it’s definitely worth full price for Batgirl fans. Totally. $24.99 for eight issues plus all that bonus material in an attractive hardcover presentation seems appropriate. And even if you’re not that into the character of Barbara Gordon or a follower of Gail Simone I think that the $14.73 Amazon price would still be good enough to tempt you. There’s so much content here that it’s kind of hard to turn that price down if you’re at all curious about this series.

Overall

There are a few too many superpowered bad guys for my liking but overall I have to say that I enjoyed Volume 2 far more than its predecessor. I think any Batgirl fan will be immensely satisfied with this collection while everyone else will find at least one or two chapters very enjoyable. With so much content bundled together this hardcover has a whole lot to offer. Besides the skippable, two-part Grotesque story I think that Volume 2 does a fine job of taking you deep into Batgirl’s past and even offers a glimpse at what’s to come in her future.

SCORE: 7/10

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