If you’ve read my previous reviews then you know I’m tired of the doom and gloom and gore of this series and wish it were more fun like say Batgirl: Year One or what the current New 52 Nightwing series is doing. But while issue #23 doesn’t take that turn toward the more lighthearted tone I want to see it is, in fact, the best issue of Gail Simone’s Batgirl I’ve read. So why does it still get 3 out of 4 stars and not a must-buy of 10/10 or whatever?
Well, a lot of that has to do with me just not liking the premise of “Batgirl: Wanted!” and, most of all, disliking the characterization of Commissioner Gordon. Gordon is on the hunt for Batgirl, who he believes murdered his son James Junior and it calls up a lot of confusion over whether or not Jim knows that Barbara is Batgirl. This was especially true in the last issue where he lashes out at Batman in a way that only really works as an effective scene if Jim knows the truth, but if he does know the truth then he’s sort of wasting the department’s time when he could just be confronting Barbara head-on. The other thing that doesn’t work about the premise is just how hotheaded and reactionary Jim Gordon is portrayed. His son was an absolute psychopath and there’s no reason for him to be this geared for vengeance after the things that boy did. Simone writes Jim as a headstrong jerk who is completely ignoring (or has forgotten about) the facts. When he arrived on the scene to see Batgirl commit this “crime” he would have seen that Junior was holding a knife to Barbara Sr’s throat! Yet when he had the opportunity to question Barbara Sr. in a previous issue he didn’t. And in this issue there’s a scene in which Detective McKenna doubts that Batgirl would kill and Jim snaps “I witnessed it.” Well, no you didn’t. If you had witnessed it you would’ve seen that it was a case in which Junior had to be brought down or an innocent life was lost, but Gordon acts as if what Batgirl did was cold-blooded murder. I find this story’s interpretation of Jim Gordon to be stubborn and stupid and I hate it. Batgirl’s own remorse over what she did to her psycho brother is equally hard to grasp. And I should add that it’s difficult to really give into the drama of “Batgirl: Wanted!” when A) We haven’t been given enough time to care about Ricky, who proves to be a very important figure in this story and B) Recent events in Suicide Squad remove all doubt about the whereabouts of James Junior’s body.
Basically I dislike the foundation that the story is built on but what Simone builds on top of all of that is actually quite good; I just have to ignore the elements that brought us here. If I can suspend my disbelief that Gordon and Batgirl would react to Junior’s death in this way and that Ricky was an interesting enough character worth caring about then the events that unfold in Batgirl #23 are absolutely captivating. (I should also note that one big problem I had with recent issues was fixed. Batgirl claimed to be “Batgirl no more.” but was still wearing the suit but without the symbol on her chest. Now she’s ditched the suit altogether and it makes a lot more sense.)
What Gail Simone did here wasn’t just start off a new arc, but she’s managed to tie together all of her previous Batgirl storylines into what’s sure to be the biggest New 52 Batgirl story yet! The comic opens with Gordon and Detective Melody McKenna going to question Charise Carnes AKA the villain Knightfall (who is still free) and ask for her cooperation in the Batgirl investigation. It’s a good scene that brings new readers up-to-date on what they’ve missed from previous arcs, but I can’t help but feel that it wasn’t Gordon’s brightest idea to bring Detective McKenna along when she has the absolute worst history with the woman Gordon needs help from. She’s there to add to the exposition of what came before because otherwise Gordon would’ve been better off picking any other cop on the force.
After this things looked like they were going to take a turn for the fun as Barbara and her roommate went shopping but it didn’t take long for things to get dark again as Babs and pal are harassed and, well, things just escalate from there all the way to the end of the book. I don’t really want to go into too much detail about what happens throughout the rest of the comic because it’s all pretty shocking and well worth checking out.
The artwork in this comic looks really good. Some of the best yet, really. Alex Garner’s covers continue to mesmerize and the interiors by Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion feature a highly detailed world and very expressive characters– and they have to be. This is a really emotional story and Pasarin didn’t disappoint. If you want to draw a Batgirl comic then you better be able to draw sorrow on a character’s face and all of that comes across well. It’s a grim atmosphere with characters plunged into misery and you really feel it. The three pages of action were also quite good albeit brief, but after last month’s comic I think it’s pretty clear that Pasarin can handle the brutal action that this series seems to require.
It’s the most tense and tragic issue of Batgirl yet but you need to care about Barbara’s new boyfriend Ricky and believe the questionable characterization of Jim Gordon for it to be totally effective and those are things that I struggle with.