Batgirl’s 2nd over-sized annual issue is a worthwhile read that does much to develop a classic villain.

Writer Gail Simone divides the comic by seasons and through the seasons explores the changing emotional state of Poison Ivy, who plays a major role throughout the comic, which actually begins its narrative near the launch of the New 52. In what was a very pleasant surprise, the story’s first season shows us a Birds of Prey squad made up of Black Canary, Katana, Poison Ivy, Batgirl, and Starling. Many of these women left the lineup a long time ago and everything I hear anymore about the Birds of Prey title is negative so if you were a fan of the original group and miss those days you’ll certainly want to pick this annual up. Robert Gill’s two-page spread featuring the team in action is one of the coolest images that the Birds of Prey has had!

Now, the Birds of Prey business only lasts for a single season, but it gives  us insight into Poison Ivy’s betrayal back in “Your Kiss Might Kill” and it’s there to introduce us to 2 of the 3 elements that will drive the rest of the issue forward. 1) Poison Ivy, she’s a wild card and Simone isn’t just leaving it at that. You’ll get a real reason why Isley behaves the way she does and while I think it’s something that’s been used before in other works, Simone handles it beautifully and using the seasons as a narrative device is a wonderful idea. 2) Mr. Rain, he’s our mysterious baddie who gives terminally ill people super-strength and uses them to commit acts of eco-terrorism, but there’s actually even more to his sinister plot than that and it’s kind of confusing and ultimately pointless. You’re coming here for Poison Ivy and the dynamic she has with Batgirl. It’s the character study that makes the annual great, the actual plot isn’t anything special and ultimately pretty underwhelming once you actually meet Mr. Rain. The third element that won’t come into play until later and doesn’t really have much bearing on the story other than giving us an uplifting finish has to do with Barbara’s personal life and the relationship she has with her roommate Alysia, who is a character I’d like to see more of in the future.

Spoiler

Did anyone else find the “Go Home Hippies” graffiti outside Alysia’s garden to be ridiculous? It seems like that was a greater opportunity to show how her being harassed for being a transsexual, but perhaps editorial changed it at the last minute?

I for one don’t like the idea of Poison Ivy being used as an anti-hero, but Simone writes the character really well like this and gives her the depth necessary to make her interesting. Plus there’s the added bonus of seeing these two great artists, Robert Gill and Javier Garron, draw her beating down enemies with vines. Why don’t I want Poison Ivy to be an anti-hero? Because we need Bat-villains that are women. Let’s face it, it’s hard to find a decent female villain in comics and Batman fans are fortunate enough to have some of the most popular female baddies in existence. Let’s stop throwing them away! It seems like every time a female nemesis becomes popular DC re-brands them as an anti-hero so that the character can get more exposure. At least, judging by the Batman Eternal spoiler issue, Catwoman will actually act villainous again for a change.

One thing I gotta bring up is that while Simone did awesome work with Poison Ivy for 99% of the story, there’s still this 1% that nags at me. I’ll put it in spoiler tags:

Spoiler

During winter, Poison Ivy lashes out at Mr. Rain and before attacking him says “Ivy? Don’t call me that. Not now. Call me…” and then it happens, a contender for stupidist Bat-comic moment of 2014, “POISON ICE!”

Seriously? Didn’t we already got through this back in 2012 when Two-Face said to call him “One-Face” now? This is absurd. This script passed from how many hands and nobody said this was a stupid line?

As I said earlier, the artwork on this issue is great. Robert Gill makes some beautiful imagery here, but doesn’t fully utilize the seasonal theme for his backdrops. I kind of wish that the book had a different artist for each season. Javier Garron really makes you feel the cold of winter with his panels, but the thicker lines make for a jarring transition after 3/4 of the book being done by Gill’s softer touch. Romulo Fajardo, Jr.’s colors in the first season were really spectacular and I liked how when Garron drew batgirl he would bring the added detail of batarangs clipped to her belt.

This was better than a lot of Batgirl comics in recent memory. It didn’t emphasize gore (well, there’s some messed up stuff about organ harvesting that’s alluded to, but it never gets too graphic) and it never got depressing (well, Barbara still cried once). It was just a well-constructed done-in-one story that used a classic villain really well and showed Barbara to be a compassionate hero worth rooting for.

Recommended If…

  • The Birds of Prey roster from the start of the New 52 launch was your favorite team
  • You like the idea of Poison Ivy as anti-hero and want to explore her character more deeply
  • The dynamic between Poison Ivy and Batgirl is something you enjoy

Overall

This over-sized issue is as much Poison Ivy’s story as it is Batgirl’s. The comic features some spectacular visuals and a seasonal theme that dissects the frequent change of allegiance and temperament we’ve seen from the villain in recent years. It’ll also make you wish Gail Simone was writing Birds of Prey. However, Ivy’s interest in the story’s antagonist gets a convoluted, there’s a very noticeable transition between artists, and the comic does feature a really awful moment reminiscent of David Finch’s “You can call me One-Face now!” from Batman: The Dark Knight.

SCORE: 7/10