It’s finally time for Barbara Gordon to confront the “Ghost in the Cowl” in this issue, which is the culmination of a story arc that’s been building since the new creative team took over Batgirl starting with issue no. 35.
Six issues in this new direction it’s clear that the writing team isn’t going to get any better than this; this is book we have for the short term (all things change even as they remain the same–remember that, comic-fans: today’s cyborg disaster is tomorrow’s total retcon). This book is by now well-entrenched in its desire to inspire a new young audience with little-to-no prior experience with Batgirl as a character (or even comics in general). While I would tip my hat if the transformation was complete, unapologetic, and consistent, this book lacks all of those things. It can’t seem to entirely break away from its previous continuity (though it clearly desperately wants to), it seems to apologize an awful lot (or get defensive, on the other hand), and let’s forget about consistency. This is a book that thinks nothing of having characters curse, have random hook-up sex, and flip the (albeit pixelated) bird, but argues that its tone is lighter and more fun than the previous incarnation (and therefore needs a “tone” Nazi overlooking its presentation). Yeah, I said that and I stand by it.
But let’s not get distracted by controversies (which have been dogging this book since the new team took over). Let’s have a look at issue no. 40 at face value.
Batgirl and Frankie come face-to-face with Barbara’s algorithm and must deal with it before it goes completely crazy and starts taking people out at a Hooq Party. In the middle of trying to outsmart the program, Babs also has to beat up Riot Black, neutralize a fleet of killer drones, and stave off her ex-boyfriend trying to take her down (he is, apparently, the only cop in Burnside).
That is one angry cyber-persona
Barbara spends no time whining or navel-gazing in this issue. Could it be possible that she’s done with her petty juvenile behavior and ready to behave like a grown woman? I’m not holding my breath, but it was refreshing to see Batgirl being focused, objective, and active again instead of her stewing in self-absorption. If she reverts back to perfecting her selfie duck-face next issue, I will have many choice words for this title (and none of them complimentary).
Babs Tarr continues to be the star of this book. Her artwork (based on Cameron Stewart’s breakdowns) keeps this book interesting and feeling fresh even when the writing vacillates wildly between the highs and lows of melodrama and insipidity. This book is full of action, moves quickly, and is stacked full of dramatic tension. If you just want something tidily packaged with no surprises, this is sure to entertain. Whatever its faults, this book makes good comic-reading. It won’t hold up to deep critique, but for an audience not particular about really tight or logical storytelling, Batgirl seems like it will always be fun. Personally I think this book could be much much better and that Babs Tarr deserves a stronger writing team to work from, but the book is selling so it’s found its audience and props to it for that.
Looks like her flesh and blood side is pretty angry too
Why is Riot Black controlled by the algorithm? Is he a cyborg? Does he have a chip in his head that I forgot about? Is his only function in this book to give Barbara something to punch to heighten the drama?
Barbara Gordon’s mind-map is basically a sentient computer clone. Okay, that’s super-creepy and chock full of potential. So what does this clone do with its unlimited power and intellect? Does it become Oracle? Does it go for broke: world domination through cyberspace? Does it take its body back from the narcissistic child who’s currently inhabiting it? No, it stalks its creator through social media and hatches an idiotic plan to kill people before they maybe commit some crimes. Apparently the algorithm is just as petty-minded as its real-life counterpart.
Frankie knows Babs’ secret. Babs’ reaction is: “I guess maybe I should move out”. Really? The only thing more unbelievable than that is Frankie’s response.
What could have been an interesting exploration of Barbara’s split psyche devolves into a banal tale of machinery gone haywire, hatching a ludicrous plot to decimate a group of personal acquaintances, and pitching an emotional breakdown in what basically amounts to writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher raising a middle finger to Batgirl’s pre-reboot fans. Normally I would give the benefit of the doubt that this was unintentional fallout, but one look at that (brilliantly lovely) cover (by Cameron Stewart) would seem to indicate that this is a deliberate attempt to delineate the “old” and the “new”. By casting the Batgirl we knew before Babs Tarr’s redesign as a malevolent algorithm embittered by her past traumas and incapable of logic (seems ironic that the machine is less rational than the flesh and blood Barbara), they have basically “killed off” the Batgirl prior to issue no. 35.
- You’re an undiscerning female under the age of 18.
- You want to read the issue from which Black Canary is launching into her own series.
After six issues with the new creative team, the tone of this book has been well-established. The art is excellent but the narrative consistently suffers from weak storytelling. Babs shows strength here unlike she’s exhibited since the change, so that’s a really positive thing, but the book lumbers under the weight of trying to do too much in the hands of writers who are either unclear of their own vision or so absorbed with their vision that they’re forgetting to just write solid stories with any respect for the history of the character. This issue is a perfect example of a great idea coupled with mediocre execution (beautiful artwork notwithstanding). This is, unfortunately, what I’ve come to expect from this series.