Do you need to read Batgirl no. 42 first? No! Feel free to skip the regular Batgirl series or save it for after: this story is definitely a stand-apart.
This is the first Annual since the creative team of Tarr, Fletcher, and Stewart took over Batgirl, and it really amounts to a four-part adventure called “The Gladius Objective” wrapped up into one, with different artistic teams taking up each segment (Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart are still on writing duties, though series artist Babs Tarr takes a break from this one).
The short stick of it is that what you get in this oversized book is four distinct team ups with Burnside’s B-girl (with Helena Bertinelli and Dick Grayson, with Spoiler, with Batwoman, and with Maps and Olive). On the upside, you get to see all these great characters (Batwoman in action again is particularly exciting, I have to say). On the downside, this feels more like neatly packaged advertising for other series rather than something fully cohesive in and of itself.
How it all Works Out
The overarcing plot in this annual is that a villain named Gladius is trying to recreate a blueprint memorized in pieces by five individual corporate honchos. Gladius has kidnapped those honchos and is attempting the leech the information out of them. Batgirl unravels this mystery gradually throughout the book, but Gladius manages to keep one step ahead of her all along the way.
The highly-anticipated run-in with Dick Grayson feels like a tease and ends on the same eye-rolling reference to poor Dick’s butt. To be honest, I was so distracted by the fact that Babs couldn’t recognize Helena (with her crossbow no less) even in spite of the Spyral tech, that her failure to pinpoint Dick was already a forgone conclusion. She’s apparently not as smart as everyone thinks. Also, it really bothered me that Helena and Dick called each other by their real names (instead of Agent 37, Director, etc.) knowing full and well that someone (heck, even Batgirl) might be able to overhear them. And frankly, if the tech is so good that they can mask their voices, faces, and hide all their channels from prying eyes and ears, I’m a little confused why anything they need to do has to be covert at all. But I digress.
She’s going to see you all right, the minute you turn around.
The encounter with the agents is too short-lived, unfortunately, and Babs moves on to schooling Stephanie Brown, who’s out getting in some “practice” at the urging of her new mentor (Catwoman, in case you’re not following that series). This part of the book is mostly silly with Babs providing advice such as keep your “game face” on around the bad guys. I know I have a low threshhold for young vigilantes (and for Spoiler in particular), so while I didn’t care for this, some of you might find it amusing and entertaining. It definitely doesn’t lack for action.
Stephanie is a total spaz throughout
Next on the docket is Batwoman, whose series end was a bitter pill for many of us. For that reason, it’s wonderful to see her kicking butt again, even if only briefly. Some silly Wickerman business notwithstanding, this was my favorite part of the book. The juxtaposition of Kate Kane’s power and authority actually pulled Batgirl up a few notches in stature. For a moment she seemed youthful without being a child.
Unfortunately this did not last as Batgirl’s final league in this adventure takes her to Gotham Academy where she encounters Olive and Maps in the library. As a professional librarian myself, it was a bit hard to read lines like “I should have finished my library science studies” (because that’s something you study on the side in school, right?), or, worse yet, “it’s microfilm! how will we be able to read it?” The genius of Barbara Gordon, folks: remember when?
In terms of the art, the varying styles work okay together, but highlight the varying takes on Barbara Gordon’s age. Is she a girl? Is she a woman? David La Fuente and Mingjue Helen Chen particularly seem to run her on the young side, while Bengal runs her still young, but closer to the model Babs Tarr has provided in the regular series. Ming Doyle, on the other hand, draws her like a woman in the Batwoman sequence, which, frankly, is very refreshing. No spindly stick legs, no pouty troutface. Which isn’t to say Doyle’s work here is perfect: there seems to be a lot of empty panel space and the faces are occasionally cluttered with extra lines, but overall I enjoyed this section the most–partly because it’s the Batwoman sequence, but also just because in spite of it being just a mere 6 pages, it has the most traditional superhero feel to it and the dynamic between the characters feels natural and strong.
Love the motorcycles!
The other sections are good (in particular Chen’s colors in the Gotham Academy sequence are stand out), but I didn’t love the breakdowns for Bengal’s opening with Helena and Grayson. Interestingly, it reads better digitally where you can zoom in around a page than in-hand where all the panels seem to blend together and there’s very little dramatic variation in the size of the figurework. At 18 pages, this is the longest sequence in the book and it does move well, but it’s mostly candy-covered fight scenes and not a lot of the good chewy nougat I was hoping for with a near encounter between Babs and Dick. Not a total disappointment, but definitely felt like a missed opportunity for a little something more.
Gotham Academy is so clearly geared for a different audience
Where it Doesn’t Really Work
Aside from feeling like advertising that doesn’t actually do a very strong job of highlighting the other books it refers to, there isn’t really a complete story here. At the end of Batgirl’s sojourn, she hasn’t caught any bad guys, hasn’t completely solve the mystery of Gladius, and I have the uneasy feeling that this thread may not actually continue within the pages of her own book–I don’t have any confidence that it will.
Still, it’s a rollick, at least. Because it’s a mystery that just pushes from one place to the next, that leaves a lot of room for action and Gladius has a whole army at her disposal for Batgirl and her allies to beat up. I was entertained in spite of myself, and you do get a lot of buckbang given the fun series of cameos. As an annual it’s about what you might expect: something that doesn’t necessarily tie-in to the regular action of the regular series, but provides an interesting side-story or mission that gives you a break from having to fuss about in-series continuity for a spell.
With so many creative contributors to this book, I like that they tried to string together a narrative to carry Babs from one ally to the next, but it feels a bit more like a pastiche than I think it should.
- If you’re not reading the regular Batgirl series and you’d like to just dip your toes in the water–especially to see her interact with a lot of other characters across the DCU.
- You’re a fan of Spoiler and want to see what she looks like in a fight with and alongside the new Batgirl.
- You miss Batwoman as much as I do (remember how awesome she used to be? So awesome: go read Batwoman: Hydrology to refresh your memory.)
- You love Maps from Gotham Academy (Olive doesn’t do much here).
- You never get tired of Dick’s butt.
This mostly feels like a bit of fluff, but action and cameo aficionados will most certainly enjoy it. Gauge your own interest by how much you love these characters because the story is just a fragment and has no real conclusion. Is it essential to tying in the objectives of these characters in their regular series? I’m not really sure. My sense is that anything critical that happens here will be later referenced, flashbacked, or explicated elsewhere. But if you like detective work (some of it a little lame), and enjoy the step-by-step reveals alongside a lot of fancy footwork (mostly kicks to the body and face), then you’ll dig this annual regardless of its weight on any of the regular series it references.