“Old Friends” brings Black Canary back to the pages of Batgirl, but don’t get too excited. While Dinah may have perked the book up a point the last time we saw her at Alysia’s wedding (issue No. 45), and while she’s actually the best thing about this issue as well, there’s really not a lot she can do to save this comic from being yet another convoluted mess of colorful intrigues, insipid villainy, and a Batgirl who literally ends the comic on the floor in a freaked-out mental fugue that for me inspires frustration rather than pity.
I’m not going to do a page-by-page breakdown this time. In the spirit of “trying something new” to make sense of the baffling direction that Batgirl continues to pursue, I want to preface this review with the reminder that I am very well aware that this book just isn’t written for me. And by that I mean, I (and people who share my sentiments) am not the audience for this.
Even so, when I read this book I hold it to the same objective standard I hold all comics: tell me a story that compels and do it with characters and visuals that inspire and delight.
Batgirl does none of these things for me. Maybe it does for its target audience, but I said some things in my last review of Batgirl No. 47 that we’re going to revisit as a guide for why this book just isn’t succeeding as part of the Batverse.
“Babs and Steph change into their costumes for no real reason”
This happens a lot in this comic. Last issue, Batgirl and Spoiler inexplicably don their costumes at the police station even though they were dressed incognito as cops–and even though despite, this Babs was recognized. This has nothing to do with storytelling. This is just getting them geared up so they have some visual resemblance to the characters being marketed.
Now here again, Batgirl and Batwing share a rooftop picnic in costume because of a “deal” regarding Babs starting up a company in the midst of going to school and fighting crime and losing her mind (best time to do it, right?). That’s part of the plot of this thing: Babs’ mind is being manipulated by a dark scary force in the night, making her do irrational things like start up companies. And let’s not even wonder where she got the money or how long this took to arrange since last issue. Logic need not apply.
Also, we are reminded that Luke is retired from being Batwing–he’s just playing dress up for her sake. Because this is a superhero comic and they have to be in costume more than not.
And it’s cute. See the little hearts?
There’s a call to action and Batgirl and Batwing take a few pages to wrestle the Co-op gang to the ground. These hoodlums appeared at the beginning of Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher’s run, but Babs has forgotten she ever met them before. And frankly I did too because they’re pretty silly. Kudos to the writers for at least acknowledging that.
Babs Tarr’s perspective on these two panels seems…really off?
Then Frankie tries to see what’s going on in Babs’ head, referencing her battle with a virulent AI that tried to overtake her (also early in the run). These callbacks are interesting in that they seem to be trying to make a cohesive narrative out of the run thus-far, but we’re six pages in and other than a bubble gum fight in an arcade, it’s been a wall of exposition. This is par for the course with this book, unfortunately, symptomatic of Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher’s inability to move the story forward through action. Instead, characters spend all their time just talking about stuff and explaining themselves.
End analysis: the reason stuff happens in this book is because it’s necessary to explain the convoluted story, convenient to inorganically advancing the plot, and/or just straight up fan service. You can get away with this a lot in comics, but after a while the schtick gets old.
“Someone recognizes Babs for who she is”
One of the cops in the precinct recognized Barbara Gordon in issue No. 47. Is there any follow up to this? No. Will there be any follow up to this? Maybe.
Stewart and Fletcher have demonstrated (twice in this issue) that they’re good at keeping track of Batgirl’s continuity. That’s a great thing (many books fail on this basic level). But they also conveniently jettison things to make way for new developments, new characters, and new complications–none of which actually adds texture to this world, but serves to give it a serious case of attention-deficit disorder. Ramifications of someone recognizing Babs at the station house should be a big deal, but the comic can’t be bothered to worry about that right now.
Imagine someone recognizing that Matches Malone is Bruce Wayne and not saying something about it or confronting him in the subsequent issue. Would we really let that slide?
And while we’re on the theme of recognition, let’s talk about the random Dinah groupie moment. Because it’s another bit of “fun” inserted with all the subtlety of a knife between the ribs. Dinah’s in a band. She has fans. We spend an entire page worth of panels seeing her be mobbed for no other reason apparently than to show that Dinah is paranoid and cranky. While I guess that can serve as character development, it’s hardly critical and merely falls into “adorkable moment of squealing joy” that seems to now be requisite in this title.
They got her autograph AND her nose, apparently
This gives me a chance to talk about the art for a moment.
I’ve been a fan of Babs Tarr from the start. Even disliking the story change and the whole aesthetic of the new Batgirl, I have always defended Tarr’s work as fun, energetic, and rife with character. Batgirl No. 48 feels like an uncharacteristic misfire for Tarr when you see panels like these. The figurework is sloppy, the faces seem roughed in and exaggerated beyond the usual. I’m almost left with the impression that the whole page is last-minute filler because the story paced up short. In fact, the double page spread following this sequence is strangely blocked out with very large panels to convey very little information. The fact that Rob Haynes worked on breakdowns for the pages that then follow (14-20) suggests Tarr might have needed some shoring up (she typically hasn’t done her own breakdowns from the start).
The point is, the panel pacing and the art are erratic here–a lot more haphazard than I am accustomed to seeing in Batgirl. And that’s a disappointing and disconcerting development. Hopefully it’s just a one-off problem.
It’s Greg isn’t it?
Now I recognize there is a chance that The Fugue and his angry stretched love-doll “O” face isn’t Greg. That Babs is just seeing Greg. Black Canary says “He’s not…” just moments before he shoots up into the sky faster than Augustus Gloop barreling toward the Fudge Room.
“Jerk in a costume” does sound like Greg
Maybe Babs only sees Greg and it’s really someone else. He does control her mind, so he could have implanted the impression. Therefore I’m not going to throw anything as previously promised. Not yet anyway, until we have absolute confirmation that it’s actually Greg. I’m not holding my breath, though.
“This book feels like a low point for me…”
I said this about Batgirl No. 47. I’ve got to stop saying it. Alice did eventually get to the bottom of the rabbit hole and I suspect we will too.
Maybe I’m hard on this book because I love Batgirl and I love Barbara Gordon and I just want her to get off this crazy train and come home. But to be honest I don’t think I’m actually asking a lot. I can appreciate “cute” and I can appreciate “fun” and I clearly like comics with very little substance (did you see my review of Batman Europa)?
But this book just doesn’t have anything going for it at the moment. It feels chaotically edited, bizarrely plotted, and now the art is looking a little weary too. Maybe it can recover. Maybe Barbara Gordon will come back from her mind-torture a little more focused, a little less flighty?
We can certainly continue to hope so.
- You’d like to see Batwing in action (very briefly).
- Black Canary is your fav. She’s always cool, even in a book like this.
The reveal of the dreaded Fugue is campy to the point of dismissability, but maybe with Batgirl paralyzed by his mind tricks we’ll see some greater stakes for Barbara Gordon in the next issue. The creative team continues to throw a lot of variables into this equation but the math makes about as much sense as your average common core curriculum: you’ll get the answer eventually but the road you take lacks any conventional logic. Some people learn better that way, perhaps. Those are the people who might enjoy this book.