This month’s issue features a sad Babs on the cover with her costume in the trash bin in perhaps what feels like an appropriate commentary on the whole redirection of this comic, but I’m going to back off from that remark because it’s pretty harsh and, well, even if this book has deserved some of the more notorious barbs I’ve sent in its direction, this particular issue doesn’t deserve the full wrath of my usual displeasure.

First of all, this part one of “The Gladius Offensive” opens with Spoiler and Frankie (now going by “Operator”) battling some Gladius dudes–and it’s a good action sequence with tolerable quips and a nice use of the usual slang as ironic commentary rather than in earnest (this alone wins points).

Meanwhile Qadir has now become the formal gadget guy for the group even though he doesn’t know Babs’ secret identity. This is silly; everyone else knows it at this point, but whatever. This is followed by an interesting conversation in which (as predicted) Babs’ schooling gets mentioned and a lot of loose ends get the tie-off treatment, just to try to set things straight about where everyone’s at. And it feels like it’s done without too much whining on Babs’ part, only takes a single page of real estate, and focuses on Babs’ need to get back in costume.

Right about now I began to doubt this was written by our regular team. So I looked.

Yep, interestingly, this is a Brenden Fletcher solo book (no Cameron Stewart). Why am I not surprised?

From here the book takes us to Black Canary, also embroiled in Gladius troubles overseas. An exchange between her and Babs/Frankie back in the control room finally feels like a Bat-comic again! There’s action, there’s adult dialogue that doesn’t sound like a bunch of gobbledegook technoscience. And there’s art that makes these characters look like women instead of tarted up pre-teens. And I wish I could tell you who the artist is for any particular page, but this book apparently hates its artists and just lumps them in a listing without any breakdown (for which it should be duly ashamed). Unidentified artists, I salute you!

And oh there’s hope, people. There’s hope for this title!

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Look: Babs confronts a villain who isn’t just a theme joke

Batgirl squares off with Gladius Commander and isn’t feeling up to her A-game (not yet anyway). Frankie thinks her neural implant may be affecting her a little still. Babs and Luke have that “talk” they should have had five issues ago, Babs divests herself of responsibility for the company she just built that was never anything but a ridiculous plot point anyway, and then we get a really sweet cameo from the Gotham Academy girls, Olive and Maps. I don’t care if it’s fan service; it’s kinda adorable–and I nearly peed myself I was so excited to see Babs even in a library again.

This Issue Just Flat Out Doesn’t Suck

Here’s the thing: the storyline’s still got problems and it feels like it’s in mad damage-control to get things on target for the Rebirth. And I am so okay with that. Stuff is falling by the wayside in great sweeps, but it’s stuff that needs to fall: the romance, the energy company, ties to Burnside.

It’s also setting up the Birds of Prey in a big way by integrating Spoiler and Black Canary into this Gladius plot. And even better: this is a two-part story that won’t drag on forever.

I’ve been really hard on this book, even when I’ve tried not to be. But here Fletcher gives us a glimpse of what a real Batgirl title might off in terms of “girl power” and diversity without sacrificing all of its integrity. I don’t think that’s been so much to ask for. I hope we’re finally going to get it.

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Did I mention the library?

It’s hard to talk about the art when you don’t know who the artists are page to page, but I have to say I enjoyed this pretty much straight through and most especially appreciated the mature look of Babs out of costume in her more chatty scenes. Olive and Maps look appropriately like children and the contrast is striking. Batgirl’s fight with Gladius Commander lacks particular panache, but it’s serviceable, and even though Gladius Commander herself feels sort of ill-designed in terms of her costume, she doesn’t look wildly out of place in this world.

The opening sequence with Spoiler is perhaps the most problematic–in one panel, Spoiler talks to her hand (I’m guessing she’s supposed to be holding a phone?).

Eleonora Carlini, Minkyu Jung, and Roger Robinson are credited, though to be honest despite the relatively good flow of the book, it actually feels like more than three distinct styles are at play, which suggests one or more of the artists themselves aren’t very consistent.

None of it is bad though, and that’s what matters. The book is full of solid visuals, action that tracks well, and talking heads that don’t bore you silly.

Recommended If…

  • You want to read a Batgirl story in which you actually believe Babs Gordon could be Batgirl!
  • You’re a fan of Spoiler and Black Canary.
  • You want to see the beginning of the end of this long hard road.
  • Olive and Maps are a joy and a treasure!

Overall

Yes, it’s probably true that I gave this book a .5 boost just for not making me want to spoon my own eyeballs out of my head for reading it, but let’s celebrate our victories where we can, shall we? The most important thing is that there’s an interesting story building here, the characters finally feel like superheroes who take their charge seriously, and even though Babs isn’t quite herself yet, she almost definitely feels on the right track back to the cowl.

SCORE: 7/10