After reading the first three pages of this week’s Batgirl, I was already gearing up to write a completely excoriating review. And then…a miracle happened!
Hope Larson pulled it off. The “Son of Penguin” finale proves to be no dodo. Indeed, I had been optimistic going into issue No. 10 that there was still hope of salvaging the story, but when I opened this book I was reminded of the duncy-looking Birdbrain outfit that Ethan Cobblepot had decided to adopt, followed quickly by a flash mob of people singing and I felt my heart sink down into my shoes and puddle there in abject disillusionment. But then the flash mob stopped and Babs crashed through the ceiling in an epic Christopher Wildgoose moment (one of several in this book), and suddenly it felt like it was finally time to take this story seriously right through to the end.
It doesn’t all entirely work, but the overall effect is just right: Batgirl being compromised by her rescue of the Penguin, Ethan’s Black Sun persona being an absurd flop, the marriage of Babs’ tech smarts and martial arts.
This book was just fun. It’s not heavy, it’s not subtle, but the action flies and for once everyone feels right in their character skins. In fact, without the colossal misstep of Babs actually having feelings for Ethan, this turned out to be a pretty okay story–nothing earth-shatteringly new, but certainly curious for how it’s wrapped up in one of our legacy villains. The relationship between Ethan and the Penguin was actually quite well done at the end of the day–and there’s a good chance we’ll see Ethan again, though I doubt he will ever be quite the same!
Batgirl’s face here says it all!
Larson does some other tidying up with Babs’ Burnside leftovers as well: she quickly settles the fertility problem with Alysia and Jo. This pretty much happens “off-screen” as it were, which I would normally call bad form, but since we don’t really care, I’m just glad it’s put to bed and we didn’t have to suffer through any more of it. Also resolved is that Frankie and Babs are back to being roommates. Honestly, I can’t even remember why they weren’t in the first place since Frankie was supposed to be Babs’ Alfred, but again, whatever. Let’s just move on in a way that makes sense.
And hopefully we can move on. I feel like Larson has been sort of circling the wagons and I really hope she breaks out of the mold she was left with. Right now there are all these recycled elements from the previous run that seem stuck in the drains and though I feel like she is doing some gentle flushing, I’m really impatient to see what she gets Batgirl up to without the crutch of all this past ambling dictating Babs’ direction. So far she’s managed to reinvent Burnside in certain critical ways, but she has to do something meaningful with it if she’s going to pick up steam and build a strong new audience for this series.
Babs being calm and thoughtful, working it out: remember her?
Christopher Wildgoose outdoes himself with the splashier moments in this book. Once again, I think he’s a great choice for the art and especially if they’re aiming this for a younger crowd who likes to see things really pop. Batgirl in her action sequences looks confident and committed: she doesn’t pull any silly faces or appear tentative–and she doesn’t treat the job as if it were some cute game. Even though she makes some snarky remarks, the art never succumbs to infantilizing the fights, even here where Batgirl’s mark turns out to be less a challenge than she anticipated.
One quibble I could state is that it took me a moment to realize that Ethan was mistaking Babs for Dick on the motorcycle. Even with the helmet on, that seemed a big stretch–unless Dick and Babs are roughly the same build (which I’m thinking they’re not). So that was a bit of a cheat only really possible due to the art (and an unnecessary one, really; Babs could have lured him in any number of ways). Otherwise, though, again: Wildgoose mostly nails both the humor and the serious moments throughout. He draws an awesome Penguin, and little details throughout (like the bizarre Burnside Square prow sticking up out of the street–utterly pointless except as defining location detail) give this world the shape and specificity it needs.
Jon Lam (inks) and Matt Lopes (colors) rounds out this very entertaining read. Yes, it’s not for everybody, but it finally feels like it’s for more than just that narrow niche market they were shooting for a year ago, and that’s worthy of an upward-pointing thumb.
- You want to see Ethan Cobblepot meet an untimely end–and new beginning?
- Wildgoose makes Batgirl look great–even in the dorky Doc Martens.
- Just a good solid ending for this arc on so many levels.
This book still has work to do, but I think Hope Larson is doing it and doing it well. While this storyline took a stumble with the crowbarred romance, most everything else about it works out pretty well–the sillier bits are acknowledged as silly, the over-the-top roommate drama seems to be put to rest, and Babs saves the day without needing the help of twelve other supporting characters–which is something we honestly haven’t really seen her do up until Larson took over the pages and started reminding us that Batgirl is the star of the book! For that alone, I boosted this rating half a star.