Batgirl #17 review

Batgirl 17

“Summer of Lies” concludes its bumpy ride with a bit of a crash landing. Hope Larson’s Batgirl and Nightwing team-up is charming and we get all the sort of fun banter we could hope for between these two, but the ultimate resolution to this long-building mystery doesn’t really provide us with any surprises. The story is solid, but lacks wow-factor, and there are moments that feel clunky and a bit out of character.

And one particular scene with Batgirl and the Mad Hatter might have fans seeing red. Too much red! This is a strangely gory issue of Batgirl, and the violence feels like it comes out of nowhere. It’s like Larson decided to try to complicate Batgirl’s psychological life in a way that doesn’t involve partying and bad date choices, and she went straight for irrational rage-machine.

This is Batgirl, not Harley Quinn, but for one brief moment, I honestly couldn’t tell the two apart.

To her credit, Larson salvages things, I think: she makes it a serious point of conversation between Babs and Dick that feels earnest and better grounded in who these characters are, leading to some of the nicer dialogue and interactions in this book. But it still feels like an extreme choice that doesn’t really work for Babs if I’m honest. This just isn’t who she is.

Fortunately, it’s a flashback, so one can hope that Batgirl has moved on from this impulsive phase and the whole thing is ultimately dismissable.

Unfortunately, so is the present-time story.

Who are you, strange red-headed girl who looks exactly like Barbara Gordon?

The best parts of this book are the interactions between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon outside of their personas as Batgirl and Robin/Nightwing. One thing I like about the way Larson handles their characters is that they definitely feel like two kids who maybe had a crush at one time and now as adults still have feelings but haven’t maybe fully reconciled them. They’re “best friends” without benefits and that’s okay. There isn’t any crushing pining angst going on, but you can still feel the tension between them. There’s also a nice give and take in terms of the learning and growing together.

But there’s too much silliness here and there: Babs single-handedly (literally–with one hand) carries Dick while swinging on her grapple gun. I’m sorry, I don’t care how strong she is, this whole sequence is physically impossible and it burped me right out of the story. To make matters worse, it was completely unnecessary; the same action could have been accomplished using a different set of more realistic physical attributes.

The Red Queen’s final “incarnation” is also patently silly. The artwork maybe could have sold it better, but it just didn’t work. Once the mystery of the Red Queen’s identity is resolved (see last issue), you think there must be more to it, but there’s not. There’s just an angry grieving woman taking things to outrageous extremes.

And while the final battle had some of the right kind of emotional drama (even if it all happens too fast), in terms of combat action, it falls very flat. Some potential tension is aroused when Red Queen unleashes her nanobots, but ultimately she turns out to be not much of a challenge for Batgirl.

Red Queen’s snarl here is my favorite panel

Chris Wildgoose once again does pencils (with inks from Jose Marzan Jr. and Andy Owens). Last go-round I commented that I was concerned about what felt like rushed work: sloppy figures, scrappy costumes, and environments that mostly felt tacked on. This book honestly doesn’t deliver much better. There are some notable improvements; basic proportions are generally stronger, Nightwing and Robin feel more consistent (and the Robin costume is less saggy), but I feel like there’s an overall lack of inspiration throughout.

The Haberdashery (Mad Hatter’s hideout), isn’t particularly interesting and the hats everyone is wearing aren’t remarkable in the least. Worse still, when Batgirl and Nightwing finally confront the Red Queen, not only is her chess-board floor tile the only “Wonderland” connection, but we barely see it. And whereas the Red Queen looks really interesting on the cover, she’s not very threatening in the pages.

Part of my disappointment with the overall look and feel of this finale is the result of my own hopes and expectations getting in the way: I thought we were going to go farther down the literary path given we already had a Hatter and now a Red Queen. But the choice of the moniker is arbitrary, and while one of our intrepid heroes does get infected with the nanobots and starts tripping the light fantastic, we’ve got way more Alice in the Wonderland going on in the Batwoman book as of late than you can hope to find here. There’s one nice Cheshire grin that hits exactly the right note, but that little else. Does not taking more advantage of the Wonderland concept hurt the book in the long run? Not too much, I don’t think, but I do feel like there’s no denying the lackluster “stage” on which Wildgoose set this gambit: why have silly villain names and costumes at all if you’re not going to go to town with them?

All that said, love love love the cover from Dan Mora.  It’s the classic crashing and falling pose, but so very nicely done!

Recommended If…

  • You want to see lots of awkward Dick and Babs trying to sort through their feelings.
  • You like a good moral conundrum.

Overall

An uneven ending for a story arc that began with a lot of promise. After a great deal of build up we conclude in a hodgepodge of action and ideas that are tonally right, but seem to trip over one another toward the finish line. I can’t help feel like the artwork isn’t helping the storytelling on this one. Big moments feel too small here whether it’s the result of trying to cram too much into the finale or just poor pacing in terms of the panels. There’s a lot to enjoy here, even if the resolution is somewhat simplistic, but the execution makes it feel like we’ve been short-shrifted.

SCORE: 6/10

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