Batgirl has been wearing multiple hats lately. CEO, criminal-puncher, and ethical hacker. She wants to make life safer for her city and her friends, but in the process she’s made some enemies. So when she takes a step too far in her quest to clean up the streets, those close to her are put into peril, in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #19. SPOILERS AHEAD
A sophisticated theme
I’m going to be tearing into this book pretty hard shortly, but I wanted to acknowledge something good first. The Bensons frame a this issue with the idea of heroes keeping their loved ones in the light. It’s a reaction to something Batman once told Babs, and I think her observation is astute. The theme develops further as she sees her own “darkness,” such as it is, causing pain rather than protecting. We have this kernel of a great literary story here, and I would have been happy to see it sprout into something.
Unfortunately, that thematic framework plays out in a very poorly-told story. I haven’t followed this title closely prior to taking over its reviews last month, but I’m already noticing two patterns that I find very annoying: unnecessarily telly dialogue/captions and groan-inducing quips delivered at inopportune times.
Consider this caption box on the first page:
That first phrase (up to the comma) does not read well at all. I can’t imagine anyway speaking this way. Why not just say “after we rescued Calculator’s family from Poison Ivy?” The Terracare reference is likely there for the benefit of newer readers, but it isn’t helpful. If you don’t know what Terracare is (like me), then the inclusion of “Terracare terrorism” isn’t going to illuminate you, and there’s nothing else in this issue to clue you in, either. So something intended to help actually adds confusion, when the Bensons could have simply referenced Ivy. Readers acquainted with Batman’s rogues would instantly draw a connection, and the completely green wouldn’t be any worse off than they are now. And, perhaps most importantly, it would result in a less awkward phrase.
The Bensons aren’t the only ones to get in trouble on the first page, either. Antonio’s second panel incorrectly portrays Babs as nervous, scared, or both, but her narration is confident, and there’s nothing on the computer screen or in her words that would suggest such an expression. It’s almost as though he’s anticipating the (laughable) ethical quandary Babs later talks herself into; however, with pages to go before we encounter this conflict, this panel has no immediate context to justify its portrayal.
Antonio has numerous failure points in his layouts throughout this issue. Huntress and Canary have a gun pointed at them, hands at their sides. But the very next panel shows a crossbow bolt through their assailant’s hand. I don’t need animation, but this is a little too jerky. When Babs goes to visit her dad, there’s no transition from the clocktower to his house. Without a panel of her getting up to leave or an establishing shot of Jim’s house, there’s no visual indication that she’s changed places. And one panel later, it looks a lot more like Babs has a lover leaning in to smell her hair than a father looking over her shoulder to better see the computer. There are other examples, but I won’t go on.
As I mentioned above, the Bensons also have a tendency to sprinkle awkward quips on moments that don’t need them. Whether it’s Canary’s dopey knock-knock-like setup and punchline early on, or Batgirl’s percentage bomb in the book’s final battle, these stingers have neither humor nor context to make them worth including. It’s almost like the Bensons are taking their cues from Metro Man.
Hypocritical faux-outrage and guilt
I think perhaps the worst thing is Batgirl’s guilt and her friends’ indignation at her illegally hacking into Calculator’s systems. She’s Oracle. Illicit systems access is part of the territory. And they’re all vigilantes. The time to care about staying far away from the line passed long ago.
I refuse to beat this poor horse any longer
There are other things that I could draw out, but I imagine you get the point. The bottom line is that this is a hard book to read and your money is better spent elsewhere.
- You’ve enjoyed this run so far.
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #19 establishes a lofty premise, but never leaves the ground in an attempt to reach it. Poor storytelling from writers and artist make it a slog to get through, and you would do well to move along and read something else.