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Mairghread Scott has come out swinging for the backfield with her work on Batgirl in the last couple of weeks.  With a sensational start in two stories featured in the Batgirl no. 25 Anniversary Special, and now both a killer issue no. 26 and this stellar (pun intended) Annual titled “The Brightest Star in Heaven”.

If you haven’t been following Batgirl for some time, this is the week to come back to her! Scott handles Babs beautifully: she’s young, but not immature. She’s capable, but not without imperfections. She’s strong, but she doesn’t always have all the answers. She’s a real person instead of a caricature of whatever someone in editorial thinks might be the “going thing” of the moment. And it’s amazing how much I don’t mind the costume or the earrings when I feel like the woman wearing them is smart, takes her work seriously, and isn’t a walking bubblegum advertisement.

And what’s even better?  She’s once again the daughter of the police commissioner–a fact that matters, and her brother is a serial killer who’s been imprisoned for terrible crimes and possible still committing them! This is a whole aspect of Barbara Gordon that previous writers never explored even though it’s as much a part of Babs’ DNA as Martha Wayne’s pearls are a part of Batman. And not to be exploited like some cheap trauma to trot out when it’s convenient to bring her down, but in stories like this: where we get to see that nexus of Batgirl’s ongoing fight against crime and the legacy of her own work that’s come before. I think one of the things I love best about this book is that this isn’t a poor about how tragedy can cripple you–but how it makes you strong.

What do you with people who don’t want to be saved?

I’m being intentionally vague about the story because you ought to read it for yourself, but the premise is that there’s a not-quite copycat killer in town and Babs thinks she recognizes the MO: not from a previous case, but from a childhood experience that brings her to question her locked-up brother.

The spool unwinds from there. Between Babs and her brother, we get a sophisticated and deeply personal cat-and-mouse game in which it’s impossible to know whether sociopathic James is ever in earnest, is capable of being straight-forward, or has any thoughts or feelings for his family at all. There’s a fair enough amount of shouting to think the passions still run deep–Scott avoids the now cliché ice-cold serial killer interview a la Clarice and Hannibal Lector and gives us a full range of human emotions to play with.

James’ relationship with Babs has been unending turmoil and grief and here we see it play out again with all the dark undertones of Babs puzzling through her brother’s horrific behavior and the darkness that may be lurking in herself. Especially striking is a flashback to their childhood and the family gathered around the TV to watch horror films. Scott raises the subtle question of what the indulgence in violent media might do to affect young minds: neither condemning it nor excusing it, but rather allowing the reader to absorb and ponder. Her reflection on women who write James a variety of disturbing love letters echoes this sentiment as well. There is some troubling stuff here and it’s all questions–no answers.

All any of us want is love: what happens when we don’t feel like we get it?

I love Elena Casagrande’s style for the tale she’s helping to tell her. The spatter effect she uses throughout serves to dirty things up a bit and literally give this story that gritty texture it warrants. Jordie Bellaire’s colors complement it perfectly as well: the reds, yellows, and oranges pop from a landscape of dusky blues, greys, and other muted, earthy tones. The city looks hard, the prison even harder, and even Batgirl’s blue suit blends into the environment rather naturally. There’s a lot of very nice small detail work, some of which must come from the script, but which is rendered so effectively: like the little boot covers that the coroner gives Babs to wear at the crime scene, and one great panel in which after a long hard night, having fallen asleep on her research, Babs awakes with a note stuck to the drool on her face.

I will question, however, one intriguing but distracting decision with regard the flashback of Babs and James during his assault: it’s a panel we see twice, bathed in red “light”. Barbara appears to be smiling and looks rather serene. Considering that she’s being tortured I couldn’t quite figure it out–and the fact that the image is used twice made it doubly distracting. Anyone know what I might be missing?  Or is it just an oddly-rendered panel that doesn’t appear to make sense?

It bugged me the first time I saw it, and even more so the second. But in a book otherwise chock-full of superb moments, it’s a minor thing.

Recommended If…

  • An awesome one-and-done to test the waters with Scott onboard as the new writer: no long term commitment, and you’re almost guaranteed to love it!
  • You’re been wondering what ever happened to that other Gordon child.
  • You like psychologically complex dynamics that don’t pull any punches.

Overall

Batgirl’s second annual with Mairghread Scott at the helm is a no-holds-barred examination of serial killer celebrity, the unhealthy fixations of troubled women, and a rare (and long-overdue) glimpse into the Gordon family dynamic–which has not been explored in any meaningful way for too many years. Scott avoids making this a polemic by just telling a powerful story that doesn’t need to preach in order to provide plenty for the reader to think about. This is everything a great Batgirl comic ought to be!

SCORE: 9.5/10

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