Batgirl #30 marks the beginning of a new arc, ‘Old Enemies.’ I really enjoyed Mairghread Scott’s first storyline but I wasn’t enamoured of Wyrm or Grotesque so I’m delighted that this story will be dealing with established villains.
The first to be introduced is Jason Bard. This is the New 52 version of the character, introduced during Batman Eternal (2014-2015). Hired by Commissioner Gordon into the GCPD, Bard initially seemed a worthy addition to the force but turned out to be a traitor working with Hush, Carmine Falcone and the Architect. After Jim Gordon was framed for murder and mass manslaughter, Bard replaced him as Commissioner, implemented martial law and attempted to bring down Batman. After Batgirl dropped him off a roof, Bard changed sides again, got Gordon out of prison and helped take the city back from the supervillains (despite his redemption, he really should have been arrested at the end of Batman Eternal but, for reasons unknown, he wasn’t).
Bard is as manipulative and intriguingly ambiguous as before when we get reacquainted with him in Batgirl #30. Although, I don’t approve of Barbara saying that ‘time stops’ when she sees Bard again (clearly he caused trouble for her in the past, but he’s hardly as haunting as the Joker, for instance), it’s satisfying to see a continuation of his story and it’s fun to occasionally add slick, untheatrical villains to the mix.
The event Bard has turned his attention on this time is the election of Gotham’s congressional representative. There’s plenty of room for an agenda in superhero comics (Watchmen and Omega Men are great examples of how to get this right) but sometimes politics can draw focus from the story. As it’s a cold, sober January, comics are purely about entertainment for me at the moment so I was glad to discover that the election is mostly just a backdrop for the story. The most significant effect it has on the narrative is to drive a rift between Jim and Babs.
As we’ve already seen these two characters arguing in Scott’s previous arc, and since Barbara’s boring friends are in Burnside, it feels as if setting the Gordons against each other is a forced attempt at injecting drama into Batgirl’s life (I don’t miss the pointless soap opera of Burnside but if Batgirl is to be grounded in a realistic milieu, I do believe that she needs a supporting cast). It doesn’t help that both sides make daft points; Batgirl says of a rioting mob, ‘Hooligans? These people are exercising the rights you swore to protect’ while blustering Jim Gordon tries to forbid his grown daughter from helping a critical candidate rather than co-operating with her himself.
However, it would be dull and unrealistic if every wise character agreed all the time. The conflict does feel organic, especially if you consider what a monochromatic view people sometimes take when they’re angry. Although I’m still not crazy about this little contretemps, Barbara appears as a strong role model here, sticking to her principles even if it means alienating her beloved father.
I understand that Barbara is angry with her dad but there’s no need to kick him in the back of the head
By this point, you may be thinking ‘Bard interfering in an election? Barbara intervening in a riot? Last time we saw Babs, she was about to undergo major surgery!’ Issue #30 throws us right into the middle of the story, which is sensible because it wouldn’t be very interesting to spend a whole issue on the rise of candidate Alejo or Barbara’s hospital recovery. The opening pages show us that Barbara is feeling her way back into the role of Batgirl. Endearingly, she’s using checklists as a mantra to calm herself and it feels totally natural as Scott manoeuvres the necessary exposition into one of these checklists; it’s a masterclass in getting the most from the pages you’re given.
Scott’s script offers Pelletier a balance of action and dialogue scenes, both of which are handled ably. There’s enough detail in Jim Gordon’s kitchen to feel as if it’s a real place and, although it’s a little disjointed at times, the action is clear and populated with well-proportioned figures. As demonstrated in the picture above, the faces in the issue range from downright strange to perfect expressions that aid the storytelling. I love that Pelletier draws Barbara as a level-headed young woman rather than an infantile Burnside brat, and that his lithe take on Murphy’s design makes his Batgirl reminiscent of Neal Adams’ Batman and Marcos Martin’s Batgirl.
- You’ve been waiting for a serious take on the character, featuring the most important person in her life and the city that gave the world Batgirl.
- You like reading about heroes who act actually act heroically and who haven’t been shot in the head or jilted at the altar lately.
- You love beautiful variant covers courtesy of the great Joshua Middleton!
Overall: An arc’s grand overture isn’t always easy to pull off, especially when some time has elapsed between the events of one chapter and the next. Scott and Pelletier rise to the challenge and offer an exciting issue that leaves the reader with questions about the unfolding story and a sense of contentment that the book is in the hands of a writer who truly understands her hero.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.