Batgirl #33 review

‘Old Enemies,’ the last arc of Batgirl, left plenty of loose threads hanging, so the last thing Babs needs right now is another distraction. Nonetheless, The Batman Who Laughs #2 saw the return of her psychopath brother, so it was only a matter of time before the siblings were reunited. In Batgirl #33, Mairghread Scott keeps all her plates spinning while Barbara drops everything in pursuit of James Gordon Jr.

If you loved Scott Snyder and Jock’s ‘Batman: The Black Mirror/Skeleton Cases’ (2011, also featuring art by Francesco Francavilla), then you’re probably enjoying their latest series, The Batman Who Laughs, which again features Jim Gordon’s unpredictable son. If you’ve read ‘The Black Mirror’ (and if you haven’t, then you should), you’ll know that Barbara has a complex relationship with her brother which hasn’t yet been revisited in the new series. That’s where Batgirl #33 comes in, but this isn’t just an extension of Snyder’s story (usually, the slightest whiff of a crossover is enough to advertise a comic as a tie-in but strangely that isn’t the case this time). Instead, Scott expertly slots James into her ongoing election narrative, weaving in Bard, the Cormorant conspiracy and building on the existing tension between Babs and her father. It will be interesting to see how James is used in the next couple of issues; if his appearance here is just a one-off red herring, then it will be disappointing (there’s a tantalising suggestion on the final page of Batgirl #33 that this series will continue to be influenced by the events of The Batman Who Laughs; I have my fingers crossed). The proof of the pudding will be in the eating of the next pudding, I suppose.

The use of James in issue #33 is mostly laudable. The only scene I didn’t enjoy was one in which James is shown working in an unrewarding job; I couldn’t bring myself to care about this, even though I understand that it was essential to demonstrate that James can control himself in stressful situations. What makes James intriguing elsewhere in the issue is his apparent redemption and the effect he has on Barbara.

We’ve seen most of Batman’s rogues gallery reform and relapse countless times, but not James Jr. As he has a living family, and as he’s younger (in the comics and in real life) and less extraordinary than the rest, I find myself believing that James is genuinely changing. I’d go so far as to say I trust him more than Bard right now. This is partly thanks to Scott and Snyder showing us his humble side (though psychopaths are great actors) and because it’s clear from this issue that Scott has given some thought to how it would feel to experience empathy for the first time and puts this to good use in her characterisation. Of course, something will trigger James and he’ll go back to his old ways but for now, I believe he’s trying to turn over a new leaf.

If you read The Batman Who Laughs #2 and #3 (or this review) before Batgirl #33, then you’re already aware that James has changed (or is pretending he’s changed). This means that you know the cover is lying to you; James isn’t running around with a knife looking for someone to kill (yet). Armed with this knowledge, the reader is likely to find the actions of Batgirl even more deplorable as she terrorises innocent people into helping find her brother. We all have pressure points; Barbara’s is James (and the Joker). The inclusion of this adds realism to the story and its interesting as we don’t often see Batgirl lose her cool (Bruce, Jason and Damian are the ones who usually apply aggression to any desperate situation).

Barbara’s rage also spills over into her relationship with her father. Even though I still can’t see the point of setting Babs and Jim at odds with each other, their conflict seems more believable this time than in issue #30. I’m glad Barbara is driven and capable of intimidation, but it worries me that she’s shown to be acting out and making mistakes, especially as she wasn’t particularly professional in ‘Old Enemies.’ Making a hero fallible (and therefore deserving of our sympathy and identification with them) and making them an aspirational figure (as is appropriate in an escapist series dealing with superheroes) is a difficult tightrope to walk. Lately, Batgirl has been more of the former than the latter.

Jim, you need your eyes tested if you can’t see your son from there!

This month sees a temporary change in artist on Batgirl. With plenty of big, expressive faces in her repertoire, Elena Casagrande follows on comfortably from Paul Pelletier, who returns next issue (Scott Godlewski supplies art for two pages in Batgirl #33, and these also fit in imperceptibly). Barbara isn’t immediately recognisable from her expression, clothing or body language at the beginning of the book, and her proportions fluctuate throughout the issue, but Casagrande soon settles into a groove and it doesn’t take long to get used to her alternative take on civilian Barbara. Batgirl’s suit looks better than last month, there are plenty of background details to absorb here, and James is gratifyingly dressed in the same uniform he wears in The Batman Who Laughs (take that, continuity police!). He’s not scary, like Francavilla’s version, but he’s not supposed to be at this point in the story. I like John Kalisz’s bright palette; he sparingly uses colours that pop off the page, like the lemon of Batgirl’s boots, or the heliotrope of Izzy’s hair. Yellow, orange and red backdrops are employed to dramatic effect in certain panels, and a scene lit by the lights from Gordon’s police car pleasingly features panels alternating between red and blue.

Recommended if:

  • You want to see Batgirl (briefly) unhinged.
  • You’re intrigued by James Jr’s new persona (and how long it will last).
  • You like dysfunctional family drama.

Overall: A solid addition to the series, Batgirl #33 gives us a believable look at how Barbara would respond to the release of her brother. While her mentor celebrates 80 years of crimefighting over in Detective Comics #1000, Batgirl reaches a respectable 58 next month. By and large, Scott’s portrayal remains true to the tenets that make her such an enduring heroine, and I’m hopeful that she’ll bring the election, Cormorant, Bard, Jim, James Jr and the Terrible Trio together in a satisfying fashion over the next few issues.

SCORE: 6.5/10
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.