In my coverage of Batgirl #34, I celebrated the arrival of entertaining new versions of The Terrible Trio, and bemoaned the continued surfeit of soap opera. Readers of the same disposition may enjoy issue #35 a little more as Babs spends the whole book in-costume, battling her new enemies.
That’s right; this month, there is no forced drama between Jim and Barbara! There’s also no sign of Alejo or Izzy! However, we do spend time with Alysia trying to save Gordon Clean Energy, but luckily this is intercut with the interesting events taking place at the Trio’s Den (Both stories take place in Burnside, which should ring alarm bells for anyone who didn’t warm to Barbara’s temporary party girl persona, 2014-2016). I can’t bring myself to care about Barbara’s company for three reasons: 1. Even though they’re rude and sinister, Barbara’s business partners Wellmington and Rochester seem to be acting wisely, in the interests of their company. 2. The story of her company seems to have nothing to do with the story unfolding elsewhere in the book. Subplots are important for establishing a tone, for juxtaposition with main plots, or for setting up the next story and whetting the reader’s appetite for it; this subplot is seemingly doing none of these things. 3. Barbara losing out on some money seems very trivial compared to fighting for her life, which is what’s happening in the main plot.
Okay, we’ve covered the drawbacks, so let’s get onto that meaty, exciting main plot now (there’s a single page in this issue that spotlights the pointless, doomed romance with Bard, but the less said about that, the better). The Terrible Trio remain compelling villains because they’re amusing and formidable; they bicker, but they’re wily and powerful. Because these are new versions of the characters, we don’t know their strengths and weaknesses, which adds to the unpredictable nature of the tale. They have character, which is more than can be said for a lot of villains these days; on one page, Fox describes the Den, a place which suitably appeals to the animal urges in the Trio’s clientele. This speech doesn’t advance the plot but does add colour to proceedings, and helps us get to know Batgirl’s captors.
And captors they are; at the end of issue #34, Fox revealed to a blackmailed audience that he had Batgirl straightjacketed, and hung upside down inside a large, transparent tank, which is slowly filling with water. Its the kind of death trap that hearkens back to the Silver Age of Comics, the era in which Batgirl and the Terrible Trio were originally created. The sequence of Batgirl’s escape attempts is logical and realistic (she uses her strength first, then her gadgets, and so on). For long-time fans of Batman, a straitjacket isn’t going to raise the tension on its own because we know Bruce can struggle out of these and has probably taught Barbara to as well (I imagine this takes place in the first month of training, along with intensive martial arts drilling and grapple gun maintenance). That’s where the tank comes in; the audience is informed that Fox designed it with Batgirl’s gadgets in mind. This is a positive, in that the reader’s fears for Barbara are increased, but also a negative because this new Fox shouldn’t know what gadgets the Batman family use; if he does, they haven’t been using them covertly enough.
I’ve complained in previous reviews about Scott’s depiction of Batgirl’s crimefighting competence. I’m glad to advise that in this issue, Babs escapes the death trap without aid, then wins in combat against Shark. It’s good to see her triumphing over an opponent after getting beaten up so much by Cormorant. The only problem I have with Batgirl beating Shark is that it removes some of the suspense for issue #36. If she can defeat Shark, she can definitely take out Fox and Vulture.
I don’t know whether it’s the fault of the script or the artist, but I don’t approve of the way we’re shown several frames of one storyline, followed by a single frame of the next plot we’re visiting. It happens three times in this issue, and its rather jarring. In every other respect, I found this to be a very visually enjoyable issue. If you didn’t read issue #34, both the script and the artist are to be thanked for the opening page, as Pelletier’s splash tells you everything you need to know.
I’ve warmed to Pelletier’s style, particularly those uber-expressive faces. Thanks to the expression, pose and burning backdrop, Batgirl looks particularly badass in this issue’s final frame. She’s undeniably attractive throughout, without being outright sexualised; I don’t think Pelletier is going to draw the kind of criticism Mann recently received for his Batgirl in Heroes in Crisis. Kudos to Bellaire as well, for creating a stellar distinction between the water tank trap and the club surrounding it.
- You watched Street Sharks in the mid-90’s. The Terrible Trio’s Shark looks like one of them when he tears his way out of his suit, and its magnificent.
- You like a hero with a consistent voice. Thanks to Scott and Larson, Batgirl’s tone has remained an appealing balance of playful and analytical throughout the Rebirth era.
- You dig Joshua Middleton’s stunning variant covers.
Overall: Skip the subplots and you’ll have fun. The middle chapter of ‘Terrible’ is an action-packed romp, featuring a sharp portrayal of Batgirl, facing off against engaging villains.
P.S. Frequent visitors to the comics corner of the site may have noticed I’ve only been working on Batgirl and ‘This Week in Comics’ lately. This is because my schedule has made it impossible for me to take on more, and lately I’ve become even busier. That’s why this, my 68th solo article for Batman News, will be my last as a regular contributor. I’ve had a ball putting these together, debating the week’s issues with the best reviews team in the multiverse, and reading all the comments. Batman News is a great community (a rare thing on the internet) and, as I’ll always have opinions about depictions of my favourite fictional character, I will remain a passionate member of it. Thank you to Andrew, Jay, Josh, Brian, Casper, Elena, Brandon, and the readers. Ta ta for now.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.