Batgirl has survived facing off against Oracle, and come out of the fight with a new perspective on how to live life. How will her decision to be more open and impulsive, both as Batgirl and Barbara, impact what she does next? And how will she and Jason move forward after the kiss they shared at the end of last issue?

There’s a lot going on in this issue of Batgirl. Between trying to help put Gotham back together and dodging Jason Bard’s attempts to talk, Barbara ends up on a crazy adventure that literally takes her into a fantasy novel where she grapples with monsters and her romantic feelings. The book has some very D&D vibes that I love, and I’m always a sucker for stories that play with characters being pulled into books. It has some problems being a little obvious with the story it’s telling, but there’s something delightfully fun about it as well.

I was initially put off by the fact that things don’t start out dealing with the kiss between Babs and Bard. I really wanted some resolution to that to happen right away, and I was resistant to any other story being told. Thankfully, it won me over as it progressed, and it’s made very clear early on that Babs is trying to process her impulsive decision. She buries herself in reading to put off having to decide how she feels about Jason, and how that might relate to her feelings for Dick. She also uses it as a deflector to avoid talking with Bard about the kiss. It’s a good reaction that I think fits her, because no matter how impulsive she tries to be, she’s still going to be Babs, and will want to think about these things instead of diving headfirst into a relationship she has reservations about. 

What I’m not so much of a fan of, is how literally Barbara’s internal conflict is translated in this issue. A lot of what she’s struggling with is literally put onto the page in the form of physical manifestations, or the characters spelling out what the problem is.  There are moments where Ernest or another character narrates both Barbara and Bard’s feelings instead of having the information given via conversation or internal monologue which I found a bit odd and a little overbearing story wise, like it’s trying to lay out what’s going on in bold letters instead of letting the readers interpret things. Then, there’s a moment where Barbara is temporarily pulled into the world of Unearth and has to break up the fantasy versions of Dick and Jason who are literally fighting over her. I love a good fantasy story, and I love people being dragged into books, but Babs is right when she feels like she’s fallen into a rom-com. That’s what a lot of this story feels like, and when I think of Batgirl I do not think of a romantic comedy. It’s all just a bit too on the nose for me, even for a comic book.

Something else I want to touch on is the inclusion of Ernest Hinton and the once fictional world of Unearth. It’s through his books and world that Castellucci introduces the much of the plot for this arc. If you’re not familiar with Ernest or Unearth, they were introduced and explored in a number of issues of Titans, and there’s an editor’s note directing readers to the story most focused on him in that run. Basically, Ernest wrote a series of fantasy books about Unearth, and because of excess Source Wall Energy the world became real, and gave him powers to create things associated with that world. Using this world that’s already been created is a good way for Castellucci to tell a story where Barbara is pulled into a book, but there are parts of how it was done that bother me. I don’t think you necessarily need to know all of Ernest or Unearth’s history to enjoy this issue, but at the same time I as a reader wanted a little more context. Part of that is due to the fact that I like to know the full details around a story or character being introduced in a book, and the other part is how this issue is structured. After an exciting opening with Babs, the story jumps back in time and place to describe how we got to the beginning of the story. It’s a rather abrupt turn, and kind of odd to explain things so quickly, making me wonder why we didn’t open in Unearth instead and just tell the first two scenes in order.

Cian Tormey is on art duties this issue, and I really enjoyed both his take on the fantasy world of Unearth and on Barbara herself. I think I prefer the way he draws Babs out of uniform. Each of her poses where she’s engrossed in reading feel very natural, from sneaking in some reading time at work, to how relaxed she is in the bath later. I also think it’s super clever of Chris Sotomayor to match the colors of Barbara’s late night outfit to that of her fantasy Batgirl uniform. It makes the first scene where reality and fantasy blend for Babs feel even more seamless as the story moves from Babs at a bus stop to her stepping through an enchanted forest.  

Generally this is an interesting start to an arc that’s dealing directly with Barbara’s decision to be more impulsive, and that focuses in on her love live. I love the idea of dropping Barbara into a fantasy world and a series of books she’s become hooked on. That in itself can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it seems like the story is leaning a little too close to literal with how it portrays the themes of love. That’s a fine line to walk when you’re writing this kind of story, and I really hope that in the next issue, Castellucci hones in on what she wants to say about Barbara and her relationships, and that we get to see some kind of decision from Babs herself instead of being told what’s going on. 

Recommended If

  • Batgirl fighting in a fantasy world 
  • You too relate to hiding from your problems in a book
  • Fantasy meets reality is a trope you enjoy

Overall

While I’m still not sold on the relationship between Barbara and Jason, I also cannot help but be enamored by all the sword and sorcery elements going on in this book. It’s a really fun idea to play with the romance of fantasy and drop Barbara right in the middle of it as she struggles with her own romantic woes. The story also does a great job of showing other sides of Barbara’s personality, with her avoidance of facing her feelings, and her love of reading. That said, it’s also easy for this story to fall into campy and cliche. It’s leaning a bit in that direction already, but all that might be cleared up in the next issue. Suffice to say I’m interested to see where this all goes from here!

Rating: 6/10


DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.