The Batgirls are busy busy busy as they try to settle into their new home, and unravel the many mysteries surrounding them. Last month they made some headway on that, but were interrupted at the end by Tutor hypnotizing a crowd of people and even Stephanie! Just what is going on here?
This issue continues a feeling I’ve struggled with through the series so far, and that’s how busy it feels. From page one of this issue you have bright, overwhelming energy on the page and it just continues from there. Everything from the pacing, to how jam packed it is with content, and even the art has so much energy. Too much energy in fact. There’s often so much going on in the narrative that it feels like Cloonan and Conrad aren’t really sure where to aim their lens of focus. On one hand, I love that the book feels excited and has a lot to say, on the other hand I’m starting to feel a bit exhausted by it, and worried it will try to keep up this pace through the whole series. This issue does tone it down a bit through the middle of the text, but it’s still a worry I have.
One of the elements that keeps the book feeling busy is the art. I like Jorge Corona’s style, but three issues in it is starting to feel overwhelming. Take the very first panel for instance Tutor himself is almost lost in the neon colors of gas, art, and flyers scattered through the panel. The credits themselves don’t help, as they’re long and outlined in a color that while bold and seperate from the others, also falls into the color scheme on the page and threatens to make them blend in with everything else. Big scenes like this, and later a fight on a boat feel the most chaotic, and hard to keep track of. It’s not just the pencils that do it, but the colors as well, with them overwhelming at times.
This style works well in quieter scenes where you do want more going on and to look at, and I like it through the center of the book, particularly in moments when the Batgirls are just talking or when Barbara is going undercover at an art show. The colors are more toned down in these scenes, the panels more open to let you see what’s going on, and easier to follow.
The story itself focuses primarily on Tutor and the Batgirls investigation into him as they track him down at the reveal of his latest piece in an art show on a boat. I’m a little disappointed that he’s becoming a villain so fast. His introduction in issue #1 makes him feel a bit like the DC equivalent of someone like Bansky and to have him quickly become a dude hopped up on fear gas and raging against all of Gotham kind of strips away any subtlety or aspects of his character I might have previously found interesting. Rushing into making him an out and out villain also removes some of the authenticity to his hoard of fans, and his popularity with the media. I haven’t seen enough of them liking him–or enough of him being a personality people would follow– for me to believe he made such an impact on Gotham beyond being told it.
I’m equally disappointed that we don’t see Stephanie upset that he’s a villain. She was really into his art in the first issue, and hasn’t bothered commenting at all on her feelings about him so far. She’s upset she keeps being affected by his hypnotic ability, but beyond that we really haven’t gotten a reaction out of her regarding his art. It feels like a small character moment that could have added to her that’s just been forgotten in all the other elements the series is juggling.
Once again, Cloonan and Conrad take time to focus on the girls characterizations, this time on their weaknesses and self doubt. All three get a dose of this: Steph and Cass from Tutor himself, and Barbara from Seer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well for me. Mostly because a lot of what the villains are saying are based out of information they shouldn’t know. It feels less like the characters are aware of this information, and more like it’s the writers themselves using their own knowledge of the characters. Particularly with Cass. Tutor asks her just how many people she’s killed, and while that could be a shot in the dark from him, it also feels like a pointed attack on Cass based on her past which a random Gothamite really shouldn’t be aware of. Cass isn’t the type of character to go around telling the world she was raised as an assassin.
This series as a whole feels like it’s trying to introduce readers to each of the Batgirls, while existing in the middle of a story that’s been going on for a while. Because of this, it’s got problems where we know too little about everything. In the first two issues it was too little about the ongoing issues in Gotham, Seer, and events that shoved the Batgirls together. Here, we have the problem of the creators trying to teach their audience all about the girl’s backstories through telling instead of showing. It’s not egregious, the book is still showing a lot of the character elements and moments I want to see, but it does feel a little off because it’s almost forced. Like we need to know this about the characters and can’t be trusted to learn it more organically.
I know I’m complaining a lot, but I want to like this series. In my first review I mentioned how excited I was for Batgirls to even be a comic, and I’m still excited. Despite my protests about the book I do feel like it is starting to find its footing. I really enjoy that this issue slows down and focuses primarily on Tutor and touches on the other plot elements, and I like the tone of the series. It’s still bright, it’s still fun, and I’m a big fan of the narration breaking the fourth wall the way it does. There’s a delightful moment where the narrative text boxes tell you to go read issue #2 and do the whole “It’s okay, I’ll wait for you to catch up” joke. That’s the kind of tone I love that it’s taking, and I just want it to find that balance of humor, and storytelling I know it can hit.
I also enjoy that Barbara gets in on the investigating this issue. So far she’s been fairly static, sticking to the hideout to work at the computer and direct Steph and Cass. Here she gets to go undercover, runs into an old flame, and is actively a part of the investigation. It’s nice to see her getting into the adventure with the other girls, and I’m excited to see more of that from her in the future.
There’s no resolution to the Tutor mystery or any of the others by the end of the issue, but it does remind us that Seer and The Saints are still around and threats to the Batgirls operation. I don’t mind that it doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger, there’s plenty to keep me interested in the story going forward into the next issue without that kind of tension. And it does end on a high note of concern, just one that won’t have a clean resolution any time soon. All in all, I’m interested to see where it goes from here.
- 4th wall breaks are your cup of tea
- You enjoy pretentious art parties on boats
- Sometimes it’s nice to just watch a mystery play out
This issue slows down a little bit and focuses on one of the plots the series has been juggling so far: figuring out just what the renegade artist Tutor is up to. It’s got mind control, takes shots at the Batgirl’s self esteem, and made me laugh more than once. While it still feels a little busy and rushed, I feel like it is starting to find itself, and I’m hopeful that the next few issues will solidify that feeling.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.