Batgirls is at the end of its first arc, and what an opening story it’s been. Packed full of new locations, bad guys, and adventure the girls have been more than busy. Let’s see how all the pieces of their first puzzle come together, shall we?
This issue of Batgirls pretty much picks up right in the middle of the action. Barbara has been captured by Spellbinder, Stephanie is dealing with Tutor, and Cassandra’s tangling with a hoard of hypnotized people converging on Arkham Asylum. The narrative roughly follows these three lines through most of its pages, though the primary focus here is on Barbara and Spellbinder and wrapping up the mystery of his mind control.
As it’s the last of this six part arc, Spellbinder and Tutor’s whole plan comes to light. Quickly too, as within the first few pages Spellbinder explains to Barbara just how he’s managed to take over the minds of so many of Gotham’s citizens. This explanation and how it’s expanded on later is probably the source of my biggest gripe with this issue specifically. So let’s take a look at it.
We’re told that Spellbinder has been taking control of people through painting their picture, entering their head, and pumping them full of fear gas. He’s taken control of so many people because he got their picture from an ad campaign he set up. Remember that selfie Stephanie takes way back in issue #1? That’s what he used to control her, and all these other people. While I’m happy to see my gut feeling that her selfie was going to lead to trouble turned out to be right, I really wish that particular plot thread had more meat to it since it seems to be so integral to Spellbinder’s scheme here.
The scheme itself falls apart in a number of ways. First of all, I simply don’t believe he has the power to magically dive into a person’s head just by painting a picture of them based on a digital picture they sent him. I know Spellbinder mainly from Batman Beyond, and while he had some wild skills there this particular bit of magic really isn’t explained well enough for me to believe it. The narrative tries to tie it with him being a doctor at Arkham, and that’s how he got into Tutor’s head, which I can get behind. However, it simply doesn’t track when branched out to a bunch of strangers he hasn’t met.
We’re also told it works through the combination of subliminal messages sent to people through Tutor’s videos and fear gas that’s been modified to show people visions. But that falls apart when you consider the fact that Stephanie had a few moments of brainwashing that weren’t fear gas induced. I also have to point out that this is all pushing the boundaries of what fear gas does into unbelievable territory. I’m supposed to believe that Spellbinder knows a different villain’s weapon well enough to turn it into what Barbara calls a “potent memory gas”? Comics logic and science is one thing, but this is stretching it too far for me. It would have been easier to just have Spellbinder produce his own gas, rather than modify something else. My only thought on the reasoning to keep it fear gas based is because this series spun directly out of Fear State and it’s trying to tangentially stay connected to that.
The whole plan also falls into the pit of having a lack of foundation. Too few of it’s elements are fleshed out enough to be plausible. Like the pictures, we see someone sending off a picture one time. We’re not told anything else about this campaign and it’s not brought up until the end. I don’t even really see the connection between it and Tutor. I also can’t help but go back to my earlier wish for us to have seen Tutor as an influencer before being revealed as a bad guy. This story needed to prove to readers that people followed Tutor, believed his words, and were willing to participate in this campaign to send off their picture. So much of this final issue is telling readers information that is almost totally new.
And here’s the thing, all this could have been interesting. The whole influencer taking control of peoples minds and freedom plot could have worked. I like seeing narratives talk about social media, and influencers, and falling into the trap of looking at the world the way others see it instead of finding your own worldview. It’s just swallowed up by overly complicated plans and a plot that took too long to settle down and focus on it. They could have taken the last five issues to show us characters impacted by this idea, individual humans who wanted their five seconds of fame or even Stephanie falling into this idea of finding herself through Tutor or whatever to really hone in on the message. That way Stephanie’s own revelation regarding her self worth could have landed better, and the message itself could have stuck. Slowing down would have also given the story time to focus on some of those mystery plot points that were left bare, and strengthened the plot overall.
I hate to spend the whole review talking about what I don’t like, so let’s take a break to discuss what I loved. The characterization. Out of anything in this series, I feel like Becky and Cloonan are getting the girls characterization down just right when we’re allowed those moments. Here the shining star is Barbara. Through her take down of Spellbinder the creative team highlights her past as Oracle. And hot just her hacking skills but her physical skills as well. Barbara has years under her belt of practice fighting from a chair before her implant let her walk again, and we see those skills in action here. I love seeing her competent in all areas and able to take care of herself in this fight. Even when faced with fear gas she still keeps a cool head.
I also want to talk about the art. There’s some moments near the end of the issue with Stephanie that I really love where Jorge Corona’s building and building tension in tight even panels, with closeups of Stephanie’s expression. Specifically her eyes in one panel. It’s a race against time and you can feel it in the way the perspective gets tighter and tighter on what’s going on, starting far out and then drawing in until you don’t even have the whole picture in view. It’s an amazing moment of visual storytelling. And the issue is littered with elements like this. As off and on as I am about Corona fitting this book specifically, he does amazing work and it’s good to sit back and appreciate it.
The more I sit here and think on it, the more I wish this series was more focused. I know it’s had to do quite a bit of stage setting coming out of Fear State and introducing readers to three protagonists, but I’m so disappointed in how its fractured structure has kept it from really reaching its potential. A tighter narrative would have worked splendidly to tell this story, and provided a number of areas to highlight characters struggling to see their own potential and rise above the standards set for them. Now that Spellbinder and Tutor are out of the way, I’m genuinely hoping that this series does go that route of telling more focused stories and benefits from it.
- You’ve stuck with this arc so far and want to see it through
- Barbara is awesome and competent and amazing here
- Heartwarming moments between friends make you smile
Looking at it as a whole, this arc has been middle of the road at best and that’s kind of how it’s ended as well. There are some moments I really loved, like Barbara getting to take charge, and Stephanie feeling more confident in who she is. There are also elements I wanted to like, such as the themes the issue plays with on worldview, freedom, and social media. Spellbinder’s plot quite simply did not work for me. Even so, I’m looking forward to the next issue with hopes that the story will stay more streamlined and focused like this issue was.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.