Batgirls moves into a new arc this month, focusing on crime situated in The Hill, the Batgirls’ home and main location they strive to protect. The crime in question is a sniper, and as the girls investigate they learn more about the place they’ve come to call home, and the others living there.
I’ll start by saying this issue isn’t bad, it also doesn’t really manage to land everything it’s trying to do either, settling it pretty firmly in the “just okay” column for me. I like some of what it’s doing, but there are a number of elements that just don’t click right with me, as it struggles to find its voice.
The plot is focused on the Batgirls investigating a sniper attack that takes place while they’re hanging out in town. Things are busy, with live music, people chatting, and Grace recording a podcast episode. The opening atmosphere is light and fun in a good way that makes The Hill feel like a lived in location rather than just a set piece for the girl’s adventures.
I like the lived in feeling. I like that Grace is a character we’ve seen a hundred times now through the series, and she’s had her own mini-arcs through it all. Behind the scenes this silly, oftentimes loudmouthed reporter has really become her own character. It makes her own fear, frustration, and grief over the sniper attack resonate with readers in a way that featuring someone new wouldn’t. Likewise I enjoy seeing other recurring characters like the bookshop owner and Maps’ brother. These regular elements really make a story actually focused on the people of The Hill feel relevant and work.
And that’s what this story focuses in on, the people who live in The Hill. Framed firstly through Grace interviewing residents, the story wants to look close at the people who live there, how their lives are changing based on new businesses that have opened, crime reduction, and the way the Batgirls being there has impacted things. Not only do we get to see how they live there, and what they like about The Hill, but we even get to see variations on what other residents think about it. Grace’s own frustrations with the changes, and those of even a resident gang, The Hill’s Angels all have a part to play in making up the community.
Another element I enjoyed was seeing Steph’s own frustrations bubbling up as they struggle to find the sniper. A good portion of the issue is dedicated to stopping The Hill’s Angels from selling guns illegally as a result of people wanting to protect themselves against this new threat. Steph’s frustration at the situation comes out both in her wanting to jump in and knock some heads, and also in her verbal takedown of the men, speaking on why even when people are afraid, how dangerous it is to just put guns in the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.
All that said, there are elements that frustrated me. First and foremost the coloring in this issue quite simply felt off. There are moments where Rico Renzi’s work has good contrast, like the scope of the sniper’s barrel being trained on various characters, highlighting them in green. But for the most part, I found myself distracted by it. The coloring of characters in particular feels of kilter. The opening pages feature Stephanie looking almost purple, as compared to the others around her. Her skin, and that of others, changes inconsistently through the issue, even when elements like lighting or time of day are the same. It can be distracting, and detracts from the art.
Narrative wise I’ve found that it’s a bit odd having Barbara physically absent. She’s present over their communication link to help with Batgirl business, but physically she never shows up. I know she moved out a while ago, but without her with the other two it feels like a big part of the structure of Batgirls is missing. The last couple issues haven’t felt it as much because she was still fairly involved even while the story was deeply focused on Steph and Cass.
That said, her absence here reaffirms how lost the series feels. It was about the trio, and now it’s about a duo while also including Babs kind of because the girls still need someone to operate things from afar. But it’s also trying to be a book just about Steph and Cass. And that’s the problem, it keeps changing what it wants to be and who it wants to focus on. Steph and Cass have always been a major focus, but having Babs around to balance them out helped even the story out a little bit. Without her there it feels rudderless. Especially when I still don’t feel confident in the age of these characters. They started out this series behaving and looking very young, and gradually things have shifted so that they now look and act much older. There is no consistency with their ages, or the types of stories that this series wants to really focus on, and that’s made even more obvious here when it’s just Steph and Cass at the forefront.
Despite my gripes, this opening issue of this arc does present a number of interesting ideas, it focuses less on major Batman related characters, instead choosing to look at the cast it’s been building. With the series ending in June, this will be the last arc and I think it’s a great idea to look back at the most consistent element of the run: the place the girls have lived this whole time. I’m genuinely hopeful that over the next two issues it’ll come together into a satisfying ending.
- You like stories going back to their roots
- A focus on the people of The Hill is more your speed
- Steph and Cass focused stories are what you are here for
This issue gets back to something I think works for Batgirls: Telling a more grounded story focused on the Batgirls and the people they’re trying to protect. Set where they live, and interested in the people they’ve bonded with, the plot works and pushes the idea that they are one part of a bigger community. That said, this issue has its struggles. Some, like it’s lack of direction, have plagued the series the whole run, while others feel specific to the issue like the inconsistent coloring. However, even with those in mind, I feel like it is the start of what I hope will be a strong ending to the series.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.