By: Bryan Q. Miller (writer), Pere Perez (artist), Guy Major (colorist)

The Story: Presenting: the unsinkable Stephanie Brown!

The Review: Most of the Batman titles have painted Gotham City as perpetually grim, God-forsaken, almost inconceivable to believe it can be saved.  In Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics run, Gotham becomes a force unto itself, a living entity out to consume its inhabitants.  In the end, we have to realize this is a fictional pretension; a city’s just a city, with all kinds of people living in it, most of whom deserve salvation.

Good thing Gotham has Stephanie Brown, who may have had an auspicious start as a vigilante, but certainly now deserves credit as the staunchest defender of people just trying to live normal lives, as she does even when schooling some villainous goon in a power-suit.  The rest of the Bat-family fights crime for justice, vengeance, because it’s the right thing to do; Batgirl does it from the heart.  You won’t see schoolchildren hugging Batman, that’s all I’m saying.

For the final issue of this title, I just want to wallow in bittersweet nostalgia, so let’s get the bad out of the way, shall we?  Quite honestly, the whole Reapers storyline has gone nowhere.  The rush to conclude this series obviously forced Miller to take that plot in a different direction.  Once the focus shifted to Cluemaster’s return, the Reapers pretty much became well-equipped, but no less unessential thugs, glorified distractions until the villain finally reveals himself.

That said, the use of Cluemaster as the last issue’s antagonist is completely appropriate, almost poetically so.  Like her counterpart, Red Robin, Steph comes face to face with her past, only her daddy issues and archnemesis come in one complete package.  In predictably twisted fashion, all these hassles he’s set in Steph’s path have been one weird elaborate attempt to get some face-time with his daughter.  Unmoved, Steph does what she started out doing: spoiling her dad’s fun.

The parent troubles don’t end there, as she also has to deal with that confrontation with her mother she’s spent this entire run desperately trying to put off.  But despite her hilarious panic (“HolycrapMom. Staycoolstaycool.”) at finding herself trapped in a hospital bed, staring her registered nurse mom in the face, it all works out in a very funny,  scene proving while her mom can’t be too happy about all the life-endangerment involved, she’s proud of her daughter.

And she’s not the only one.  Having spent most of her life underestimated by everyone around her, Steph has to feel gratified getting a whole issue of praise from the major figures of her life.  Even although Oracle’s toast in the last few pages should be the scene that grips your heart the most (“Stephanie Brown saved me, you know.”), the most winning moment comes from Damian Wayne’s wordless salute and crinkled smile that doesn’t quite succeed in hiding its warmth.

But probably the best part of the issue is when Miller lets us see all the Batgirl adventures that might have been, a series of one-page splashes which Perez goes all out to draw, and surpasses himself.  Besides the wild imagination of the visuals—my favorite being Steph and her girlfriends in some medieval fantasy journey, complete with Star Girl as staff-bearing wizard and Miss Martian as fairy—Perez also incorporates design elements into the “dream” panels you’d never expect from him, most notably the Black Mercy motif tucked into every page.

Conclusion: Story-wise, we’ll have to give up the plot as a wash, but the issue is the perfect reminder of why this series and character have so deeply captured our affection.  But save your tears; as Steph says, “It’s only the end if you want it to be.”

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – As funny as it is to see Damian featured so prominently in Steph’s “future,” I just hope it doesn’t turn out to be an age-dicey romance like her crush on Nick Gage, only the ickiness being on her end.

– How freaking cute is it that the little curly-haired girl who hugs Steph in the hospital winds up the “future” Batgirl to Steph’s Batwoman?