By: Gail Simone (writer), Ardian Syaf (penciller), Vicente Cifuentes (inker), Ulises Arreola (colorist)

The Story: Let that be a lesson to ya—never trust a woman who changes her hair color daily.

The Review: Of all the members of the Bat-family, Barbara Gordon as Batgirl may be the most obvious rip-off of its patriarch.  Unlike the original “Bat-girl” (the pre-Crisis Bette Kane), the successor sported dark threads, cowl, and a bright yellow insignia on her bosomed chest, not to mention competence in both detective and martial work.  Despite the similarities, Batgirl was and is unique for calling her own shots, never relegating herself to sidekick status.

As a natural consequence, she also has less intimacy with the Dark Knight than, say, his many Robins.  Babs already has a father in her life; she doesn’t need a surrogate.  She and Bruce tend to treat each other more like colleagues than anything else, but that as we see in this issue, that doesn’t mean they have no love between them.  Even if Batgirl doesn’t go out of her way to receive his respect, she cherishes it just the same.  Little wonder why the flashback of Batman visiting her in the hospital, shortly after her getting shot, is so emotional.  Since she took up his symbol and work without his leave, she has every reason to fear his disapproval.  Seeing him instead take her hand and holding it through the night speaks volumes about his estimation of her, and it’s just as moving to us as it is to her.

The scene also ties in very well with the team-up between Batgirl and Batman in the present day.  Simone has spent a good chunk of this series trying to convince us that Barbara deserves to be Batgirl, that in fact she was always meant to come back to the guise that made her famous.  Batman’s assurance as such should go a long way to putting the final seal of approval on her return to the biz.  At any rate, let’s hope we’re done with that point of conflict for a while.

After all, there are bigger sources of tension to worry about, not the least of which is the continued presence of Babs’ mom.  Her nonstop baking in this issue shows that she’s still trying a little too hard to regain her daughter’s affection, and both of them know it.  The hostility Babs projects towards her mom is quite uncomfortable, as it should be, and Simone makes it ring very true.  At the same time, it makes sense that Babs can’t help feeling a little touched by Ms. Gordon’s efforts: “I snuck two of the [cranberry-banana] muffins.  I’m not made of stone.”

Surprisingly, this issue delivers both the beginning and end of Gretel’s story.  Her origins are grim, naturally, and not a little outlandish (getting shot in the head and developing superpowers tends in that direction), but Simone makes it work—to a degree.  Her obsession over feeling powerless, however, feels like something that needed at least another issue to pan out before getting so neatly wrapped up, no matter how sympathetically.

Syaf basically does a solid job on all fronts, both the dramatic end and the action stuff.  He keeps things lively with interesting perspective and paneling choices, though not all of them work.  At one point, he breaks up the sequence of Bruce charging Batgirl into three overlapping panels set against a black and white background, all of which looks more distracting than sensible.  And Arreola really needs to cool it with this random glows in each panel.

Conclusion: So far, the norm for this title is to have a handful of effective moments and another of tiresome, forced moments.  Still, there’s enough virtue to the series to keep it on my radar for the long term.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: And the award for Most Ridiculous Villain Speech goes to Gretel, for: “Come into my house of candy and delight and burn forever!