By: Gail Simone (writer), Ardian Syaf & Alitha Martinez (pencillers), Vicente Cifuentes (inker), Ulises Arreola (colorist)

The Story: Somebody call an ambulance and get some popcorn—girl fight!

The Review: The more I read this series, the more I sense that Simone treats her writing here as much of a therapeutic outlet as Batgirl does herself.  We all know Simone loves the character, but we also know (from her own frank admissions) her ambivalence about the direction DC wanted to take the character during the relaunch.  This conflict between joy and anxiety has been channeled through our heroine since the title debuted, and it’s made for an inconsistent read.

Going meta in comics—or any medium, for that matter—is a fool’s errand nowadays.  Meta is nearly without exception used in two different ways: a) the characters become aware of their own fictional nature, begging some abstract questions about existence and creation, a tactic most famously used by Grant Morrison; or b) the writer uses the story to comment on perceptions about the story itself—using the story to talk back to the readers, in other words, which Geoff Johns does quite frequently.

It’s pretty clear Simone has been working the latter strategy.  All the anxieties and fears Batgirl has expressed to date have some metatextual dimensions, responding not only to her personal conflicts within the story, but also to the questions and uncertainty readers have had about her since her return to the cowl.  All this inner torture about why she regained her mobility, whether she deserves it, does she deserve the bat—it’s no coincidence these are the same issues of hot debate her fans and detractors are still tossing back and forth now.

I’ve accepted these monthly beats of doubt quite readily, recognizing this is a very natural thing Barbara (and Simone) have to work through.  But each time, I can’t help hoping it will finally, finally be the last one needed for Barbara to move on.  I had those same hopes when Black Canary sternly confronts Batgirl about all this uncharacteristic melancholy.  Unlike her redheaded friend, Canary has retained enough of her pre-relaunch substance for Simone to use almost like a voicebox from the past, telling Batgirl (and perhaps Simone herself as well) to get over herself and get her act together: “My friend Barbara Gordon was in a wheelchair, and I never once heard her talk like that.  Never once heard her lapse into maudlin self-hatred.  Don’t you dare do it now that you’re out.”

But for Batgirl to truly return to her former glory, she needs more than simply her spirited confidence back.  She needs Simone to bring some of that famous, twisted inspiration into the story, because we’ve been getting mostly vanilla as of late.  While the villains thus far have had some interesting gimmicks and features, none have really come across as the sick crazies we’re supposed to believe them to be.  This latest one, Grotesque, is not much different, but at least he has a more interesting voice than Black Mirror or Gretel.

Martinez makes a good back-up to Syaf.  Aside from a slightly curvier approach to drawing the characters, her art shares much of the same features as his: a straightforward sense of drama and action, tasteful depictions of the female form, and little else to remark on otherwise.  That said, Martinez is responsible for the most jarring visual in the entire issue: Black Canary’s comically cartoony, bug-eyed expression when Babs knees her in the chest.  It’s something you’d expect to see in a Betty & Veronica comic, but not here.

Conclusion: Simone’s chops are such that the issue flows well, no matter what, but the story’s pulse still beats weakly, and the art adds little life support.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Honestly, I don’t even know what to say about rich-man Theodore Aiklin putting himself forward to protect his guests, yet refusing to hand over a vintage bottle of wine.  Talk about mixed feelings.

– “…in the sewer.  Oh, man, are you kidding me?  He had bare feet, for god’s sake.”  My sentiments exactly, Babs.