BATGIRL #21

By: Gail Simone (story), Fernando Pasarin (pencils), Jonathan Glapion (inks), Blond (colors)

The Story: Babs proves that you don’t need a Bat on your chest to be a hero in Gotham.

The Review: Together again.  Though it happens rarely, it’s not unprecedented for me to pick up a title again after it’s been Dropped.  Simone and I went through a pretty tragic parting of the ways on Batgirl, but my recent pick-up of The Movement made me curious as to the state of by far her most popular series.  We may have had our differences, but the fact remains that I still respect Simone, enough to give Batgirl another shot.

I confess I was also heartened by the issue’s opening conversation between Babs and Dick.  It’s natural and familiar and full of warmth and heart, qualities that Batgirl has been missing for a long time.  Granted, Simone’s not really the most effusive of writers—if her works say anything about her outlook on life, it’s that she may need some therapy—and even here, there’s a bittersweetness to the exchange that’s a little bit stronger on the bitter than the sweet.

Although she rejects it in the end, Babs is not unaffected by Dick’s absolute encouragement and support.*  She might say that “no one can help me right now,” but the moment she hangs up the phone, there’s new energy in her determination to do the right thing, even if she doesn’t wear the Bat anymore.  Or maybe it’s just the discovery of other talents besides pure hand-to-hand combat.  Oracle fans may never get their favorite wheelchair-bound heroine back, but it’s good to see echoes of her still survive:

“Dad changes his access codes routinely.  Took me all of ten minutes to crack the database.  I might actually be getting good at this stuff.  Huh.”

It’s this combination of both her technical and natural skills* that makes her special within the Bat-family and allows her to save a singer from the new Ventriloquist, who is accurately described as one of the “creepiest kidnappers I’ve ever met.”  There’s an instinctive fear we have for puppets, and Simone becomes a puppet-master herself as she plays expertly with that fear.  It’s not just “Ferdie’s” independent movement begging the question of his nature (“Telekinesis?  Magic?  Possession?”); it’s also Shauna Belzer’s disturbing relationship with him, blurring the lines as to who’s in control of whom.

For all that, along with the nightmare buildup in Shauna’s house, the actual confrontation with the Ventriloquist is a bit anticlimactic.  While Batgirl’s struggle with the animated corpses of Shauna’s parents is both intense and horrifying (“We just love her so much.  You’ll love her, too.”  “Once you get to know her!”), it only takes a well-chosen Batarang and punch to triumph over the real villains.  It’s too bad, too, that we don’t get a better understanding as to how the Ventriloquist ticks before Batgirl unceremoniously takes her down.

Simone does make up for it by exploring other interesting avenues.  With Scott Snyder’s conception of James, Jr. and Simone’s own work of Babs’ mother, the Gordons are now one of the most complete and developed families in the DCU.  The thing I find most compelling is how despite the fact that they’re all alive (as far as one of them knows, anyway) and deeply attached to each other, they’re as broken and lonely as the other members of the Bat-family.  There’s a special kind of tragedy surrounding them that again distinguishes Babs from, say, Bruce or Dick.  But lest you think this issue’s all woe, I can reassure you that you get, if not the “fairy tale ending” Mrs. Gordon thinks is out of reach, a promisingly amusing one.

Another reason to have more confidence in the series now is having Pasarin on artistic duties.  After all his time drawing cosmic adventures in Green Lantern Corps, it’s a nice change of pace to see him working on something more down to Earth, especially since he’s such a human sort of artist anyway.  Besides a great attention to detail (I love how Alysia holds Bab’s fresh snickerdoodles with both sets of fingertips), Pasarin brings complex emotion to the characters in a way that Ardian Syaf rarely did: Gordon attempting stoicism while dealing with the grief of his wife leaving a second time, Babs scrunching up her face as she tries not to let Dick’s love break her down, Shauna’s insane jealousy when Ferdie remarks on other women.

Conclusion: An issue that reads like Simone has finally figured out how to write Batgirl without trying too hard, boosted by strong, grounded artwork from Pasarin.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * His line about how he doesn’t take offense to being called a ballerina because the “[t]oughest chick I know is a ballerina,” is probably one of the best lines Simone’s written on this series thus far.

* It’s been so long since anyone used Babs’ photographic memory that I almost forgot it exists.

Grade

Conclusion