Is it just me, or is there a heck of a lot happening in “Batgirl” these days? There’s a brand new gang of vigilantes headed by a villain out of Arkham Asylum, James Jr. is prowling around in the background, and now Batwoman’s gotten herself involved in Batgirl’s dealings with a corrupt cop. But apart from being a little hard to follow without carefully reading over previous issues, this issue works for the most part, fleshing out a new cast of characters in an engaging way and going some pretty stylish places with the art.
Written by Gail Simone
Illustrated by Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes
– BATGIRL battles BATWOMAN!
– KNIGHTFALL strikes!
Gosh, that solicit is certainly to the point, isn’t it? Of course, a fair bit more happens in this issue than a battle between Batgirl and Batwoman and a strike by Knightfall, but it’s largely incidents of the slow-burn kind, little meetings and conversations whose consequences are likely to be seen in future issues. It’s for this reason that the issue doesn’t stand particularly well on its own, although as part of the larger arc it advances the plot at a nice pace and adds a lot of intriguing details.
To move right along to one of the fight scenes that bookends this issue, Batgirl and Batwoman’s confrontation really is something. Gail Simone’s use of inner monologue to express Batgirl’s feelings during her action scenes has its detractors, but seeing Batgirl think through Batwoman’s fighting style is actually a lot of fun — particularly when she finds herself disabused of the notion that Batwoman can’t fight. (Although one wonders where on Earth she got that idea — back in “Batwoman” #0 we got the sense that Batman was watching the hell out of her and determining just the opposite.) The biggest problem here is one that has been apparent in past issues: it’s hard to believe that Batgirl, as brilliant as she is, is able to think out as much as four sentences of inner monologue when the panel in question depicts an action that takes about half a second to accomplish. Still, Batgirl’s tendency to think through every situation backwards and forwards is pretty much her trademark, and an action scene without oodles of inner monologue probably wouldn’t even feel right at this point.
Syaf draws a wonderful Batwoman here, getting across really precisely the ways in which her physical presence and fighting style differ from Batgirl’s. You really get the sense that Batgirl moves more quickly than Batwoman, but with less force — no mean feat for a piece of sequential art to accomplish. And apart from one panel in which they look a little too alike, their facial expressions hit just the right notes: Batwoman’s habitual scowl contrasts nicely with Batgirl’s more earnest expression. But the real highlight of this scene is a two-page spread at the beginning with Batwoman breaking through a window. Small panels explode out of the image alongside the shards of glass, depicting tiny, simultaneous snapshots of action immediately before and after Batwoman’s entrance. It’s a lot like something J.H. Williams III would pull off in Batwoman’s own comic, and remarkably, the tendency toward slightly more complicated and dynamic panel layouts persists throughout the issue. The implication seems to be that Batwoman’s presence in a particular storyline brings along with it a certain way of seeing the world, one that bleeds beyond her actual actions and their pertinence to the plot.
As for Batgirl’s later run-in with Knightfall’s gang, it’s another kinetic and visually engaging confrontation, with the added bonus of being interspersed with flashbacks as Batgirl recalls the intel she’s received on the goons in question. It’s a neat way of blending exposition with action, particularly since it integrates well with Batgirl’s tendency toward outsmarting her opponents rather than trying to overpower them. On a broader level, the beef that Knightfall’s gang has with Batgirl and her kind has lots of thematic potential, with the backstories and info on the members of Knightfall’s gang certainly suggesting that they see themselves as the “good guys”, and making their agenda seem a bit more comprehensible, if not exactly justfied.Continued below
Overall this is a strong issue if but a complex and slightly confusing one, with the smaller incidents requiring a moment of readerly reflection in order to recall their context and pertinence to the matters at hand. All things considered it will probably all read a lot more smoothly in trade, but this issue ends on a cliffhanger with the next issue being a #0 and an origin story, so it’ll be a bit of a wait before we find out what’s in store for Gotham’s more sprightly — and for the moment, slightly screwed — masked superheroine.
Final Verdict: 7.5 — Buy