Gail Simone’s has been changing what superhero comics mean. With characters who aren’t always strong or brave or composed, who deal with mental illness, insecurities, and all manner of issues we don’t generally get to see. LGB and T secondary characters. Comic books that pass the Bechdel test. I have stars in my eyes.
In the latest collection of her popular Batgirl series, (this is Batgirl IV, [fourth time the character has starred in a series of this title,] Volume 3, [third collected edition of Volume IV comics,]) Simone’s eponymous heroine crosses over with the rest of the Bat-family for the “Death of the Family” arc, as well as the continuation and conclusion of the plot that’s been slow burning over the last year, James Jr.
We start with Batgirl Annual #1, which seems out of place in continuity after Vol. 2, which left off after Night of Owls and with a cliffhanger for a new threat. Annual #1 is back in the middle of the Talon, dealing with the intersection of the female assassin from issue 9, Babs, and Catwoman. It makes the transition from Annual to issue 14 very abrupt. I will say the art for this issue is the most stunning; Admira Wijaya’s details are phenomenal.
From there, however, issues 14-16, as well as Batman 17, are extremely well integrated, flowing flawlessly. I could imagine this arc was written as a standalone graphic novel, rather than monthly serials. Batman 17 is one of the most horrifying comics I’ve read, and absolutely essential to understanding the previous three Batgirls. The full page with Joker, the cub, and the heart? Genuine nightmare fuel. It’s terrifying and psychological and really encapsulates the relationship between Bats and Jokes, while ramping up the insanity. A lot.
(But, even ending on a scary, cliffhanger-y note, we still get an adorable Bruce/Alfred scene. “Go to hell.” I love it.)
The next comic is a short from the Valentine’s special Young Romance, “Dreamer”. It’s included as a break between storylines, but they needn’t have bothered. Eight pages of Babs taking a break to mack on a normal dude, (a minor character from the Darkest Reflections storyline.) By the time we start to feel something for Ricky, (if we can, because again, eight pages and one of them is a pointless fight scene,) the comic is over. The writing doesn’t fit with the rest of the collection, the timeline is again messed about, and the art is only so-so. Young Romance was widely panned, so its inclusion in a serious trade is just confusing all around.
The second half of the book is a three-issue arc “ending” the family drama that’s been swirling since the reappearance of Barbara’s brother, James Jr. (Seriously, Barbara Sr. and James Sr. are the most uncreative parents.) If you read Vol. 2, you’re familiar with why James’ showing back up is a Very Bad Thing. If you haven’t read that particular collection, you’ll probably be able to piece it all together fairly quick.
Again, this part flows well on its own, but it shines in the context of the collected volume, as James plays a part in Death of the Family as well. There are a few points that feel rushed, (Firebug, a minor villain who hasn’t been seen in 10 years, gets a brief two issue appearance where his motives aren’t well explained. He’s just a stalling tactic. Likewise, Alysia’s reveal seems extremely out of place in the context of the conversation she and Barbara are having. I feel like they were meant to do something else, but it got cut for length,) but overall the conclusion worked for me.
Exploring ideas of posttraumatic stress, revenge, and what makes a hero, it’s a heavy collection. I loved seeing Killing Joke canonized, (recanonized? Continued canonization?) and used to restore some of Bab’s agency after she was fridged to give Jim his motivation in the classic graphic novel. The parallels drawn between her and Batman, (and her dad from Killing Joke,) and again between her and James, aren’t heavy handed, but left me thinking. If it weren’t for the romance interlude, it would be a five star collection. As it is, I heartily recommend it to anyone following the Bat-family in the New 52. I would not, however, recommend it as a starting point for new readers. You’ll need to pick up Vols. 1 or 2 for that.