Review: Batgirl Vol. 5: Deadline hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

I've eulogized Gail Simone's Barbara Gordon work before when it seemed at an end, to the point where I'm disinclined to eulogize it again (at least overtly). Certain writers leave such indelible marks on characters -- Geoff Johns on Hal Jordan, James Robinson on Starman, Neil Gaiman on Sandman, Simone herself on Secret Six -- that it's hard to imagine them not returning to those universes at some point. And as Batgirl Vol. 5: Deadline marks the end of Simone's fourth or fifth act with the Barbara Gordon character, I have a suspicion there will someday be more to come.

In its conclusion, Deadline is wholly satisfying. In its beginning and middle, it's also enjoyable, and the slight disconnect between the last third and the rest can likely be chalked up to when Simone learned of her departure and had to shift to concluding. If everything is not completely wrapped up, Deadline at least has as its common throughway Batgirl teaming with friends and enemies both old and new-ish (present continuity-wise) and becoming something of a greater force in the New 52 DC universe. As Batgirl will effectively set the tone for the DCU post-Convergence, it's fitting Simone ends this particular Batgirl story with Barbara taking a larger role.

[Review contains spoilers]

Deadline starts out (after the "Gothtopia" crossover) with a couple of supernatural-themed issues, to the extent one might expect the book's ultimate threat to be arcane in nature. Simone tells a fun story of Batgirl and former Talon Strix against a misguided vampire hunter (with a cameo by I, Vampire's Andrew Bennett, no less!). Guest writer Marguerite Bennett's story of a conjured monster is basically the book's only "solo" Batgirl story, though the presumed-dead Dick Grayson casts a long shadow over the proceedings (and the Bennett story is useful for acknowledging Dick, whose "death" otherwise doesn't make the impact it should in this book, undoubtedly due to editorial vagaries).

The hinted-at force that's conjuring vampires and demons in Gotham is never revealed, indeed because of the book's aforementioned narrative shift. I did appreciate, however, the book's tight internal continuity; even as the storyline seems to change, a guest writer steps in, and an annual interrupts halfway through, Simone has Barbara's internal monologue acknowledge the events in the earlier stories such to make it all feel of a piece. It helps that the book's ultimate villain, Batgirl's arch-nemesis Knightfall, has a role in Simone's vampire story, such that the final "Deadline" story itself with Knightfall doesn't feel so out of place even if the supernatural stuff goes by the wayside. It's much the same that the annual, teaming Batgirl with Poison Ivy and introducing new villain Mr. Rain, is immediately followed by the Ragdoll issue where Knightfall targets Rain, giving it all a natural fluidity.

Within this book, Simone gets once and future Secret Six-ers Ragdoll and Strix, Poison Ivy in a sequel to one of Duane Swierczynski's Birds of Prey stories, and then -- continuity be damned -- she brings the pre-Flashpoint Birds of Prey back together again for the first time in the conclusion. "Deadline" is a story with unmistakably "classic Birds of Prey" undertones, not in the least that Barbara is recruited by a covert spy organization and wins the day by calling on a bevy of the DC universe's female heroes for assistance. There are more than passing resemblances to the end of another of Simone's Barbara Gordon runs, Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter (including a Misfit appearance), but in part because the same important point is being made: Barbara Gordon, who has a tendency to try to handle all of her problems by herself, recognizes that she needs allies to do her job most effectively -- and moreover, that when she calls, the Rolodex of heroes who will help her is fairly large.

Simone actually gets two chances to make her "final" statement on Batgirl here, both the last issue of Simone's run and the Futures End tie-in issue. In that last issue, Barbara learns she did not actually kill her murderous brother, and this frees her from trying to hold on to her "fractured" family and to build one for herself instead. This is a fine end to Barbara's arc and I'm glad that Simone left Batgirl without the shadow of being a murderer over her head, though it's a little shaky again for editorial reasons -- Barbara's conflict of sorts with her father Commissioner James Gordon isn't really resolved, mostly because Gordon is in jail as of Batman Eternal, and also the book's swift end doesn't really allow for closing out Barbara's relationship with kind-of boyfriend Ricky Gutierrez.

It's maybe too simple to try to read double meanings into this conclusion, and by all accounts things in the Bat-offices are good, but leaving a fractured family and moving on to one's own could equally be read as Simone transitioning from her sometimes-troubled time with Batgirl to her mostly-independent new Secret Six.

The Futures End issue is better than the Superboy and Harley Quinn ones I've read so far. It's still hardly tied to Futures End itself, but it pits Barbara Gordon against Bane, an inspired meeting of the villain who likes to break backs and the hero who recovered from paralysis. This story's extra resonance seems a bit more clear, as it's also a recognition of Batgirl's past and future -- that "when it got dark," i.e. Killing Joke, the original, classic Batgirl "went away" and didn't come back, but that this paved the way for Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, the new/old Barbara Gordon and etc. Whether that's "better" or worse is perhaps irrelevant, but this final-final Batgirl tale by Gail Simone (for now) at least tries to put a good face on it.

Again, I'm not about to say good-bye to Gail Simone writing Batgirl -- we've all seen too many resurrections within comics and without to believe it's ever the end ("To be continued," as Grant Morrison would say). But Batgirl Vol. 5: Deadline is a great cap to this latest run, teasing where future Batgirl stories could have gone and bringing along a bunch of old friends to say good-bye. No one else could have return the Barbara Gordon Batgirl to the DC universe except Gail Simone, and whatever benefit DC gets from Batgirl going forward owes a lot to this latest Gail Simone run.

[Includes original and variant covers, layouts and cover sketches]
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2 comments:

  1. I can't imagine how much space all these bat-books takes up on a shelf, but I'm glad that the good stories they have are really good.

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  2. After seeing reviews for so many other New 52 fifth volumes recently I knew this one had to be coming soon and have been eagerly awaiting to hear your opinion on it.

    I was originally somewhat disappointed by the ending of this volume personally specifically the resolution to Charise Carnes story arc, a character I never really felt was very well defined to begin with and now that the run is concluded I honestly consider to be the worst thing in the whole story.
    However viewing the ending as you describe it as relating to Barbara herself and where she is emotionally as a character then yes it does seem much more appropriate and satisfying.

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