Review: Batgirl Vol. 5: Art of the Crime trade paperback (DC Comics)

The transition from Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart's "Burnside" Batgirl to Hope Larson's Rebirth run felt filled with tension; after such a radical redesign of Batgirl (which affected, in some ways, the DC line as a whole), could a second writer do justice to the same aesthetic? (Essentially yes, as it turned out.) Mairghread Scott taking over as second Rebirth writer feels less fraught, perhaps because the attempt is less to preserve an experimental approach and more to return to what came before.

Some might see the de-Burnside-ification of Barbara Gordon as a regression, but ultimately Scott writes an interesting comic in Batgirl Vol. 5: Art of the Crime and puts her mark on Batgirl in interesting ways, and that's good enough for the start. The story is imperfect, but Scott weaves together strands of Barbara's many incarnations well, and that's a good foundation on which to grow. Normally sunny artist Paul Pelletier takes a stab at horror here, to good effect, and I hope that's a path Scott and Pelletier continue on.

[Review contains spoilers]

Art of the Crime kicks off with the Batgirl Annual #2, "Brightest Star in Heaven," one of Scott's early stories on the series, though with Elena Casagrande rather than Pelletier. That's not a bad thing, as it gives Scott an opportunity to establish the crime horror tone of the book very specifically with an artist more suited to that before Pelletier arrives. As it turns out, Pelletier delivers well, but Casagrande sets the baseline before Pelletier comes on. (I don't see many DC artist credits for Casagrande but I hope that changes.) What we get is a Batgirl a bit like TV's Hannibal (and not just because of the set-up of the particular issue), a bit like a mature audiences police procedural — it's not a gore-fest, but throughout the book Scott and company deliver more bloody crime scenes and mutilated corpses than we necessarily had in the Burnside era.

"Brightest Star," centered around Barbara's Silence of the Lambs-esque encounter with her imprisoned brother James Jr., also serves to tie together a number of disparate Batgirl threads. Scott specifically flashes here to Gail Simone's New 52 Batgirl run, including the Batman: Zero Year New 52 origin issue, Scott Snyder's Batman: The Black Mirror (one continuity earlier than the New 52), and, later in the book, the Joker shooting Barbara way back in Killing Joke. As has been the case for much of Rebirth, but now expanded, Scott combines stories from when Barbara Gordon was Oracle and also from the time that she'd supposedly never been Oracle; it posits Scott's run from the start as a "true" Batgirl story that embraces all of her history instead of previous runs (including Fletcher and Stewart's) that had to tiptoe around what they could and could not acknowledge.

From there, however, I thought the "Art of the Crime" arc (and indeed the entire book as a whole) started better than it ended. At the start, it's Batgirl pursuing a former foe, Grotesque, now grown more brutal, and encountering the bloody "people statues" he's left in his wake. But then, when Grotesque inadvertently shorts out the implant that lets Barbara walk, I felt the details got hazy — Barbara hallucinates and we never quite understand what's real; sometimes the injury seems to be her back, and then it's fine, and then sometimes it seems to be her brain and then that's fine too. Hope Larson's run just involved more than one storyline, actually, in which Barbara couldn't trust her own faculties, and those often dragged because they more involved Barbara's internal narrative than any major forward action; when Scott does it too, and ill-explained at that, the book slows.

Two other elements don't help. The first is that the mystery villain of the piece is very obvious from about the start of the third act, but it still takes Barbara another issue or so to figure it out (including overlooking an obvious tell), and that too — the audience waiting for the hero to catch up — slows the book. Second, though I appreciate the note of continuity, the ultimate bad guy here is the overwrought techno-foe from Benjamin Percy's Nightwing Vol. 7: The Bleeding Edge, which was a poor Nightwing showing. While Batgirl fighting "Wyrm" might be on-brand, I liked the more realistic beginning better, and it's a shame when the book turns to run-of-the-mill superhero fare.

The shift in the book shows for Pelletier, too. I thought Pelletier and experienced inker Norm Rapmund did well in the beginning drawing material a little grosser than what they're known for, and the two, along with colorist Jordie Bellaire, produce something grittier-looking than what Pelletier's usually known for (being, as I am, a Pelletier fan from back in the jovial old days of Superboy and the Ravers). But a lot of that fades once Scott gets into Batgirl fighting robot zombies; Bellaire's coloring in neon green and Pelletier looks like Pelletier, which is not a bad thing but not what whet my interest when this book began.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batgirl Vol. 5: Art of the Crime

It'll take another volume, then, before I can be quite sure if the scarier elements present at the start of Batgirl Vol. 5: Art of the Crime do indeed indicate the tone of Scott's run on this book or if we're in for something more conventional. I feel there's a place that this title could be, in the vein of CW's Riverdale or the upcoming Nancy Drew or, again, Hannibal, that doesn't feel like a misfit for Batgirl; rather Batgirl by way of slasher flick feels rife with potential. We'll see what happens.

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batgirl Vol. 5: Art of the Crime
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)


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