Review: Batgirls Vol. 3: Girls to the Front trade paperback (DC Comics)

June 9, 2024

 ·  1 comment

Batgirls Vol. 3: Girls to the Front

Well, what a volume to go out on. Funny, silly, engaging, heartfelt, Batgirls Vol. 3: Girls to the Front is as good as this book has ever been, just as it’s coming to an end.

Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad make zaniness work far better than it has any right to in a Bat-title, bounding from the absurd to common superheroics and back again with aplumb. A handful of artists — including Robbi Rodriguez with standard Batgirls fare and Jonathan Case with surprisingly staid, pared down art for this title — give the whole thing much visual interest. In no way, shape, or form did I finish this book thinking Cloonan and Conrad had exhausted their tenure on this title; rather I’d happily have been in for another volume.

[Review contains spoilers]

Freaky-Friday body swapping, characters getting Man-Batted; this is not your typical fare for a Batman title. All right, that’s not totally true — Harley Quinn got Man-Batted over in Harley Quinn Vol. 6: Angry Bird. But that Batgirls can withstand the kind of content usually reserved for a Harley Quinn book and still feel like a traditional Bat-book and not something separate is an impressive accomplishment.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

In part the writers accomplish this by embuing the book with the absurd without making the whole of the book absurd in its own right. When Batgirls Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain switch bodies, mentor Barbara Gordon treats it as almost mundane, a typical day in the life of superheroes and a problem to be solved. And indeed solving it involves calling in an expert (here, Zatanna), the logical thing one might do. Further, it’s all the scheme of a supervillain, grounding the atypical in the (mainstream comics) typical.

We’re at seven issues and an annual in Girls to the Front, but neither did the book ever feel too long. The writers do well tying one story to the next so the whole book flows together. As well, there seems some balancing of the absurd and traditional, as when the body-swapping storyline dovetails into a fraught sequence where Stephanie’s kidnapped by her father, which leads into a Mad Hatter supervillain story that ends up with Man-Bat madness.

Despite that, pleasantly, Cassandra gets her own silent spotlight issue within, largely the emphasis seemed to be on Stephanie, as has arguably much of this series (it would have been interesting to see if a fourth volume would turn its attention to Cass). In large part we follow Stephanie in Cass’s body to encounter Lady Shiva, then Stephanie again in dealing with her father, the villain Cluemaster. It’s Stephanie who’s shot, raised from the dead, and transformed into a Man-Bat, and then who later has to deal with the trauma of the shooting. I’m not disappointed — each of these characters has featured plenty in their own series — but perhaps surprised the writers weren’t doing more to balance the storylines for each character.

The book is moving fast in its end, such that I think some thematic connection gets lost. We’ve got Stephanie, who’s recently been shot, and a sniper picking off civilians, and then the book’s fantastic prickly journalist, Grace O’Halloran, who picks up a gun herself in revenge for the shooting of her producer. In a nicely dramatic sequence, Stephanie talks Grace down, but I wasn’t quite sure the writers connected all those pieces quite as tightly as they could have.

Similarly, I wasn’t wholly sure I grasped Gunbunny’s vendetta against the Batgirls that ended this book. Gunbunny’s upset because her partner Gunhawk was killed over in Nightwing Vol. 2: Get Grayson by the villain Heartless, but even if we grant Gunbunny might blame the heroes and not the villains, the Batgirls were nowhere near the scene (nor does this volume give us what would have been helpful, a “see Nightwing #88” box), so why Gunbunny calls out the Batgirls specifically is confusing. Further, though it rather seems the writers are determined to use the Saints villain Assisi again before the end, why Assisi would pretend to be Gunhawk and try to kill Gunbunny is equally unclear.

Again, the art was consistently good in this volume. Whereas in Batgirls Vol. 2: Bat Girl Summer I leaned a bit more toward Neil Googe (who also contributes here), in Girls to the Front I was more taken with Robbi Rodriguez' sketchy, flowing figures; see also a good bit of head-nodding comedy when the Batgirls are first body-swapped. It was hard not to notice Rodriguez duplicating panels more than a few times toward the end, however. Jonathan Case is the book’s real knockout though, drawing noir Batgirls by way of Francesco Francavilla, though his hot pink-infused colors help the whole thing feel of a piece.

Twice in Girls to the Front, the writers bring in an affable Batman, once to team up with Batgirl Barbara Gordon and once to give the junior Batgirls a pep talk. For the former, it was interesting to see once-partners Batman and Batgirl teamed up; for most of post-Crisis, Barbara was Oracle, not Batgirl, and so — rather like Nightwing-as-Robin — the Batman/young Barbara Gordon-as-Batgirl partnership is something the post-Crisis has mainly experienced through flashback, not directly. As for Batman telling the junior Batgirls how proud he is of them, Stephanie especially, this felt to me slightly forced. Though I don’t prefer the parodic emotionally stunted Batman, he’s still rejecting offers of help in Batman Vol. 1: Failsafe, such that this angst-free Batman came off as more something the authors wanted than something occurring organically.

Batgirls Vol. 3: Girls to the Front kept me interested the whole time. Even despite superheroes' general invincibility, Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad had me more concerned something bad might befall the Batgirls than I am in your average “everything’s coming up roses” Nightwing volume. I’d have loved to see where this book went next, and I wouldn’t be at all opposed were Cloonan and Conrad to get to continue in a miniseries, for instance.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Rating 3.0

Comments ( 1 )

  1. AnonymousJune 10, 2024

    Shame this is that last one, they were finally hitting their groove. This volume really felt like the old Stephanie Brown Batgirl run, which was my favorite.


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