Mairghread Scott rounds out a brief, sturdy year on Batgirl this week with Batgirl #36. Picking up directly from the brawling issue #35, this issue is all about survival. Trapped in a burning building with the worst of Gotham’s 1%, Batgirl finds herself wrestling with a mob, a fire, and two thirds of the Terrible Trio.
If you’re just tuning in, Scott has thoroughly revitalized this epitome of Gotham’s C-list, giving them a WASPy, white collar luster that brings out their personalities and allows them to own the page. Batgirl took down a venom empowered Shark last week, and that leaves the feuding Vulture and Fox still in play.
Fox and Vulture remain fantastic antagonists, particularly for each other. Though they were perfectly clear before, this final issue really drives home who the pair are: a young man who has had the world handed to him on a plate and determined this made him the cleverest guy in the room and an older woman who is tired of being tolerated rather than respected despite doing the heavy lifting. There’s some uninspiring animal metaphor draped over it, but the moment when Vulture really tells you who she is legitimately chills and yet Scott’s character work ensures that it doesn’t surprise so much as regretfully confirm.
At times it can surprise how well vulture holds her own, the degree to which she’s able to threaten Batgirl, but I greatly appreciate the low stakes but high risk version of Gotham that Scott is penning. If you look closely, yes, you will see the contrivances that keep an upper crust woman in an awkward mask on pace with a major DC superhero, but with all that’s going on around her, the energy she’s already expended, and a blessedly honest portrayal of how dangerous just about anybody with a knife can be it works.
Scott’s trademark is the destruction of the blandly competent heroine in favor of someone who hurts and stumbles and pushes through because they are a hero. That’s very much the case here. There’s a great moment in this issue where Barbara ‘fails’ and it’s both entirely understandable and wonderfully significant. Of course Barbara Gordon is too hard on herself! She’s a millennial academic prodigy, a self-made student of the goddamn Batman, not to mention a woman in the modern world. Scott’s has been a natural voice for Batgirl these past twelve months, and the theme of this run could be said to be ‘what keeps Batgirl going?’ Babs’ story ends on an ambiguous note, but it’s a fine climax to the run of stories that this creative team has been telling.
The art doesn’t falter in this final chapter, with Paul Pelletier and Norm Rapmund delivering the same dynamic, pugnacious lines as ever. The book bounces between lovely detail and forceful, line-light, sometimes blocky compositions.
The Trio themselves remain Pelletier’s ace in the hole. The specificity of the animals plays beautifully against the sheer glamour of their dapper evening wear. It’s never been entirely clear how or even if their hyper-realistic masks can work, but it doesn’t really matter when weighed against the wonderful character that each one brings out. The almost mythical fusion of animal and man provides the visual flare that serves as foundation for this successful reimagining of the team.
Pages are well designed and share the linework’s chunky, direct sensibility. Suiting these villains of the era and a protagonist who first struck out on her own about then, both art and writing have a bit of a Bronze Age vibe, with dramatic, punctuated panels that scream out what the moment is about. Though there is some narration, you’re exceptionally in the moment for much of the issue and this seems to direct the priorities of the art team. It may feel simple to modern eyes, but it calls up that street-level organized crime feeling that the story aims for and does so with an unironic ‘superhero energy’.
Fans have decried the retirement of the lavender Batgirl of Burnside costume, but, at the least, a sizable part of that energy is the way that Hi-Fi Design plays the blue of Batgirl’s costume off against the inferno surrounding her and the yellows of her iconography. It’s odd to see Jordie Bellaire leave this story an issue early, but the book’s colors remain in good hands.
At the beginning of this run, fans were concerned that Scott’s Batgirl would undo the tremendously popular Burnside innovations. At the outset, I defended Scott, arguing that, spiritually, she held to the optimism and youth of the character. With the end upon us, I think that the character Scott wrote is in line with the Batgirl fans met in Burnside, however, there’s no longer any denying that this run was used to strip away the explicit iconography of the Burnside era. One strongly suspects that this was an order from above – the degree to which it strips elements of the character and doesn’t have space to do anything with the new status quo implies that this was a goal in itself or a transitional step between the previous run and the next – but whoever’s idea it was, it feels undeniably petty. I believe that Scott did everything in her power to hold true to the spirit of Barbara Gordon, taking particular inspiration from the Burnside and Pre-Crisis eras, however, I fear this will mean little to fans of the era that has been so utterly disassembled before our eyes.
Mairghread Scott’s Batgirl run comes to an end this month. The run mirrors the character. Her father against her, smarmy villains plotting to kill her, and her home and future stolen away by big business, Barbara Gordon never gives up. This run bore the weight of corporate mandate, internet fury, and incredible expectations and, in the end this issue and the greater story it is a part of will likely be remembered only as a transitional one. The final acknowledgement of this run’s relationship with Burnside hurts and the fear that the best elements of this run will be abandoned is real, but it doesn’t matter in a way.
This Batgirl pressed ahead through everything with strong character and sincere artwork. It has the spirit of an older superhero book, something self-contained, lower staked, and unironic – the writing and the art. This may be the best the Terrible Trio has ever been and Scott should be welcome to write Barbara Gordon anytime. Batgirl #36 is an issue that someone will find in a back issue bin, devour, and seek out more of this take on the character. Sadly they will find that this was the end for now, but if you like something that’s both modern and retro, that has to be affecting and smart more than it needs to be important, I can happily recommend this one.
Batgirl #36 is currently available in comic shops from DC Comics.