Within The Sound Of Silence: Reviewing ‘Batgirls’ #14
by Scott Redmond
‘Batgirls’ has been a character-rich emotional roller coaster since the very first issue and that gets taken up by like a hundred in this powerful heartwrenching issue, which silently hinges on the core best friend relationship of this series. A colorful gorgeous throwback feeling issue, this is one that will easily go down as a classic and be talked about for years to come.
While silence is said to be golden, too much silence, in the shape of a missing friend, can be quite deadly. Cassandra Cain’s quieter world got a lot quieter with her best friend missing and now she’s on a mission to bring the very verbose Stephanie Brown home again in Batgirls #14.
Silent issues are such an interesting thing to see done in comics from time to time, as they create a very different dynamic from what we normally see. Without the dialogue though it means that even more must come from the art team to make sure that every bit of artwork conveys what normally might be explained through words. In this case that isn’t a tall order because Jonathan Case, who joined the series with the previous issue, is a triple threat of handling the art, colors, and lettering. While I would never assume any of this is easy, it’s not, I imagine that it might have made tackling such an issue just a bit easier since Case has the experience and the mindset of all three types of artists that usually bring comics to life.
One could easily say that Case’s artwork has a classic feeling of energy to it yet fits right in with the modern approach to art and coloring. Were I not up on recent comic books and someone handed me this issue and said it came from a previous age it would be quite believable. It’s hard to even put into words why that is but it just has a feeling of timelessness to it. The colors are just so vivid and bright, often in a way that would eschew any sense of them being close to our reality which is quite fine. This is a comic book series set within a fictional world where the vigilantes regularly fight ninjas, metahumans, and other varying threats.
Case captures so much detail in every panel that is drawn, which is great for any issue but chiefly so in one that is silent and needs the panels to tell the audience so much more. Every member of the bat-family moves in their own way, and Case’s artwork allows Cass to flow through the pages. One could almost swear the figures are genuinely moving between panels thanks to the care and motion that is baked right into this artwork. Inspired choices for panel styles as well as SFX that comes into play help to enhance that sense of motion through every page.
Comic books are freaking awesome and just gazing upon the bright yellows, purples, pinks, and other colors that Case brings to the page makes my comic book-loving heart do backflips of joy. Even with a heavy subject and feelings permeating the issue, it’s just still a fun issue that knows what comic books should be doing.
Throughout this whole series Michael W. Conrad and Becky Cloonan have included a lot in the issues but two chief things are a sense of fun and a deep well of character development. In the previous couple of issues, we had some body swapping going on, Freaky Friday style, that brought some levity to the proceedings outside of the entrance of Cass and Stephanie’s terrible villain parents. With the switch over and one Batgirl in a dire place, they dial that levity back considerably in order to allow us to share and feel Cass’s pain.
Truth be told, when the moment came that Stephanie’s “break in case of my death” letter was ‘read’ through the issue in caption boxes I felt a stab in the heart. Both of these Batgirls are some of my all-time favorite DC Comics characters, so getting them in the same book together both as Batgirl being best friends forever was an absolute gift last year. Stephanie’s preparedness and baring of her soul in that letter was rough, just as it was meant to be.
Sure, the chances that she will be actually dead (we’ll discuss that last page in a moment though, pain!) going forward are slim, but hearing her potential final words and how much she cares about her friends and found family is powerful stuff. Especially since she breaks down just how terrible Cluemaster was, and what his pushing did to her in the long run. Just the bit about last wishes for words or deeds to pass on to others, ending with saying to tell Bruce nothing because she knows, either way, he’ll brood speaks to how much she knows her family and cares about them. The Bruce/Stephanie relationship has never been easy, but just like the others, he has been a mentor to her, and their relationship of the modern era is very much that of family.
I spelled out a ton about how great Case did with this issue, and there is a lot to like from Cass’s tearing through town for answers to her fight on a bridge with Ninjas to her rushing through town again to find Stephanie. There are two pages that perfectly match what I was talking about in hitting the emotional impact. During the reading of Stephanie’s letter, we get Cass bursting out of the apartment with part of Steph’s cape around her neck that just made the eyes misty. Oh and the last page (told you I’d get there), everything just stops as we get that full-page shot of a slumped seemingly dead body of Stephanie in the chair tied up with Cass staring on dismayed through the window.
Excuse me a moment as I think about it again and try to get my heart back in place. Okay, we’re good. Just such a powerful page, even if the likelihood of her being dead is slim with how most comics and major characters work. That doesn’t matter, it achieves what Conrad, Cloonan, and Case were trying to accomplish, eliciting an emotional response. Oh, also on that note, when artists are able to mine perfect emotion out of fully face-masked characters, letting the eye spaces and other parts of the mask work just like an actual face, it is just the best.
Batgirls #14 is now available from DC Comics.