Today, Shelby and Mikzyptlk are discussing the Batgirl Annual, originally released October 31st, 2012.
Shelby: “The Bat, The Cat, and the Owl.” It sounds like some sort of nursery rhyme, but it’s actually the cast of the Batgirl Annual. Gail Simone has teamed up Batgirl with Catwoman and recently sprung lady-talon Mary. The result is a touching look at three very unique ladies: one unequivocally good, one (seemingly) unequivocally bad, and one who toes the line between the two. “But Shelby!” you cry, “Where’s the Joker? What about James, Jr. and Babs, Sr.?” It’s true, we don’t get any of that in this issue. While that does make the timing of this issue a little tricky, Simone delivers such a strong character piece with these three gals that I don’t mind in the least.
The homeless are burning Gotham down. More specifically, someone has got the homeless scared enough to set fires to occupied buildings all across town, and Batgirl needs to do something about it. Commissioner Gordon visits Mary in prison, trying to get information on the Owls and what they’re up to. After he leaves, none other than Catwoman saunters in; she’s been hired to get Mary out of jail. They fight their way out, and Catwoman discovers Mary doesn’t have any friends or family. In a much more skillfully handled reveal that Catwoman has a soft-spot for people who’ve been mistreated, Selina teaches Mary how to pinkyswear, and tells her she has at least one friend. Batgirl figures out who hired the homeless guys, and gets there just as Selina and Mary do. The man in charge, one Mr. Parsons, reveals that the court is planning on framing Bruce Wayne for murder. It’s not totally clear how it’s all supposed to work, but Catwoman won’t stand for it either way, so Parsons orders Mary to kill Selina. Batgirl intervenes, and three more Talons show up. A fight ensues, and things are NOT looking good for Cat and Bat. Babs regretfully manipulates Mary into switching sides, and the tide turns. Parsons ends up killing himself after nearly killing Mary because the Court called him and told him to do so, and Catwoman gives herself up to the cops outside so Barbara and Mary can get away.
Not only does Simone give me exactly what I’ve come to expect from this title with the confident, smart, and all-around good Barbara Gordon, she actually manages to give me what I’ve been looking for in other titles. DC, pay attention: THIS IS THE CATWOMAN I WANT TO READ. She is sassy, smart, and sexy. Despite being Catwoman, she is portrayed as actually being kind, so the ultracharming scene where she befriends Mary makes sense.
Her morals are loose, but still clearly defined; she’ll spring a terrorist murderer out of jail for the right amount of $$, but she will not participate in burning innocent families. Seems fair.
This issue also had me thinking about Worlds’ Finest. We gleefully dropped the title after the zero issue, and Simone has managed to do what Paul Levitz could not; in a single issue, with what will probably be a one-time cameo, she has written the lady buddy cop comic I want so badly to read. A key component to Simone’s success? She’s not relying on one-dimensional stereotypes to tell the story. Yes, Batgirl is the “good” girl and Catwoman the “bad” girl, but in this issue alone we see Batgirl manipulating Mary in a way she knows is wrong but needs to be done, and Catwoman displays some really noble motives in looking out for this very damaged person. These ladies have depth, even Mary shows complexity beyond “possibly-handicapped-killing-machine.” The point is, I would read a Batgirl/Catwoman team-up title.
That’s not to say everything is peaches and gravy with this issue. There is a little matter of the timing; where exactly does this issue fit in with the current story? Last we saw Babs she was rushing off to save her mom. Not only is that not mentioned at all, she’s talking with Ricky, the bear-trap victim from the Knightfall arc. He’s up, moving around, and getting ready for a prosthetic leg, which means at best this is weeks after the events of the last arc. So, where in the timeline are we? It’s a nitpicky point to make, I know; it would be easy enough to just remember that this is an annual, and is therefore slightly out of sync with everything else, but I was confused enough by it to be pulled out of the story a little bit to ponder it.
This is an issue I could go on and on about. I didn’t even touch on the art; the penciling duties are shared by Admira Wijaya and Daniel Sampere. I could say something about how Sampere’s more aggressive style is better suited for the hardcore Talon fight at the end and Wijaya’s painterly realism is better for the expressive character moments earlier on in the issue, but honestly, I didn’t even take note of the change-over. I guess I was too engrossed in what was going on; only after a couple more readings did it even register. What about you, Mik? Did you think the style change in the art helped the story, or did it distract you? Or, were you like me and didn’t even take note?
Mikzyptlk: WARNING: The following is a bit of a rollercoaster but please bare with me. Before I get into my take on this issue I feel it’s only fair to mention that, at least initially, I was not onboard with the return of Babs to the role of Batgirl. First of all, I LOVED Barbara as Oracle and I LOVED the Stephanie Brown version of Batgirl kicking crime in the face in the Pre-52. However, knowing that Gail Simone would be taking over the book was enough to get me over those concerns and excited to read the new adventures of Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon. I’ve been following Gail Simone’s career at DC for many years and think that her runs on Birds of Prey and Secret Six are simply some of the finest books that DC has ever published. That said, this title has left me a bit cold from time to time and I haven’t loved it as much as I had initially hoped. I don’t hate this title by any means but I think the shock of seeing Barbara, who had grown into such a powerful and confident woman as Oracle, revert back to someone not as powerful or confident was more than I was ready to handle. Fortunately, not only did this issue really showcase Barbara’s return to badassery as Batgirl but it FINALLY gave me the return of a Catwoman that I actually recognize! Sorry, I told you it was going to be a bit of rollercoaster but let’s move on.
And boom goes the dynamite. Seriously, this page is striking as all hell. Wijaya does an incredible job of portraying just how fierce Batgirl can be and it’s really just the beginning. Simone also delivers in a similar fashion as she gives us a Barbara who is everything I’ve come to expect her to be. I know that Simone has been building up Batgirls’ confidence throughout the year but she really sells it in this Annual. As much as I loved Batgirl in this issue, I couldn’t help but feel that Catwoman shined even more. I would say that it’s simply because Catwoman has otherwise been characterized so poorly elsewhere in the New 52 that Catwoman is so terrific here but it’s more than that. All of that terrible characterization melts away as Simone gives us the Catwoman we all know and love. Shelby, I think we all agree with you that this is the Catwoman we want to be reading right now.
Shelby, you also mentioned how you weren’t quite sure when this issue fits in with the other issues. While I totally agree with your concerns that this issue lacked any elements of the current arc, I really didn’t mind it and honestly forgot all about it with all of the amazing characterization that we got instead. Not only that, but I’m interested to see where Mary the Talon goes from here and even though the end of this issue tells us to watch for more of her in the pages of Birds of Prey, I’m really hoping that we get more of her in this title. As for the art change, Shelby, I did notice. Fortunately, I like both styles a lot so I ended up not really minding at all. Add to that the amazing characterization of our three female characters and it was a momentary distraction at best. Long story short, I want more of this trio.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?