Today, Michael and Drew are discussing Batgirl 6, originally released December 28th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS!
Michael: Everyone loves a good ol’ fashioned superhero team-up, but what’s rarer is the superhero/supervillain team-up. Are they permanently at odds and butting heads or can they find a common ground? Do they even really need to fight at all, or can they just kind of…agree to hang out?
Batgirl 6 subtitles itself as a “Beyond Burnside Epilogue,” but outside having Barbara Gordon flying back from China and one brief mention of her adventures there this is very much a standalone issue. What Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque actually give us is a Gotham version of Snakes on a Plane: sans snakes, with plants. Babs just so happens to be on the same flight back to the states as Poison Ivy, who has a prehistoric, rotted flesh-smelling plant in tow. Ivy didn’t expect her plant pal — Aristolochia pugnaculi – to wake up so she teams up with Batgirl to stop the beastly plant from crashing plane.
It’s not a rare occurrence that I ponder on Gotham City’s villains and where they eventually get locked up: Arkham Asylum or Blackgate Penitentiary. When you’re telling a story set in Arkham Asylum you want to have all of the bad guys to play with — but not all of them necessarily BELONG in a prison for the criminally insane. Case in point: Poison Ivy. The initial gimmick of Poison Ivy is her biological and emotional ties to plant life and her femme fatale nature, but is she insane? Hope Larson is the most recent of Bat-writers to lay off of the Uma Thurmany crazy and make Poison Ivy a more sympathetic, arguably level-headed individual.
Ivy is not transformed into a flow-blown hero however, she’s still a criminal who tends to consider human lives expendable. Ivy’s creepy aesthetic works for Rafael Albuquerque who grounds her in a humorous panic on one page and makes her a creepy enchantress on the other. Albuquerque will always be synonymous with American Vampire for me so giving him the chance to draw a beastly plant running amuck makes all of the sense in the world to me. Another interesting thing to note about Albuquerque’s work here is how tightly-framed each of the panels are. Barring a couple of initial establishing shots at the beginning of the issue, the pages are mostly a collection of close-ups that evoke the cramped, compact feeling of an airplane cabin.
Batgirl 6 is a fairly by-the-numbers comic book — and that’s a good thing. Larson teases at the end about a future story with the “Son of the Penguin” but before that last page it’s just a simple premise of good and bad vs. plant. In the past, some writers have made Batgirl overly serious and 100% on the right side of the law, but I’m glad that Larson doesn’t have Babs get all bent out of shape that she’s teaming up with a villain. There’s an interesting chemistry between the two of them, as if they know this is just a one-time deal where they’re fighting together. There’s a moment where the Batgirl and Poison Ivy think they’re doomed and they start gushing to one another like they’re best pals — this doesn’t really work for me but it’s not a deal breaker.
Drew, how did the flight to Burnside treat you? How did the plane not crash if Poison Ivy put everyone on it (including the pilot?) to sleep? Ivy basically undressed Batgirl and put her civilian clothes back on…so does Ivy know Batgirl’s identity now?
Drew: That was a weird moment, wasn’t it? They kind of wink at each other, pretending like it was just a dream, while Albuquerque directs us to the very real damage caused by the plant, like it’s the ending of a damn Twilight Zone episode. That kind of “was it a dream?” fake-out works when there’s at least a hint along the way that the events might be a dream, which is precisely why it doesn’t work here. Larson never commits to the idea that this could have all been some crazy dream, so the reassurance that it wasn’t a dream feels as out of place as mentioning, by the way, that this wasn’t an alternate universe or virtual reality simulation, either.
Unfortunately, that’s far from the only identity crisis in this issue, which seems so unsure of what it is that it cribs plot points from both Snakes on a Plane and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” For me, one of the biggest offenses comes in the form of Ivy’s eleventh-hour return to help Batgirl. Here again, we can cite countless other examples — Han Solo’s return at the end of A New Hope springs immediately to mind — but this particular case has the distinction Ivy’s morals being basically irrelevant up until that moment. Sure, she initially refuses to help Batgirl destroy the plant, but since her change of heart happens about a page later, it’s hard to ever truly feel invested in it. Moreover, it’s not that she was actually opposed to killing the plant; she just wanted to avoid taking an active role unless she absolutely had to. In that way, her turn is less like a villain learning the error of her ways and more like a reluctant pragmatist agreeing to do what needs to be done, but only if they absolutely have to.
There’s no moral victory here, Ivy simply interceded at the last moment — after the poison had already been administered to the plant — to keep Batgirl from being strangled to death. That is, unless we’re defining “not passively watching someone die” as a moral victory. Ivy seemed to have no ill intent in bringing the plant on the plane, and never hints at any ill will towards Batgirl, so it’s hard to read her actions as anything other than oddly stubborn in the face of her own recklessness. I mean, imagine you had inadvertently caused the plane you (and hundreds of strangers) were flying in to be damaged — could you imagine any reason to justify not fixing your own mistake?
My quibbles with Ivy’s morality and the meek lessons this issue hints at aside, the real problem is just how inessential an epilogue was to “Beyond Burnside.” Issue 5 already had a lovely little epilogue that promised to draw Babs back to Burnside, and sticking an adventure on the airplane in between those two storylines feels more like something Larson agreed to as a dare than anything essential.
I mean, really, Babs is suiting up to investigate bad smells? On a plane? Wouldn’t that draw unnecessary attention in a way that just looking like a regular passenger wouldn’t? Moreover, it really wouldn’t take much sleuthing to deduct that the one person missing from their seat is the one wearing the Batgirl costume. It’s silly nonsense (and Larson and Albuquerque treat it as such), but since Babs needs to miraculously be in her civies by the end, anyway, I can’t help but wonder why they ever bothered having her change in the first place.
This is decidedly a filler issue — a status only bolstered by its strained attempt to call itself an “epilogue.” I’m all for one-and-done stories, but only when they have something to say. Unfortunately, this issue was a tad too all-over-the-place to say anything of substance, instead cycling through an odd mishmash of endings and morals without any of them sticking. It’s a disappointing issue, made all the more disappointing for how uncharacteristic it is of this creative team.
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