30th Oct2020

‘Batgirl #50’ Review (DC Comics)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Cecil Castellucci | Art by Emanuela Lupacchino, Various | Published by DC Comics

First off, full confession, I have not read a single issue of this book before this one. No particular reason, but there are only so many hours in the day, and this was not a book that really registered on my radar. So why pick this up? Firstly, I love the character. I’ve been reading Barbara Gordon’s exploits as far back as the 1970’s, in various back-ups, and she was always a good character, though she endured a few mediocre adventures along the way. Obviously The Killing Joke changed things seemingly forever for Babs, and as Oracle she carved out another decent career. We’ve come full circle of course. The other reason I picked this up? I knew it was the last issue of the run, which tend to be very good, and also it had a eye catching superbly designed cover. The writer and penciller are not overly familiar, so it will be interesting to dip my toe into this previously unnoticed corner of the DC Universe. Let’s take a look.

We open with the funeral of James Gordon Junior, son of Commissioner Gordon, brother to Barbara, and all round psychopathic bad guy. Quite a seismic shift for these characters, though, as Gordon has been a recurring character/ villain for some time now. These are clearly bad times. Bad for Gotham, with The Joker’s recent takeover, and for Barbara and her father, who is currently convinced most of the trouble in the world comes from Batgirl. There is a little bit of social relevance in here too, with the recent Gotham riots over gentrification and homelessness among other things mirroring real life events in the U.S at the moment, and Barbara trying to help out the local communities. As Ben Elton used to say, ‘A little bit of politics’ never hurts.

Still, this is a superhero book and the Bat-Family calls. Batman, Nightwing, and Robin call Barbara to The Batcave. They are working on a way forward, now that a lot of Bruce’s money has been ‘lost’ by The Joker. It becomes apparent Babs family troubles aren’t only with her father, and her approach is at odds with the men. It’s clear Barbara is carrying around a lot of internal pain and conflict, and her ongoing internal monologue does a great job of really helping us connect with her. The dialogue is actually the highlight of the whole book for me. This first story ends with Barbara repositioned as something of a social justice, for want of a better word, warrior. She wants to be relevant both as Batgirl and as Barbara Gordon. New beginnings and all that.

This being an anniversary issue we got some bonus pages and bonus stories, which is always nice. Kind of like the comic book story after party. First up is ‘Stay Centered’, by Cecil Castellucci and Marguerite Sauvage, which is a nice romp through some of Batgirl’s ‘average’ days. Team ups with Green Arrow, Nightwing, Batman, Flash, trips to the Hall of Justice and The Clock Tower, beat downs on various villains, all while holding down a job and being an all round stand up gal. It’s both fun and frenetic. ‘Game Night’, by Castellucci and artist Aneke, is a sort of ‘superhero girls night in’ tale, with Huntress, Orphan, Spoiler and Black Canary all guest starring. They take a game of dungeons and dragons into the real world, staying in character as they take down the bad guys, and Babs shakes off the rust to take her Oracle chair again. Nice stuff again.

This was a fun book, and great value with the three stories. Cecil Castellucci, who wrote all three, doesn’t miss a beat, writing three very different but very entertaining stories. She has a great insight into what makes Barbara Gordon tick, really manages to find ‘her’ voice, and I like the emphasis on Barbara Gordon. Her identities and costume are part of her, but it’s the person underneath who is the hero. The art in each story is also very good, all suiting the style of the story they illustrate. If I had to pick a favourite I would say that Lupacchino’s art in the first story just edges it.

It’s a shame that I didn’t try this book out earlier, even more so that this issue marks it’s cancellation. As a way to end things, though, it’s perfect.

If you have to go, go out on top. This book certainly does that.

**** 4/5


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