While this is the third Batgirl Annual since DC rebooted with the New 52 this is the first by the regular series writers Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher. In issue #35 of the ongoing Batgirl title these two writers, along with their regular artist, Babs Tarr, reinvented the visual and storytelling style of Batgirl. The book gained a very modern feel to it as it pits Barbara Gordon against some contemporary threats and real life situations.
In this annual the writers are joined by four different artists to tell the story of one day in Batgirl’s life, and explore her ties to other corners of the Batman universe. The book features guest appearances by former Nightwing and current Super-Spy Dick Grayson, fledgling superhero Spoiler, Batwoman and two new characters who star in Gotham Academy. As the story progresses the artists rotate as guest characters enter and leave the story.
The first chapter is the strongest, and the longest featured in the book. This chapter borrows heavily from films like The Raid, as Batgirl teams up with two Spiral agents to storm an apartment block owned by a criminal empire. This is the most appealing story as it feels very much like an issue of the regular series. The art by Bengal is reminiscent of Babs Tarr but has its own qualities so it never feels like a poor copy. This artist captures the personal moments of the story, and subtly shows how normal Batgirl is, while at the same time being a capable superhero. The story has high stakes as long time readers of Batgirl are rooting for her to discover that her old boyfriend Dick is not as dead as she believes. This chapter had some fun character moments, and even captures the tension of the front cover in the story pages as it recreates the scene and shows the reader both character’s perspective.
Unfortunately from there the book takes a downward trajectory, with each chapter being slightly less interesting, and as relevant to the main book as a reader moves through. The second chapter features a team up between Batgirl and Spoiler. This chapter is illustrated by former Ultimate Comics Spider-Man artist David Lafuente. This artist’s style is suited to drawing teen superheroes, and like Bengal he does create a youthful look for Barbara Gordon and Stephanie Brown. From a story standpoint Batgirl does not benefit from a team-up with Spoiler. The reason the main title is successful is it allows Barbara to be a young confident heroine, having Spoiler present takes away from Batgirl’s uniqueness and it feels as though it ages Barbara in some ways. I’m not opposed to ageing Superheroes, but in this case it does go against the spirit of this series. As I moved into the Batwoman portion of the Annual I had begun to lose my thread on the overall mystery that joined each story together. Batwoman was not used to her full potential and the art style by Ming Doyle did not synchronise well with the style of the other artists. It’s well presented art, but too dissimilar from what we had been given in he first two chapters.
The final chapter felt like its purpose was to promote Gotham Academy more than it was to give us a satisfying conclusion. Batgirl, and the two characters from GA team up to resolve the mystery and defeat the villain, but I was unclear on why any of the events were taking place. The cause and effect of the narrative had lost its way. This was a disappointing end to what started as a very strong annual.
I can imagine reading the first chapter again and enjoying it as a stand-alone story (albeit with some dangling plot threads), however the other, shorter, chapters were not really given enough story pages to have their own conflict and resolution and never really felt like part of a whole either. If you are already reading the main title, which I strongly recommend, you may find something to enjoy in the first story, however if you are not already converted to this brand of Batgirl, this annual is not a suitable place to start.
Fortunately the new issue of Batgirl was released this week as well, so I can remind myself why I like this series so much.