Some of my favorite superhero stories involve the lead character in dire straights, finding themselves at the very end of their rope and learning how to trudge forward and make things right. This story does that wonderfully, but with a wrinkle that is very important: no matter how down on herself she feels, there’s never a moment when Barbara Gordon thinks, “I can’t do this.” It’s more of a question of, “How do I do this?” This is such a perfect encapsulation of what makes Batgirl such a wonderful character. Gordons don’t give up.
The supporting cast members get several chances to shine in this issue. Frankie and the Terrible Trio are in very different situations in regards to Oracle, but it’s fascinating to see how they react to the rogue AI. The only drawback here is that we don’t get as much of a reaction from Vulture’s comrades in regards to his current predicament. It’s been intriguing to have them as ancillary characters in this arc, so to see them dealing with the latest developments in scenes relegated to the background was a bit of a disappointment.
There’s a lot of jumping from place to place, which means that the characters never have a real moment to settle before it’s onto the next part of Oracle’s vague plan. Still, what we do get is tantalizing. Meanwhile, Alejo has been slowly showing her true colors more and more, turning into someone very different from the compassionate but pragmatic character she has led us to believe she is.
Jason Bard continues to be a mess of interesting contradictions. Bard seems to really be trying to do the right thing, at least where Barbara is concerned. The guy may have hangups when it comes to the heroes who have taken him down a few pegs in the past, but it’s fascinating to see how he responds in this crisis. He more or less becomes the lead character for the second half of the issue, which provides us with some much-needed explanations for his recent change of heart. His actions in this issue seems slightly confusing, but I think it’s all going to make much more sense in the coming issues. Bard is an interesting problem for Barbara to have, so it’s great to see things from his perspective for once, rather than to just take in what other characters have to say about him.
Carmine Di Giandomenico’s artwork keeps everything moving in dynamic ways, particularly during the opening sequence of Babs plunging into the depths. There’s a sense of her nearly quitting and then rallying that would feel entirely palpable even without Cecil Castellucci’s exquisite narration. The brief action beats are appropriately chaotic, but clear, with Jordie Bellaire’s colors making every character pop against the fiery backgrounds.
There is a bit of a feeling of “sameness,” however, when compared with recent issues. While I’ve very much enjoyed Cecil Castellucci’s explorations of Batgirl’s motivations and unwillingness to give up, I also realize this is the second time in the space of a few months we’ve seen Barbara take a horrible fall and pull herself back from the brink. It’s inspiring and cool but it does feel like she’s just been through this same cycle in a short period of time.
That qualm aside, this was an exciting issue that sets the stage for a reckoning between Batgirl and Oracle, as well as a possible new twist on Bard’s machinations. It really feels like we’re seeing the dawn of a new day in Burnside. Whether it’s good for Babs or not remains to be seen.