After months of leaning into the “will they, won’t they” of Jason and Barbara, it’s nice to see the book shifting the focus to the question of, “Should they?”
Barbara’s insecurities didn’t vanish overnight, of course. Which is why it’s more believable that she’d want to escape into an epic fantasy novel as she does in this issue. Babs has always been the most down to Earth member of the Bat Family, so it’s nice to see that she still feels a little put out, even by her own emotions.
It’s a good thing that this issue has that relatable emotional through line, because the majority of this month’s story deals with a lot of table setting and introductions to the next story arc. There’s a lot of exposition involving our new antagonists, but as someone who hasn’t been keeping up with Teen Titans, it was more than a little difficult to follow the plot at some points. Your milage may vary if you’re currently up to date on Teen Titans, however. For me, I felt like I only got about half of the story — but it does make me curious to check out those other comics, so maybe that’s a win?
Still, despite this, there are some really wonderful moments here. Cecil Castelucci continues to show that she has a firm grasp of Barbara’s character. Beyond the previously-mentioned emotional crises, there’s how the other characters respond to her.
At one point, Batgirl is described as “Self-actualizing. More than a side character.” It couldn’t have felt more like me trying to tell people to read this series if you wanted to see Batgirl depicted as more than “another one of Batman’s sidekicks.” There’s so much respect and care taken to fully flesh out Barbara Gordon and her little corner of the DC universe, which is exactly why I keep coming back.
Speaking of her supporting cast, this is a great time to mention the continued evolution of Jason Bard. It’s great to see him juggling his mistrust of Batgirl and his feelings for Barbara in equal measure. Castellucci doesn’t cheat us out of remembering how low Bard has stooped in the past. He’s not absolved, but he is given the opportunity to rise above his past.
The artwork is lovely in this issue. Cian Tormey gives us some fun creature designs, delivering some foot soldiers that look like Zuul from Ghostbusters did a Fusion Dance with Grimace from McDonald’s (I swear that’s a compliment). Tormey also gives us a softer look at Jason, who seems not to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders any longer. Chris Sotomayer’s colors recall some of the brighter and flashier glimpses we’ve seen of Gemworld in other DC Comics. It all comes together to form a kind of downer Wonderland that perfectly sells the “fairy tale gone wrong” feel.
This issue takes on the tropes of fantasy head-on, dissecting them in a way only a character who has read a ton of books can. Barbara knows the ins-and-outs of what would be expected of her in a fictional narrative, so it’s interesting to see how she uses that knowledge to protect herself and others. This issue takes Barbara into a direction (and genre) I didn’t expect, so I’m excited to see where the rest of this arc leads.