Written by: Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
Art by: Babs Tarr, Horacio Domingues, Roger Robinson, Ming Doyle, James Harvey, Serge LaPointe and Steve Wands
Release Date: March 2, 2016
Of all of my reviews, this was the hardest one for me to start. I actually spent a whole night trying to put together the right introduction paragraph and nothing came out right. The funny thing is, it really had nothing to do with the actual issue. Well, of course it did, but more so the reactions that other reviewers had about it. I usually don't like to spoil the big plot points of an issue in my reviews, but I'm going to go against that in order to better explain myself. In this issue, Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr (yes, there are other artists involved, but this is all about Team Batgirl) erase The Killing Joke from existence...kind of. Call me what you will, but I still like the Killing Joke and while the focus has shifted to Barbara's treatment in it, I think it is still one of the best Joker stories ever written. Because of that, when I saw the reactions to this issue, I immediately went on the defensive and thought I should be the lone defender of a book that even it's author has shied away from in recent years. My introductions were full of pleading, confusion and even anger, but none of them felt right. In desperation, I messaged Brenden Fletcher about this issue and the Killing Joke and his response not only let me write this review, but showed me just how much the character of Batgirl means to him and his partners. I respect that and because of Brenden, respect every other reviewer of this issue. I know it's hard to believe such a negative asshole like myself feels that way, but it's true. So, with my introduction finally done, let's get on with the review...
The issue opens with Barbara and Frankie in a coffee shop trying to figure out who the hell this Greg/Fugue is. It's an odd opener not just because this is definitely not how we left Babs last month, but because of everything happening around her. Some very odd people are ordering lattes and suddenly Barbara's whole world is collapsing around her. That's when we pull up and out and see that this was all in Barbara's mind as Frankie tries to reach her through her neural implant.
The one thing that I have had a problem with since even before Batgirl headed off to Burnside has been a lack of a strong rogues gallery for Barbara to battle. This run has been about getting Barbara out of the darkness of Gotham and even Batman's shadow, but the villains have still been lacking. Fugue may finally be the answer to that.
While Stephanie Brown and Harper Row continue looking for him, Frankie goes with a desperate times calls for desperate measures kind of plan and boy, "desperate measures" doesn't feel like a strong enough phrase! She is putting the Evil A.I. (fans know exactly what I'm talking about) back in Babs' brain to help correct the damage and though she's going in to moderate the process, I don't think any fan believed good things could come of it. I know I didn't.
When Frankie goes in and meets the A.I., she immediately sets up the rules...mess with me or Babs and you get permanently deleted. It may seem harsh, but really, it's not harsh enough if you ask me. The two then go for a a little stroll down memory lane, getting rid of false memories which leads to Batgirl's first meeting with Fugue. While it seemed like Frankie jumped to conclusions at first, we do see his back story and origin...an origin that Batgirl helped create. That's when things get intense.
Stewart and Fletcher give us a "It's a Horrible Life" version of Barbara's memories to show us just how messed up Fugue is making things and it becomes a battle of life and death for Frankie as she tries to save herself and Barbara from the villain's brain f***. After Frankie realizes that there is no spoon and learns kung fu...I mean the Canary Cry, we get the page that almost broke Twitter.
The page is a swirling dervish of images that are evil and awful and are framed by the Joker saying "smile" and his infamous gun. The words "Not Real" are shown throughout...and that is it. At first I thought, "That doesn't mean anything?!?", but after reading other's reviews and reactions and then talking with Brenden, I have to admit the genius of it. Does it erase the Killing Joke? It does if you want it to. That may sound like a cop out, but to me it shows the respect Team Batgirl has for the history of the character. THEIR Batgirl is now free from the dark history of the Killing Joke, but whatever comes next is up to whoever comes next. That goes for readers as well.
While it's hard to beat that, the issue does continue with Frankie getting Barbara out of her "fugue state" and Batgirl, Frankie, Black Canary, Spoiler and Bluebird getting together to take down Fugue once and for all. If this isn't the team in the upcoming Rebirth "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" book, I'll be so upset.
Just like the introduction, it is so hard to attach a score here. As one issue of Batgirl, I liked that we get to see the origin of Fugue and why he chose to do what he did. Stewart and Fletcher also tie in a lot of things from their entire run and it all makes sense. Of course, the issue also feels like the culmination of a mission statement they shared when starting their run and even a direct response to the Joker variant cover controversy back in March. They did a great job showing what they think while letting everyone else decide where they stand all on their own.
This book had a really big art team and while that usually means disaster, that's not the case here. Everything flows together and the more jarring transitions make complete sense in the story. Everyone may have their own style, but the Burnside attitude is here throughout.
Bits and Pieces:
This is a personal issue for the creators and the readers. As an issue of Batgirl, I liked that we got to see that Fugue is indeed the best villain we've gotten in Burnside and also how much Bab's friends are willing to do to save her. As far as it's place in Barbara's history, we get to see what Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr want for their Batgirl...nothing more, nothing less. I respect that and recommend this issue because of it.