Review! Batgirl, Vol. 3: DEATH OF THE FAMILY [Spoiler-free]

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The first fourteen issues of Batgirl that were collected in the previous two trade books were among the best of the New 52 over the course of the first year.  Barbara’s struggle through survivor’s guilt, the threats represented by Mirror, Gretel, and Knightfall, and against the Court of Owls stood out as a particularly remarkable character story that’s greatest strength was Gail Simone’s development of Barbara’s narrative voice.  In Batgirl Vol. 3, Death of the Family, two chief departures form that formula make this the weakest of the three collections of Batgirl.

Batgirl V.3

BATGIRL VOL. 3 features a few too many cooks in the kitchen, and while the story remains interesting, the addition of a writer not named Gail Simone and some uneven artwork keep this good book from being great.

STORY AND SCRIPT
The first of these is Gail Simone’s very noticeable departure from writing duties after Death of the Family, during which she continues her superb storytelling, writing Batgirl’s Death of the Family story that complements Snyder’s nicely. After the Joker story concludes, Ray Fawkes’s contributions to the story aren’t exactly negative, but the contrast in quality between his story and when Simone is in the driver’s seat is very noticeable. The thoughtful and humorous narrative voice that Simone has cultivated disappears when Fawkes temporarily takes over writing duties, and is replaced by narration by James, Jr. that sounds forced and lacks any of the development that Barbara’s possesses. These books advance the story, but do not develop the characters, thereby undercutting what has made Batgirl such a standout title of the New 52. Thankfully, Simone’s departure lasts only two issues, and she returns to pen the final chapter of the James, Jr. story with as much style and substance as any of her previous installments, concluding the arc and launching the next expertly and restoring the high-degree of quality that the book has enjoyed previously.

PENCILS AND ARTWORK
Secondly, Adrian Syaf’s pencils are absent, and while Ed Benes contributes his striking artwork intermittently (mostly in the form of some terrific covers), Daniel Sampere’s pencils lack the consistency of Syaf’s. The colors are less stylish, and without the purple and gold motif for Gotham City, the book feels less like Batgirl’s, and as such, less distinct. It is my hope that as Fernando Pasarin inherits artwork duties in Vol. 4 (due out in December), some of the consistency that Syaf and Benes contributed to the first two collected volumes can return to accompany what is sure to be another terrific story from Gail Simone.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
This is the first of the Batgirl collections that underwhelmed, and disappoints in comparison to its two predecessors.  As a complementary story to Death of the Family, it explains well what happens to Barbara in the hours leading up to the showdown between Batman and the Joker, but as that story features Batgirl as a secondary character, her part of the arc isn’t crucial.  Gail Simone manages to save the story of James, Jr.’s crime spree from the rank and file with a terrific conclusion, but Ray Fawkes doesn’t write Batgirl like she does, and as such, the volume remains uneven and marks a departure from must-read status.
Priority Rating: 6.5/10For Bat-family completionists, understanding Barbara’s role in the Batman/Joker showdown will make this a more important read than for those strictly interested in those two key players.  Fans of Batgirl will want to know where the story is going, but Vol. 3 doesn’t have the introspection or the style that made the first two collections distinct during the first year of New 52.

– Vandal

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