Marguerite Bennett lands on a brilliant concept for a “Zero Year” tie-in, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Batman #21, the opening issue of Scott Snyder’s third (!) Batfamily crossover event in as many years. Not because, however, there wasn’t promise – indeed, the best thing in the issue was the vision of what Gotham would eventually become. It was a good idea, but it was poorly executed. Too much sprawl, not enough heart, not enough excitement. Unfortunately, because I wrote that review on another site, I’m pretty sure I can’t just legally copy and paste it here, but I’d like to, because Batgirl #25, Marguerite Bennett’s “Zero Year” tie-in has the exact same strengths… and pretty much the exact same flaws.
Gotham City has been plunged into a city-wide blackout by the Riddler shortly before a ‘superstorm’ hits the city. Just like in the classic Batman storyline “Cataclysm,” Gotham finds itself reclaimed by the wilderness after a natural disaster exacerbates the city’s already-chaotic problems; and just like with “Cataclysm,” the situation forces the average citizen of Gotham to lose themselves… or to step up and become someone better. Young Barbara Gordon is first forced to rise above here as she confronts a city descending into madness and her father’s charge that she defend the homefront. But what is home? Is it her house? Her things? Her brother? Her city? Where does her responsibility begin and end?
It’s a great set-up for a variety of stories, but the bigger it gets, the less focused it becomes. What began as a tight, exciting story (Barbara, charged with protecting her home from rioters, must grow up quickly) uses page after page to push the story bigger, until Barbara is leading an entire group of refugees across the Gotham rooftops. But that only leaves a couple pages to wrap things up, and Bennett scrambles to find a way to do so.
One strength Batman had that Batgirl doesn’t is the art – Greg Capullo is perhaps the breakout artist of the New 52, and with good reason. Fernando Pasarin does some solid work, but his art lacks the fluidity and personality that defines Capullo’s. Consequently, we get stiff, boring action sequences that lack choreography and characters who lack physical personality. The layouts are fine, the pacing is solid, but the pencils feel like they could use a little work.
Batgirl #25 isn’t bad, but – like Batman #21 – it bites off more than it can chew, and fails to satisfy its own narrative requirements. A story of this scope required more space than Bennett had to tell it (or a more streamlined narrative), which is a big part of why most of its conflicts are rushed and its climax is ineffectual. Writing a great single issue story is hard, but one of the first rules is to understand your limitations. Know what you want to say and focus everything you have on that one idea. Batgirl #25 could have been a great coming-of-age story, a riff on things like Night of the Living Dead, a tense home-invasion thriller, almost anything – but it can’t be all those things at once.
Read more about the New 52 take on Batgirl here.