The Eggplant Avenger comes bounding into Burnside this issue, bringing not only her bad self but the supporting cast of Genevieve Valentine’s Catwoman run along for the ride. If you’re still in mourning at the end of Selina’s time at the head of the Calabrese family, this issue will arrive as one of the sweetest treats we’ve gotten from Team Batgirl yet, and if you have no idea what any of the preceding sentence means, you’ve got Catwoman #35-46 as a homework assignment.
We return from the delirious high of the wedding issue to find Babs and Nadimah collecting information from the residents of Burnside about their living conditions, happening onto the revelation that someone is exploiting a gang of local teenagers into trying to force people out of their homes, hypothetically in order to tear down the buildings and replace them with luxury housing. While Babs initially looks at it as an issue local to Burnside, the arrival of Lewis, who was a key ally for both Selina and Eiko Hasigawa during the gang war that Black Mask instigated between the major crime families, paints a very different picture.
Lewis was affiliated with the Forster Street gang, whom Penguin ran from the shadows, initially in service to Sionis’ faction before shifting allegiances to Selina and the Calabrese family, turning the tide in their favor. He fingers the Forster Street gang as the perpetrators behind the intimidation in Burnside, breaking ranks with them to assist Babs, but his assistance comes with a price. With Eiko’s disappearance following the massacre in Catwoman #46, Stephanie Brown is being hunted by the Hasigawa clan as the only witness and Lewis wants Babs to protect her, which she gladly does.
This issue is much, much more than the Spoiler cameo issue that it was cleverly billed as. Instead, what we’re seeing is the current upheaval in Gotham come to Burnside’s doorstep with key storylines being built up in Batman and Catwoman intruding into Batgirl for the first time. As seen in Batman #47 last week, the momentum towards the next radical shift for the batfamily set to take place in #50 is gathering serious steam and the arrival of Catwoman’s key players almost certainly figures heavily into Batgirl’s place in that. To Team Batgirl’s credit, they’ve kept the focus of speculation about the series’ future on developments regarding Frankie and Alysia so tightly since #40, that the prospect of these characters carrying over to Batgirl was never credibly entertained.
But no matter what new elements have joined the road to Batgirl #50 through an on ramp, it was, and still is, paved by Batgirl #40. The predictions made by the Babs AI are all steadily heading towards fruition. Qadir has been hired by Luke Fox, who appears to have a billion dollar idea for weapons’ technology based on Babs’ sketches. Alysia, on her honeymoon, has put her activism on hold and could very well be on her way to a vigilante career after having assisted Batgirl by rescuing Jo from Velvet Tiger. Jeremy has been fired for passing personal information to Velvet Tiger, which resulted in civilian deaths. Finally, this issue opens with Babs helping Nadimah to canvas Burnside residents towards the development of her software intended to offset the effects of gentrification. It’s never been more apparent that Fletcher and Stewart are playing the long game and playing it expertly.
Despite the flood of new information and characters, this is the most freewheeling and imaginative issue since #36, when Babs fought the anime inspired biker girls. That aesthetic returns this issue as Steph and Babs face off against a Hasigawa assassin who wears a noh mask and has his targets choose a card to decide how he’s going to kill them, red for the claws strapped to his wrists and blue for strangulation. Of course, as I noted when the dominant reds and blues of Lee Loughridge’s colors in Catwoman achieved synthesis in the purple hues that heralded Stephanie Brown’s arrival in that title, that visual works perfectly because they’re the primary colors that combine to form Spoiler’s trademark color.
After the heartrending finale of Valentine’s Catwoman run and Stephanie’s dismissal by Eiko, Babs Tarr’s Spoiler is an absolute joy to behold even though she has a somewhat subdued role in the issue. She’s such a natural fit for Tarr’s style with her over the top personality and boundless enthusiasm that it takes a couple minutes to recall that Tarr hadn’t drawn Steph on page prior to this and that it was David Lafuente, who supplies this issue’s cover, who was, until now, the only artist to draw them interact since her re-debut. With Alysia likely out of action until much closer to #50, Steph takes over the role of being the piercing ray of sunlight in Babs’ world, which is a side to Stephanie that was only ever allowed to come to prominence and stay there under Brian Q. Miller’s stewardship of her time as Batgirl. Seeing the two reunited for the first time since then, and more or less as peers is cause for major celebration.
It’s been a long wait since the hotly anticipated wedding issue, but you better have taken that opportunity to catch your breath, because judging by this entry we’re headed into deep waters and won’t be surfacing until #50 at the soonest.
Written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
Drawn by Babs Tarr with breakdowns by Rob Haynes and colors by Serge Lapointe
Letters by Steve Wands
Cover by David Lafuente and Gabe Eltaeb
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Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005 for sites including Playboy, Bitch Media, and Graphic Policy.