Overview: Batgirl and Nightwing continue to investigate at the hospital in the present day, while flashbacks reveal a little more information about Barbara’s friend Ainsley.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): At the hospital, Batgirl and Nightwing subdue an assailant referring to herself as the Red Knight. Because the Red Knight seems impervious to pain and not in control of her faculties, Nightwing concludes they need an MRI machine to determine what ails her.
Back in the past, Batgirl and Robin decide to change into their civilian identities to perform undercover reconnaissance at a Gotham County High School house party. They observe everyone in what appears to be a euphoric trance-like state that involves hallucinations, despite the absence of drugs and liquor. They also notice that there is an odd song playing. One boy appears to become freaked out by his hallucination and flees the house where he is eventually ambushed by Batgirl and Robin who have both changed back into their costumes. After taking him to the hospital, they learn that the boy tested negative for drugs, but Robin also decides to take a sample of the party drink to test in the Batcave.
Back in the present, Batgirl and Nightwing load the Red Knight onto an MRI machine that is then started by a nurse without either of the heroes giving instruction to do so. The computer system locks the nurse from switching it off and the Red Knight is vaporized.
Later on, while analyzing the Red Knight’s residue, the heroes realize that the Knight’s body was composed of 50-70% nanobots. Batgirl also tries to reassure Nightwing that the Knight being vaporized wasn’t his fault. They end up kissing before Nightwing says that he “can’t do this right now.” They return to investigating the Red Knight and discover her maiden name, “Philbert”, is one that is familiar to Batgirl.
Back in the past, Barbara arrives at Ainsley’s apartment to start the internship working with nano-robotics. Ainsley explains that she’s trying to fix a bug in the nanobots that causes hallucinations in some of the test subjects when she gets a call from a “Dr. Philbert”. Later on, Ainsley shows up late to work and appears afraid of some men in the restaurant. Batgirl memorizes an address on the men’s card and, later that night, Robin and Batgirl investigate the address where they see a dartboard with Ainsley’s face on it.
Analysis: In my opinion, the second issue of “The Summer of Lies” story arc doesn’t quite build on the momentum established in the previous issue. One of the brightest spots in the first issue was the dynamic between Batgirl and Nightwing, and that isn’t quite captured the same way in this issue. On the first page, Barbara makes a sarcastic comment about Nightwing possibly checking to see if the Red Queen is single. This builds on the annoyance she seemed to exhibit in the first issue when Nightwing tried to show her affection so quickly after ending things with Shawn. However, later on in the issue Batgirl kisses Nightwing which he then reciprocates before ultimately telling her he “can’t do this.” Batgirl instigating the kiss appears to go against how she has been feeling for the entire story arc. The same holds true for Nightwing saying he “can’t do this” because he certainly tried to show her affection in the previous issue. I understand it was an emotional moment for the characters, but it did seem a little contrived and I felt like it didn’t really make sense for the characters to react the way they did before and after the kiss. Furthermore, I think that this plot device of Barbara and Dick getting close for an issue before it not working out for whatever reason has become a little overused. For “shippers” of the Babs-Dick relationship, the fun of seeing them together is minimized by the knowledge that it will probably be over on the next page or at the end of the issue. I say all this without mentioning Nightwing’s recent tryst with Huntress (Batgirl’s Birds of Prey teammate) in the pages of his own series.
The plot feels like it’s on the verge of a major breakthrough in the next issue. Not too much happens here aside from the reader learning about Ainsley’s connection to nanobots and the heroes learning the name of the doctor and the presence of nanobots. I could be nitpicking here, but there were a couple of things that didn’t make sense in the issue. The first is that during the high school party, Barbara and Dick happen to find civilian clothes that fit them perfectly in the closet belonging to the host’s parents. Second, they manage to race back upstairs to the closet, change back into their costumes and leave the house in time to catch the kid who flees the party due to hallucinations when Dick and Barbara were still downstairs. I know it’s comics and not everything has to have a logical explanation, but these two events really took me out of the suspension of belief I experience when I read comics. Lastly, the event with the nurse starting the MRI machine just didn’t feel right to me. It’s a little difficult to believe that Batgirl and Nightwing didn’t notice the nurse there and even harder to believe that the nurse would just turn on the machine without any instruction from people who were in control of the situation. I hope we also get an explanation in the coming issues for why the MRI machine blocked the nurse from switching it off because there seems to be no reason why it should malfunction.
I think Wildgoose really has an excellent grasp for the aesthetic of this series. One very minor criticism is I felt some of the faces in the panels could have been rendered with a bit more detail. There also appears to be a small error with Batgirl’s cape after she subdues the Knight and throws her into the room. The Knight is shown being pushed into the room with the door closing behind her and with Batgirl’s cape wrapped around her head. In the next panel, Batgirl is shown standing outside the closed door and her cape appears to be back on. Despite these small quibbles, the art contributes positively to this issue and this arc. I enjoyed the detail on Robin’s costume and Lopes’ colors on the “kiss page” really jumped off the page. The choreography of the fight sequence and the level of detail in the background of the hospital area were especially impressive.
Final Thoughts: I know my review might come off as being overly critical, but that’s only because I feel like this story arc has potential. I did enjoy the first issue and I hope the arc can return to that level going forward. I think one of the ways it can accomplish this is avoiding the predictable outcome it seems to be hinting at. Right now it seems like the reader is being led to believe that Ainsley is the Red Queen. As I said in my review of issue #14, I think that a great twist would be for the Red Queen to be Ainsley’s sister. It’s also worth mentioning that we are halfway through the story arc right now and we have no hint at what the Red Queen’s possible motives are. Hopefully this is also revealed in the next issue along with more on the Mad Hatter’s connection to the story.