Overview: Lured into a potential trap by a mysteriously familiar pair of girls, Batgirl and Nightwing must confront events in their past that might have ties to a case they’re working on in the present.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): On a typical dark, Gotham night, Batgirl arrives on a rooftop expecting to meet someone after being summoned via an earlier text message. A familiar shape emerges from the shadows as Nightwing reveals himself. Batgirl correctly infers that since Nightwing received the text message as well, it must be a trap, just as the duo are attacked by girls who appear to be twins. A short fight ensues which concludes with the girls claiming that Nightwing and Batgirl are the source of all mischief, the blood of an unknown “her” are on their hands and they will soon be punished. The girls then clasp hands and fall backwards off the rooftop as both Nightwing and Batgirl make a desperate, and ultimately futile, attempt to save them.
As the bodies of the girls are loaded into an ambulance, Nightwing and Batgirl discuss how both the girls looked like someone named Ainsley. They think this is unlikely, partly because they’ve never told anyone else about what happened back in the day, but they agree to investigate the Mad Hatter because they think he may still be holding a grudge for some reason.
We then flashback to Barbara Gordon’s high-school days in Gotham right after the Gordons moved to Gotham from Chicago. Barbara feels out of place and is bullied in the hallways before class. That being said, she is still the smartest person in the school and makes a favorable impression on a young substitute teacher who she first mistakes for a fellow student. Barbara’s ambitious project piques the interest of the supply teacher enough for her to tell Barbara that she can go to MIT if she keeps up the good work.
Later on, Barbara is watching her high school cheerleader tryouts in her Batgirl costume from a rooftop when a young Dick Grayson appears in his Robin costume. Robin explains that he’s there on Batman’s orders for surveillance purposes because there have recently been mysterious and unexplained events with members of the cheerleading squad. Robin uses the intel he has about Barbara to start talking to her about her personal life and about her mother which leads to Batgirl leaving the roof in anger and disgust.
Back in the present day, Nightwing and Batgirl are at the Mad Haberdashery fighting through henchman to try and get Mad Hatter. After the fight, while tying up the henchmen, Nightwing and Batgirl have a talk about Nightwing’s break up with Shawn Tsang. Batgirl does mention that she is sorry that happened and that she thought the relationship would last. As they turn to interrogating the henchmen, one of the henchmen let’s slip that there are digital files kept on site. Batgirl discovers through the digital files that the girls were just kids who were likely on some hallucinogenic cocktail given to them by the Mad Hatter. Nightwing then reminds her that they don’t know if that’s true and that kids sometimes do bad things just as they might have done in the past. They share a fleeting tender moment before Batgirl discovers that Mad Hatter is in the hospital and gets up to leave, leaving a thoroughly nonplussed Nightwing squatting next to her now vacant chair.
The story then flashes back to high-school aged Barbara getting a job at a restaurant where she is shocked to find that her MIT educated supply teacher also works to supplement her income. The supply teacher’s name is Ainsley Wells and she reveals that she never ended up graduating from MIT because of family issues and claims the corporate life was never really for her. Ainsley asks for Barbara’s help in a side project she’s working on, claiming that she needs someone who is amazing with coding for an unpaid internship. Barbara feels honored and happy that someone thinks highly of her and she accepts.
Barbara then arrives home late to come face to face with a frantic James Gordon who is upset and worried that his daughter wasn’t home before dark. They have an argument and Barbara gets sent to her room where she immediately puts on her Batgirl costume before climbing out the window to get up to the roof. Upon getting to the rooftop, she is met by Robin who does his best to apologize to her by opening up to her about his parents and then apologizing for his rudeness earlier. Batgirl accepts his apology and tells him that they should spend time together to get to know each other better while internally telling herself that Robin is “cute”. They decide there’s no time like the present and decide to go on a stakeout together.
Back in the present day, Nightwing and Batgirl climb through the window of a hospital room belonging to a beaten up Mad Hatter. They both wonder who could have gotten to the Mad Hatter first, who could have been behind the attacks and what Ainsley’s potential involvement or connection is. As they work through this, Mad Hatter suddenly sits straight upright shouting the word “Red!” and saying that “she” is coming to get him. Mad Hatter also claims that this woman will come for Batgirl and Nightwing too. Batgirl asks him who he is talking about and he responds by saying “the Red Queen”.
The scene shifts to a veiled woman dressed in red with a crown on her head in front of a number of screens where she is viewing surveillance video of Batgirl and Nightwing in Mad Hatter’s hospital room. She’s also holding a book that looks remarkably similar to one that Ainsley Wells was writing in when she met teenage Barbara at the restaurant. The woman then remarks out loud that Batgirl is playing right into her hands and that losing will hurt.
Analysis: For a regular sized issue, there is a lot that takes place here. It’s a credit to Hope Larson’s script that she is able to fit so much into one issue without the script seeming to be all over the place. All the major players in the story arc are given proper introductions with a nice tease at the end to lead into part two. The dialogue and interaction between Dick and Barbara is one of the highlights of this issue for me. Larson does a particularly good job differentiating between what their conversations would be like in the past versus what they might be like in the present. The present day dialogue retains the light easy going nature of their relationship but also incorporates the scars of years of ups and downs. The dialogue in the past reflects the uncertainty of two teenagers who have just met, but who undoubtedly have lots of chemistry and feel like they have a bright future ahead of them. This differentiation in the dialogue allows the reader to grasp the growth and maturity in the character’s relationship from just a few interactions. That being said, I would like to see Barbara and Dick have a more in depth conversation about what’s happening with them beyond a few remarks while they are tying up henchmen. In this issue, it’s shown that Dick still has feelings for Barbara although it seems like Barbara is annoyed with him and unwilling to discuss that while they have work to do. Perhaps by re-visiting the past through this case, both of them will be able to have some new breakthroughs in their relationship.
While this is just the introductory issue for this story arc, I don’t think the Mad Hatter’s connection to events past is explained thoroughly enough. Hopefully this will be explored further in subsequent issues. I can also see how fans of the comic book continuity might be slightly aggravated by the fact that these flashbacks are setting up the early Dick-Barbara relationship in a way that might re-write some of the earlier stories. Personally, I don’t think that’s a big deal, the flashbacks work within the story and it is good to have some definitive history post Rebirth. One legitimate gripe I have with the flashbacks is that teenage Barbara talks like she has just moved to Gotham, however she is already operating as Batgirl. It seems unlikely that Barbara is already spending time as a costumed vigilante when she’s still adjusting to being new in school and in Gotham, but perhaps more time has passed than the story indicates.
Overall, the relationships and how they connect to the narrative are where this issue really shines from a writing perspective. Batgirl’s relationship with Dick both in the past and the present, as well as her brief interaction with her father are all great moments for any Batgirl fan to read.
On the art side of things, Chris Wildgoose’s pencils are versatile while staying consistent with the tone of the book. By that I mean serious moments are drawn with the gravity they deserve, while lighter moments really look and feel fun. One of the areas I feel that Wildgoose excels in is drawing faces that really convey emotion, particularly shock or surprise. This is an integral component of this issue as it features prominently on almost every page and it allows the reader to emotionally connect with the characters. My personal favorites were Barbara’s smile at the end before going on stakeout and Nightwing’s surprised expression when Barbara is leaving the Mad Haberdashery. The latter example reminded me of how Remi would draw expressions of surprise in his Tintin comics.
The Batgirl series has been a very colorful series ever since she moved to Burnside and Mat Lopes and Jose Marzan Jr. do not deviate from that successful formula. Batgirl #14 is a very flamboyant issue with Batgirl’s purple and Nightwing’s blue splashed liberally across every page. I should also point out that the flashback pages are done with a completely different color palette than the present day pages. The flashbacks are a little more desaturated in terms of color and this allows the reader to separate the scenes tonally. It is challenging to create a book that has the bright colors of Batgirl but also reflect the necessary shadow befitting a night in Gotham. That being said, the inks are excellent, none of the shadows or angle of the lighting are out of place. Last but not least, Deron Bennett doesn’t get much of a chance to showcase his skills here, but the letters/fonts are solid and contribute in a positive way.
Final Thoughts: The start to the Summer of Lies story arc was a very enjoyable read for me and the art was visually consistent with the tone of the Batgirl series. If there has been one thing missing from the Batgirl series since her move to Burnside, it’s more interaction with the Bat-Family. While she only interacts with one member here, Dick Grayson, he’s probably the one individual everyone would like to see making more cameos in the pages of Batgirl. This issue is a must read for those who are ardent shippers of the Dick-Barbara relationship or for those who enjoy Bat-Family history. I’m definitely interested in reading more about Batgirl’s early days and finding out who this mysterious Red Queen is. The obvious answer is probably Ainsley, however I think that might be a misdirect, and the Red Queen is actually going to end up being the sister Ainsley mentioned returning to extract revenge for a perceived injustice.