Overview: What started with a wacky body-switching tale comes to its shattering conclusion in Batgirls #15 as Steph faces her supervillain father, Cluemaster, hoping against hope that her clue has led Cass straight to her.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): As Batgirls #15 begins an hour north of Gotham, Cass speeds on her motorbike towards the cabin Steph’s letter revealed to her last issue. Cluemaster monologues to his tied-up daughter about his death in Batman Eternal, while menacing her with a World War 1 era Mauser pistol. He reveals a twisted game show setup, a mockery of his original job, and electrocutes her when her answers don’t match his supervillainous desires.
Cass arrives, smashing through the window, fighting her way through Cluemaster’s nasty traps, and freeing Steph. Cluemaster pleads with his daughter, but she rejects him sorrowfully, punching him in the face, devastated that she can’t fix him. In response, he blows up the side of the cabin, then takes a shot at Cass, but Steph pushes her best friend aside and takes the bullet square in the chest, dying. Cass stops Cluemaster from killing himself and then doses Steph with the Lazarus serum she found while investigating the League of Assassins in the last issue. Cass is overwhelmed with relief as Steph revives, and Officer Brooks arrives to arrest Cluemaster, now a broken man at having killed his own daughter. Riding back with Cass on the bike, Steph and Cass thank each other for saving each other’s lives.
One week later, the doctors try to get information from Cluemaster about Mad Hatter’s role in his resurrection, but he says he can’t give them a clue anymore. At the Loft, Cass revels in the winter weather, and she and Steph take stock of their last weeks and plan ahead for their confrontation with the Mad Hatter. Later that night, Grace O’Hallaran (former TV news anchor, current eyepatch-wearing podcaster) is woken up by a blood-covered bust with a message taped to it…
Analysis: Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad bring their fourth major arc of Batgirls to a close in the catastrophic yet triumphant “Dead Wrong,” partnered with “Bat-Girl Summer” artist Neil Googe and colorist Rico Renzi in Batgirls #15. Though his storytelling doesn’t quite match the lyrical power of Jonathan Case’s issues, Googe provides well-composed layouts, and beautifully rendered figure work, again in a similar style to Jorge Corona’s original designs for the book, rendered in a more restrained but still energetic and cartoony fashion. Renzi continues to use the trademark colors set up by Sarah Stern, full of neons, dark blue and purple shadows, and brightly colored Batgirl costumes for our heroines.
It’s the writing that really shines this time. After a full issue without captions, Cloonan and Conrad jump back into their narration, but instead of the sometimes forced humor, they match the devastating events of this issue with serious, thoughtful, sorrowful meditation on the nature of family, friendship, and heroism. Batgirls #15 did not have to go this hard, but it did so brilliantly. Killing off Steph, having her resist torture and supervillain brainwashing – this issue proves that Steph isn’t cheerful and perky because she’s never known pain or suffering. She’s looked dark in the face – the face of her father – and refused to give up, give in – and smiles in defiance instead. Cass’s bravery and brilliance are beautifully showcased, but just as the last issue was Cass’s spotlight with strong support from Steph’s letter, this issue is Steph’s spotlight, with Cass’s love and support.
The future is unsure for Batgirls, as Cass is pulled into the Spirit World series (previewed in the cheap cash grab event Lazarus Planet: Dark Ride this week). Several things really need to happen – the consequences of Steph dying and being resurrected with the volatile Lazarus serum (perhaps different from the Resin being blown all over the world by the eruption of Lazarus Island in Batman vs. Robin) – solicitations hint that there will be ongoing consequences, perhaps of a Kirk Langstrom variety (as previously seen in Gotham Academy!), helping to allay the sense that killing and resurrecting Steph in the same issue is a bit too easily handled. Additionally, Babs’ reaction to her Batgirls’ deadly adventures must be seen soon! Whatever the future holds, this title has presented some of its strongest storytelling in this arc, and I hope it continues for many more months.
Though none of the covers quite matches the absolute splendor of last month’s beautiful Artgerm cardstock variant, they are no slouches! The main cover, once again by original series artist Jorge Corona, features a gorgeously rendered ANGRY STEPH ripping a childish crayon drawing of herself, Cass, and her father in half full of little details from the rendering of the crayon drawing, the conspiracy board of crazy behind Steph, and Steph’s gloriously lit golden hair and gloves. Dan Mora’s cardstock variant B is a riot of pink, yellow, and blue as Babs Batgirl takes center stage, jumping down from the rooftops of Gotham grinning, small Nightwing, Cass, and Steph behind her. Kim Jacinto is an interesting choice for the 1:25 incentive variant, showing Jacinto’s typically angular style rendering of Steph and Cass, full of strappy straps and action lines against a pink and pale blue cityscape. Overall, the Corona main cover seems a clear choice, though the Mora variant definitely is great!
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.
Thoughtfully written, beautifully illustrated, and going WAY harder than it needed to, Batgirls #15 closes out this arc and starts the next with power, passion, and skill.