Overview: In Batgirls #16, Steph, Cass, and Babs follow the Mad Hatter’s White Rabbit, and they face new and strange threats – from within!
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): As Batgirls #16 begins, the Batsignal and blimps fill the night sky as Officer Brooks gives Steph and Cass Batgirls the letter delivered to Grace O’Halloran a few weeks ago (last issue), which invites them to Mad Hatter’s tea party. Babs coordinates the Batgirls going to investigate from the Clock Tower, and Steph and Cass arrive at the location specified in the letter to find a super creepy tea party full of puppet Bat-Family members and the Hatter on a radio. They fight off the puppets, and Babs tracks the Hatter’s signal to the floor above them. However, Steph gets a face full of gas, transforming her into a Girl-Bat (some version of the Man-Bat serum). Though Steph-Bat initially becomes enraged, Cass is able to connect with Steph in her transformed state and calm her down. Steph-Bat breaks through the ceiling, revealing the evil Hatter, who revels in the chaos he created. Cass knocks him out and turns him over to Officer Brooks.
Later, as Steph-Bat flies through the Gotham skies with Cass on her back, Babs aims a tranq gun with the antidote at Steph, but Cass persuades her to let Steph fly until she’s tired, then give her the antidote. Babs agrees, and Batgirl and Girl-Bat fly into the night.
Analysis: After two really powerful issues – #14’s brilliant silent Cass adventure and #15’s gripping Steph vs. Cluemaster family almost-tragedy – this odd, wacky, Silver-Age-esque tale in Batgirls #16 feels both a bit disconnected and tonally odd. Though writers Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad and artist Neil Googe (with finishes/inks on the last six pages by Geraldo Borges) put a lot of craft into the piece, the overall impact is uneven and emotionally confusing, especially in the depiction of Steph as Girl-Bat, a very grotesque image.
For all that unevenness in impact, there are a lot of pieces of this story that do work. Cloonan and Conrad include a lot of clever connections to the rest of the run – from Mr. Greene, the Batgirls’ creepy neighbor and murder victim, providing the doll robots for Mad Hatter, to the use of Officer Brooks. They also write a very poetic connection between Steph and Cass that allows Cass to break through the confusion and horror of Steph’s transformation with the power of their friendship, and the epilogue of Steph dreaming of flying is quite nice, even if there are still too many emotional consequences as a result of this issue and the last arc (where Steph died for a few minutes before being resurrected with the Lazarus serum). I’m really bummed that there was no connection between the Lazarus serum and the Man-Bat serum that transforms Steph in this issue – that really feels like a missed opportunity. Neil Googe also puts a lot of great detail and appeal into the pages of this issue – the cityscape of Gotham and the zany energy of the Batgirls in their swooping around the city and fighting the Bat-Family robots.
The news that Cloonan and Conrad are leaving their other major DC title, Wonder Woman, may or may not have any bearing on how long they continue on Batgirls. But after releasing issue #16, this run has officially passed Deathstroke Inc. and Teen Titans Academy. If it reaches its expected minimum of nineteen solicited issues this weekend, it will match or surpass Future State: Gotham, Superman: Son of Kal-El, and I Am Batman. It passed Green Lantern (twelve issues) long ago, with only one more issue to surpass Robin. Though the book has been controversial and hotly debated online since it first appeared in backups in Batman during Fear State, it’s actually managed a run that has significant staying power, and hopefully, whether they end in three or four issues or in closer to ten issues or more, Batgirls will be a title that has some memory in fandom after it’s gone, along many of its predecessors like Cassandra Cain’s 2000 Batgirl, Stephanie Brown’s 2009 Batgirl, and some of Babs’s most well-remembered runs like Burnside.
Jorge Corona’s main cover for Batgirls #16, originally solicited for several issues ago, is finally released in all its creepy Batgirls under the giant Hatter hat glory! David Marquez starts his promised four-cover series of Batgirl-focused cardstock variants with a lovely Cass Batgirl on a bright pink background. Robbi Rodriguez, the upcoming interior artist for the book for the next several issues, provides the 1:25 incentive cover, featuring Cass and Steph leaping across the cover against a pastel psychedelic background. Most appealing to this reviewer, Lynne Yoshii paints a gorgeous International Women’s Day variant with a huge Babs head in profile and Steph and Cass posting up for a fight against a bright yellow background – definitely a recommended cover for your collection!
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.