Readers of the last issue of Batgirl (issue #20) will know that the popular Batman villain, Ventriloquist, has sky-rocketed on the scale of creepy DC villains. Formerly, the villain came in just above the terror level of Silver Age evil-doer Crazy Quilt, unless of course a storyline delved into his split psyche. But a mob boss character with a split personality? Kind of Two-Face’s thing. On the whole, the Ventriloquist was just fun. But writer Gail Simone and artists Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion have changed that, introducing a sinister character by the name of Shauna Belzer, who takes the Ventriloquist moniker. And to make her all the more terrifying, the puppet that she carries with her walks, talks, and stalks, all on his very own. No strings attached.
The difficult thing about writing issues of comic books is that you essentially have to be presenting two stories. One is the overarching narrative that collects a bunch of issues, and the second thing is he chronology of the actual events that happen in the single issue. Robert McKee, in his book, Story, would call each issue a “scene.” Simone does a great job of providing an entertaining “scene” in this Batgirl story. It is engaging, providing enough action to carry the interest of the reader through the issue alone, but it also ties in with the previous issues’ fantastic storyline. For those of you that don’t know, Batgirl has finally broken the no-killing rule, ostensibly disposing of her psychotic brother, James. James’ death is still haunting Batgirl through this particular story, most noticeably by Barbara’s refusal to wear the Bat-symbol on her chest.
The art in this issue has a few flaws, but anyone has to admit that the character of the Ventriloquist has some of the scariest looks yet seen in the New 52. She’s part Tim Burton drawing and part The Ring girl, and her little puppet friend looks like a younger Jigsaw puppet from Saw. Oh, and he has drills that come out of his hands.
And he’s a pervert.
And she’s in love with him.
The art surrounding the characters also adds to a horror movie feel. In fact, Barbara’s roommate Alysia actually asks her to stay at home and watch a horror movie, though her duties as Batgirl lead Barbara into a real-life horror situation. The art does a great job of reflecting that.
Jumping off the art section mentioned earlier, there were a few things with which to take issue. Namely, it’s that the art only looks its best when the action scenes are happening in the story. Nightwing appears in the beginning to ward off some gang members and has a heart to heart with Barbara. The scene looks phenomenal. The noir-style lighting makes the shadows accentuate every movement of the characters, with differences in shadow that vividly bring out the appearance of a lightning storm. Now cut to Batgirl at home in her pajamas, with little attention to detail or background. This isn’t too much of a problem after the first bit of the issue, but it does stand out.
Another problem with this issue is the ending. Though Simone can weave a great and terrifying villain into a deeply-themed overarching story, the ending is disappointingly anticlimactic. [spoiler]After defeating the Ventriloquist’s re-animated dead parents by beheading one of them with a kitchen knife, Barbara comes back home and gets worried about forgetting about a date she had with her new love interest. Really?[/spoiler]
The story does make up, however, for the lack of punch that the ending delivers. Finally, there is a bit lacking in way of dialogue. Some of it, especially in Barbara’s head, seems a little unnecessary. For example, during a fight with two animated corpses, Batgirl thinks to herself, “I don’t like this.”
Batgirl is a fantastic character. You want to love her, and this issue is no different. She’s still the same brave, witty police-chief’s daughter, but does not take the events of the storyline lightly. Her clever quips make us feel closer to her, because we know that behind them is the weight of her brother’s death at her hands. Fans of the New 52 Batgirl absolutely need to pick this issue up, no doubt about it. Batman fans, too, might want to consider this, not only for the exploration of the “no-killing” theme, but also for a rewarding reference to the Batman: Dark Victory graphic novel in the beginning of the story. New readers will also find this book a decent jumping-on point. All in all, DC did a fantastic job hiring Gail Simone to write this book, and it’s certain she has great plans for this character.