Review: 'Batgirl' #23 Brings Out the Best in Barbara Gordon

The duality of a modern superhero -- of a comic book character trying to juggle their personal and vigilante lives -- is certainly nothing new. Almost every major character of the Big Two has struggled with it in some way, struggles that have been brought to life in comics, movies, and television. And yet, there's something quietly profound and relevant about the way that this week's Batgirl, "Strange Loop Part Two", handles it.

The issue serves as the second half of the "Strange Loop" storyline, which placed Batgirl in a pretty unique predicament. After saving a mother and her children from an abusive ex, Batgirl went about little vignettes of her life, and started to realize that something was very, very off. As it turned out, she was stuck in a fake reality inside her own mind, while the rest of her body was stuck protecting the same family.

Certainly, this Inception-esque setup isn't anything new. But the team of writer Hope Larson, who is ending her run with this issue, and artists José Marzán, Jr. and Minkyu Jung decide to say something pretty earnest with it. As Barbara goes about her mission, she is faced head-on with the fact that her life has gotten a little predictable, and she doesn't know if and how she can get out of that rut.

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(Photo: DC Comics)

The adventure that Barbara goes on from there is feminist, motivational, and largely delightful, and doesn't have to hit you over the head to be any of those three things. Even with such a self-contained premise, Larson's story touches on so many things about Batgirl's DC Comics tenure, including the whole altercation that causes the dreamscape to begin with, which feels in part like a feminist subversion of The Killing Joke. It also directly addresses the way that men sometimes write female characters into boxes, believing that they're doing the women a service by giving them "the simple life". (A message that feels pretty perfectly layered, considering the fact that Joss Whedon recently parted ways with DC's Batgirl solo film.)

There's also something perfect about the fact that this issue is being released right in the middle of graduation season, as plenty of young people are trying to figure out what direction their life is headed next. If you're one of those people (or just someone who is finding yourself too attached to what's familiar), then this issue might end up being somewhat of a comfort. Particularly, the issue's last two pages, which find Barbara waxing poetic as she swings from rooftops, are surprisingly beautiful — something you could see comic fans wanting hung up on their wall.

Much of that is thanks to Marzan and Jung's art, which continues to be as dynamic and breathtaking as it was in this story's first installment. Their depiction of Barbara feels so timeless, turning her and the world around her into equal parts Disney movie, anime, and just some darn good pages of comics. Combined with Mat Lopes' colors, which pop off of the page with a both retro and modern sensibility, the end result is genuinely striking.

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(Photo: DC Comics)

And throughout all of "Strange Loop Part Two", we never lose the spark of what makes Batgirl such a great character. The heroine is just as determined and kind-hearted as possible, even going so far as to save several of the NPCs within her dreamscape from a rough situation. As the issue goes on, Barbara realizes that she needs to apply the same level of good will to herself, allowing herself to break from her routine as she needs to. It's an arc that never feels out of place for her character, especially considering the different evolutions and changes she's gone through over the past few years.

Sure, the fate of the DC universe might not rest on the events of "Strange Loop Part Two", but the end result is no less thrilling. The issue turns a simple premise on its head, creating a visually wonderful and cinematic journey for Barbara Gordon, one that readers will hopefully relate to in one way or another. It's arguably the most profound that this solo series has gotten within the Rebirth launch, and a pretty great emotional foundation for the stories that are to come.

Published by: DC Comics

On: May 23, 2018


Written by: Hope Larson

Art by: José Marzán, Jr. and Minkyu Jung