A one-off issue of Batgirl turns a cold and lonely night in Gotham into a little girl’s greatest adventure in a funny, inspiring and heartwarming story from a hugely talented creative team. With the series coming off the conclusion of the previous storyline and gearing up for next month’s team-up between Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson, artist Inaki Miranda joins Hope Larson this week for a story which showcases just how fresh a breath Batgirl has been among the greater DC Universe.
Larson’s "Rebirth" run immediately built on the Batgirl of Burnside persona and rounded out the character into a fully formed and mature superhero, acting with far more grace and good humor than that Dark Knight has ever offered. As she teams up here with a young girl called Esme who is searching for a kidnapped dog (not her dog, but a dog she follows on Instagram, in one of many smart twists on formula at play here) the issue is able to showcase both aspects of her personality and further establish Batgirl as a relatable and engaging presence. The issue quickly establishes the "threat" as it is, but really the dognapping is of secondary interest to Batgirl both playing along with Esme and genuinely admiring her.
The scenes between the two have an immediate sense of chemistry to them, aided by Larson’s wry take on Batgirl and winningly blunt-force characterization of Esme. And although the story has a fairly lighthearted tone, Inaki Miranda is able to convey both the snap-crack rapport between the pair and a sense of wider danger: the opening scene with Esme taking on a gang of kids teases a more malevolent tone before happily settling into something from an '80s Spielberg movie. There’s a sense of warmth introduced especially with the work of Eva De La Cruz throughout the issue, who offers some wonderful coloring choices which settle in deep and develops the setting and characters.
De La Cruz uses flat blues and yellows to create a cold nighttime atmosphere which is punctuated by use of reds and oranges every time Esme gets excited or saves the day. There’s a real feeling of heart through the coloring palette as a result, backing up Miranda’s fun but restrained storytelling and adding a little verve among the jokes and heroics. The colors also make for a wonderful final page, as the dark blues of the night sky start to drift away and the red sun starts to come up for dawn -- signalling how Esme’s childlike warmth has affected and inspired Batgirl herself in her nightly crusade in Gotham City.
With the sterling character work elsewhere on Esme and Barbara, a more sweeping character like Catwoman breaking into the storyline does make things feel more ridiculous and broad. This Catwoman is the silliest and wildest portrayal of the character we’ve seen in several years, reminding of Silver Age shenanigans which will please some and frustrate others. But then again, the issue is clearly aimed at all-ages, and it pulls off the immensely difficult task of bringing something for everyone -- not many comics can pull off a pun title for Janeane Garofalo fans and throw in #hashtag dialogue at the same time.
Batgirl has such an abundance of charm that it’s impossible not to get pulled in. It’s easy for a one-off issue to feel unnecessary or redundant, but Batgirl #13 is another successfully cocksure, confident installment of one of DC’s most reliably enjoyable and appealing comics.