“Batgirl Annual” #3 gives Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher four artists to work with, and normally that could be a recipe for disaster. However, not only do Bengal, David Lafuente, Ming Doyle and Mingjue Helen Chen all have styles that work well with one another, but the structure of the story plays into both the multiple artists as well as the overall length of the annual.
What’s nice about Stewart and Fletcher’s story is that it’s really four stories in one; the overall plot involves Batgirl trying to trace down the leader of Gladius’ organization, but it’s broken into a series of unofficial chapters. Each portion brings in a different member or group of characters from the Batman family — Grayson/Spyral, Spoiler, Batwoman and the “Gotham Academy” cast — and, honestly, this story could have just as easily been turned into a four-part “Batgirl” storyline if the comic was more of a traditional-superhero oriented series these days.
That said, I think the length of “Batgirl Annual” #3 is perfect for this story. It never feels too fast, and each character and situation is lingered on just enough to get a good feel for who they are, but never so much that it starts to drag. Grayson’s appearance in “Batgirl Annual” #3 is probably the most prominent, and it’s nice that Stewart and Fletcher’s script meshes so well with the regular tone of that series; everything from the covert Spyral antics to the running joke regarding Grayson’s butt is present, but it doesn’t feel forced or out of place. The other portions are fun, too, and it’s especially nice to have the book end with the “Gotham Academy” kids looking up to a role model. The story is ultimately a solid romp that achieves its goals easily.
The different artists are all doing a good job here, too. Bengal’s ease with action sequences is hard to miss; the opening splash with Batgirl swooping in to save someone from a bus feels so energetic that she’s practically leaping off of the page. Bengal’s the perfect choice for this first chapter, with the high-flying antics of both Grayson and Batgirl. It’s a trait that the other artists share too. Lafuente’s art in the Spoiler section is hysterical, even as he gives Spoiler a relaxed appearance. I’d love to see him draw a “Spoiler” series, should that happen. Doyle’s art in the third sequence is the darkest in many ways, but that also fits with the attempted wicker man pyre and the creepy helmet on Gladius. Chen’s animation-esque art closes out the book, looking very much like these pages came directly from “Gotham Academy” (it helps that Chen just drew an issue of the series back in June), and the soft, gentle look is the perfect way to close out the comic.
“Batgirl Annual” #3 hits all of its marks well; it has solid story, good art and takes advantage of the longer format. I wish all five week months ended with annuals of this caliber. Once again, “Batgirl” is right on track.