Batgirl #23 marks the second issue in a row in which Barbara Gordon does not don her eponymous costume but that doesn’t stop series writer Gail Simone from ratcheting up the tension in the life of the former crime fighter. From recurring visions of killing her brother James Jr. to being hunted as a fugitive by her own father Commissioner Gordon, Barbara has a lot to contend with in this issue. Not to mention there’s the return of villain Knightfall and the conflict between her criminal-turned-beau Ricky and his shady past coming to a head. Simone is making sure that Barbara is being tested even more now than she ever was under a mask and it’s resulting in some of the most exciting storytelling in the DC New 52.
It’s not just that Simone is pulling elements from all of her prior issues together to run the gauntlet on Babs, it’s that she’s doing it so seamlessly without characters stepping on each other’s toes. Having Knightfall be associated with the gang of thugs harassing Ricky keeps her constantly in the picture during Commissioner Gordon’s investigation into Batgirl, while also setting her up for another confrontation with our hero later on down the line. Yet easily the most tension that Simone puts into this issue comes in the confrontation between Ricky, Gordon, and Detective McKenna, the end result of which is unpleasant on all fronts.
For all the tension that Simone puts into the script, the art duties from Fernando Pasarin struggle to maintain the seriousness this book needs. Pasarin draws some of the most bizarre, over exaggerated facial expressions and I couldn’t help but be completely taken out of several panels because of it. Yet in his action scenes, Pasarin and Simone are perfectly aligned with one another, particularly the panel in which Batgirl dispatches two police officers with a swift kick in the pouring rain.
Despite some misgivings with the art, I found Batgirl #23 to be a tremendous start to an arc that might very well become Simone’s crowning achievement in writing this character.