Monday, February 25, 2008

The "Last" Batgirl Story


Oops. I completely forgot this issue existed, but suddenly, near the bottom of the recently-mentioned errant box of comics, was this dynamic Mike Mignola cover on the Batgirl Special #1 from 1988.

Inside is a tale entitled, "The Last Batgirl Story" written by Barbara Randall, with art by Barry Kitson and Bruce D. Patterson. This was DC's opportunity to tie up some loose character ends with Barbara Gordon, who was scheduled to be shot and paralyzed by the Joker only a few short months later. And just in case you've forgotten that, there's a full page house ad for The Killing Joke at the end of the story.

We find Barbara at the Gotham Public Library, where she and her staff have just discovered a man brutally murdered in the stacks. And there's a clue with the body that leads her to believe that the murderer is Cormorant, a man whom she faced off against and lost to several years earlier.

Babs remembers the shaking her career took in her confrontation with Cormorant, who shot her and left her to die when she tried to rescue a little girl he'd kidnapped. The experience has shattered her confidence and she's a little hesitant to track him down, though simultaneously pleased to have the opportunity to regain something of herself. I enjoyed seeing that she is already portrayed here as the proficient computer hacker we will know later as Oracle, when Barbara subverts the library computers to support her crime-fighting efforts.

Meanwhile, a childhood friend, Marcy, appears on her doorstep and begins berating her about being Batgirl. It's a concept that Babs and Marcy created when they were little girls (according to a Secret Origins tale of the time) wherein they design ragdolls based on two big heroes in the news, thereby creating the concepts for Batgirl and Supergirl. Marcy has easily figured out who the Batgirl in the news was and is there to talk Barbara out of her crime-fighting career.

Of course, the timing couldn't be worse, and Babs has to deal with Marcy's anger when she insists on following up on Cormorant. To complicate things, there's a costumed serial killer in Gotham called Slash, who's been leaving the bodies of men who've escaped prosecution for crimes against women.

Marcy's unsuccessful at first, now that Barbara is building her confidence to go face Cormorant...and then surprises Batgirl while she's staking out the guy's house. Cormorant, meanwhile, has received a phone call from someone and he accepts a contract to kill Slash. Meanwhile, Slash has received a folder about Cormorant's past, and she's planning to hit him.

Barbara agrees that its time to retire as Batgirl, she insists to herself on wrapping up this last case and sneaks off back to Cormorant's house, where she confronts him. It looks for a moment like it will end poorly for Babs, as he has her at the wrong end of his shotgun and is laying a case for self-defense. He backs her outside to stage the scene properly, but his long-suffering wife locks the door behind him. When Slash shows up a moment later, Cormorant can't escape and the two villians of the piece begin to battle, with Batgirl caught in the crossfire.

Cormorant injures Slash and then turns his attention to Barbara. It looks like tough times again for Babs, but some distraction is gained when she saves Cormorant from another Slash attack and the two go at each other once again. Once more Slash is knocked down and C turns back to Batgirl...but Mrs. Cormorant sneaks out of the house and places one of her husband's guns in Slash's hand: "Here, it's his," she says, "Finish your work."

And the tale is essentially complete. In a short coda, we see some happy time between Barbara and Marcy, during which Barbara makes a gift of the Batgirl costume to her costumer friend and we get a nice upbeat ending.

And the page opposite is full of omen and foreshadowing (though only now, with the benefit of hindsight), as the house ad with Brian Bolland's mad-looking Joker fills the last page of the book.

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