The gimmick cover promises that this is a Death of the Family Prologue. And if one page counts as prologue, that it is. For the rest, though, this is the continuation of Batgirl's battle with Knightfall, and that's fine by me - we're in the middle of a gripping storyline and I don't want it short-shrifted to fit some crossover schedule. I can wait another month for Barbara Gordon's run-in with the Joker.
As we join Batgirl she's bleeding out, stabbed in the gut by murderous vigilante Knightfall. After several pages of nicely choreographed action, and help from an unexpected quarter, the tables are turned and Knightfall is on her way to prison. Batgirl and latecomer allies Batwoman and Det. McKenna know she'll soon be back on the streets - as rich girl gone mad Cherise Carnes, Knightfall can steer the wheels of justice away from her - but they're making a point: not everyone can be bought. When Knightfall shows up again, she'll be challenged.
Back at her flat, roommate Alysia introduces a delighted Barbara to her new cat, Alaska. Barbara would be less enthusiastic about the furry darling were she to know who'd given it to Alysia - her own psycho brother, James Gordon Jr. James Gordon Jr who was watching her fight with Knightfall over CCTV.
Across town, meanwhile, Barbara's mom's home is being invaded by Joker henchmen who seem to have formed a Killing Joke tribute act ...
My distaste for the level of brutality aside, this is a terrific comic. Writer Gail Simone's Batgirl is by now as engaging a heroine as in her Oracle days, a great fighter and probable genius who never allows herself to be cocky - she knows she's just one wrong move away from death. And while Barbara's constantly checking her feelings, she's a million miles from being self-obsessed: if she can help just one victim, any amount of pain is worthwhile.
The guy she's helping here is Ricky, a car thief who had his leg hacked off by Knightfall's crew in their twisted version of justice. I hope Simone adds him to the supporting cast, I love it when Barbara helps people find the right path, and given Ricky's injury, the formerly crippled hero could help rehabilitate him on two fronts.
Knightfall is barking, and we see just what that means this issue, as she gives Batgirl more of her backstory. She's certainly the most engaging of this book's new villains to date, and I look forward to her return.
Pencilling and inking, Ed Benes gifts this book possibly its best-looking issue yet. Fractured panel arrangements and postures make for a frenetic ride, while the emotions are always evident on the players' faces. At times Benes goes for a finish reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz, something rhat's especially effective as we're reintroduced to Knightfall's prisoner (click on image to enlarge).
What's more, he makes Alaska just beautiful. And the colouring of Ulises Arreola tends towards the naturalistic without neglecting the drama.
Gimmicky as the cover by Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia is, it's also well done - the ultra-close-up of Batgirl's head behind the Joker mask is rather striking.
This book has been getting better by leaps and bounds - and it wasn't bad to start with. If the basically irrelevant cover brings in a few new readers, I shan't complain. I doubt they will either.