Batgirl: Death Wish

By Kelley Puckett, Chuck Dixon, Damion Scott & Robert Campanella (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-707-8

Here’s another chronologically complex but swift-moving, sure-footed combat classic featuring Cassandra Cain, the third and by far most competent and compelling Batgirl.

When Gotham City was devastated by an earthquake and abandoned by the US government (Batman: Cataclysm ISBN13: 978-1-56389-527-2 and Batman: No Man’s Land Volumes 1-3, ISBN 13’s: 978-1-56389-564-7, 978-1-56389-599-9 & 978-1-56389-634-7 respectively), a few heroes stayed to protect the innocent. One of these was a new, mute incarnation of Batgirl.

The crisis ended and a semblance of normality returned to the battered metropolis. The new heroine was brought under the wing of Barbara Gordon, wheelchair-bound crime-fighter Oracle (and the previous Batgirl) who now runs the Birds of Prey.

Cassandra, unable to communicate in any manner but fluent in gesture reading and body-language, was raised as an experiment by super-assassin David Cain. Her brain’s language centres opened by a telepath, Cassandra was beginning to adapt to a normal world, when she encountered Lady Shiva – the most dangerous person on Earth.

This ultimate martial artist was initially defeated but the two agreed to meet again in a year – in one final death match.

This fourth collection of tales gathers together Batgirl #17-20, 22, 23, 25, and Batgirl Secret Files #1: a seemingly disjointed array of stories that read perfectly well in this order and clearly show how the old-fashioned stand-alone story can still work in a modern milieu.

Kelley Puckett is a master of fast-paced, visual story-telling, allowing the artist to carry the tales in frenetic bursts of information in motion. Pages go by without a single word and this discipline carries the reader through the adventures at dizzying speeds. Here Damion Scott and Robert Campenella give full rein to their cinematic impulses as the new Batgirl prepares for her date with death by invading a US government spook base in search of a corrupt agent, repeatedly trips over Boy Wonder Robin as both discover they’re working the same case from opposite ends, and explores the ramifications of the death penalty – by far and away the best and most troubling tale in the book – when she intervenes in the execution of a felon she’d previously captured…

Throughout these tales (if I’m vague it’s because most of the little gems are inexplicably untitled) Cassandra’s problems with speech and inability to read are handled cleverly and with sensitivity, and when Chuck Dixon guest-scripts a telling and bitterly funny parable about families that singular McGuffin is the trigger for Batgirl to join Stephanie Brown (the hero-in-training called Spoiler) in an attempt to handle the fallout of a kidnapping gone bad.

Puckett resumes with a moody tale as David Cain returns to Gotham with a contract to kill one of the “Bat-Squad”, and in the penultimate story ‘Little Talk’ Batman and Oracle debate the young hero’s motivation in meeting Shiva again in a moody prelude to the climactic ‘I am Become Death, Destroyer of Worlds’ which features the ultimate confrontation between the two greatest martial artists on Earth – a tale full of style and surprise which still finds room to reveal a deep well of psychological subtext.

These gripping tales of flash and razzle-dazzle are picture-perfect examples of comics combat, with just the right ratio of action to plot, to keep the reader’s pulses pounding and eyes wide. Great, great stuff…

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