Last month Stephanie Brown learned that her super-villain dad, the Cluemaster, was behind the riot at Gotham’s Blackgate Prison. As we rejoin her, she’s not frightened, because her father’s not actually a scary guy and she knows that whatever else, he loves her.
Somehow Arthur Brown has got his hands on the alien Black Mercy plant, a piece of fauna powerful enough to latch onto even a Kryptonian psyche. It induces such seductive fantasies in its victim that they surrender, happy never to escape its clutches. Rather than attempt to let it latch onto Batgirl, Cluemaster blows its spores at his daughter, putting her into the sleep state. Batgirl’s down, but she’s not out, and as she slumps floorwards, she manages to take her father out with a well-aimed glue Batarang.
We rejoin Steph as she wakes up in hospital, her mask left intact to protect her identity from strangers. It turns out that she was strong enough to fight off the Black Mercy influence – presumably lesser due to it not being bonded to her. At Steph’s side is her nurse mother, her presence motivating a scene that’s been a long time coming.
Later, mentor Barbara Gordon asks Steph what she saw while asleep and while the younger woman deflects the question, we readers see what she went through – an encounter with the Queen of Fables, her female super-friends (the Queen Titans?) at her side; an energetic adventure with Damian, Babs and herself as Red, Green and Blue Lanterns; a time travel trip to meet the Blackhawks alongside her two predecessors as Batgirl; a graduation day spat with the Royal Flush Gang.
Then we see her again as a grown woman, in a Steph-style Nightwing outfit, accompanied by yet another Batgirl, perhaps her young chum Nell all-gwown-up. She’s confident and proud, the person she’s grown to be throughout the two years of this book. The issue ends with Steph shedding a tear, realising that after all the crap she’s been through, she’s reached a place of peace. She’s not a grim Gotham avenger, she’s the city’s happiest hero. She’s Batgirl.
This is a wonderful issue. I was expecting 20 pages of Steph battling Cluemaster, but what we get instead is a look at the Batgirl adventures that might have been, both in the near and far future. In an interview at Comic Book Resources this week writer Bryan Q Miller talks about the end of Batgirl, and mentions that he had barely any notice of the title’s closure (my words). So it’s likely such things as the Queen of Fables, Lanterns and Blackhawk storylines were things Miller had kicking around in his head.
And while I’m sorry I’ll never see them acted out, Miller’s consistent characterisation of Steph, and the gorgeous snapshot splash pages by illustrator Pere Perez provide some idea of what we’ll be missing – stories that break the Bat-mould by acknowledging that ‘drama’ allows for comedic moments … a little bit of light can only enhance the Gotham shade. Tales starring a woman who fills many roles within the Batman family – little sister to Babs, big sister to Damian, lost love to Tim – while remaining her own person.