Batgirl Special #1 (1988)

Batgirl Special #1 (1988)
“The Last Batgirl Story”
Writer – Barbara Randall
Penciller – Barry Kitson
Inker – Bruce Patterson
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Carl Gafford
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.50

Here’s one that caught me off guard.  While rummaging through the dollar room at one of the local shops I came across this interesting Batgirl comic with a Mike Mignola cover.  Never seen (nor heard of) it before… figured it’s probably something I oughta have.

What I didn’t expect was for it to be the “final” Barbara Gordon as Batgirl story.  For whatever reason, perhaps poor reading comprehension, I had always assumed that she was still an active vigilante during The Killing Joke.  I thought she had her prime-crime fighting years robbed of her.  I never knew that she’d already hung up the tights for good… right here in this very issue.

Let’s get the skinny…

We open on a flashback… four years ago.  Batgirl is dealing with a man in a ranger hat who is holding a young hostage.  Batgirl steps out… and gets shot in the gut!  Somehow, she was able to fool the fella into thinking her dead.  We see her holding onto a flagpole while a small crowd of officers gathers around a “body”.  Amidst the hoopla, the hostage was able to split too.  This man is Cormorant… and according to Barbara Gordon, he is responsible for “killing” her.  In the present, Babs is working in the Gotham Public Library where… a murder just occurred.  One with Cormorant’s fingerprints all over it!

Barbara quickly takes control of the situation and instructs her team on how to proceed.  She walks over to the corpse… which had been stabbed in the back… and notices a hat similar to Cormorant’s.  The police arrive, and note that the victim (David Scarano) was murdered with an “unusual” type of blade.  Barbara notices a slip of paper stuffed between a couple of books.  She pockets the page before heading off to set up an interview room for the Officers.

She retires to her office to do some pre-Google records searching.  I dig this scene, as it makes her transition into Oracle seem so much more organic.  Anyhoo, Scarano is the son of General Scarr, who was evidently the man who had hired Cormorant four years earlier to off Batgirl.  Her search continues… which turns up information that shows Scarano has quite a few violent crimes under his belt… all with female victims.

Barbara returns home, and realizes that it’s time for her to ready herself for a confrontation… in her Bat-gear.  It’s a pretty cool scene, where she makes sure everything’s working… and that all of her supplies are in order.  Not enough heroes do this… at least not on panel.

The following morning another stabbed-in-the-back corpse shows up… this time on the sidewalk outside the Police Precinct.  Attached to it is a note, which indicates that the victim was paying for his crimes against women… with his life.  The news media gets wind of the murders, and nicknames the perpetrator “Slash”.

Later on that morning, Barbara is woken from bed by somebody ringing the doorbell.  Why it’s her old friend Marcy!  Who?  Okay… did a bit of research… I guess Marcy was Babs’ childhood friend, she appeared in an issue or two of Secret Origins, and the two of them conceived the “idea” of Batgirl together… I think.  I don’t think I actually have the issue in question.  If I do, I definitely haven’t read it.  Anyhoo… they hug and everything’s hunky-dory… until Barbara tells Marcy that they are alone.  At this point, Marcy lays into Babs for actually becoming Batgirl!

They argue a bit… well, not really argue… but disagree, I guess.  Barbara heads into her bedroom and retrieves a Batgirl doll… which is another bit from Secret Origins… which somehow makes Marcy understand Barbara’s decision to fight crime in a bat suit.

We shift scenes to the streets… a man walks past a trench coated figure… who nonchalantly stabs him in the heart.  Dang.  Apparently this fella also has a record of victimizing women.  The man bleeds out and dies while our trenchcoat killer slinks into an alley… sheds their disguise… and reveals itself to be a woman in head to toe super-spandex.

Back at Barbara’s, our hero hops on her PC and taps into the library’s records system to continue her search.  It’s not long before she has procured Cormorant’s home address… which is pretty handy.  Marcy doesn’t dig the idea of Babs going on stakeout, but she is unable to stop her.  And so, one train ride later… and Batgirl is sitting in a tree outside of the big bad’s home.

He’s watching TV and drinking a beer… ya know, nothing outta the ordinary.  On the set, a news piece airs about “Slash”.  At this point, Cormorant gets a phone call… somebody wants to use his services to off this new vigilante.  Corm’s wife watches the news intently.  She sweeps her (frizzy) hair back behind her ear… which reveals a few decent-sized welts on her cheek… and is that a smirk?  Thinkin’ that’s gonna be important.

The phone call ends, and Cormorant heads into his back room where he proceeds to clean his guns.  Perhaps not totally desirable behavior… but nothing illegal.  Batgirl watches on… just waiting for something… anything… to happen, but it doesn’t.  A bit later on, Marcy arrives to drive her back into the city.  On the drive home, they hear a scream from an alley.  Batgirl hops into action, however, Nightwing and Robin already seem to have the situation under control.  She’s not needed… I’m thinkin’ that’s gonna be important too…

We shift to Slash entering a darkened apartment.  She is meeting someone who has a job for her.  It’s not exactly subtle… but the frizzy haired, wedding ring wearing job giver hands over a file on Slash’s next target… Cormorant.  I wonder who this might be… okay, it’s the wife… it’s totally the wife.

Back at Barbara’s place, the TV news is talking about a man named Anthony Caterino.  He has a history of assault charges, however none of them stuck.  He’s being released from custody today.  Barbara figures that this might be Slash’s next target.  She pays the man a visit to warn him… then waits for the fun to begin.

It’s not long before Slash shows up… Barbara crashes through the window, however there’s not a whole lot she can do.  Caterino is being held with a knife to his throat… and Batgirl knows Slash ain’t afraid to… well, slash.  Caterino breaks the hold, and gets stabbed for his trouble.  Barbara engages in battle… only to get stabbed for her trouble.  With Batgirl down, Slash finishes the job on Caterino.

This next scene is pretty awesome.  Batgirl struggles to her feet to leave Caterino’s halfway-house lodging, in an attempt to catch up with Slash.  She jumps down to a nearby roof like she usually would… but she is too injured.  She just falls.  After regaining her footing, she throws a bat-line to a nearby roof… and struggles the whole climb.  Once she gets to the roof, she flashes back to the dangers she’s faced… then, calls it quits.  As in, Batgirl is doneski.

Barbara returns home, and Marcy bandages her up.  She tells her friend that she’s done being Batgirl… which relieves her to no end.  Once Marcy leaves the room, however, the other shoe drops.  Barbara will retire Batgirl… as soon as she brings Slash to justice.

Our next scene is another that I quite like.  It’s the next day, and Batgirl is out on patrol.  It would appear that she is just moments too late each time something happens.  As in, before she can engage… another superhero has already remedied the situation.  This is a pretty powerful scene… and I’ll do my best to expand on why I feel that way in the “review” portion below.

It’s at this point that Batgirl decides it’s time to face her “killer”… it’s time to confront Cormorant (say that a buncha times fast).  She breaks into his house… and he calmly asks her if she wants a drink.  From behind his home bar, he produces a shotgun.  From here he walks her through how he’s going to kill her and get away with it.  Ya see, Batgirl broke in… which, sure… that was probably a bad idea.  Cormorant’s wife enters… but is shouted out of the room by her husband.

Our big bad guides Batgirl onto the porch, the site at which he plans to perforate her but good.  Before he can, however, a knife is plunged into his shoulderblade.  Looks like Slash has arrived on the scene, and not a minute too soon, right?  Corm’ tries to retreat inside the house… but, uh-oh, his wife appears to have locked the door.

Batgirl kicks the shotgun out of his hand… which, ya know… might be considered a dangerous idea… but, we’ll let that slide.  Worse yet, at this point she takes her eyes off the prize and engages Slash.  Cormorant takes this opportunity to slink off into the garage.

The ladies face off… but only for a moment.

Batgirl throws a desperation smoke bomb to make it more difficult for Cormorant to land a shot.  She considers leaving the scene entirely… letting Cormorant and Slash kill each other… but decides that’s just not how heroes operate.

The struggle continues… and we wind up at a point in which Batgirl is on her knees in front of Cormorant… and he’s got his gun pressed into her chest, while she is only armed with a small knife.  In the background we can see Slash creeping up, ready to kill Cormorant.  Barbara has only fractions of a second to plan her next move… should she allow Slash to murder Cormorant?  It’s a no-brainer for Babs… she hurls the knife into Slash’s throat.  Wha–?

Slash slumps to the ground… and Cormorant is a bit bamboozled… and, ya know… so am I.  He regains his composure and says some very he-man woman-hatey type stuff before the fight resumes.  At this point, however, Barbara has had just about enough of his crap… and proceeds to just beat the holy hell out of him.

He crawls away, trying to reach for his gun… when “somebody” hands another gun to a dying (?) Slash.  Barbara pounces… Cormorant readies his shot… and then… bang!  Slash puts a hold in Cormie’s head.

Later, the police arrive… and Mrs. Cormorant is taken away in handcuffs… Cormorant is packed in a body bag… Slash is loaded into an ambulance… and Barbara heads home.

When she arrives home, she presents Marcy with a gift… her Batgirl costume.  This was Batgirl’s last case… she is now really and truly… retired.  The ad on the next page shows us just how retired she’s gonna be.  Not too ominous, right?

Don’t usually include ads as part of the synopsis… but making an exception here.

While this isn’t a terribly exciting issue… it’s still quite important, or at least it was.  Maybe it still is… I dunno.  A collection of great scenes, either way.

I gotta admit, I was coming into this fairly blind… my post-Crisis Batgirl isn’t quite up to snuff.  I did a bit of research and found that some of the things referred to here were covered/introduced in an issue of Secret Origins (#20)…. Marcy and the Batgirl-doll, specifically.  I wasn’t sure if those were appearances that were supposed to jog a memory… but, I’ll tell ya, they sure didn’t.

To our main character… we see a Barbara Gordon here who is so driven… so affected by things that have happened to her that she must see this case through to the end.  She is relentless in her approach to finding justice that she puts her body through the wringer.  We see her stabbed, falling from windows, beaten, shot at… and actually shot (in flashback).  I really wasn’t expecting such brutality.  She lies to her friend, and probably to herself as well.  I really like how conflicted Barbara is portrayed here.

We go throughout the entire issue with tunnel-vision focused on Cormorant.  Even when all evidence points elsewhere, Barbara just can’t let it go.  I really like this… too often, at least these days, our heroes are portrayed as “too cool for school”.  Anybody who has read this blog knows that’s one of my main problems with contemporary comics storytelling.  Here, Barbara has been so profoundly affected… changed, even… by Cormorant’s brutality four years earlier.

Let’s talk about that scene for a bit.  I’m guessing this occurred in a Bat-backup story… though I can’t say for certain.  Barbara actually gets blasted with a semi-automatic!  This was all new information for me… and it’s kinda eerie considering what’s yet to come for her.  What I do not know is if that was Batgirl’s last appearance before this… I can see she had faked her death that night… not sure if she went into semi-retirement at that point as well.

One thing that surprised me above all else was her apparent willingness to kill.  As we were wrapping up, she threw a knife right into Slash’s throat!  She survived, of course, however… ya gotta figure when you hurl something sharp toward a person’s throat… you’re doing so with the intent to kill… or at the very least, open to the possibility of killing.

I like how it was shown that Batgirl really wasn’t needed around town.  It’s just a one-page piece… and it’s purely anecdotal… but it gives her a sort of peace of mind… a way to assuage herself of having any guilt for hanging up the cape.  This might just have been what Barbara wanted to see.  Sure, there are still bad guys… and there always will be… but the other Gotham heroes are more than capable of carrying the burden.  I may be reading too far into this page… but I really feel as though this was her way of validating her decision to retire to herself.  I’m not sure whether it’s subtle or not… but I don’t suppose it necessarily has to be.  I liked it.

Let’s discuss the ending.  It was rather flat… but I kinda like that.  Sometimes a huge situation does not warrant a bombastic reaction.  I think that we, as readers, sometimes (for a lack of a better term) romanticize big sweeping changes in lore… however, for the characters in a story… it’s just the next step in their life.  This entire issue had been Barbara making peace with the idea of retirement… at the end, she simply hands her costume over to Marcy.  I wonder if it’s relative-normalness is part of the reason I’d never heard of this issue… and always just assumed that the Joker put her on the shelf.  Dunno.

Speaking of the Joker… I gotta wonder if the ads were purposefully placed here.  The ad facing the final story page is for… The Killing Joke.  That can’t be an accident, right?  Also, if we flip one page back from the last… we get an ad for the Who’s Who Update 1988… which features a certain wheelchair-bound redhead.  Interesting stuff… which further makes me question how I’d never heard about this.

Overall… I’d definitely say that this is worth tracking down.  I am absolutely shocked that this HAS been made available digitally.

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2 thoughts on “Batgirl Special #1 (1988)

  • Captain Blog

    During release, this comic was actually 'hot' for a bit. It did play into the Killing Joke and was seen as a swan song for Barb. The ending was deliberate considering what was coming.

  • I dunno about this one. It was ok. I get what they were going for, but I didn't particularly care how extremely vulnerable and victimized they made Babs while at the same time making her pretty dang ineffective in the book. I mean you don't have Batman dreaming every night about the villians that have came close to ending him. You have Babs chasing the wrong killer because of a hat (and her obsession), her previous loss to said D-list villian and inability to really take him down until the end where she still had to be "saved". I'm torn. They were going for humanizing moments, violence and trauma that's hard to move past but they really didn't balance it out with anything superheroic. She had a moment at the end where she really takes him down, but he still gets the upper hand on her (which is just one of many times in the book it happens to her). Basically all Batgirl does in this is get her butt kicked multiple times and quit, which is really sad for her as a character. They did such better job in the future addressing the psychological trauma she endured from Killing Joke than they did here for sure. I'm not mad that I bought it, but as a Batgirl fan, if that truly was the last Batgirl story I would have been livid.


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