The Curse of the Volume 2s continues for DC’s New 52 line and after some terrible second volumes for Justice League, Batwoman, Stormwatch and Suicide Squad, the promising Batgirl series has also fallen prey to weak writing and a storyline lacking fresh, exciting ideas in “Knightfall Descends”.
Batman readers will have noticed the familiar title of this book which brings to mind Batman’s Knightfall saga in which Bane broke the Bat. It’s not a direct reference as Bane isn’t in this book but it seems to be distantly linked: the main villain in this book is Knightfall, a crazy woman who’s wearing a shirt with a templar cross on it like Azrael aka Jean-Paul Valley who, in Knightfall, became Batman when Bruce was recovering from his broken back. Factor in all of the religious references and it looks like Knightfall might reveal a connection to Azrael.
One of the aspects of Barbara’s character I liked in the first book was the appearance of her mother, whose absence always seemed odd, like her little brother’s, and I was looking forward to her back-story because James Jr’s back-story was so brilliant. Sadly, Simone doesn’t match Snyder’s imagination – not even close. Barbara – Batgirl’s mum (and that’s another thing, Babs is named after her mum and her brother is named after her dad – what egotistical, slightly incestuous, parental decisions. No wonder the kids turned out so weird!) – reveals she left her family, partly because James Jr. was a nutjob even at 10 and freaked her out by killing the family cat. So her reaction to her son behaving in a troubling way was to leave her husband and daughter? For how many years? Yeah that makes sense…! To be fair Simone does also have Barbara say she had a mental breakdown, but it’s an unsatisfying back-story that marred the book for me as it was so disappointingly shallow and unimaginative.
So then we get to the main villain of the story – Knightfall. Her plan is to do what Batman and co. already do but instead of sending captured villains to Arkham, Blackgate, etc., to just execute them and move on – no second chances. Which is a bit rough, eh? Her back-story though is just nuts. Knightfall is Charise Carnes the daughter of one of the most powerful families in Gotham, except when she starts dating an ordinary guy he turns out to be a psycho who winds up spending 3+ hours murdering her entire family in front of her – for no reason it seems, he’s just crazy. Also, somehow this most powerful of families doesn’t have security cameras, panic buttons, bodyguards, servants, or a whole phalanx of security to protect them from threats like this nutter. So the experience of watching her family killed in front of her makes her voluntarily go to Arkham Asylum where she “learned the craft of madness”, re-emerging as an extreme vigilante who dresses like a templar with a shadowy hood. Knightfall’s back-story makes perfect sense and isn’t at all convoluted.
One of the biggest failings of this series has been how dreary the bad guys are and Volume 2 does nothing to fix this problem. The first villain in this book is a dullard wearing an oni mask calling himself Grotesque. His motivation? To steal expensive wine. “The Night of Owls” crossover issue is included, which is decent but feels out of place in between the Grotesque storyline and Knightfall’s, especially as the Talons are far more interesting villains than either of them. So then we have Knightfall and her gang of twits who go by the names of Bonebreaker (she’s the brawler of the group in case the name was too subtle), a “bargain basement Hawkman” (Batgirl’s words) called Katharsis, and the brilliantly named Bleak Michael, who secretes acid instead of sweat! Together they are… the Disgraced! I know, I’ve already forgotten them too.
The other story aspect of the book was James Jr’s appearance which appears to be heading down the “Black Mirror” path – a highly original choice, especially as that storyline came out a mere 2 years ago – and the ending of the book is just pathetic, once more recycling plots that happened far too recently to be going back to them again so soon. See what I mean about the lack of fresh ideas? I like Gail Simone, she’s a great writer, and I really want to like Batgirl, but this is not a great book and a sub-standard follow-up to an interesting first volume. Given the turn for the worse the series has taken, the title should be “Batgirl Descends”!
Batgirl, Volume 2: Knightfall Descends by Gail Simone et al. is out now in hardback and digital editions.
We are currently seeking Comics contributors on WhatCulture. To find out more about the perks of being a Comics contributor, click here.