History lesson: in 1998, Peter David quit his legendary run of The Incredible Hulk due to an editorial dispute (Marvel wanted Savage Hulk back, David wanted to write his comic). His final issue (#467) was an extended denouement set in the future that, among other things, teased all the stories David wouldn't be able to write. Simultaneously a somber, much-earned sendoff to the title he redefined and a middle finger to Marvel for botching the book he made a hit again, David's final issue is a major moment in the idea that these for-hire writers actually have something at stake artistically in these corporate comics.
Bryan Q. Miller does a similar thing in Batgirl #24, his final issue before the much-anticipated DC Comics relaunch replaces him and protagonist Stephanie Brown with fan-favorite Gail Simone and classic Batgirl Barbara Gordon. Having written Batgirl for two years, Miller doesn't quite have the cache that David and his 12-year run had. But as the guy who made us forget all about the problematic backstory of Stephanie Brown (one-note plot device turned Robin's girlfriend turned female-Robin-who-doesn't-count, tortured and murdered but not really) and even made Wendy (of "Wendy and Marvin get attacked by evil Wonderdog" fame), Miller deserves his chance.
Batgirl #23 was pretty much the climax to Miller's most-assuredly-truncated story, where Stephanie Brown faces off with some of the technologically advanced bad guys of earlier issues with the help of some of her fellow marginalized teen girl superheroes. Number 24 opens with Batgirl facing off with her dad, the Cluemaster, which Miller gets out of the way quickly. The centerpiece of the book is actually Stephanie's Black Mercy-fueled hallucination where we get to see a potential future-that-will-never-be for our plucky young heroine: time travel adventures, Green Lantern rings, having children and training new Batgirls. Or, as Stephanie herself describes it, "Stuff."
Stuff that will never happen.
For the sake of comparison, last week's other major Bat-finale, Detective Comics #881 concluded its overarching story with a harrowing, whiz-bang finale rather than a teary goodbye. It didn't meditate on the character in its twilight, mainly because there's no twilight to Batman. He'll be around forever, and Scott Snyder can write with the confidence of knowing that he'll still have a Batman to come home to come September whereas Stephanie Brown may be lost to the multiverse. I wouldn't be surprised if this is the last time we ever see her -- at least as Batgirl.
Miller writes with this knowledge as Stephanie, post-hallucination, remarks that, "Regardless of all the places I've been, and the palces I've yet to go… right here… right now… this moment is mine." The whole affair is teary, sentimental and just a bit meta. There's a certain amount of selfishness in making a corporate superhero book about your conclusion to a character you didn't even create, but this Batgirl was a character he had a hand in, who he shaped and upheld for 24 issues and most people writing superhero comics actually care about their work, or else they'd head for the hills towards more lucrative endeavors. It's okay to be a little selfish, especially since Miller's usual knack for dialogue and character keep this from being a masturbatory experience. No, with a wink and a grappling hook, Batgirl assures fans that, hey, reboots aside, nobody can take away these 24 issues we had together.
Either way, I'm going to miss Batgirl. While the pundits were debating about making superhero comics accessible to the casual reader, Batgirl was coming out every month with succinct story arcs, fun standalone issues and minimal dependence on continuity (I started on this book in the teens and had no trouble following along). While bloggers were calling for gender equality in comics Batgirl had a predominantly female cast further bolstered by witty and charming scripts, filling the gaps that Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars left on TV. And it did so quietly, without the pretension of activism or didacticism behind it. Batgirl is the shining example of what a superhero comic should be.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics.
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