Gail Simone is all about putting her redheaded heroines through hell this week. We saw that she had Red Sonja get completely demolished, and while Barbara Gordon might not get stabbed and infected with the plague, she's having a hell of a rough time of things, too – and it only gets worse in Batgirl #23.
Babs has removed the Bat from herself, as she feels she no longer deserves to wear it after believing she's killed her murderous brother. The line has been crossed, and she's exiled herself from the Bat-family while she deals with the emotional fallout – not the least of which is Comissioner Jim Gordon wanting to throw the book at Batgirl for crossing that line, completely unaware that he's trying to jail his own daughter. The commish is trying to track Batgirl down by contacting the super-rich Charisse Carnes, who has been in conflict with her quite a bit thanks to her secret career as a criminal-killer called Knightfall. She may be a vigilante, but she's also not afraid to kill the innocent to protect her operation, and now Jim is on her radar.
Meanwhile, Babs' roommate is trying to lift her spirits with a shopping spree, but that ends badly when a couple of creeps get too obnoxious and she loses it and makes a big scene – tragedy and trauma have a way of making things a lot more difficult for a woman with a perfect eidetic memory. What's worse, her burgeoning boyfriend, the wrong side of the tracks guy Ricky Gutierrez, has been seen with Batgirl enough that she's Jim's next target, and Detective Melody McKenna, who has worked with Batgirl to take down Carnes to no avail, isn't able to shake Jim's conviction to bring her down. So it's a perfectly bad time for Ricky's past to catch up with him – a gang called The Sixty-Eight Kings has kidnapped his brother, Rolo, and if Ricky doesn't show, they'll go after his mother, too. Bolting out the back window and knocking McKenna out doesn't make him look good, but he's prioritizing saving Rolo over behaving for the cops – although he did take a moment to call Babs to break up with her and tell her he's about to die. In the aftermath, Jim finds a picture of Ricky with his daughter. The secret identity madness is getting harder to maintain – how long until Jim puts it together?
Babs, meanwhile, may have been dating an ex-criminal, but she was still paranoid enough to put a tracer in his cell phone, and thus she rejoins the life she thought she left behind when she gave up being Batgirl. The heroism is that much harder when she's just clad in your average ski mask and black togs, she's forced to beat up cops to save Ricky, and the resulting cluster of criminal and cop convergence results in another death – one that may be too much for Barbara to handle.
Simone's really been letting Ms. Gordon start to drown in the undertow of her own life, pushing her in directions she doesn't want to go, and we as readers never thought she'd go. True, she didn't really kill her brother, but she doesn't know that, and we didn't really think her downward spiral would get even worse than that. The surest way to get someone on your protagonist's side is to have life beat them up pretty fiercely, and that's what's going on here. Fernando Pasarin's artwork gets the job done as well, with much credit going to Blond on colors and Jonathan Glapion on inks to create the ever darkening mood.
We're past the time when I felt I was reading Batgirl more out of loyalty to Simone than I was out of genuine enjoyment of the book. Batgirl #23 has confirmed that all (or maybe just most) bets are off, and we don't know how far into the rabbit hole we're going to go.