The early run of "Birds of Prey" helmed by Duane Swierczynski was a lot of fun, in part because of its slight unpredictability. An early storyline had member Poison Ivy betray the rest of the team, blackmailing them to help her until they were finally freed of her grasp. It's a story that clearly sparked Gail Simone's imagination, and in "Batgirl Annual" #2 she, Robert Gill and Javier Garron present a follow-up as Batgirl and Poison Ivy are reunited -- despite Batgirl's best intentions.
What makes "Batgirl Annual" #2 work as well as it does is how Simone makes this comic stand on its own, regardless of if you've read the "Birds of Prey" issues with Poison Ivy or not. More specifically, she devotes the early pages of "Batgirl Annual" #2 to show the team in action, complete with Poison Ivy, and how well the five of them worked together. It's a short sequence, but it works; the fun interplay between the characters that Swierczynski had brought to the title is revived here. It makes the revelation that Poison Ivy eventually betrayed them have that little sting for old and new readers alike, and it sets up the rest of the comic well.
With that in mind, I also found myself warming to Simone's depiction of Poison Ivy, especially with the explanation for her shifting personality throughout the comic. It made her an interesting character again -- something that she hasn't been since leaving "Birds of Prey" -- and it makes me hope that down the line Simone brings her back into "Batgirl" for another team-up. Because while Simone still keeps Poison Ivy very dangerous and not someone with whom you'd want to stick around, she also has Ivy as an almost sympathetic character. She's a big mess, through and through, like someone with a chemical imbalance who can be great one moment and destructive the next.
I wasn't familiar with Gill or Farron's art before this comic, so it was nice to see each of them tackle part of the annual. Gill presumably is the artist for the first two-thirds or so of the comic, and his art reminds me in some ways of Denys Cowan's. He's got a nice lean look to his characters, with some wiry, sharp ink lines that show up especially around the eyes and in their hair. At the same time, though, characters have features that are squared off a bit (like noses or fingertips) that keep them from looking too sharp or pointed. I also like how well Gill draws Barbara and Alysia in everyday clothing; it feels like what people would wear on the weekend, and with realistic and normal looking proportions to boot. Farron's art is a little fuller and rounder, but it's not an unreasonable shift from Gill to Farron, and I appreciate that it happened as the book shifted from one season to the next. I'd welcome either one of these artists on another superhero book down the line, certainly.
There are some parts of "Batgirl Annual" #2 which feel a little too pat and predictable, like the community garden with Alysia and Barbara, but at the same time it works so well with the rest of the story that ultimately it's hard to complain. All in all, this is a lot of fun; I haven't been reading "Batgirl" for a while (there are only so many hours in the day) but after this annual, consider me back on the "Batgirl" bandwagon. Nicely played.