Thursday, 20 August 2009

Batgirl #1 review

This book has been promised for so long that I'd forgotten all about it. That being so, I was pleasantly surprised to see it on the racks. And speaking of racks, we're going for a Power Girl vibe, with the emphasis firmly on the bat-breasts here. DC's justification would be that there's a mystery surrounding the identity of this latest Batgirl, so Phil Noto goes in close to avoid showing the top of her mask, eyes peeping through. After all, comic book females are so distinctive, I could recognise anyone through that old gimp mask.

Well, so long as they were She Hulk. Or maybe Shadow Lass.

I do like the symbol, though - the outline of the bat is simple and effective. But this time I'd have gone so far as to drop, or shrink and set to one side, the logo, as its outline echoes the adjacent chest symbol and cuts across the image in an unattractive way. The title lettering itself is pleasingly bold, and perfect . . . for a chocolate bar. The friendly forms simply don't scream 'bat-title', even though the B and R letter forms are reminiscent of earlier Batman and Robin logos.

The opening scene isn't the most exciting. Batgirl is trying to stop some kind of illegal street race. As I understand it, whoever races the organisers would have their cars, possessions and life removed. So why anyone was actually accepting the challenge is beyond me, as it's not like Gotham's lowlives don't talk among themselves. Batgirl manages to stop the current race by tossing herself onto the windscreen of a speeding car from a great height and not dying - that's some bat-armour she has, and her stability must be that of an Olympic gymnast. This apparently causes both cars to crash, she confronts the drivers and puts one of them out by kicking his knee. From a handstand position, even though she's right next to him in the previous panel and could have just kicked the guy without the cheerleader acrobatics. Then the other fella is about to shoot her but is knocked out by a batarang thrown by one of the over the page guest stars. Batgirl's narration indicates that she was about to do something to stop him, but her back's to him all the while and she doesn't notice that someone else has taken care of her problem.

Or am I misreading the sequence? Take a look, I'd be delighted to be made to look an idiot here. Happens all the time ... (click for bigness) To me, it seems there's a disparity between Bryan Q Miller's script and Lee Garbett's pencils.

It could be that we're meant to think the new Batgirl is a bit rubbish - there's even a line to that effect later in the issue - and this book will follow her journey to competence. Or maybe the girl's incompetence will be the comic's unique selling point. That would certainly be novel.

Oh look, Batgirl is Stephanie Brown, the former Spoiler. Who was indeed a bit rubbish, and nagged into pretending to retire by the all-new, all-moody Red Robin, aka Grim Tim Drake/Wayne. Further evidence of her stupidity is randomly unmasking on a rooftop for a splash page pose of the 'I own the night' variety. Stef, pet, you don't even own a particularly dull five minutes of the afternoon.

So how did our heroine come to be Batgirl? Did the title's previous holder, Cassandra Cain, die heroically, putting Steph on a revenge trip? Not quite. She wandered off after a team-up with Spoiler and couldn't be arsed to take the costume home. As ways to hand over a mantle go, it's at least original.

Interspersed with Steph's flashbacks, showing that the girl has that crimefighting bug bad, we join Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl (as opposed to Bat Hyphen Girl, Betty Kane), for another of those moody dinners with dad, Commissioner Jim Gordon. Sometimes she's happy, usually she's sad, but always she's keeping her feelings from a man who is a million miles from Dumb, and one of the most trustworthy people in the DCU. I can never remember if he knows Barbara was Batgirl and is Oracle - hey, it's like I'm a DC editor! - but here it seems he knows something. There's also a sequence with Babs and all-purpose doctor Leslie ('What do you mean, my parents wanted a boy'?) Thompkins watching Wendy Harris play wheelchair basketball. Wendy, in case you don't know, is the daughter of overused DC villain the Calculator and was recently crippled in Teen Titans. Leslie suggests the similarly disabled Babs - remember, only men in the DCU get cured of paralysis - help Wendy with her emotional rehabilitation, but Babs is busy being angry and grim.

Towards the end of the issue there's a scene in which we meet new Gotham cop 'St' Nick Gage, who seems a nice guy in that he doesn't shout at Batgirl when she nearly gets him killed because she's more into posing than fighting (hey, that cover's a true representation of the insides). Earlier in the issue, she mused on the power of Batman's motif, explaining to the readers why she's adopting Cassandra's costume over her own. It's a good line: 'It's like the symbol does half the fighting for you.' Sadly, Steph forgets that this means she has to do something herself. Seriously, her fighting this issue is a step back from her time as Spoiler, when she at least seemed competent. Boy, is she going to get a lecture from Babs next month . . .

I was surprised by how much panel time Babs got here, my impression now being that this is as much her book as Steph's. And the inclusion of Wendy is intriguing - it could be that DC is planning a bait and switch and she'll be cured and take over, or share the Batgirl role. This question will bring me back for a few issues, but unless things improve pretty quickly, I won't be around for long.

Because this is very much Just Another Batbook. I don't really believe Steph's less than stellar performance will continue, but what is this book for? There's already a Batwoman, the Huntress and Oracle fighting crime from the female bat-perspective. All Steph has going for her so far is her optimism, which frequently crosses the line into idiocy. The things that do set her apart - a criminal father, a child she gave up for adoption - aren't even mentioned.

As is, this is a pretty decent comic. Thoroughly OK, worth the death of a tree if said tree was suicidal. Miller's script is pretty good, and I liked the shared narration between Babs and Stef, but ask me in a day what happened here and I'll likely be unable to tell you. There were no unique villains, no elaborate plots, just the latest stage in plucky Steph's heroic quest. And that's something I'd happily see confined to one of DC's new co-features.

Lee Garbett's pencils are attractive enough, and I hope the storytelling of writer and artists (Trevor Scott inks here, but his line is pretty self-effacing) will gel soon. As it is there was another scene that just didn't work. The idea seems to be that Babs is so freaking cool she can beat three baddies without her fighting sticks, and with her back turned, but alternating the blacked-out fight panels with ones taking place immediately prior to the confrontation throws the timeline off. This might work on TV, where quick flashing back between Now and Then is common, but it seems Smallville writer Miller is feeling his way into comics - I had similar problems with his Fearsome Five script in Teen Titans last month, though that, too, had its good moments. Editor Michael Siglain, your ball!

All in all, this wasn't a bad read but it's not going to have anyone salivating for the next issue.

7 comments:

  1. I see BatBabe is still using glasses as a disguise. Haha. Re. the car windscreen. Maybe they act like airbags.....

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  2. Thanks for the great and in-depth review. I didn't buy this last issue but given the detail you go in reviewing it, I just might pick it up.

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  3. Fudgefase, you could be right. I wonder if Power Girl's firm makes those . . .

    Anj, glad I never put you off. Did you see the fun house ad homage to 'Batgirl's costume cut-ups'?

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  4. Actually, in that one sequence if you look closely you'll realise that she's throwing the batarang under her arm. The sound effects are a little misleading but it's pretty clear in context with the rest of the page.

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  5. Not just the sound effects, the angle is right off! I don't feel an idiot at all . . .

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  6. "Then the other fella is about to shoot her but is knocked out by a batarang thrown by one of the over the page guest stars. Batgirl's narration indicates that she was about to do something to stop him, but her back's to him all the while and she doesn't notice that someone else has taken care of her problem."

    No she has a batarang in her hand and then does some sort of trick throw so it hits the guy behind her.

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  7. Thanks. Maybe 'some sort of trick throw' explains why it wasn't too obvious!

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