If I were into star ratings (I'm not, far too indecisive), this issue would immediately bag an extra star for the fun bit of business on Phil Noto's cover. Holy Sixties TV references! It made me want to hear the Batgirl theme again, so here it is: http://homepage.mac.com/jjbeach/einheri/music/batgirl.html It's a striking image - literally, for the poor hood in the foreground - and extra-clever in that the debut proper of her own costume is the first time we've seen a full-figure Batgirl on the outside since the series began.
Having spent the first three issues finding her Bat-feet and persuading Oracle to mentor her, new Batgirl Stephanie Brown enjoys a night on the town. We follow her testing her outfit on the streets of a Gotham plunged into pitch black by a power outage.
And this is the most fun I've had with a Bat-book in years. Stephanie's delight as she finds that, yeah, she can do the hero thing as well as anyone makes for a refreshing read. There's not a single moment of 'would Batman approve?' - having Oracle behind her has relaxed Steph, letting her ascend to the next level from her days as kid crimebuster Spoiler.
Babs, back in the Batcave, monitors Steph as she grapples with the swinging chick bit and foils robberies. When Steph finally meets the villain behind the power cut, it's a Superman-level baddie, but is she cowed? Nope, she's confident, not cocky and wins the day due to a combination of luck and the fresh suit. Well, it's so ugly that it has to be useful.
Writer Bryan Q Miller produces a superbly structured and realised script, using a typical Gotham crisis to give us both a tour of the city and Steph's head. But it's not just Steph - every regular in here has a moment to shine. We see Leslie Thompkins at her clinic, where recently crippled Wendy Harris is trying to force herself to walk again. Babs spends half the night bidding to outquip her protege and the rest helping Wendy deal with her issues in as non-patronising a manner as possible. And Commissioner Gordon and new CGPD detective Nick Gage mirror the growing friendship of Steph and Babs in sharply scripted scenes.
My moment of the month has Steph encounter a Gotham City tour bus, an idea so obvious it's surprising I've not come across it previously.
Usual penciller Lee Garbett shares the work here with Tim Levins and while their Batgirls are pretty similar, the disparity in Oracle is slightly jarring. The hairstyle alters and - wonder of wonder - we get Babs smiling. A lot. This is how it should be, she's done the stern Bat-figure bit in previous months, advising Steph to stay off the streets. Now she's anointed the younger woman her successor, it's fair enough she gets infected by Steph's joie de vivre. It could be that Miller asked for a perkier Babs as the script went on, or perhaps there's simply less of the grim in the Levins pencil. Either way, I like it.
Both artists do a good job - assisted by three inkers - in giving us a kinetic ride. A page where the emotions become too much for Wendy, I'm guessing Levins, is smartly conceived and works wonderfully well. I'd be very happy were Levins to be regular pinch-hitter and, were Garbett to move on, penciller number one.
Letterer John J Hill and colourist Guy Major do their usual fine jobs but please Guy, get Wendy out of that red vest, she's starting to reek.
All in all, this is like a second first issue, and easily the best instalment since the book began. If you've not tried Batgirl's book yet, make like a tourist and hop on.