BatWatch Review: Batgirl #24 - Dragnet

I'm just doing a super quick review since I'm so far behind.

This issue of Batgirl could be a solid or even great addition to the series...if it could just overcome the weight of its own creation. The entire situation is full of so many coincidences that it fractures believability. We have the whole setup and execution of James Jr., the way Commissioner Gordon randomly decides that this is the straw that broke the camel's back and that he is going to persecute Batgirl without ever getting her story, the relationship with Ricky that bloomed on infertile ground, the sacrifice of the Batgirl mantle which could be a nice symbolic gesture but really seems to come out of nowhere, and I could go on, but I'm trying to be brief. The problem is that I just can't see all this scenario where Commissioner Gordon shoots Ricky without rolling my eyes at the whole saga that led us to this point.

While my tolerance for this arc's poor framework was already wearing thin, the issue doesn't do much to ease my pain. Babs, without her gadgets, takes on a couple dozen cops without them subduing her. Nobody has a taser? Then, we have a long dry spell without action in the middle of the issue where we do at least see some quality character interaction, and props to Simone for improving in this area, but we still are watching a miserable Barbara, and we've seen enough of that already. Finally, we get the setup for the next issue which includes a certain character being used as a hostage once more, and that character really deserves more respect than to be little more than a way point marker for the hero and the story.

It's not a horrible issue, but I'm tired of coincidences, and the end of the issue should make it pretty clear just how meaningless the move to give up the Batgirl suit was on the part of Barbara.  

Conclusion 6/10


BatWatch Review: Batgirl #23

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Manhunt

I'm not sure what to expect from this issue. Batgirl has been a rather unpredictable ride, and this arc in particular is built on a shaky foundation. Babs killed her own brother to save her mother's life? Why? Babs clearly has the skill to avoid that. Commissioner Gordon immediately believes the worst about Batgirl without even trying to find out what actually happened? Babs turns to drink to deal with her problems? Really?  

Contrived as it may be, the last issue of Batgirl is easily the best issue of the series I've read in many months and the best in the whole run in terms of making Babs likable and building her supporting cast. Sadly, it looks like Batgirl's boyfriend, Ricky, might have been given some character development in the last issue just to give emotional weight to his certain crisis and possible death in the next couple issues. At leas that is what the preview for this issue and future Batgirl solicits suggest. If Simone (former writer of Birds of Prey and current writer of Batgirl and The Movement) is playing Rickys in Refridgerators, then I have to say my respect for her is going down a notch.

Can Simone give Babs a likable personality and her supporting cast depth or is Babs and her supporting cast just cannon fodder for the grim monstrosity of Gotham to destroy? 

In this issue, Commissioner Gordon tries to track down Batgirl and Barbara finds that Ricky is in deep, deep trouble.

A Tragedy Tonight!

This issue has all the makings of an excellent tragedy. A tense family situation full of lies and betrayals, people inexorably being led to their dreaded fate, and fatal flaws becoming one's undoing are all in play. However, I can't really talk about any of how that stuff plays out without spoilers, so let's save that for later.

Knightfall and her crew come back into play in this issue which is a tidbit I did not expect. I thought Knightfall was an okay character, and she carries on with that impression here. On one hand, I did like her conversation with Commissioner Gordon where she plays coy to the Commissioner's pointed questions and fakes concern for his well being. On the other hand, her actions later in the issue only serve to make her more of a typical "Muah, hah, hah, watch me tweedle my mustache," villain, so...meh.

Commissioner Gordon and Detective McKenna have surprisingly good chemistry together. Both are rather jaded, but whereas Detective McKenna seems to be on the upswing trying to find hope again in this weary world, Commissioner Gordon is going to a darker place than where he usually abides having lost his son and knowing that he is probably about to arrest his daughter. If he did not know Batgirl's identity previously, he would have to know now for reasons I will not explain because they are obvious when you read the issue. Probably, the story will keep things ambiguous, but in my heard, Commissioner Gordon definitely knows.  

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As I had been begging her to do for months, Simone has finally begun to give the supporting cast a chance to develop, and as great as that is, it is perhaps even better than Simone has granted my other plea that Babs become a fun, enjoyable character. She has been so uptight for so long...so prone to constantly berate herself for every minor infraction and dwell on every harsh circumstance that she's been hard for me to see as a hero. Heroes are people who overcome their victimization and Babs often wallows in it. Though she does have a few flashback moments to her grief over killing her brother, (which made me want to bang my head against a wall because the conclusion to the James Jr arc was so bad)  Babs pretty much works as a heroic fighter in this issue and not the struggling victim. She smiles, she jokes, and she threatens pervs. What's not to like?

Though I did like Babs in this story, there is one big thing that knocked the story down a notch, the ending. (Spoilers until Conclusion) Babs' relationship with Ricky is...definitely questionable. Why would these two characters come together when Babs should really, really know better. Still, it has been a breath of fresh air to see Babs acting human, and a love interest has played a big role in that. Also though I know Babs should know better, I don't really see it as incongruent with her personality to be attracted to the bad boy and to try and fix him, so I am (was?) interested in seeing this story arc play out.  

Well, it's played out. Ricky has been shot by Commissioner Gordon because DRAMA!!! I mean, seriously, I've been praising this issue because Babs did not, for the most part, play the part of the victim. I had hoped maybe Simone had good sense and knew that Batgirl had been victim long enough, but did she really just create Ricky to refridgerate him? Sad. 

Of course, it's not clear he is dead, but if he is, this is a really bad use of a character.  

Conclusion 8/10

I loved the tension of this issue I loved that Barbara was likable I loved how it felt like a Greek tragedy and I loved that supporting characters where given time to shine, but I did not love how the issue concluded. It's a fun issue worth checking out for Babs fans, but I'm not sure if this is Simone growing the character or regressing it. I think we'll see pretty quick with the next issue.  

 

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BatWatch Review: Batgirl #22

A Day in the Life of Endless Velocity

Images will (hopefully) be coming soon.

Batgirl has been a really odd series bouncing up and down in terms of quality like a yo-yo. This issue is the beginning of a new story arc where Batgirl apparently gives up the mantle and Commissioner Gordon dedicates the police department to bringing Batgirl to justice. I'm not sure what I think of this idea. Seeing Batgirl take a step back from the Bat could be a good thing as she tries to process who she is apart from that identity, but the fundamental crux of the issue, that Batgirl does not feel she can share her secrets with her father, is fundamentally flawed. It's ridiculous to pretend the Commissioner, who supports vigilante justice on a regular basis, would really object to his daughter's involvement if she explained the circumstance of James Jr.'s death. Still, the story has some potential. I guess there is only one way to find out whether it lives up to it.

Does this time of trail cause Barbara Gordon to grow as a character or does shehave another nervous breakdown instead?

In this issue, Babs goes out on her date with Ricky.

Where the Heck Has This Been Hiding?

Whoa! I cannot decide if I'm more shocked or outraged, yet it's not out of disappointment but of happy surprise. It's not that Simone has never written a good Batgirl story. I thought parts of her Death of the Family arc were great, but this issue did what the series has never done by focusing on Barbara Gordon for the first time...and actually made her likable.

I know some people have this weird Batgirl/Simone (former writer of Birds of Prey and current writer of Batgirl and The Movement) fanaticism where they think Babs is the best character of all time and Simone has hit every issue out of the park. If you read most critics, that actually seems to be the popular view. However, I disagree strongly. Many of Simone's issues have been weak and Babs has almost always been a flat, uptight, whiny character.

In this issue, she become more fully realized yet without violating those aspects of her personality established earlier in the series. We see Babs vulnerable in her vanity yet not playing the victim card. We see Babs' relationship with Ricky become somewhat plausible. We see Babs and Alysia actually interacting like friends. We see that Barbara cares for her father and has a complex relationship with him. We see Barbara smile and act like a human being for once. It's all a delightful change from what we typically get in a Batgirl comic which is mostly self-pity and pithy remarks which often are frequently less clever than intended.

I just don't get why we are seeing it all now. Simone took twenty-one freakin' issues before she finally took the time to develop Babs' supporting cast? Why? She obviously has some good concepts to explore here, yet she's just let Babs stew alone as this pathetic uptight character. Again, why? For the love of all that is holy, Gail. If you have these personal aspects of the story in mind, take time to work them into the plot!

To touch up on one of the subjects mentioned earlier, the relationship between Babs and Ricky is still highly suspect. I mean, the Commissioner's daughter with a petty thief? How is that a good idea? However, I think I saw more levels to the relationship this time. I believe Babs is acting out the same basic scenario that every preacher's daughter who ever ran off with the bad boy underwent. There is an attraction for the dangerous life you never knew, and also, there is the feeling that many women have that they can change their man and make him better than he is. I'll admit, I'm being a bit cynical here, but I think this is a plausible explanation for her behavior. After all, if Babs really wanted a good guy, she could certainly do better even in a city like Gotham.

The Bomb (Spoilers)

Perhaps I'm reading into it too much, but it seemed to me that Commissioner Gordon revealed quite a bit in his scene with Batman. It appears that Commissioner Gordon was implying that he knew who Batgirl was, and because Batman had allowed Babs to play the part of Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon would now lose both his children. He comes just short of saying that Babs is Batgirl, but listen to these words and try to tell me he would really be that concerned about some random woman who killed his child. “Her life, her freedom, all her potential...are gone!” Holy crap! He's got to know, right? Still, he doesn't come straight out and say it.

I suspect Commissioner Gordon is probably walking a very thin line in his own mind. He's pretty sure he knows, but he also knows his duty to bring her in, so he is trying to distance the reality in his own mind while condemning Batman for his role in what he suspects is true. This ploy alone just made me much more interested in this arc.

Bat Droppings

1. I love that Babs' therapist waited until right after Babs came in drunk for counseling during a crisis to suggest Babs should start sharing her wisdom with others through crisis counseling. Yeah, it seems like Babs is in a good position to be giving advice.

2. Along this same line of thought, the mention of Babs' degree tells us, for the first time I think, that Babs does in fact have a degree. Unless she graduated in one year, I'm guessing Babs finished up her degree during her wheelchair days.

3. I'm still impressed that Simone dug up some real shooting tips for the gun range. Good research there, Gail. Then again, what do I know. I guess it's possible she is an avid shooter herself...but I doubt it.

Conclusion 9/10

I started the review saying that Batgirl's quality has fluctuated quite a lot, but I didn't really expect this to be a major upswing in quality, yet, here it is. I think this is easily the best Batgirl comic of the past half year, and it the best of the series in terms of exploring Babs' character. Again Gail if you have good stories for Babs's personal life, write them. Having them explored once every twenty-two issues is not acceptable.

BatWatch Review: Batgirl #21

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Enclosure

Batgirl is a really weird book. As far as quality, it's been all over the map, yet some people seem to think it is comparable to the second coming of Christ while others think it is dog poo. Personally, I think it has been both at various points, but this current arc has me rather split. All the personal drama with Babs, funny as it was to watch the non-drinking Barbara Gordon get drunk because she thinks she has killed her baby brother who is actually still alive and conniving on Suicide Squad, is far too manufactured and far fetched to carry much weight with me. However, it was oddly refreshing to see Babs act a bit foolish as opposed to her usual flawless portrayal. On the subject of the new villain, Shauna Belzer, The Ventriloquist, she is also a mixed bag. Having a lust for fame being the basis for a turn to villainy is somewhat interesting, yet Shauna still fails to really set herself apart as a deep new character. Her powerset and character design is interesting as she strikes a significantly creepy tone and her abilities are a bit mysterious, but if this second part of the story has one way in which it needs to improve, it is in regards to making The Ventriloquist a more fully realized character.

Does Batgirl #21 showcase all that is wonderful about Barbara Gordon or is it time to strike the gong and remove this story from stage?

In this issue, Nightwing tries to give Barbara some counseling and Batgirl tracks down the Ventriloquist.

More Mixed Nuts

In the battle between Batgirl being crappy and Batgirl being awesome, this pretty much splits the difference straight down the middle because parts of this issue contain some of the best Barbara Gordon character moments in the DCNU while other parts just feel like the same half-baked slop.

On the good front, I actually liked Babs in this issue. It seems like making a character likable would be one of your top priorities as a writer, and what do I know? Batgirl has more than its fair share of fanatics, so maybe those people do find Babs a fun character, but for my money, Babs has most often come off as cold, distant, and whiny. That changed with this issue.

The issue starts with a phone call between Barbara and Nightwing, and this is easily the highlight of the issue as both these character were portrayed interacting correctly for the first time post-reboot. I understand that continuity has been rewritten, the clock has been wound back, and Babs and Dick do not have the same long history together they once shared, but they still do have a history; it's about time their mutual affection manifested itself. Nightwing knew Babs was struggling and reached out to her in a time of need, and Babs, though still reserved, managed to be vulnerable without being whiny. After what she has gone through, convoluted and forced though it may be, it only makes sense for Babs to reevaluate her role in the Bat Family. After the phone call with Dick, Babs returns to a more business focused demeanor, but in her internal monologue, she continued to sound human.

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Sadly, there were still moments that seemed undercooked. Simone (former writer of Birds of Prey and current writer of Batgirl, The Movement and Vertigo's Time Warp) really pushes the craziness of this new Ventriloquist, and the success is mixed. At times, the right chord is hit and the story succeeds in being a little creepy, but almost as often, the “relationship” between Shauna and Ferdie seems more laughable than disturbing. To be fair to Simone, this must be a terribly difficult balance to strike between the absurd and the believable, but sadly, she does not always keep everything balanced properly. There are other moments in the story which do not quite work such as the “break up” scene between Mr. and Mrs. Gordon which carries little weight because their separation was never really justified in the first place. 

Bat Droppings

1. I am in love with this cover by Alex Garner. (former artist on Wildstorm's Gen 13 and current cover artist for Batgirl)It's really superb.

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2. Fernando Pasarin  (former penciler for Oracle: The Cure and current artist for Green Lantern Corps) took over pencils for this issue, and I prefer his work over the previous artists. It's quality and it gives Batgirl a unique look. However, there are moments where it seems very clean cut such as when Babs is in her civvies and moments when it looks more rough such as when Batgirl is in her work uniform. Still, it's solid though perhaps not for everyone. It's not exactly typical.

3. What's up with bad guys fighting with nooses? I've said it once and I'll say it again, wearing nooses sets you up to be a human punching bag.

4. Though I do like Pasarin's work here, he makes the same mistake as the last guy in drawing Shauna. If she is supposed to look creepy, make her look truly disturbing. That's half her gimmick. Denied her adoration for beauty, she becomes bitter and evil. However, she really does not look that bad in the interior art. If she looked more like the covers, she would convey a much more disturbing visage.

Conclusion 7/10

It's an issue with ups and downs. All the action is solid, Barbara has some solid emotional moments, and the story is okay. However, in terms of tone and some specific plot elements, things occasionally take a turn for the worse. It's an okay issue that hardcore Batgirl fans will want, but everybody else might want to skim a little before dropping the money.

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BatWatch Review: Batgirl #20

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A Splinter Where My Heart Should Be

I'm actually a little afraid to read Batgirl. I want to like this series as so many do, and some issues in the past have been a lot of fun. I thought some moments of Batgirl's Death of the Family tie in were amazing, but then we have issues like #19 which...melt my brain. I've already mentioned my criticisms on the issue many times, so I'm not going to rehash everything once more, but to put it succinctly, I thought the entire resolution to the James Jr. story arc was difficult to believe. Now, we have Babs dealing with the guilt over killing her brother and the introduction of a new villain, or rather a new version of an old villain, The Ventriloquist. The images alone have greatly intrigued me as this character looks like she could have stepped straight out of a horror movie.

Does The Ventriloquist live up to the high standards of villainy and lunacy that previous characters have brought the mantle or is this new character just a cheap pretender to Arnold Wesker's throne?

In this issue, Batgirl goes into crisis, and we learn a little about the new Ventriloquist's past before seeing her present where she makes her big debut on a talent show.

The Horror Vibe Works

Will this issue give you nightmares? No, not unless you are one the most easily scared people on the planet or you have a preexisting phobia of dummies, but the issue pretty well delivers what you expect from the cover. This new Ventriloquist is a creepy character. She looks like she just crawled out of a well and through a television set, and her fragile ego starved for attention works about as well as anything as an excuse to become a psychotic murderer. The art plays up her creepiness, and there was one seen in particular where a sudden change in expression actually gave me a tiny bit of a shock though it would probably work better on Comixology as I read it where it is an immediate transition at a touch of a button instead of reading it on a page where you can see out of the corner of your eye what is coming. (fun fact: it has been psychologically proven that people are drawn to spot threatening faces before friendly faces, so there is a good chance you will notice the scary face before you are actually ready to read that panel) The issue reminds me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in that it is not truly scary, but every once in a while, they do something slightly disturbing.

Some might find the need for fame to be a thin excuse for going on a killing spree, but actually, that's one of the main theories explaining mass murderers. Nobody can be certain what someone else thinks, but there is a lot of speculation that mass murderers act partially because they want to make a name for themselves and be remembered even if they are often committing death by cop. Speaking of the police, the police have actually theorized that the shooter in the Sandy Hook massacre was trying to get a high score in homicides. He was apparently a dedicated FPS gamer, and he had looked up the death tally of other mass murderers before choosing a nice “gun free” zone in which to go for his attempt at the high score. All of that to say, this Ventriloquist's motivation seems plausible to me.

Barbara's Crisis

I'm not sure what I think of Barbara's emotional changes. She killed her brother in the last issue, and when we see her in this issue, she is getting drunk to bury the pain. This is very uncharacteristic for Babs, but then again, if you don't get drunk when you killed your only sibling and your father wants to arrest you for murder, when do you get drunk? I suppose her breakdown tracks.

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(Spoilers for this Paragraph) On the other hand, she seems to get it together quickly when she realizes a clue, and I'm not sure that makes any sense. First, if you are having so much of a pity party that you go to a counselor drunk in the middle of the day, are you really going to be snapped out of it even by an important realization? Also, how are you going to make that important realization while mentally impaired? Finally, is going out to fight crime while drunk really a good idea? Babs should have gone to Tony Stark for counseling.

Also, though we have seen Babs' therapist in previous issues, it struck me as wrong this time. Babs always seemed like a more solitary figure to me; I'm not sure I buy her opening up to a counselor, but this is a minor complaint.

Bat Droppings

1. Seriously, who the crap leaves poison in a yard full of kids? This is a pretty stupid plot point to go unexplained.

2. I missed it when I read the preview, but its pretty clear that Shauna's parents knew something was wrong with the child from the weird way they were acting.

3. This is a minor detail, but it really bugged me. How did Batgirl cut out the Bat symbol from her costume? It shows her, it appears, cutting through the entire cloth to cut a section out, yet we see that there is no hole in the costume. Instead, most of the yellow of the bat symbol is gone, but some remains as if she scratched it off. What gives?

4. I thought Fernando Pasarin (former penciler for Oracle: The Cure and current artist for Green Lantern Corps) was taking over penciling duties for Batgirl in this issue, but he did not get the credit for it. Instead, it's still Daniel Sampere (former penciler of Batman and current penciler of Batgirl) who does a pretty good job though his art looks better in some places than others.

5. The rip off of America's Got Talent/American Idol has been done quite a few times in different mediums, but I'll confess I still enjoyed it.

6. I liked that Gail (former writer of Birds of Prey and current writer of Batgirl,  The Movement and Vertigo's Time Warp) did not immediately unveil Shauna's abilities. I was glad I was able to wonder for a while. In fact, I'm still wondering if her vocal abilities have a supernatural element.

7. Ricky got a little character development in this issue, and I have to admit that I'm interested in this new wrinkle of his identity.

Spoilers until Conclusion

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8. I had forgotten that Knightfall was out and about. Her involvement could prove interesting.

9. I felt the action scenes were much better in this issue than what we've been getting. The fight with the rent-a-cops was cool as was the fight with the dummy.

10. It's worth mentioning that the reveal that got all the attention last issue, Alysia being transgendered, was not so much as mentioned in this issue. In fact, Alysia was never seen. She needs to be a fully formed character.

Conclusion 7/10

This was definitely several steps up from the last issue, but it still had its problems. On the positive front, Babs is actually somewhat likable in this issue with some vulnerability, a muted level of pride, and a funny line or two. Also, Ventriloquist pretty much delivers as promised, a creepy new villain with a dummy, and she seems like she could even have some depth as a villain. On the other hand, poison just left in a yard, eidetic memory, and hangover curing revelations are kind of sloppy writing, and there was nothing spectacular about the issue. If you are a Batgirl, Simone or Ventriloquist fan, you should probably pick up this issue though you might want to read a few pages before laying down the cash.

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Review: Batgirl #19

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A Blade from the Shadows

Ah, Batgirl. I'm not sure if I love you or hate you. I think it is a wee bit of both. For the past year, I've more or less liked Simone's (former writer of Birds of Prey and current writer of Batgirl and Vertigo's Time Warp) spin on Batgirl's stories, but Babs as a character seems like an unlikable chick with nothing particularly human to identify with except fear, sadness, self-doubt and self-pity. We did see Batgirl woman up at the end of Death of the Family, but I'm not sure if her more assertive nature at the end of DoTF is going to stick or if we are going to see more of the heroine who cannot make up her mind who she is and what she represents.

This issue might be a big one. The cover teases the idea that Babs might kill James Jr. Also, we might see one of the most mainstream introductions of a transsexual character in this issue through Babs' roommate, Alysia. If nothing else, we should finally see Babs come face to face with her brother in a battle that has been teased for what seems like forever.

Does Gail Simone make a triumphant return in Batgirl #19, or has this story been building up for so long only to fizzle out at the end?

In this issue, Barbara patches things up with Alysia before taking on James Jr.

Contrived

That's the word for it. Almost everything in this issue is just incredibly, amazingly contrived. The extent of it is so pervasive that I do not even know where to start. Everything in this issue seems to happen unnaturally as if the only reason certain events take place is to arrive at a certain destination as opposed to the story naturally progressing where logic would dictate. Contrived.

Bat Droppings

The whole issue is so...tied up with itself that I think I am unable to break this down into fitting sections, so I'm going to pick it apart scene by scene.

1. The issue starts out with a flashback of Babs and James Jr. enjoying horror movies as children, but of course, James Jr. is enjoying them a bit too much. I'm fine with this scene; it gives us a little background into Babs and James Jr.'s relationship as children, and at least for me, this is something that has not been well established in Batgirl, so some clarification of their bizarre relationship is helpful.

Screenshot from 2013-04-10 21:15:39.png

2. Next up, we have a scene where Babs and Alysia make up. If you'll recall way back in Batgirl...#14 I believe, Babs left Alysia in their apartment with a bunch of subdued thugs lying on the floor, so it makes sense that Babs and Alysia should have a reckoning. However, the time line does not really work out. Death of the Family has been over for awhile, and Babs was at home working on her computer identifying Joker thugs the other day. If she did not run into Alysia then, couldn't she have at least given her a call or a text and been like, “Hey, I'm not dead. LOL.” Also, why didn't Alysia check up on her. If I were Alysia, my first call would be to Commissioner Gordon, and he has been in contact with Babs and knows she is okay, so what gives?

3. Also, Babs gives away all her secrets except the whole Batgirl thing which is fine and serves a purpose for Alysia's forthcoming revelation, but nothing Babs told Alysia really explains how she was able to beat up three thugs.

4. Again, I see the character development purpose this scene serves, and I'm glad Simone is focusing more on Babs' personal life, but do we need four pages for this? I don't think so.

5. Alysia is a transsexual which I Called Months Ago as soon as Simone said a trans character was coming to Batgirl. Just patting my own back for a second.

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6. I get that Gail Simone is very pro-LGBT, and if she wants to have a character who represents that in comics and is accepted by Babs, I'm fine with that. I agree that Babs would probably have no real problem with having a transsexual friend based on my experience with her as a character. However, I don't care how accepting you are of transsexualism, there is no way a friend is going to come to you and say, “By the way, I'm a transsexual,” and you are just going to accept it without question. That is such a huge revelation about somebody. I mean, can you imagine if you had a friend and roommate for months, and they suddenly said, “By the way, I have a kid.” Wouldn't you immediately have many questions for your friend? Now, you are trying to convince me that someone tells you that they are a transsexual which is a much bigger, life-changing, extraordinary revelation, and you are just like, “Cool beans. Hugs XOXO!” I don't think so. You are going to have some questions. One obvious one is which way is Alysia going? I would assume she is male to female, but maybe she wants become a dude. It's just odd.

7. It was nice to see Babs turn the table on James Jr., and the setup with her mom makes sense. Sadly, that is about the end of things that make sense in this issue.

8. Babs gets the drop on James Jr., yet instead of taking him down, she lands between him and her mom.

(Spoilers until Conclusion)

Screenshot from 2013-04-10 21:21:08.png

9. Hold up! You're going to tell me that Babs has kept the secret of her identity from Commissioner Gordon for four years, but a few months after her mom comes back, she spills the beans on Batgirl to the woman who abandoned her as a child? Really? That's insane.

10. What? Mrs. Gordon shoots James Jr? What the crap? You have a bona fide, armored superhero standing between you and your own son, yet now, after all the crap James Jr. has already done to you, you decide your going to kill him? Why? Let Babs take him down, drama queen!

11. The moment after Mrs. Gordon shoots James Jr., Babs is concerned about her mother's depression. Keep your priorities straight, Batgirl!

12. James Jr. disappears in two seconds just after being shot.

13. James Jr. manages to appear out of nowhere to bludgeon Batgirl in the back of the head. This would be completely unacceptable except for the rain which probably covers up the sound of James Jr.'s movements, so I guess this is okay.

14. The panel where Babs is seeing double is pretty cool.

15. Babs was struck by an enemy from behind, goes down for the count, is nearly ready to black out, and then somehow shakes it off to subdue the bad guy which is exactly the same thing that happened with Knightfall in Batgirl #12

16. Mrs. Gordon walks up to James Jr., like a freaking moron, to have a heart to heart. Batgirl, like a freaking moron, let's her.

17. In this heart to heart, James Jr. admits that all he ever really wanted was attention which somehow gives this whole issue the feeling of an after school special for neglectful parents. I mean, I get that kids act out to get attention, but there is a huge line between acting out and killing people, and that is not a line anybody ever crosses just for attention.

18. Batgirl hits James Jr. in the freaking eye with a batarang? Holy crap! Later says she was not trying to kill him? Please! You had his whole face for a target, and you landed it exactly in his eye.

19. How many times do you have to hear a spine breaking before you recognize it? Apparently, only once, and Babs could hear it over the sound of Joker's gunshot because she is just that awesome.

20. James Jr. washes away in the ocean which is such a classic, “He's dead but not really,” move, and by classic, I mean tired.

21. What! Commissioner Gordon is trying to kill Batgirl for killing James Jr.? Commissioner Gordon is not an idiot, and he knows the difference between justifiable homicide and murder. He has seen Batman do things like this a thousand times. I know this is his son, but I think Commissioner Gordon is better than this. Also, where has he been? The story makes it clear that some time has passed between James Jr.'s call to his father and James Jr.'s arrival at the docks, so what took Commissioner Gordon so long?

Conclusion 4/10

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Once again, I must say this is severely contrived. Almost every twist and turn existed just for the purpose of making the story twisty and turny, and very few of the twists and turns made any sort of logical sense. Simone wanted to create drama between Babs and her parents, so she wrote an extremely long and convoluted story to get to that end. James Jr. and every other part of this story were just means to that end. If it had not been such a long buildup for such a ridiculous conclusion, I would probably be more lenient, but the buildup was long, and the payoff was minimal, so it deserves this rating. Save your money.

More?

Hold Up! BatWatch is more than just comic book reviews. We also host News Articles, Commentary, and Image Galleries for the whole Bat Family. Stick around and check it out.

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Review: Batgirl #18

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The Masks of Ashes

I can't say I am terribly excited for this issue. I've become kind of bored with the forever long build up of James Jr.'s attack without any apparent motivation or game plan. Ray Fawkes, (former writer of Vertigo's Mnemovore and current writer for Batgirl and Justice League Dark) who is standing in for the fired/hired Gail Simone, (former writer of Birds of Prey) did write Barbara in a way that made her more likable in last month's issue, but whatever excitement that brought was more or less negated by the sight of Batgirl catching a missile in her handbag, so I cannot say I am primed for first tier writing at this point. Added to the mix, we have the Requiem crossover which seems like a hard sell to me. We have never, to my knowledge, even seen Barbara and Damian talk to one another, so why should we expect Babs to have a deep emotional reaction to his death? Altogether, I'm just not overly psyched for this issue, but you never know what an issue has in store. Does Batgirl #18 sell me on the concept of Barbara mourning Damian or Firebug being a threatening villain, or does the potential splendor of this wake go up in smoke?

In this issue, Batgirl recovers from her encounter with Firebug and prepares to confront the villain while Commissioner Gordon is informed that Robin is dead.

Batgirl's Requiem

I have to say, much to my surprise, this issue did convince me to the legitimacy of Barbara's emotional reaction to the news of Damian's murder. When Babs gets the news, she does start to cry, but she says, “Oh, Bruce,” and that is what made the scene work. Babs is broken up, but she is not mourning the personal loss of a friend. Rather, she is mourning a friend's personal loss. She is not feeling the pain directly as much as she is empathizing with what Bruce must be feeling.

Babs then tries to call Dick in a move that seems completely in keeping with her old school relationship with Grayson, but Dick says he has to go and they will talk later which kind of sucks. I understand why Nightwing had to get off the phone; he was most likely dealing with the fallout of this event, and he was probably on the verge of breaking down emotionally and did not want to open himself emotionally by putting a crack in his emotional dam. Still, I fear that this conversation, which would no doubt be powerful, might never be covered in comics, and that is a shame.

After that, Babs puts on her game face and the story moves on, and some might see this as belittling to Damian's death, but Babs has always (except of recent) been able to block things out pretty well, so I do not see this as a conflict. However, this brief scene is not really enough to justify purchase for someone who is just interested in seeing the emotional fallout of Damian's death. Unless you are already a big Batgirl fan, I would not suggest buying this for the crossover.

Bat Droppings

As I've been doing a lot recently, I'm going to do this review Bat Droppings style so I can work more quickly and finally get caught up on all my reviews.

1. Mikel Janin (former artist for Deadman and the Flying Graysons and current artist for Justice League Dark and cover artist for Batgirl) provides a nice cover even though it implies a much deeper relationship between Babs and Damian than actually exists.

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2. James Jr. continues to narrate this issue which is a mixed blessing. On one hand, his thoughts are terrifyingly creepy, and this really builds tension for the upcoming issue. On the other hand, James Jr.'s arrival has been built up for so long that I really do not care for anymore build. Also, it is so counter intuitive not to have any inner monologue from our heroine that it threw me off while reading a few times.

3. I mentioned in last month's review that it surprised me that Simone allowed someone else to write her big James Jr. story she has been teasing for so long. I now see that she did not allow it to be taken from her for these two issues amount to nothing more than another extended, high intensity tease.

4. Firebug destroys the whole building with an explosion, yet Babs survives being at ground zero with only scratches. This is really stupid.

5. Though I like that Batman told Commissioner Gordon about Robin's death, I cannot help wondering why he told him. Also, wouldn't Jim know because of witnesses. Perhaps this will be more clear after the next issue of Batman, Incorporated.

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6. Let's face it, Batgirl's red hair should give her away to anybody who knows Barbara Gordon, so it seems odd that Commissioner Gordon would not know that Babs is Batgirl. I can't help but wonder if the Commissioner called her not to hear her voice but to deliver the news that her brother in arms fell in battle.

7. James Jr. does a better job of making his sister seem awesome through his narration than Batgirl's series has managed in 18 issues.

Spoilers until Conclusion

8. I will not say that James Jr. putting Babs in a no win situation and then trying to kill Mrs. Gordon to give Barbara massive guilt was particularly original, but it was awfully evil.

9. Mrs. Gordon is acting odd these last couple of issues. She went from being such a victim that she left her family in order to keep her young child from hurting the rest of her family to taunting her adult son as he tries to kill her. Is it poor writing or is there something else going on with Barbara Gordon Sr.?

10. Babs to Firebug: “I have to admit, I'd love to know how you got out of that burning building.” Yeah, Babs, we all would. It would also be nice to know how you survived a building shattering explosion from point blank range, but the story did not answer either of those questions, did it?

11. It would be nice to know what this black stuff is that Babs places over the grenades. I presume it was just something sticky to keep the handle from popping off and the reactive chemicals from releasing.

12. Along the same line of thought, Firebug appears to have his hand caught by one of these gel things, but then his hand is free, so...did he squeeze it out or what?

13. The handle popped off of the second grenade, yet it never exploded. Is the gel supposed to contain the explosion?

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14. I did not notice on my first read through, but James Jr.'s hand is covered with blood on the last page implying that he killed the family living in the house he is currently occupying.

Conclusion 8/10

I think I'm being generous on this one. I liked parts of this issue. Again, Babs seemed more rounded as a character in this issue, James Jr. was truly menacing, and I thought Babs' reaction to Damian's death was appropriate, but everything else felt a bit lackluster. If you have been following the series, you will probably enjoy this issue, but go in with moderate expectations. 

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Review: Batgirl #17

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Endure the Flame

I'm surprised to find that after building up his appearance for approximately forever, Gail Simone handed off Barbara's confrontation with James Jr. to Ray Fawkes. I know that there was the whole firing/rehiring thing, but if Simone could get herself unfired, surely she could secure the story about James Jr., so this strikes me as odd. Also, James Jr. had a rather odd role in Death of the Family. I could buy into the idea that perhaps James had been keeping tabs on his mom and therefore knew she was in danger and that James might want to save his mother from Joker so that she could be his play thing alone, but I don't see how trying to make a deal with Joker and then trying to kill the Joker helped him out in any of his goals since his mother was still being guarded by Joker's goons, so James' entire role up until this point has been confusing.

Still, it's time to find out what James' angle is. Does James serve as an excellent villain for Batgirl, or is this just a confusing nonsensical story?

In this issue, Barbara is lured into a twisted game by her brother and Commissioner Gordon sics the GCPD on his own flesh and blood.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I was kind of excited to see an interpretation of Batgirl from somebody other than Gail Simone because though I've liked Simone's recent issues, I still feel Babs is being presented as a very stiff, flat character, and I really want to see her feel more like a person.

Fawkes, in my book, succeeds in doing just that. I actually enjoyed Babs as a person more in this issue than I have in almost all of Simone's issues. Babs here is still calculating and somewhat reserved, but she also shows some willingness to get outside her comfort zone and flirt, and she makes a nice gesture, though perhaps misguided, by trying to get the cops to reel in Joker's henchmen as a sort of confidence booster for them. These little things make her feel like a developed person rather than just a victim.

Sadly, this accomplishment is swallowed up by bigger failures. I really want to know what James Jr.'s angle is here, and perhaps I am being a bit harsh on Fawkes considering I would be more patient if Simone had not been building it up for so long, but now that we have finally reached the James Jr. arc, I want to know what this arc is about! There is no explanation whatsoever for James' actions. In fact, his motivations become much more murky in this issue. Why is James involved in these police killings? Why does James care about Joker's henchmen? What is he hoping to accomplish? Why is he typing on a phone with his mother's severed finger? Why did he go to visit his mother in the first place?

Perhaps there is a good explanation for all these things, but my Bat sense is tingling and telling me that this is a bunch of craziness which will not come together in the end. I'll correct myself later if I am wrong, but this feels like something which will have a thin veneer of rationalization smeared on it at the end of the day.

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Batgirl and the Super Bag

(Spoiler for this entire section) Taking the gold star for our “What the heck?” moment of the week, Batgirl stops a rocket with a bag. Oh, I just laughed like crazy after typing that line.

The issue starts with this really cool setup of Batgirl battling with flames licking all around her. There is this cool monologue coming from either a narrator or James Jr. about the way flames peel back everything, and it sounds really cool. Then, we are treated to an image of some sort of mini rocket being launched at Batgirl, and Babs leaps into the air to meet it while drawing something from her belt. The scene ends there only to be picked up at the end of the issue leaving me to wonder what Batgirl will bring out to stop the rocket? Will it be a baton or some sort of blunt instrument that will deflect the rocket? An explosive which will detonate it in a less harmful manner? A piece of tech which will drain away the energy from the rocket or fry its guidance system? Nope, its a bag with which Batgirl catches the rocket. Again, I can't type that without laughing.

First, why does Babs carry giant bags in her utility belt? What frequent use would this have as to make it standard gear? She already has a belt for carrying things. Second, how would the bag be strong enough to catch a rocket. That's a lot of force. Third, if it was strong enough to stop the rocket, why didn't the rocket explode? Fourth, ignoring these other issues, why didn't catching this much force rip Babs' arm right out of its socket? Fifth, where did this bag go? Babs is traveling straight up to the window from which the rocket is fired, yet it is nowhere to be found by the time she reaches the window. Did she just drop it on the ground? What a stupid scene!

Conclusion 7/10

That one scene is stupid enough to nearly kill the issue for me, but I did really like that Babs was a bit more developed in this issue, and though I hated all the unanswered questions raised about James Jr., I suppose this could be leading somewhere interesting. If you are a big fan of Batgirl, pick up this issue, but everybody else should approach with caution.

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Review: Batgirl #16

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Ceremony

I have been thrilled by the last couple of issues of Batgirl, but I was a little disappointed when Babs turned the tables on Joker at the skating rink last issue only to be defeated by a cheap Ace Joker had hidden up his sleeve. Now, it looks like there are wedding bells and amputation gauze in Barbara's near future, and I can't help but wonder if Simone can pull off a satisfying finish to this arch which is more pleasing than the near resolution found in Batgirl 15. I suppose its time to find out. Do Batgirl and and Joker live happily ever after, or is this marriage doomed to an ugly seperation?

After a quick flashback to Barbara's therapy session, we see Joker's planned nuptials go horribly awry.

Stupid Crossovers!

As I feared, this issue did offer a slightly less satisfying conclusion to the tie in than was presented in the last issue, but it was not so much an issue of poor writing as it is the limitations imposed by the crossover. First, we know Babs is not going to succeed in taking Joker down which makes all these stories rather limited. Second, this issue ends exactly as you would expect if you have read Batman or Batman and Robin, and I am already tired of the hint/threat of the platter.

(Spoiler) Ignoring the limit imposed by the arch, the only problem I had with this issue was the appearance of James Jr. His whole interaction was confusing. First, he shows up to save Batgirl. Now, I have not yet read The Black Mirror, but I have been assured by those who have that James Jr. is a remorseless killing machine, so it makes little sense for him to care about his family. Nonetheless, I suppose this could be a reboot or perhaps James is just going with the whole, “Nobody gets to kill the her but me!” idea. However, the scene is still confusing for Barbara trusts James Jr. which is another thing that would never happen according to The Black Mirror, yet again, you could say it is a reboot change or that Babs was desperate and grasping at straws.

(Spoiler) What really confuses me comes later. James drugs Batgirl, which is not surprising since he is evil, but he says he has to save his mom and then tries to make a deal with Joker to spare his mother's life. When Joker tries to kill James Jr., James throws a grenade into the midst of the chapel, and we are not shown what happens to James Jr. beyond this. I though this through several different ways, and I don't see how James' actions make any sense. If James wanted to save his mom, why didn't he just save her from the skating rink? James is clearly a formidable guy, so if there were just a few guards there, why not take them out and save his mom? If there was overwhelming force at the rink that James could not counter, then it might make sense for James to try to deal, but how would he know if Joker truly released Miss Gordon even if the Clown Prince agreed to the deal? Perhaps he was hoping to kill Joker and his thugs so that he would not be able to call in the kill order to the guards, but that still does not remove the guards at the rink from the equation. The only thing that sort of makes sense is if there was overwhelming force at the rink which James Jr. could not counter, so he tried to make a deal with the Joker trusting that Joker would be true to his word, but when Joker threatened James Jr., James threw the grenade just as a cover for his escape, and James was back to square one without any way to save his mom. That could make sense, but it is a bit convoluted and really needed to be clarified in the story.

Screenshot from 2013-01-16 16:37:24.png

Stand Up and Cheer

Counterweighting these critiques is a lot of awesomeness specifically in Barbara's character development. I said in my Batgirl article the other day that Babs really needs to get over her victim mentality, and it appears that she took a big step in that direction. As soon as Babs has an opportunity, she tears into Joker's henchmen without hesitation or exaggerated amounts of mercy. To quote Barbara, “I have been afraid of this nightmare forever. Cold sweats. Sleeplessness. Depression. I am done being afraid.” Yes, yes, yes! Please let this continue! Many fans of Simone's portrayal of Batgirl have touted her victimhood as a good thing, but I maintain that victimhood is only heroic if it is a state you are striving to overcome rather than a state in which you dwell, and Babs does not wallow in this issue and speaks as if she is done acting like a victim.

Another issue that I have seen some Simone fans tout as a great leap forward for Babs' character is the way Barbara's victimhood allows her to be sympathetic to villains which have suffered as victims themselves such as Mirror and Gretel. Though there is certainly a time and place for mercy and commiseration, I personally do not feel that predators who use their pain as justification to hurt innocents have any mercy coming to them. Granted, there are those who believe in collective guilt; that every crime is just a symptom of a corrupt society, and therefore all people are equally guilty of the crimes of any one individual, and if you believe in that sort of collective guilt nonsense, then I suppose having a heroine capable of administering kindness to monsters is admirable, but for someone like me who believes in personal responsibility, I only want to see mercy bestowed in moderation to those that seek redemption, and I want to see predators get their faces beaten to a pulp.

I have no idea where Simone stands on this issue, but Batgirl definitely seems to be moving more towards me view than the former by unleashing a tide of fury against Joker and his minions. When one thug begs for mercy, Babs responds, “Mercy. Sorry, I'm fresh out.” Good going Babs. I hope to see this side of you much more often.

Joker Varies His Theme

Many have complained that the tie ins to Death of the Family have been to formulaic, but like good techno music, Batgirl manages to take the general theme and add a little variety to it. Joker takes the whole Bat King angle and brings up the idea of political alliances through marriages (unless I am mistaking the implication of the story) which is an an angle I did not see coming. This tie in also scores points for being the only branch which actually gives an explanation for how Joker intends to get rid of a member of the family. As was mentioned last issue, Joker comes back to the idea of taking off Babs' limbs and locking her in the basement which is a truly disgusting and horrible thought befitting of Joker.

Bat Droppings

The art is good this issue which is standard for Batgirl. Thankfully, this issue is devoid of the weird lens flare effect going on in issue 15.

I don't think anybody could decipher writing by watching a pencil's movement.

I know it is hardly original for a villain to wield a chainsaw, but I thought it worked well for this issue adding an air of constant threat and the promise of dismemberment to the scene.

A chainsaw was also featured in Batman 16. Could it be the same chainsaw, and if so, what is the significance?

We get the platter again. This time, we get hints of blood on the inside which makes it even more likely that it holds a head. Perhaps Alfred or Babs' mom was beheaded with the chainsaw.

Conclusion 8/10

This is another very good issue, but just slightly worse than the last because of the predictable ending point and the unclear motives of James Jr. Still, if you are a Batgirl or Joker fan, pick this issue up.

Review: Batgirl #15

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Engagement

Everybody has probably heard the big news already; Gail Simone has been fired off Batgirl. It seems an odd choice because Simone has a huge following, good sales, and a fairly consistent record of quality writing. I could have seen how she might have been let go in the early days of the DCNU since the original run of Batgirl left something to be desired, but it has been on a steady incline ever since, and I loved the last issue. Perplexing as it is, it will be interesting to see what Simone does with her least few issues of Batgirl.

Simone’s last issue featured Joker proposing marriage to a shocked Batgirl. Does this wedding lead to a happy ever after or is this a marriage made in Hell?

In this issue, readers see a flashback as Joker talks to a counselor about marriage advice, James Jr. goes to “comfort” Alysia, and Batgirl turns the tables on Joker.

Yaaay…Boooo!

This issue really bugged me because I felt it should have ended in this issue. There was a satisfying conclusion of sorts, and yet the story still continued. It was extremely frustrating to me.

(Spoiler) What bugged me was that Barbara was put in an inescapable trap, and she managed to figure it out by keeping Joker in the blast radius of his own deathtrap. She kicked his butt, and right about the time she could have saved her mom, Joker pulled out an ace he had stuck up his sleeve. There is nothing wrong with this from a narrative standpoint, but I went from being extremely excited to extremely disappointed at whiplash inducing speed.

I understand that Batgirl could not have won that easily because of the continuation of the overarching story line alone, but I find it hard to imagine a more satisfying conclusion than Barbara turning the tables on the master of the unexpected and pounding him into a whitish/green pulp. Moving things to a different setting with more hostages seems a bit convoluted and unnecessary, but perhaps Simone will surprise me and create something even better for the final act.

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The Therapist Scene

I find the entire therapist scene somewhat perplexing. On one hand, it served as an excellent way for Joker to voice his mock romantic plans with Batgirl, and the revelation of his proposed final plans for her is a chilling and heart wrenching thought, but on the other hand, the story took time to divulge that Joker is threatening this woman’s child, and for the moment, this seems completely disconnected from the regular plot. Furthermore, I am tired of seeing Joker get everything he wants just by threatening people’s families. Just shoot him in the head, and you have a much better chance of having a happy ending with your loved ones.

Maybe the therapist, Doctor Yi, will play an important role in the next issue, but it is hard to see how at the moment.

(Spoiler) Oh, one more thing, this scene ends with “make your own future” written on the wall, and I do not particularly see the relevance of that either. It might seem to thematically underscore the role of choice in this story, but the story seems to be taking away all of Barbara’s choices, so I am not sure what to make of that.

Lens Flares without a Lens

Somebody, I am guessing Ulises Arreola, the colorist, must really like the lens flare look. I do not know if he is just a big fan of Super 8 or what, but he copies that sort of look a lot in this issue. It somewhat makes sense in the scenes at the skating rink where there is a lot of light and Batgirl is supposed to be in a state of shock, but I think Arreola is using it a bit to liberally. Florescent lights, police cars, and even Batgirl’s freaking grappling hook explode with light. I do not much care for it.

Beyond that, the art looked solid in this issue.

Conclusion 9/10

Despite the fact that I have complained almost this entire review, this is actually a great issue. Though all my complaints are fair, they are all minor, and the turnaround Barbara managed to pull on Joker and the corresponding beating made me want to get up and cheer. I am a little worried the Simone will not be able to pull off a third act as satisfying as this one, but for that does not keep this from being a very satisfying issue. Fans of Batgirl and Death of the Family should definitely pick it up. 

Batgirl #14

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A Courtship of Razors

Batgirl has been a solid book, but it has struggled to breach the realm of the everyday to become something exceptional. With the last issue, Batgirl’s mother was kidnapped by the Clown Prince of Crime. Does Joker manage to bring a little light to Batgirl’s life, or does this clown fail to amuse?

In this issue, Barbara follows a taunting voice on the telephone who claims to know all her secrets including the location of her mother, but to follow the voices’ instructions, Barbara will have to fend off a wave of Joker thugs.

Now This Is What I’m Talking About

For a couple months now, I’ve been saying that Batgirl is missing something, but whatever it was missing in past issues was found in this one. Whereas I get the feeling that the back and forth between hero and villain is little more than a set of motions in most issues of Batgirl, the menace of Joker and the impact this has on Barbara is quite palpable in this issue. You know exactly how Joker makes Barbara feel, and the reckoning between these two has been a long time coming.

It almost feels as if the last fourteen issues have been leading readers to this point. After all, the emotional scars left by Joker’s attack all those years ago have been very evident in this series. That makes it even more satisfying that Barbara does not truly choke in this issue as she did in some earlier entries of the series to the disappointment of many fans. Though Barbara is definitely compromised emotionally in this issue, , she goes into a delightful fit of action which is made all the more beautiful for her lack of a costume just a few seconds after she has a target for her wrath. Hopefully, Barbara will be equally effective when she takes on Joker in the next issue.

The Voice on the Phone

I love how Simone managed to include a little mystery in this issue regarding who was talking to Barbara. Sure, the obvious assumption was that it was the Joker, but there was enough ambiguity to keep thoughtful readers guessing. (Spoiler) I liked that it was revealed to be James Jr. on the other end of the line, and I am eager to see what James Jr. has in store for his sister after Death of a Family. (Spoiler)

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I Tip My Hat to Ritter

I am not sure exactly what Kyle Ritter did to this issue, but I hope he continues.

This issue had two colorists Ulises Arreola, the regular colorist, and Kyle Ritter. That was the only variable I saw in the art team, so I am heaping major praises on Ritter’s head. This issue looked gorgeous. Arreola’s solo work looks nice, but he gives everything a bit of a sheen which I do not love. Arreola coupled with Ritter, however, is a whole new thing. All the colors are incredibly vibrant and really pop off the page. Great work guys.

Death of a Conspiracy

For those of you who have read Batman #14, you have heard that Joker claims to be aware of the secret identities of all the Bat Clan. However, Joker does not actually say anything which would demonstrate this, so I am skeptical. (Spoiler) My skepticism was heightened in this issue when Joker danced all around the idea of knowing that Barbara was Batgirl without ever actually making that statement. Could it be that someone is pulling Joker’s strings? (Spoiler)

Conclusion 10/10

The creative team really stepped it up for this issue. I hope that they can maintain this level of quality after “Death of a Family.” Everybody remotely interested in this issue would get their money’s worth by purchasing it.

Batgirl Annual #1

The Blood That Moves Us

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the issues of Batgirl so far, but though the issues have been good, they have not been great. It is a solid book, but each issue seems to be held back just a tad, and I have not yet pinpointed what needs improvement. Does Batgirl’s Annual push past good and into the realm of great, or does it remain just short of excellence?

In this issue, Batgirl discovers that the Court of Owls is still making trouble in Gotham, and Catwoman is hired to break a talon out of jail, but this talon seems to have a plan of her own.

Art Shift

The first thing I noticed upon opening these pages was the massive shift in the artwork. The normal art team of Beries and Arreola has been replaced by Wijaya and Sampere. Though both teams are skilled, I prefer the art of the annual over the art of the regular team. The regular artists do a great job, but I prefer the annual’s team because it has a much more unique flair. Whereas the monthly has a high-quality industry standard kind of look, the annual has a style all its own which seems more like a water color painting than the typical pen and ink process. The flames in the burning skyscraper scene look extremely distinctive rather than the typical generic fireball that most artists would create in that scenario, but they also look slightly odd which makes me wondered if these panels layered in digital effects with more traditional artwork. There are also a lot of blur and motion effects layered into the background of the image which might become tiresome eventually, but for a change of pace, it looks quite nice.

The only problem I saw with the art is the depictions of some of the faces. For instance, James Gordon looks like he just turned thirty which puts him approximately thirty years off his proper age. Beyond that, there are a few panels where faces look a slight bit exaggerated, but I think artist has real skill at drawing facial expressions. He/she just needs to learn to make the expressions a little more subtle in my completely artistically inept opinion.

Batgirl/Catwoman Team Up

As team ups go, this one was handled pretty well. It is easy for a writer to just throw together two heroes in attempt to get to good head bashing action, but as I’ve mentioned before, the emotional chemistry between the characters is more important than joint butt kicking. Simone faces a tiny bit of a challenge here since Batgirl and Catwoman typically operate on opposite sides of the law, but she handles it well managing to get the two working together without compromising the integrity of either characters’ values. It would have been nice to see the two interact more outside of a life threatening situation, but the story did not really allow it.

Mary

This issue revisits Mary, the talon Batgirl fought during the Night of the Owls. Overall, I enjoyed the way Mary was handled. True, the friendship formed between Mary and Catwoman was by the book with Catwoman’s typical identification with a lost soul, but despite this, I still enjoyed it. Batgirl using her research to turn Mary against the Talons was equally in character and satisfying though it does seem like Batgirl loses way too many of her fights what with Batwoman punching her clock, Knightfall nearly felling her, and Talons kicking her butt.

Most importantly, Simone did not kill off Mary. I hate it when writers create new characters just to kill them off at the end of the arc.

Conclusion 8/10

You get exactly what you pay for in this issue. I still feel that there is room for improvement in this series, but if you have been enjoying Barbara’s new upright adventures, you can rest assured that you will get more of the same in the annual.

Batgirl #13

A Blade of Memory

I've been pleased with Batgirl thus far, but though the series is solid, it is not great. Does issue thirteen move Barbara Gordon to even greater heights, or does this issue continue to be just short of greatness?

In this issue, Batgirl has to stop Knightfall despite the fact that she has been deeply stabbed. Also, Knightfall reveals the truth behind her father's murder.

More Knightfall Please!

Based on the name alone, I was a bit reluctant to accept Knightfall as a serious villain, but after this issue, I hope to see much more of her. Knightfall's motivation and operation is fairly original, and that is no small accomplishment in the world of comics. Truth be told, I have more than a little sympathy for Knightfall's goals of killing the scum of Gotham, but even my harsh views on crime and punishment find that Knightfall clearly takes retribution too far by maiming thugs for thievery and attempting to kill Barbara for interfering with Knightfall's affairs.

In addition to agreeing with her "taking out the trash" philosophy, Knightfall captured my interest by revealing her true origin. Rather than having been taken to Arkham against her will, Knightfall allowed herself to be taken to Arkham in order to learn the ins and outs of the system and become a better killer. That kind of foresight, determination, and cold-hearted analysis makes for a compelling villain in my book.

My Compliments to the Artists

Individually, both the penciling and colors are good, but they come together to create an excellent looking book. I think this is one of those rare instances where the whole equals more than the sum of its parts, and I would say that Batgirl has one of the most eye catching art teams out of all the Bat books.

Super Batgirl?

I was a bit annoyed at the end of issue twelve when Knightfall stabbed Barbara right under the heart. That is a very serious wound, and I suspected that Simone would just have Barbara push through the pain on adrenaline and grit. Sorry, but if you are in danger of bleeding out, adrenaline will just make it happen faster.

Thankfully, the fight was not as far fetched as I feared. Though Barbara does manage to continue to fight valiantly, at least she was not shown as shrugging off the serious wound. She staggers and fights with weariness, and in her inner monologue, Barbara even acknowledges that she will be in deep trouble if she does not win the battle quickly. Furthermore, I thought that Barbara immediately asking for an emergency room after the battle was refreshingly realistic.

Death of a Family

It is clear that part of this issue ties into Death of a Family, but the passages relating to Snyder's upcoming crossover consists of merely one page. It is an exciting page, but if you only want Batgirl for the tie-in, you might want to reconsider.

Conclusion 8/10

As much as I consistently enjoy this series, there is still nothing which pushes it over the edge of good into the realm of great. However, if you have been a fan of the series so far, this issue will not disappoint.

Review: Batgirl #0

A Fire in the Heavens

I greatly enjoyed the last issue of Batgirl, and I picked up this zero issue with high hopes. Since all the zero issues are focused on retelling characters origins, I was interested in seeing how the new series would address Batgirl’s past, a tough thing to do well when working with a five year limit on the extended Bat Family.

In this issue, we see the Barbara Gordon of four years ago. She enters the Gotham City Police Department hoping to find information on the mysterious Batman, but she finds herself in a heap of trouble when the GCPD is attacked by a cultist group trying to break out their captured leader.

Keeping True to the Classic DCU

This issue gives a good origin tale, and I was especially impressed by the way Simone managed to tell a new story while minimizing conflict with Barbara’s previously established history. I’ve read “Batgirl: Year One,” and as best as I can recall, this zero issue does not directly contradict anything revealed in that arc. Rather than focusing on Barbara getting a Bat Suit, this issue focuses on Barbara realizing that she has the ability to defend herself and others. In the course of this one issue, Barbara changes from someone who looks up to heroes to someone who is a hero.

The story does an excellent job of recapping Barbara’s life as Batgirl without becoming a history lesson, and Simone is clearly expanding on the relationship between Barbara and her younger sibling James Jr. It would appear that the Batgirl creative team is preparing to make James Jr. an even more important character in this series.

Letdowns

I did have some significant problems with this issue. For one thing, James Jr. appears to be the wrong age. Unless he is very small for his age, he is probably not older than fourteen in this issue, yet in the present, he appears to be in his early twenties.

I also found a couple of questionable art choices in this issue. First, the cover looks bad. Batgirl’s pose seems unnatural, and her suit appears to be made of shiny latex. Latex is good for fetishists but not for super heroines. My other complaint is that there is one panel which takes up the whole top half of two pages early on in the story, and though it is well drawn, it is not a particularly compelling image. It simply shows Barbara in her college dorm looking at news articles about her Dad. When I first saw this panel, I stared at it for much longer than usual seeking for some sort of subtle significance in the image, but I found none. Why waste so much valuable real estate for a mundane scene?

Conclusion     8/10

In the end, Batgirl #0 is definitely a good read for any Batgirl fan, but I did not find it to be quite as compelling as the last issue.

Batgirl #12

Every Time I Fail

This is only my second issue of Batgirl since the DCNU started, and I found it to be a very good read.

I, like most fans, was annoyed to hear that Barbara would be returning to the role of Batgirl. She played such an amazing role as Oracle that she has probably done more damage than good by returning to the streets and vacating her wheelchair, but though I dislike the editorial move of giving Barbara back the use of her legs, I am delighted that Barbara continues to have excellent stories under the writing of fan favorite Gail Simone.

The Good

The artwork is top notch conveying the story and refraining from the exploitation of heroines which is so common in the comic medium. In case that was not clear, I am glad to report that though Barbara is wearing a tight suit, it at least does not appear to have been painted on her person nor does it seem as if her bosom might bust out at any given moment. All the characters felt true to their roots and made me eager to see all of them in further stories. I did get the feeling that this Barbara was a tiny bit less mature than in her previous incarnations. She did not seem immature per say, but she just felt a little more youthful which I suppose is the result of the reboot. The story was good, the action was well executed, and the villain was intriguing. To cut a long story short, just about everything in the book was excellent.

The Nitpicky

That being said, let me nitpick.

Batgirl vs. Batwoman

In this issue, Barbara tangles with Batwoman, a relative newcomer on the streets of Gotham who has barely been in operation, by my guesstimate (who really knows after the reboot?), for half a year. I presume that Barbara operated for a couple years before

receiving the wound which left her a paraplegic, and I would therefore expect her to give Kate (Batwoman) a very good fight. This is not the case. Batwoman beats the Bat S*** out of Batgirl leaving me along with many other fans puzzled. Kate trained at West Point previous to becoming a super heroine, but I would still guess Barbara to have the advantage when it comes to hand-to-hand fighting. Perhaps the defeat can be chocked up to Barbara’s recovery, but it still seems like Batgirl should have at least got a few hits in on Batwoman, and I was disappointed at her poor showing.

Knightfall

I also have some complaints about the villain. The name Knightfall really bugs me. I cannot seem to think of anything other than the famous Batman story arc of nineties which used the same name wherein Bane broke Batman’s back and thereby cemented his role as one of the best Batman villains of all time. Though the character Knightfall clearly has no relation to the nineties plot line, I can’t help but feel that the name is awkward. It would tantamount to naming a Green Lantern villain Emerald Twilight. Another minor issue I have with the villain is that Barbara Gordon is currently battling a society of self-styled and overly violent vigilantes in Gotham…the exact same town in which Nightwing is currently battling a society of self-styled and overly violent vigilantes. It seems to me that somebody in the Bat editing room should have delayed one of the stories for a year, but again, this is a minor complaint.

The Injury

I was also annoyed when at the end of the issue, Barbara was stabbed through the side right underneath her heart. No doubt Batgirl will manage to handle the near fatal wound and still manage to defeat Knightfall in the next issue, but these sort of near fatal wounds should be extremely rare in comics. To portray a human as living through these kinds of injuries on a regular basis undermines the idea that these characters are vulnerable and has led to the mocking title many have bestowed upon Bruce Wayne, the Bat God.

Conclusion 9/10

To wrap things up, I have minor complaints, but the book as a whole is excellent. I look forward to seeing where Gail takes the character next.